UEFA Champions League: A Look at the Sides in the Round of 16
It's the world's greatest football competition and the UEFA Champions League has now seen its group stage end, with 16 clubs advancing to the knockout stage while the other 16 have to rue over what could have been.
This group has seen plenty of interesting stories. We saw a club in APOEL become the first club from Cyprus to reach the knockout stage, while we saw the richest club and most popular clubs in the world in Manchester City and Manchester United, fall out in the group stage.
Clubs such as Bayern Munich and Real dazzled us with their football, while clubs such as CSKA Moscow and Lyon were able to do put together massive performances in match-day six to reach the round of 16.
We may not yet know each matchup, but here are my individual previews on all 16 sides in the knockout stage.
Where did they finish: First in Group A (13 points)
Top Players: Manuel Neuer, Franck Ribery and Mario Gomez
The Allianz Arena hosts the 2012 Champions League final, and Bayern Munich look like they could easily reach the final after an impressive group stage.
Bayern had a strong defense and goalkeeping effort along with some great goal scoring from Mario Gomez.
Once the knockout stages begin, Bayern will be one of the top sides in Europe and they certainly will not be an easy match-up for anyone.
Interesting Stat: Bayern Munich's 218 minutes of ball possession in this group stage is only behind Barcelona's 270 minutes out of all the sides that are in the round of 16.
Where did they finish: Second in Group A (11 points)
Top Players: Morgan De Sanctis, Marek Hamšík and Edinson Cavani
One of the top clubs in Italy, Napoli were able to put together a fantastic group stage that saw them beat out Manchester City to reach the round of 16 in their first Champions League.
Napoli have been fantastic at the Stadio San Paolo, which has been one of the most hostile environments in all of Europe in this group stage. Napoli have gained seven points at home in this group stage.
That home advantage could prove to be vital if they get a difficult opponent in the round of 16. Napoli certainly can handle any side in Naples, but their performance on the road will determine if they will advance into the quarterfinals.
Interesting Stat: With their win at Villarreal, Napoli became the fist Italian side to win at El Madrigal in European competition.
Where did they finish: First in Group B (ten points)
Top Players: Julio Cesar, Esteban Cambiasso and Giampaolo Pazzini
They may have been a disappointment in Serie A this season, but Inter Milan have still been able to finish first in a tricky Group B.
Inter have gotten enough goalscoring to make up for their weak defense after winning three straight matches by one goal.
However, unless Inter can somehow manage to become a better team during the winter, they will probably be eliminated from the Champions League in the round of 16.
Interesting Stat: Inter held possession for 170 minutes in the group stage, the fewest of any side in Group B.
Where did they finish: Second in Group B (eight points)
Top Players: Vladimir Gabulov, Vasili Berezutski and Seydou Doumbia
CSKA Moscow needed to win at the San Siro in order to reach the round of 16 and needed a scoreless draw in Group B's other match to reach the knockout stage. CSKA beat the odds, and were able to use a Vasili Berezutski goal to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 2009.
CSKA have been solid throughout the knockout stage with Doumbia contributing some huge goals for the Russian side.
In spring of 2010, CSKA stunned Sevilla and reached the Champions League quarterfinal. Considering their history and some clutch results, don't be surprised if CSKA make another deep run in Europe.
Interesting Stat: CSKA Moscow are one of two Russian sides in the round of 16 in the Champions League, the first time that has ever happened.
Where did they finish: First in Group C (12 points)
Top Players: Luisão, Bruno Cesar and Oscar Cardozo
They found themselves in the same group as Manchester United, yet Benfica have been one of the most impressive sides in this group stage after drawing twice with the Red Devils.
Benfica have not only been impressive against United, but they also have been strong against their other competition in this group, going through the group without a loss.
After a solid group stage, Benfica could surprise one of the bigger sides in the Champions League, but its unlikely they will get that far.
Interesting Stat: Benfica's 12 points in the group stage are tied for the most points that they have gotten in group stage play.
Where did they finish: Second in Group C (11 points)
Top Players: Yann Sommer, Alexander Frei and Fabian Frei
After shocking Manchester United in the finale at St. Jakob-Park, Basel have advanced from the group stage for the first time since 2002.
Basel have been one of the top offensive sides in the group stage, scoring 11 times, including five times against the Red Devils.
However, Basel are more than just the club that beat Man United. They have been a side that has been relatively successful in Switzerland over the last several years, winning the Swiss Super League three times in the last four years.
Considering their great group stage, Basel will only advance if they have a stronger overall defensive effort. But no one is safe against this side.
Interesting Stat: Basel are the first home side to beat Manchester United in Champions League play since April of 2010 when Bayern Munich defeated United 2-1.
Where did they finish: First in Group D (18 points)
Top Players: Iker Casillas, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema
They are the best club in Spain as of right now, and Real Madrid certainly could be the best club in Europe after a strong group stage.
Real Madrid hit on all cylinders during this group stage, and there is no reason to think that they won't do that during their advance toward the Champions League final.
It looks like Real will advance at least to the semifinals after this group stage, and they will be a tough opponent to beat in any match-up.
Interesting Stat: Real Madrid are the only side in this group stage to win all six of their matches.
Where did they finish: Second in Group D (eight points)
Top Players: Hugo Lloris, Maxime Gonalons and Bafétimbi Gomis
It appeared that Lyon were not going to advance from the group stage, but a monster seven goal swing in a 30 minute span gave Lyon their spot in the round of 16.
Lyon were a disappointment in the group stage before that massive goal-scoring swing in the final match of the group stage, it certainly changed the perception of the team.
Lyon are always a side that can be dangerous in the knockout stage. Assuming that they will get an easy draw in the knockout stage (something that never seems to happen), they could advance far in Europe.
Interesting Stat: Lyon are only the second team to score seven goals away from home in a Champions League game.
Where did they finish: First in Group E (11 points)
Top Players: Petr Cech, David Luiz and Frank Lampard
They have been questionable throughout the group stage, yet Chelsea are through to the knockout stage as the first place finisher after beating Valencia.
Chelsea have been in an identity crisis throughout the last several months, but they will need to recover once the knockout stage begins if they plan on advancing far in Europe.
Assuming Chelsea's offense improves in the next two months, they will be a difficult match-up for any of their opponents. However, a failure to change could see Chelsea fall out in the round of 16 for the second time in three years.
Interesting Stat: Chelsea had the best goal differential in Group G (plus nine).
Where did they finish: Second in Group E (ten points)
Top Players: Michael Ballack, Manuel Friedrich and Eren Derdiyok
They found themselves in a tough group, but Bayer Leverkusen have been able to fulfill expectations this year by reaching the knockout stage.
Leverkusen will look to generate more offense in the knockout stage after scoring eight goals in the group stage, which was the third fewest in Group E.
If they get a favorable draw, Leverkusen will be able to reach the quarterfinals. But they could be defeated if they get a strong opponent.
Interesting Stat: Leverkusen's 15 cautions were the most of any side in Group E.
Where did they finish: First in Group F (11 points)
Top Players: Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Wojciech Szczęsny
After a slow start to their season, Arsenal have rebounded with a fantastic group stage and a first place finish in Group F.
Robin van Persie has been nothing short of spectacular throughout the group stage and he has spurred the Gunners not only to a strong group stage, but they are now back in contention to get a top four spot in the Premier League.
Arsenal will need that type of performance from van Persie in order to contend for the Champions League. But as long as van Persie is on top of his game, Arsenal will be extremely difficult to stop.
Interesting Stat: Arsenal recorded 39 shots in this group stage, the second-fewest of any side.
Where did they finish: Second in Group F (ten points)
Top Players: Steve Mandanda, Loic Remy and André Ayew
After getting into the knockout stage following a dramatic come-from-behind win at Borussia Dortmund, Marseille will head into the knockout stage for the second consecutive season.
Marseille were powered by a strong goalscoring duo of Remy and Ayew, both of whom scored important goals in that final match against Dortmund.
Considering their goal scoring numbers and the experience on Marseille, they could be a side that will surprise in the knockout stage.
Interesting Stat: Marseille received two red cards in the group stage, more than any other side that is in the knockout stage.
Where did they finish: First in Group G (nine points)
Top Players: Constantinos Charalambides, Aílton and Ivan Tričkovski
To say the least, APOEL have been the biggest surprise in this season's Champions League.The Cypriot side were able to reach the knockout stage through a difficult group, and will look forward to achieving success in the knockout stage.
Considering they didn't have a goal in their last two matches, APOEL will need to improve their offense in the knockout stage.
APOEL will probably be the dream match-up for all second-place finishers from the group stage in the round of 16, but anything could happen in there that would allow the club to advance further in the Champions League.
Interesting Stat: APOEL are the first Cypriot side in history to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League.
Zenit St Petersburg
Where did they finish: Second in Group G (nine points)
Top Players: Vyacheslav Malafeev, Aleksandr Anyukov and Konstantin Zyryanov
Despite being in the Russian Premier League's winter break, Zenit were able to go to Portugal and pull out an impressive draw to advance onto the round of 16.
Zenit have been a very strong club defensively in this group stage, with Vyacheslav Malafeev putting on a fantastic performance throughout.
Unfortunately for Zenit, the winter break could slow them up, but assuming that they are ready to compete once the knockout stage begins, they could easily perform as well as CSKA Moscow did last year.
Interesting Stat: This is the first time that Zenit St Petersburg have reached the Champions League knockout stage in their history.
Where did they finish: First in Group H (16 points)
Top Players: Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta
Barcelona are the best club in the world and that continued with a strong group stage, where they recorded a plus 16 goal differential. At times, Barcelona were flat out dominant and they certainly can keep that going in the next round.
Barcelona's pieces still have not been able to fully click and that has shown in La Liga, where they are in second due in large part to the four draws the Catalan side has already picked up this season.
It's safe to say that once February rolls around, Barca's players will be finding their niche and will be tough to beat as they look to become the first club since AC Milan in 1989 and 1990 to win the Champions League in consecutive seasons.
Interesting Stat: Barcelona's 20 goals is the most of any side in this Champions League group stage.
Where did they finish: Second in Group H (nine points)
Top Players: Zlatan Ibrahimović, Thiago Silva and Kevin-Prince Boateng.
AC Milan were once again put into a group with a Spanish power in this group stage, and they have once again finished in second place.
However Milan's football progressed tremendously with the progression of the group stage, and whatever side they will face in the round of 16 should be scared.
Considering how well they have played recently, it is not a ludicrous thought to think that Milan will reach the Champions League final.
Interesting Stat: Robinho scored his first Champions League goal since December of 2007 in Milan's 2-2 draw with Plzen.
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