All good things must come to an end, but as we wind down to the latter stages of this season’s Champions League proceedings, that won’t stop us from savouring each and every minute left to play.
Halfway through the competition’s Round of 16, one can bet there’s still a generous helping of surprise to unfold in the second-leg fixtures, some of which we’ll attempt to foresee in the following slides.
The prediction for which of the two sides to go through will be stated at the beginning of each slide before detailing just why that’s set to be the case.
Key: AET = After Extra-Time
With somewhat of a mountain to climb following the surprising events in Milan a fortnight ago, Barcelona will find it all too big an obstacle to reverse the odds in the Round of 16 second leg.
While Mario Balotelli may remain cup-tied, the Rossoneri still have enough firepower amongst their ranks to snatch an away goal, and Barca’s failure to score at the San Siro could ultimately be their undoing.
Although they still sit comfortably atop the La Liga pile, Barcelona’s season risks unravelling in the coming weeks should they not pull their act together following a period they’ll want to soon forget.
While three losses and a draw across all competitions might not sound worthy of a great collapse for most sides, it’s not the Barca pedigree some have come to know and love over the last few years.
What’s more, the Catalan giants managed to keep just the one home clean sheet in the group stage, conceding goals to Celtic and Spartak Moscow.
Elsewhere, Massimiliano Allegri’s Milan have experienced a massive bump in form as of late and are enjoying a 10-match unbeaten streak across all competitions.
That being said, Milan’s defence away from home has been somewhat of a pitfall for the side this season, although admittedly improving.
As aforementioned, grabbing an away goal is vital here, as if they do, and Barca go on to win 3-1, it will still mean progression for the Italian outfit, putting a heap of responsibility on the shoulders of Giampaolo Pazzini, Stephan El Shaarawy and Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Prediction: Bayern Munich
Already down 3-1 from the first leg, it’s nigh impossible to see Arsenal taking anything away from the Allianz Arena apart from the crest they’ll collect prior to kickoff.
The German league leaders have been massively dominant in their Bundesliga campaign thus far, losing just the one fixture on their way to a 17-point lead over Borussia Dortmund.
At the Emirates Stadium in February, Jupp Heynckes' men were clinical and aggressive, and what’s worrying for Arsenal is that Der FCB are even more so when playing on home soil.
This season, as has been the case for much of the club’s recent history, it’s the Gunners’ defence that lets them down.
While the North London club are constantly able to boast some of Europe’s finest technical talents, it’s in preventing goals that they slip all too often and will need to tighten up if they’re to survive their Bavarian onslaught.
With Nacho Monreal cup-tied and both Bacary Sagana and Kieran Gibbs injured, Arsene Wenger could be forced into utilising Thomas Vermaelen at left-back once more; a burden considering Bayern’s strength on the wings.
During the first leg, Thomas Muller, Franck Ribery and Toni Kroos were a menace to the Premier League side, and one can only see it getting worse when Arsenal travel to Germany.
With not much hope except a home goal, it may take a small miracle for Arsenal’s Champions League run to continue past this round.
Prediction: Borussia Dortmund
Despite having a much more decent share of the attacking momentum at the Donbass Arena, Borussia Dortmund were forced to leave Ukraine knowing it was only a last-gasp Mats Hummels winner that sees them level with Shakhtar Donetsk going into their second-leg meeting.
However, with home advantage now under their control, the Black and Yellows are likely to make much more use of any grip on the game, adding to their two-goal tally from the first encounter.
In that game, Jurgen Klopp’s men had 17 attempts on goal compared with Shakhtar’s less-respectable total of just eight, one of which hit the woodwork.
The Bundesliga club were truthfully unfortunate not to come away with more goals to their name, but one can bet there’s more on their way in the coming clash.
Back in February, wing-backs Marcel Schmelzer, Darijo Srna and Lukasz Piszczek proved pivotal in the outcome and will likely influence matters greatly once more.
However, it’s the midfield where this match will truly be decided, and a great deal of the responsibility will be regarding whether or not Fernandinho and Tomas Hubschman can restrain Mario Gotze and Marco Reus.
With the second-best attack in Germany, Der BVB’s stars will need to be firing on all cylinders at the Westfalenstadion, but having already contended well with Real Madrid and Manchester City on home soil, Shakhtar won’t be the ones to knock Klopp’s side out of this tournament.
To make matters worse for Shakhtar Donetsk’s attack, Neven Subotic should come in to replace Felipe Santana in central defence, meaning a fearsome Hummels/Subotic partnership will be revived in Europe once more.
Although watching the Scottish minnows make their way through Europe’s elite has been a fantastic journey to marvel at, Celtic’s dreams will come crashing down in Turin on March 6.
Having held their own against Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow, many thought the Hoops would be able to put up a fight against Juventus, but it wasn’t meant to be.
While we may have witnessed Cinderella stories in the past, Neil Lennon’s side simply won’t be able to overturn the 3-0 deficit suffered at Celtic Park in February.
Scoring two goals against Barcelona is one thing, but scoring three goals against a Juve side who have nothing to chase is a different request altogether, and one Neil Lennon’s men won’t be able to fulfil.
In the last two seasons, much of the Old Lady’s domestic success has relied on ball retention and the ability to dazzle the opposition with their possession before making the incision with cutthroat precision.
With Andrea Pirlo marshaling the midfield, Antonio Conte’s Serie A champions are unlikely to be fazed by the likes of Georgios Samaras, Scott Brown, Efe Ambrose and Victor Wanyama, and will more than likely keep the ball, waiting for a quarterfinal spot to come to them.
Prediction: Malaga (AET)
Having restrained Portugal’s fiercest home attack to just the one goal when travelling to the Estadio Dragao in February, Malaga’s greatest priority will once again lie in defence when they welcome Porto to La Rosaleda.
Vitor Pereira’s side haven’t failed to score at home this season, but haven’t got quite the same record in unfamiliar territory, and the Andalusian tip of the Iberian Peninsula is certainly a long way from home.
Because they were unable to net an away goal of their own, Manuel Pellegrini’s men simply cannot afford to allow Porto the advantage of one themselves and will automatically be chasing the game if that were to happen.
Instead, the La Liga club must be clinical in their approach, probing their enemy carefully before making concise lunges at the right time.
Although Spain isn’t famed for its strong defences, Malaga have one of the best in the nation’s top flight, and with Jackson Martinez, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho attacking it, one can rest assured it will be tested against Porto.
However, Martin Demichelis, Jermey Toulalan and Vitorino Antunes already stood up to the challenge well once in the past month and are capable of doing so for a second time.
In truth, Pellegrini’s side are going through a rough patch, and it’s difficult to see any one team dominating matters, but after a tight 120 minutes, it’ll be March’s home outfit that emerges triumphant.
Prediction: Manchester United
One of the greatest storylines of recent history, February’s clash between Manchester United and Real Madrid didn’t quite live up to the billing of super extravaganza many had supposed.
However, that could only mean the masses are in for a treat of an encounter this month; an encounter that Sir Alex Ferguson’s in-form Red Devils will come out of the better.
Having just beaten Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu, one would be forgiven for thinking Real Madrid verge on achieving world-beater status themselves but that isn’t quite the case.
Although Los Merengues managed to fashion a healthy majority of the attacking opportunities against Manchester United two weeks ago, the Red Devils were somewhat happy to soak up the pressure before fashioning counters of their own.
This time, it’s sure to be United that do a larger portion of the probing, just as they have done so far this season when playing at Old Trafford.
Having said that, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have been somewhat unimpressive in defence at times and will need to once again restrain Cristiano Ronaldo to have any chance of progression.
This was the job that Phil Jones performed so admirably but is unlikely to be back from injury in time to fulfil it in the second leg.
Instead, Ferguson will need to imagine a new contingency plan for his former starlet lest the Red Devils find their weak backline exposed by the player that once called the Theatre of Dreams home.
With the scoreline tied at 1-1, Iker Casillas’ absence could prove a massive absence for Real and although Manchester City may have lent their training facilities to the Spanish giants (via Independent), Jose Mourinho’s defence will prove the lighter of the two on the night.
Prediction: Paris Saint-Germain
But for a late Adil Rami goal, Valencia’s hopes of securing a spot in this season’s Champions League quarterfinals would be all but over for their trip to PSG.
However, the Frenchman’s 90th-minute finish salvaged a glimmer of hope for the La Liga outfit, but only that.
As is only likely to be the case when one spends as much as PSG have in recent seasons, the Qatari-owned club have developed a grip as both Ligue 1’s best attack and defence this campaign.
With two away goals from the first leg, the French outfit need only play their natural game and rely on their star-studded cast to see out proceedings as they need.
Thiago Silva is expected to return to fitness in time for Valencia’s trip to the Parc des Princes, tremendously increasing the strength of Carlo Ancelotti’s defence as they look to restrict their Spanish guests from nabbing an away goal.
So far this season, Valencia’s attack has failed to fire on all cylinders as it may have done in previous terms, and if the first encounter was anything to go by, Los Che aren’t set to trouble their hosts too much in the reverse fixture either.
After leaving themselves with two away goals to score, it’s unlikely that Roberto Soldado will have the space nor time to challenge Salvatore Sirigu’s net quite enough to make the difference.
With Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Moura and Jeremy Menez leading from the front line, the goal tally isn’t likely to stop at two for PSG either, who are set to reach a Champions League quarterfinal for the first time since 1995.
Prediction: Schalke 04 (AET)
Even with Didier Drogba amongst their ranks, Galatasaray were unable to score more than just the one goal when they played hosts to Schalke back in February, relying on the mercurial Burak Yilmaz to put them ahead.
However, Jermaine Jones, who will be suspended for the return fixture after reaching a yellow card limit, cancelled out the ex-Trabzonspor forward’s finish.
Die Knappen have lacked the defensive discipline of previous seasons so far this campaign, but are going through a short run of improved form, giving Jens Keller a slight morale boost prior to this encounter.
Although Gala remain top of the Turkish Super Lig, they too are going through a string of form slightly below their standards, something that isn’t likely to be improved by a trip to North Rhine-Westphalia.
With neither club at their best, a similar script is likely to be told in the second leg as was in the first, either resulting in a 0-0 or 1-1 draw.
Not to detract from the entertainment value of the match, but the meeting of these two sides will probably prove to be one of the less-glamorous events of this season’s Round of 16 and will only be decided after a lengthy period of added time.
While Galatasaray certainly have a certain star factor about them, it’s Schalke that possess more in terms of squad depth, which will ultimately see them through such a dragged out scrap and into their third European quarterfinal in as many years.
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