The UEFA Champions League draw for the Round of 16 of Europe's most prestigious club competition will take place this Friday. FC Barcelona have placed themselves in a strong position by winning their group. According to Champions League draw rules, they can only be drawn against non-Spanish teams who finished second in their respective groups.
While Barcelona are at a significant advantage for the upcoming draw, there are teams in the draw that they would rather avoid. Barcelona are also involved in a very close fight for the Spanish League, and they will certainly not want to expend their energy reserves which will undoubtedly be needed later in the season.
Here's a look at some potential matchups that they would not want to see when the draw takes place in Nyon on December 16th.
Napoli and Barcelona met at the start of the season in the Gamper Trophy. At the time, Barcelona inflicted a crushing 5-0 defeat on the Italian side. Since then, Napoli have gone from strength to strength, and are a side to be reckoned with.
Despite being drawn in this season's group of death comprising Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Villarreal, Napoli gave an excellent account of themselves throughout the group stage. Their greatest moment was undoubtedly their 2-1 victory over Manchester City, which made them almost certain to qualify for the last 16.
Their resurgence throughout this season has come through no small part of Edinson Cavani's and Ezequiel Lavezzi's brilliance. Their midfield is also marshaled by Gokhan Inler and Marek Hamsik, two very strong and skillful players.
While Napoli had a nightmarish experience during their last meeting with the Catalans, they have improved steadily since then and could pose a serious challenge if they meet Barcelona in the Round of 16.
Marseille have the right mix of physicality and technical skill to trouble Barcelona.
They have really strong players in Nicola N'Koulou, Alou Diarra, Andre-Pierre Gignac and Charles Kabore.
They also have technically-accomplished players in Lucho Gonzalez, Mathieu Valbuena and Benoit Cheyrou.
Between the posts, Marseille also have a highly-accomplished goalkeeper in Steve Mandanda, who can serve as their last line of defense.
If Marseille find the right balance between physicality and technique, they are likely candidates to fight Barcelona tooth and nail in progressing to the quarterfinals.
While CSKA Moscow may not have the ammunition to go toe-to-toe with Barcelona across two legs, there is no denying two major factors that make them lethal opposition.
1. Traveling to Russia: Barcelona's European hangover is well documented. Most recently, we saw this phenomenon against Getafe. After the midweek match against AC Milan, Barcelona found themselves incapable of besting Getafe in Madrid, which could still prove to be a costly lapse in the fight for Spain's ultimate prize.
Keeping this in mind, the trip to Moscow and back might prove too much for the team. We have seen Barcelona falter against the likes of Rubin Kazan and Dynamo Kyiv in the past, when the matches involved a lot of travelling.
2. The Russian winter: Overcoming the logistics is a challenge in itself. However, once in Russia, Barcelona could find themselves faced with a different devil—harshly cold February weather.
Of course, like in the past, Barcelona could always get thermal suits, but that is a hassle that they would rather avoid.
Aside from being in Russia, and thus posing the same logistical challenges as CSKA Moscow, Zenit St. Petersburg have the added advantage of having a very experienced manager at the helm.
Luciano Spalletti, the former manager of AS Roma, has guided Zenit to their first Champions League last 16 draw in history. Not only that, he has a lot of experience at this stage of the competition with his former charges.
In addition to Spalletti, Zenit have some cracking players in Aleksandr Anyukov, Bruno Alves, Alessandro Rosina, Danny and Dominico Criscito.
With such a combination of players and such an experienced manager at the helm, Zenit certainly should not be taken lightly. Especially when you consider the European hangover that Barcelona are so prone to suffer.
Leverkusen is certainly a team that can cause Barcelona some problems.
With fast, wide, mad Andre Schurrle and strong front men Eren Derdiyok and Stefan Keissling, they have the firepower needed to trouble the Catalans.
Bayer have played some good football in the Champions League this season, even inflicting a shock defeat on Chelsea. In addition, they are propped up in midfield by Michael Ballack who, while nearing the end of his career, still has the guile to trouble Barcelona's passers.
While they should not possess a formidable challenge to Barcelona's progression hopes, Bayer Leverkusen certainly can make the Catalans work hard.