16 Bold Predictions for the Rest of the 2012-13 Champions League
It is finally time to sit down and watch the best 16 clubs in Europe take on each other in the knockout stage of the UEFA Champions League.
The round of 16 kicks off on Tuesday with two matches, and there have been a fair share of predictions that have been made about those matches already
While I may not be predicting each match in this article, I make 16 bold predictions about the Champions League knockout stage.
These bold predictions include ones about the performance of not only the 16 clubs involved in the knockout stage but the individual players involved in the competition as well.
Here are the 16 bold predictions for the knockout stage of the 2012-13 edition of the UEFA Champions League.
AC Milan vs. Barcelona Will Be the Best Round of 16 Tie
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While plenty of attention has been given to the matchup between Real Madrid and Manchester United, the real marquee tie taking place in the round of 16 will involve AC Milan and Barcelona.
Barcelona are ready to be crowned the kings of Spain after breaking out to a 12-point lead in La Liga, but they desperately want to return to the throne of European football.
The first club that will be in the path of Barca's return to the final is AC Milan.
AC Milan may not be in contention for the Serie A title, but they possess a potent attack that could deliver them into the Champions League final.
The two-legged tie that begins on February 20 at the San Siro will be the first major test in the young career of Rossoneri forward Stephan El Shaarawy as he goes up against the mighty defensive duo of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique.
The AC Milan back four will also be challenged by the extraordinary play of Lionel Messi, who has scored 40 goals at the club level this season—five of which have come in the Champions League.
One player who not be joining in all of the fun is AC Milan's new signing Mario Balotelli, who is cup-tied because he played in the group stage with Manchester City.
Shakhtar Donetsk Will Struggle Without Willian
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One of the most shocking January transfers came from Eastern Europe as big-spenders Anzhi Makhachkala of Russia bought attacking midfielder Willian from Shakhtar Donetsk (via The Guardian).
During the group stage, Willian was one of Shakhtar's best players as he scored four goals and recorded two assists against the likes of Chelsea and Juventus.
When the draw for the round of 16 was released, the Ukrainian champions were seen as one of the dark horses to win the competition.
Now, without the Brazilian playmaker, their chances have diminished greatly.
While Shakhtar still have plenty of talent left in their squad, Willian was the man who led their attack, and his replacement Taison has not played a single match in the Champions League in his young career.
Without Willian, going up against the excellent back four of Borussia Dortmund will be a monumental challenge that will end in defeat.
Jackson Martinez Will Announce Himself to the Rest of Europe
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Porto's Jackson Martinez has had a spectacular first season at the club by scoring 23 goals in 26 matches in all competitions.
Martinez scored three of those goals in the group stage as Porto cruised to a second-place finish in Group A behind PSG.
In the round of 16, Porto will square off against Malaga, a club who just lost one of their best defenders, Nacho Monreal, to Arsenal on the last day of the January transfer window (via The Mirror).
Against a weakened Malaga defense, the 26-year-old Colombian should be able to lead the Portuguese champions to a spot in the quarterfinals.
If Martinez continues to score throughout the knockout round, he could easily follow in the footsteps of the last Colombian forward to lead Porto in scoring, Radamel Falcao, and leave the club for greener pastures in the summer.
Looking ahead to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Martinez could partner Falcao up front for Colombia to form one of the deadliest forward combinations at the tournament.
David Beckham Will Have a Positive Impact on PSG
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One of the most publicized signings of the January transfer window was Paris St. Germain's capture of David Beckham.
While Beckham will not play against Valencia on Tuesday in the first leg of his club's round of 16 matchup, the former England international will most likely be fit for the second leg at the Parc des Princes (via FOX Sports).
It is almost certain that Beckham will not play a full 90 minutes for the French club, but an appearance off of the bench is likely to happen once he is fit.
Even at 37, Beckham still is one of the best free-kick takers in the world.
With plenty of targets to choose from in the PSG lineup, there is no doubt that the abilities of Beckham will be taken advantage of at some point during the knockout stage.
Juventus Will Emphatically End the Fairy Tale Run of Celtic
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The feel-good story from the group stage came out of Group G as Celtic advanced to the knockout stage in dramatic fashion.
The most memorable part of the group stage for Neil Lennon's club came on November 7 when the Scottish champions defeated Barcelona at Celtic Park.
In the round of 16, Celtic were drawn against defending Serie A champions Juventus.
In that matchup, Juventus should easily outplay Celtic and cruise into a spot in the quarterfinals.
The Bianconeri have plenty of world-class players in their lineup, including keeper Gianluigi Buffon and the midfield trio of Arturo Vidal, Kwadwo Asamoah and Andrea Pirlo.
While Celtic have shown plenty of heart and resolve during the group stage, their dream run in Europe will be ended starting on Tuesday when the two clubs collide in Glasgow.
Cristiano Ronaldo Will Score a Hat-Trick at Old Trafford
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Cristiano Ronaldo has had an excellent start to 2013 by scoring 10 goals in six matches for Real Madrid.
With Ronaldo in stellar form, Real Madrid have a great chance of eliminating Manchester United from the competition in the round of 16.
The first leg between the two clubs will be held at the Bernabeu and is expected to be a hard-fought struggle.
The second leg takes place at Old Trafford on March 5, and that is when Ronaldo will go on a rampant tear through the United defense in front of the crowd that once cheered him on.
United's defense has been poor at times this season, and with an explosive player like Ronaldo going up against them, it will only be a matter of time before the Portuguese winger finds holes in the Red Devils back four.
With his club on a mission to win the Champions League to salvage their disappointing season, Ronaldo will score a hat-trick at Old Trafford to send Los Blancos into the quarterfinals with plenty of momentum.
Dortmund Attacking Trio Will Cement Themselves Among World's Elite
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Going into the round of 16, the names on everyone's list of players to watch includes the usual suspects like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robin van Persie and Mario Gomez.
By the end of the knockout stage, the names of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski will be added to that list.
The trio of Borussia Dortmund players have impressed throughout the group stage by scoring eight of the club's 10 goals.
Heading into their showdown with Shakhtar Donetsk in the round of 16, Dortmund will need the trio of attackers to once again step up and win the match.
Lewandowski has already emerged as a target for target for Manchester United (via The Mirror) this summer, while Gotze and Reus can gain the same attention with a strong showing during the knockout stage.
Galatasaray vs. Schalke Will Be a Shootout
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One of the round of 16 matchups that is not getting the attention that it deserves is the one between Galatasaray and Schalke.
The two clubs combined for 17 goals in the group stage, and the tie contains two of the best goal scorers in the competition this season.
Galatasaray's Burak Yilmaz is currently tied with Cristiano Ronaldo for most goals scored in the competition with six.
Yilmaz will now be joined by Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder in an already potent attack that also includes Johan Elmander, Milan Baros and Hamit Altintop.
Schalke also possesses one of Europe's best scorers in Klass-Jan Huntelaar, who netted four goals in Group B play.
While the Bundesliga club lost Lewis Holtby to Tottenham in January, they gained the attacking prowess of Michel Bastos on loan from Lyon (via UEFA.com).
There are also plenty of other attacking threats in Jens Keller's lineup with Ibrahim Afellay, Julian Draxler and Jefferson Farfan roaming the pitch for Schalke.
With plenty of goal scorers on the pitch and defenses that are questionable at best, the two matches between Galatasaray and Schalke will surely provide fans with a plethora of goals.
Arsenal Will Give Bayern Munich a Challenge
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Most fans across Europe have already counted out Arsenal in their round of 16 matchup with Bayern Munich.
However, the Gunners have an advantage by playing the first leg at the Emirates Stadium.
If the Gunners can hold the Bayern attack to zero or one goal in the first leg, it will give Arsene Wenger and company plenty of momentum heading into the second leg at the Allianz Arena.
With a one- or two-goal differential going into the second leg on March 13, the Gunners will have a chance of pulling off an unthinkable upset.
With all that being said, I do believe Bayern will advance to the quarterfinals, but Arsenal will make them earn their spot in the final eight.
England Will Not Be Represented in the Final 4
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It has been a brutal season for English clubs in Europe with Chelsea being relegated to the Europa League and Manchester City being knocked out of European play.
That leaves Manchester United and Arsenal as the only two English clubs left in the Champions League, and both clubs have plenty of issues.
Arsenal lack a big-name goal scorer after letting Robin van Persie go to United this summer, while United's defense has had its fair share of lapses this season.
The Red Devils have the best chance of going far in the knockout stage, but since being drawn with Real Madrid, their chances of securing their fourth European title have been lessened.
Even if both clubs are able to get past Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, respectively, they do not play as a complete team in every match like Barcelona, Bayern and Borussia Dortmund have in the competition.
With the two clubs not playing at a world-class level this season in Europe, it is certain that England will not see its second consecutive Champions League winner.
Porto Will Fly Under the Radar and Become the Underdog of the Tournament
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Every season, the knockout stage sees an underdog make an unexpected venture far into the tournament.
Last season, Cypriot side APOEL Nicosia advanced to the quarterfinals before being knocked out by Real Madrid.
Two years ago, Schalke advanced to the semifinals before they fell to Manchester United.
This season's surprise team in the knockout stage will be Porto.
The Portuguese champions are in the knockout stage for the first time in three seasons, and they are looking to make a big splash on the European stage.
While they may not have the magic of Jose Mourinho on their side like they did in their Champions League-winning season of 2004-05, Porto are a club that no one are paying attention to.
Ahead of their round of 16 matchup with Malaga, all of the focus is on the cash-strapped Spanish club that went undefeated in Group C.
Coming out of the two-legged matchup, Porto will still not be making headlines because a defeat of Malaga will not be considered an upset.
As they enter the quarterfinals, Porto will have plenty of belief, and more importantly, they have a goal scorer that can wreak havoc on the best defenses in Europe in Jackson Martinez.
The underdog role is something that most clubs embrace, and expect Porto to do just that in a knockout stage that is chock full of the traditional elite clubs in Europe.
Real Madrid Will Go Further Than Barcelona
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The two giants of Spanish football are once again involved in the knockout stage of the Champions League.
This season, Barcelona and Real Madrid are not fighting for the La Liga title as Barcelona has that all but locked up at the moment.
With no chance at winning the Spanish league, Real Madrid will be putting all of their eggs into the Champions League basket.
Los Blancos manager Jose Mourinho is a master when it comes to winning European titles, and winning this season's edition of the Champions League would be a great sending off for the manager that is expected to leave the Bernabeu after this season.
The Catalan giants have been impressive all season, but everyone in Europe are gunning for them at the moment.
The one club that everyone wants to upset this season is Barcelona because they feature the best trio of attacking players in Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi and a strong defense led by Carles Puyol.
With a target on their back, Barcelona are susceptible to losing early on in the knockout stage. Their exit from Europe's biggest club competition could come at the hands of AC Milan in the round of 16.
With Real Madrid on a mission and Barcelona with a large target on their back, Los Blancos will be the most successful Spanish club in the knockout stage.
PSG, Galatasaray Will Benefit Most from January Transfers
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Not many of the 16 clubs left in the Champions League made signings in January, but for the ones who did bring in reinforcements, they will reap the benefits.
The club that should benefit most from a January transfer is Paris St. Germain who brought in Lucas Moura from Sao Paulo (via ESPN UK).
Lucas has come into the PSG lineup and succeeded with three assists in five Ligue 1 matches.
With Lucas and David Beckham now in the PSG fold, the French outfit possesses an attacking core that can do plenty of damage in Europe.
The other big moves in January came from Galatasaray who brought in two veterans of European play.
Of all the clubs in final 16 that made January signings, PSG and Galatasaray will benefit the most from their additions because they are not cup-tied like Nacho Monreal of Arsenal and Mario Balotelli of AC Milan are.
Whether those additions are enough to lead those clubs to the Champions League title still remains to be seen.
Bundesliga Clubs Will Reign Supreme
Of the four elite leagues in Europe, only Germany and Spain have more than two clubs left in the final 16.
Germany's top two clubs, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich have established themselves as the favorites to win the continental crown.
Bayern Munich are on a mission to get back to the Champions League final after losing to Chelsea in their home stadium last season.
Bayern's group stage campaign was one of the most impressive performances in recent memory as they cruised to first place in Group F.
Jupp Heynckes' team have also played to the best of their abilities and then some in the Bundesliga by breaking out to a 15-point lead over Dortmund.
There is no stopping Bayern at the moment, and it looks like they are on their way to the latter stages of the knockout phase.
As for Jurgen Klopp's Dortmund side, they finished first in the Group of Death with 14 points against the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester City.
The defending German champions will be looking to prove their worth in Europe by advancing far into the knockout stage.
Both clubs have the potential to make the final, and depending on how the draw plays out, they could face each other at Wembley Stadium in only the third final between two clubs from the same federation.
Bayern Munich Will Win the Champions League Final
The best club during the group stage was Bayern Munich. Expect things to stay that way throughout the knockout stage.
Jupp Heynckes and company are on a mission to get back to the Champions League final and claim the title that they should have won last season in their home stadium.
The four-time European champions are in amazing form this season and have lost just once in the Bundesliga in 21 matches.
Mario Mandzukic and Thomas Muller have been on fire in front of goal for Die Roten this season, while Frank Ribery and Toni Kroos have been great providers to the two primary scorers.
Not only has the offense been on fire, but the Bayern defense has been on lockdown all season with Manuel Neuer recording 16 clean sheets at the domestic and continental levels.
No club left in the round of 16 has the drive, talent and good form that Bayern has at the moment.
Based on that reasoning, there is no reason why Bayern Munich should not win the Champions League.
Manuel Neuer Will Be the Man of the Match in UCL Final
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Manuel Neuer has developed into one of the best goalkeepers in the world over the past year.
Neuer has recorded 16 clean sheets for Bayern Munich this season, and he has shown no signs of slipping away from his excellent form.
No matter who Bayern Munich plays in the Champions League final, Neuer is the one player who will step up for sure and deliver the club with their fifth European championship.
Winning the man of the match in the tournament final could be just the first of many achievements earned by Neuer in the next 18 months as Germany are one of the favorites to win the 2014 FIFA World Cup as well.
What bold predictions do you have for the Champions League knockout stage?
Comment below or leave me a comment on Twitter, @JTansey90.