Champions League Fixtures 2014: Best Matchups in First Knockout Round

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Champions League Fixtures 2014: Best Matchups in First Knockout Round
Witters Sport-USA TODAY Sports

The Champions League is back after its usual hiatus, and the first knockout round includes some real gems.

The group stages saw Juventus crash out of the competition and Napoli fail to qualify despite picking up 12 points, a Champions League first:

However, the majority of Europe's powerhouses made it through, and December's draw for the last-16 paired many of the big guns against each other, with Arsenal and Manchester City notably paying for failing to top their groups.

Here, we take a look at the pick of the ties for the first knockout round.

Manchester City vs Barcelona

The pick of a good bunch, Manchester City could hardly have asked for a tougher introduction to the Champions League last-16 than a first competitive meeting with the Catalan giants. 

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Over two months from the draw, the Sky Blues are having a slight stutter in the Premier League, having failed to score in their last two games against Chelsea and Norwich City.

A comfortable 2-0 win over Chelsea in the FA Cup at the weekend does, however, see City go into Tuesday's first leg at the Etihad in winning form. 

Barcelona come into the tie on the back of a 6-0 thrashing of Rayo Vallecano in La Liga on Saturday, which included two goals for one Lionel Messi.

Coming back into form after a stretch out injured the Argentine has scored six goals in this month alone.

However, Messi's record in England may offer Manuel Pellegrini some comfort:

City will be without their talismanic Argentinian Sergio Aguero who is injured, potentially a key factor in a tie between two high-scoring sides.

As reported in The Guardianonly Real Madrid have scored more goals in the group stages than Citywho scored 18with Barcelona just two behind.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

City will need to take a lead into the second leg at the Nou Camp, which means either Alvaro Negredo or Edin Dzeko will have to step up in Aguero's absence.  

AC Milan vs Atletico Madrid

The seven-time winners Milan enter this tie as significant underdogs against an Atletico Madrid side currently tied on points with Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top of the La Liga table.

The Rossoneri have had a torrid time this season and sit ninth in Serie A with qualification for next season's Champions League looking unlikely.

Conversely, former Inter Milan man Diego Simeone's Madrid side will go to the San Siro on Wednesday night full of confidence having ended a run of three losses with a comfortable 3-0 win over Real Valladolid.

Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

Despite the seeming gap in class, there may yet be an upset as Milan's experience in the competition is almost unrivaled, as is that of their manager, Clarence Seedorf, who won the competition four times with three different clubs.

Furthermore, it is impossible to predict what will happen when the mercurial Mario Balotelli is involved.

The Italian comes into this game off the back of a magnificent winner for Milan against Bologna on Friday, as reported by The Guardian:

Arsenal vs Bayern Munich

A repeat of one of last season's round-of-16 ties, Arsenal will be hoping for a different outcome on Wednesday at the Emirates as last season saw them effectively knocked out after a 3-1 first-leg loss in London.

Two regulars of the Champions League knockout stages, this tie pits Bayern against a more consistent, more threatening Arsenal side than they faced last term. 

Bayern Munich are currently 16 points ahead of second-place Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga and have scored 57 goals in 21 matches. 

Alastair Grant/Associated Press

Arsenal halted a slight dip in form, which included a 5-1 defeat to Liverpool and a goalless home draw with Manchester United when they overcame Liverpool in the FA Cup at the weekend and currently sit second in the Premier League.

And Arsene Wenger is in a confident mood:

Holders Bayern will be without Franck Ribery but boast unrivalled wonders in midfield including the likes of captain Philip Lahm, Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Javi Martinez and Thiago Alacantara.

Arsenal will need the likes of Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilsher, Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud to be on top form as they will likely have to take a lead to Munich if they wish to advance to the quarter-finals. 

Champions League Last-16 Fixtures
Bayer Leverkusen vs PSG 18/02/14 19:45
Man City vs Barcelona 18/02/14 19:45
Arsenal vs Bayern Munich 19/02/14 19:45
AC Milan vs Atletico Madrid 19/02/14 19:45
Zenit vs Dortmund 25/02/14 17:00
Olympiakos vs Man Utd 25/02/14 19:45
Schalke vs Real Madrid 26/02/14 19:45
Galatasaray vs Chelsea 26/02/14 19:45

The other last-16 ties include Bayer Leverkusen taking on PSG, Olympiacos facing Manchester United and Chelsea taking on Galatsaray. Zenit St Petersburg versus Borussia Dortmund and Schalke versus Real Madrid round out the eight ties. 



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