With the 16 teams now qualified for the Champions League phase, only one thought has been on fans' minds around the world—which teams will be drawn together? And more importantly, which teams would offer the most compelling matchups if they were drawn together?
I'm no different than the rest of you in that regard, so I decided to pick the four matchups I would most like to see.
Before we begin, let's set a few things straight. First of all, these potential contests were chosen based upon which would be the best matchup, not based on cramming the biggest teams together. Hence you won't see Bayern Munich quite make the cut, as they've simply been far better than the rest of Europe for the better part of the year.
Secondly, each team will only be selected once. So while you might like to see Arsenal or Manchester City take on any number of squads, it's more fun to pick just one matchup that would truly test either in a compelling and memorable way.
And finally, teams cannot play other teams from their domestic league or a team they faced in the group stage. The group winners will be put into one pot and the runners-up in the other, with the former provisions being applied.
Here are the teams that have advanced to the Round of 16:
|Champions League Knockout Phase Participants|
|A||Manchester United||Bayer Leverkusen|
|D||Bayern Munich||Manchester City|
|G||Atletico Madrid||Zenit Saint Petersburg|
Okay, now to the best potential matchups!
Manchester City vs. Real Madrid
Yes, one of the main reasons this would be an amazing matchup is that Manchester City's manager, Manuel Pellegrini, was the head man at Real Madrid for one season in 2009-10. Surely he would love to get a crack at the team that sacked him after just one campaign.
As well, these teams played two very competitive matches in the Group of Death last season that also included Borussia Dortmund and Ajax, with Real Madrid winning the first instant classic, 3-2, and the teams drawing the second match, 1-1.
In their home digs, Manchester City can compete with any team in the world. And after a big win in Germany over Bayern Munich in their final group-stage game, the Citizens will be a bit more confident on the road, too.
With the red-hot Sergio Aguero (17 goals in his last 16 games in all competitions for City) on one side and Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale on the other, the fireworks would be fully on display in this matchup.
Also Considered: Manchester City versus Borussia Dortmund, a rematch from last year's group stage.
Arsenal vs. Barcelona
Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song probably wouldn't be pleased—and it would definitely make more than a few Arsenal fans nervous—but this would be an excellent matchup, and one full of history.
For starters, it would be a chance for the Gunners to prove that they weren't a training ground for players before they departed to Barcelona, as Fabregas and Song did in recent years. And after Barca knocked Arsenal out of the tournament in 2010-11 and 2009-10, Arsene Wenger will have a bit of revenge on his mind.
Barcelona would obviously be the favorites, but sleeping on the Premier League's table-leading Arsenal would be a mistake, especially since the team should be largely at full strength. Of course, Barcelona will also have Lionel Messi available, so there's that.
Both of these teams like to control possession and break down opposing defenses with crisp, incisive and creative passing, so this matchup would be a purist's dream. If Arsenal remain in their current form, it would also be one heck of a matchup.
Also Considered: Arsenal versus Bayern Munich, a rematch from last year's Round of 16.
Manchester United vs. AC Milan
The parallels between these two teams this season are what make this an intriguing matchup. Both clubs are dramatically underachieving domestically, but handled their business in the Champions League. Each has a long and storied history and both have superstars (Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney for United and Mario Balotelli for Milan) worth the price of admission.
Oh, and both will have managers in very, very hot water if they don't make a run in the Champions League and their current domestic form holds.
This might not be the matchup you had in mind when you clicked on this article, but both of these teams could be in pure desperation mode once this tie rolls around, which always makes for good footy. With everything potentially on the line, this matchup could feel like far more than simply a Round of 16 contest.
Also Considered: AC Milan versus Paris Saint-Germain, the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to the San Siro.
Chelsea vs. Galatasaray
Okay, okay, I just want to see Didier Drogba face his old team, you got me. But c'mon—wouldn't you want to see that too?
Oh, and after seeing Galatasaray nearly knock out Real Madrid in the quarterfinals last season—and given how unpredictable Jose Mourinho's Chelsea side has been this season—this draw would surely have enough twists and turns to keep you glued to your seat.
Also Considered: Bayer Leverkusen versus Atletico Madrid, a battle between the Bundesliga and La Liga second-place teams.