Champions League Last 16: Predicting All 8 Ties

Will TideySenior Manager, GlobalDecember 20, 2012

Champions League Last 16: Predicting All 8 Ties

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    The draw for the Champions League last 16 was made in Nyon, Switzerland, on Thursday, and the balls have thrown up some potential classics.

    Here's the draw in full:

    Galatasaray vs. FC Schalke

    Celtic vs. Juventus

    Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich

    Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Borussia Dortmund

    AC Milan vs. Barcelona

    Real Madrid vs. Manchester United

    Valencia vs. Paris Saint-Germain

    Porto vs. Malaga

    Real Madrid vs. Manchester United is a glamor tie that will evoke memories of epic clashes gone by and bring together two of the game's great coaches in Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson. It will also pit Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo against his former club.

    AC Milan vs. Barcelona is another matchup with a considerable backstory, taking us back to the 1994 final that saw Milan thump Barca 4-0. Much has changed since then, but a resurgent Milan have been asked the ultimate question against the might of Barca and Lionel Messi.

    German sides Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are heavily fancied this season, but have both been handed testing ties—against Arsenal and Shakhtar Donetsk, respectively.

    Elsewhere, Scottish champions Celtic have been rewarded for their progress with a meeting against Andrea Pirlo's Juventus, while big-spending PSG of France will face Spanish side Valencia.

    Here are my predictions for all eight ties.

Galatasaray vs. Schalke

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    Schalke went through the group stage unbeaten, overturning Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates and finishing at the top to earn themselves a draw against a runner-up in the last 16.

    The Germans were semifinalists in 2011, so they come with a pedigree. They also possess one of Europe's most potent strikers in Dutchman Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The problem is their domestic form, which has seen them collect just two points from their last six Bundesliga matches and knocked out of the German Cup.

    Coach Huub Stevens was sacked and replaced by Jens Keller this month, which leaves Schalke in transition and somewhat of an unknown proposition.

    Keller will lead his team against Turkish side Galatasaray in the last 16, who claimed their spot with a comeback victory against Braga on Matchday 6. 

    Galatasary's group campaign started poorly, but they finished with three straight wins—including a 1-0 defeat of Manchester United. Of the seven goals they scored, six came from Burak Yılmaz, who matched Cristiano Ronaldo's haul in the group stage and was Galatasaray's undoubted star.

    The Turks are top of their domestic league, but they're not the force they once were. That said, Schalke are in flux and vulnerable. I'm going for the underdog here, but for it to happen, Galatasaray must win the home leg.

    Winner: Galatasaray

Celtic vs. Juventus

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    Italian champions Juventus came through a tough group with flying colours—conceding just four times in six games and finishing ahead of Shakhtar Donetsk to resign Chelsea to the Europa League.

    Most impressive was their 3-0 win over Chelsea, which saw Juve at their dynamic best and the defending champions overwhelmed by one of the best midfields in world football. Andrea Pirlo remains their conductor supreme, with Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio earning rave reviews for their contribution alongside the bearded genius.

    Juve are at the top of Serie A and have won their last three without conceding. Celtic should prove a fairly straightforward opponent for the Italians, though it's never easy going into an atmosphere like the one they'll face in the away leg.

    Celtic famously beat Barcelona at home in the group stage, but the Scots are short on quality and are unlikely to be as fortunate again this season. Coach Neil Lennon has already overachieved by taking them this far. Their story will end here.

    Winner: Juventus

Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich

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    Last year's finalists Bayern Munich have been in dominant form this season. The Germans are nine points clear atop the Bundesliga and have scored 44 goals in their 17 games.

    Bayern's Champions League campaign has also been an attacking frenzy. They scored 15 goals in the group stage, which included a 6-1 win against Lille and a 4-1 demolition of BATE Borisov on Matchday 6—though it's worth noting BATE inflicted a shock defeat in their first meeting.

    That result should at least give Arsenal hope. Arsene Wenger's team has been a frustrating proposition this season. The Gunners find themselves 15 points adrift of Premier League leaders Manchester United and with the usual midseason calls for a revolution of some kind in North London.

    Arsenal finished second behind Schalke in their group, which was arguably one of the weaker pools of four. They conceded eight times in six games and have also struggled at the other end this season, with Wenger's team crying out for attacking reinforcement.

    Might that arrive in January? It's possible, but even then we should expect Bayern to be too strong a force—both in a ball-playing and mental capacity—for this Arsenal team.

    The likes of Manuel Neuer, Franck Ribery, Thomas Muller and Bastian Schweinsteiger are seasoned campaigners in a settled squad that came within a penalty shootout of glory last season. It's hard to see them being stopped unless Arsenal revisit the kind of performance they produced against Milan last season.

    Winner: Bayern Munich

Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Borussia Dortmund

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    This one isn't as easy to call as you might think. German champions Borussia Dortmund were the most impressive team in the group stage, but they're up against a Shakhtar team who drew at Juventus, beat Chelsea at home and are clearly a force on the rise.

    The Ukrainians have real quality in the likes of Willian, Fernandinho and Luiz Adriano and are very hard to beat at home—making the first leg of huge importance to the outcome of this tie.

    That said, Dortmund went up against Real Madrid, Ajax and Manchester City in the "group of death" and came out unscathed and deservedly on top. 

    Polish striker Robert Lewandowski delivered four goals, while the sprightly combination of Marco Reus and Mario Gotze were hugely impressive in midfield. Dortmund also boast the fine defensive combination of Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic.

    Dortmund outplayed Madrid and City, home and away, and should have enough to see off Shakhtar—providing they can avoid a damaging defeat in Ukraine.

    Winner: Borussia Dortmund

AC Milan vs. Barcelona

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    After a summer that saw them offload Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to PSG, AC Milan were far from convincing in the group stage. They finished behind Malaga and picked up just two points from three games at the San Siro.

    Milan's total of eight points from six games was the lowest of all 16 teams to make it through, which would rightly suggest they're a long way from the force that once ruled over Europe. The fact they managed to score just seven times reinforces that point.

    There has been reason for optimism of late, however. Stephan El Shaarawy is one the brightest young talents in world football, and Milan have won four Serie A games on the spin thanks in no small part to his influence.

    Is there enough going on at Milan to believe they can upset the might of Barcelona? No, but don't be surprised if the Italians make things uncomfortable for Lionel Messi and Co. for a while, before Barca's superior quality tells.

    Tito Vilanova's health issues will only inspire Barca to unite and produce their very best. His team will come together and, based on the way they dispatched Atletico Madrid recently, should have too much for Milan to handle.

    Winner: Barcelona

Real Madrid vs. Manchester United

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    The meeting of two of Europe's most historic and romantic clubs is the undisputed glamor tie of the last 16.

    Real Madrid are hunting down a 10th European title, and Jose Mourinho is desperate to ensure it happens on his watch. It's been 10 years since Madrid last reigned over the continent, and that's nine years too long for their impatient supporters.

    Mourinho will have to take down the manager he admires most of all, Sir Alex Ferguson, to keep the dream alive this season.  And he'll be relying on Ferguson's former charge Cristiano Ronaldo to produce a match-winning contribution over two legs to make it happen.

    Madrid are struggling domestically. They lie third in La Liga, 13 points behind leaders Barcelona, and with hopes of a title defence looking slimmer by the week. Success in the Champions League is all they have left to fight for.

    Madrid came through the "group of death" to reach the last 16, but they were second best twice against Borussia Dortmund and looked vulnerable defensively. Ronaldo's six goals were vital to their progress, and it's hard to understate his importance moving forward.

    United will know exactly what to expect from the world's second-best player. Ferguson's team are flying high atop the Premier League and have been improved considerably by the addition of Robin van Persie to their attack.

    Like Madrid, United's worries are in defence. Ferguson will be hoping the return of Nemanja Vidic makes his team harder to break down and that they can return to the form they showed early in the group stages.

    If that happens—and United can hold firm at the Bernabeu—Madrid may find themselves unable to contain the irresistible force of van Persie and Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford in the return leg. As United proved in their recent win against Manchester City, they're getting close to being a genuine force again.

    Winner: Manchester United

Valencia vs. Paris Saint-Germain

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    Valencia came through runners-up behind Bayern Munich in Group F and having conceded just five goals in their six matches.

    The Spaniards were driven by the goals of Roberto Soldado and Jonas, and they lost just once—away to Bayern in their opening game, which is no disgrace at all.

    Things are not going so well domestically. Valencia are 11th in La Liga and have lost three of their last four, including heavy defeats to Malaga and Real Sociedad. It looks like their only hope of returning to the Champions League next season would be the most unlikely of triumphs next May.

    Standing in their way in the last 16 are free-spending PSG, who finished at the top of Group A and boast a glittering array of talent in Carlo Ancelotti's squad.

    Ancelotti's men had a 100 percent home record in the group stage, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the fore in their attack and Ezequiel Lavezzi weighing in with three goals.

    PSG have had a few slip-ups in Ligue 1 this season, but they appear at their most focused in Europe. Valencia shouldn't prove a bigger hurdle, and we can expect Ibrahimovic and his fellow mercenaries to be present in the quarterfinals.

    Winner: PSG

Porto vs. Malaga

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    Malaga negotiated a qualifying round to reach the group stage, where they proceeded to go unbeaten and beat AC Milan to the top spot in Group C.

    The Spaniards are currently fourth in La Liga and have managed to stay a force despite much-publicised financial troubles at the club, which prompted them to sell a number of their best players in 2012—including Santi Cazorla to Arsenal.

    Their European campaign has been notable for the midfield performances of Eliseu and Isco—exciting attacking talents who have earned rave reviews.

    Porto were runners-up to PSG in their group, achieving a 100 percent home record and conceding just four times in their six matches.

    Jackson Martinez led their line with three goals, and the Colombian has also been in fine form in the Portuguese Primeira Liga. Porto have won their last six games in the league and are currently three points behind leaders Benfica, with a game in hand.

    This one is hard to call, but the experience of Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini—not to mention Malaga's advantage of playing the second leg at home, where they've won their last two games 4-0 in La Liga—could be telling. 

    Winner: Malaga