Surprise package Malaga got the best of Milan in the group stages
The draw for the first round of the knockout stage of the 2012-13 Champions League took place this morning, and four La Liga sides discovered their next opponents.
Malaga progressed from the group in their debut campaign, and are the European surprise package from La Liga this season.
FC Barcelona breezed through their group and made the knockout stages of the premier European competition for the 12th consecutive year.
Real Madrid emerged second from the group of death, where they were pitted against the champions of England, Germany and Holland.
Valencia sacked coach Mauricio Pellegrino this month, despite the fact he led his team to second place in their group, behind last year’s finalists Bayern Munich.
Jackson Martinez has impressed at Porto this season
Considering that they could have been drawn against Arsenal or Shaktar Donetsk, Malaga are probably pretty satisfied that they will face Porto in the last 16.
Considered one of the minnows of the competition, Malaga stunned Europe by beating AC Milan and finishing top of their group.
However, eliminating the current Portuguese champions will be no easy task. They are still unbeaten this season in domestic competitions and are neck and neck with Benfica at the top of the Primeira Liga.
Jackson Martinez joined Porto this summer and has scored an impressive 14 goals in 18 appearances for his new side, brilliantly stepping in for the recently departed Hulk.
Malaga to progress. It will be a very even matchup, but if Malaga show the grit and determination they have showed this far in the competition—added to the fact that they will play the second leg on home soil—it should get them through.
El Shaarawy against Zenit
Two of the most successful teams in European football history will be meeting again in the first round of the knockout stages. Between them, Barcelona and Milan boast an impressive 11 European Cups.
Of course, while this Barcelona side is probably the best Blaugrana team ever, Milan are no longer the team that was feared across Europe over the few last decades.
Having struggled to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic—their key player last season—they are sitting seventh in Serie A and are 14 points off leaders Juventus. Furthermore, they are six points off the Champions League spots.
Milan’s priority this season will be to make sure they feature in next year’s Champions League.
Stephan El Shaarawy—“The Pharaoh” has been rampant and scored 16 goals in 24 games this season, including two in the Champion League.
FC Barcelona to progress comfortably. Even if Milan edge out a result at the San Siro, a return leg at the Camp Nou seems a daunting task for this Milan side.
Van Persie against Braga
This is the outstanding fixture of the whole competition so far. The two juggernauts from England and Spain have a history of producing entertaining encounters. This game will also be Cristiano Ronaldo’s first return to Old Trafford since joining Real Madrid.
While neither side has looked their best at the beginning of this season, these are teams that have winning stamped in their DNA. United in particular tend to hit form by February and go up a few gears in the second half of the season.
With Mourinho saying just a few days ago that retaining their Liga title is “almost impossible”—due to the 13-point gap with Barcelona—it seems winning an elusive 10th European Cup is the only thing that will keep Madridistas happy at the end of the season.
Robin Van Persie. The Dutchman has not lost any time in settling in at United and has proved essential to Ferguson’s plans.
Manchester United to progress. Real Madrid couldn’t have gotten a worse draw for the knockout stages. Although this will most probably be a tight encounter, if United keep their momentum going and make the second leg at Old Trafford count, they should make it through.
Ibrahimovic against Porto
Troubled Valencia will feel they have a tough challenge in facing PSG, although no tie was going to be easy after finishing second in their group.
Sacking their coach earlier this month and replacing him with Ernesto Valverde has not proved to be a decisive change as they lost their last match and are 11th in La Liga. Parting ways with Unai Emery last summer may well prove to be a big mistake. He had managed to lead Valencia to third place in all his seasons in charge, despite losing key players like David Villa, Juan Mata and David Silva along the way.
PSG, on the other hand, have started their season with a bang. They are currently top of the French first division, having strolled through the group stage of the Champions League.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic—with 17 goals in 15 appearances, “Ibra” has had a tremendous start to his PSG career and is arguably in the form of his life.
PSG to progress comfortably. Valencia look unlikely to find the quality of football or motivation necessary to beat PSG, who at the moment are in a different class.