Early Predictions for the 2015/16 Champions League Round-of-16 Games
It’s never too early for a prediction, is it? And that’s what we’re going to do right now.
Monday’s draw for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League has thrown up some fascinating ties, with all of the European superpowers (and Chelsea) represented, but what will be the outcome of the games and who will reach the quarter-finals?
Let’s get guessing.
Benfica vs. Zenit St Petersburg
Excellent in qualifying from Group H—where they won their first five before losing to Gent when already qualified—Zenit Saint Petersburg and Andre Villas-Boas will be quietly confident after drawing the former Chelsea head coach's Portuguese counterparts Benfica in the last 16.
The Zenit boss is determined to make an impact in Europe during his final season with the club, and it would take a disastrous first-leg result in Lisbon for his men not to be considered overwhelming favourites by the time the sides reconvene in Russia for the second clash.
Artem Dzyuba is averaging a goal a game in the Champions League this season, but it will be the form of Hulk that will be so crucial come mid-February.
The Brazilian was at his barnstorming best during the group stages, and if he’s on his game, then Benfica won’t be strong enough to stop him.
Team to qualify for the quarter-finals: Zenit St Petersburg.
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Chelsea
In many ways, this is the standout tie of the round given the amount of intrigue that surrounds it—as one side strives to make a mark on the European stage and the other seeks to somehow salvage something from what has been a mess of a season.
Paris Saint-Germain have been excellent throughout their campaign, running away with the Ligue 1 lead and progressing to the last 16 of the Champions League comfortably in a group that contained Real Madrid.
For Chelsea, winning the Champions League is surely now the only way that they’ll be in it next season.
The Blues’ form might improve by the time these fixtures come around—because let’s face it, it can’t really get any worse—but right now, it is hard to look beyond PSG getting a healthy home win that they can then protect in London.
Team to qualify for the quarter-finals: Paris Saint-Germain.
Gent vs. Wolfsburg
There are plenty of people who’ll say that this is the most disappointing of all the last-16 ties, but the meeting of two sides who find themselves at this stage for the very first time is certainly something to be celebrated.
First-timers Gent were unbeaten in their home clashes with Lyon, Valencia and Zenit in Group H, winning two of those games, and they’ll be a tough nut for Wolfsburg to crack in a tie in which home advantage looks like playing a starring role.
Wolfsburg are effectively here in place of Manchester United, and they’ll need to defend better than they did against the Premier League giants if they are to battle past the Belgians.
They should just about have enough, though, to ensure that a European campaign that is already very special has a quarter-final to celebrate.
Team to qualify for the quarter-finals: Wolfsburg.
Roma vs. Real Madrid
One of these teams somehow made it through to the last 16 despite winning just one of their six games, conceding 16 goals and failing to beat BATE Borisov home or away, while the other side were unbeaten in their six matches, found the net 19 times and boast the top scorer in Champions League history.
Yeah, this is really only going one way, isn’t it?
Real Madrid might have their problems under Rafael Benitez, but the 2005 Champions League-winning coach really should lead them to the last eight against the side from the Italian capital.
Roma have struggled to defend away from home in Europe for a few years now, and unless they were to take a large and unexpected lead to Madrid, they’ll be exiting the competition here.
As for Real, an 11th success in this competition will move closer.
Team to qualify for the quarter-finals: Real Madrid.
Arsenal vs. Barcelona
It is the nightmare draw that Arsenal wouldn’t have wanted, but Gunners fans have every reason to believe their side will at least stand up to the Champions League holders.
Arsene Wenger’s current crop are a better, more well-rounded side than the one that lost to Barca in the knockout stages in both 2010 and 2011, but the only way that they are going to cause a shock is by gaining a clear lead at the Emirates Stadium.
They could certainly win the first leg—as they did in that last-16 meeting in 2011—but that isn’t likely to prove enough over the course of the two matches.
Barca—with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar all still likely to be in fine form come the new year—are almost certain to have enough to reach the last eight, although it might be closer than some will predict.
Team to qualify for the quarter-finals: Barcelona.
Juventus vs. Bayern Munich
This is one of the more eagerly awaited ties, and it could even be more mouthwatering by the time the first leg comes around on February 23 next year.
That’s because Juventus may have built on their excellent recent form even further by then, as last season’s beaten finalists continue their renaissance following what was a drastically bad start to the campaign.
Massimiliano Allegri’s side have found their feet, and they represent a real obstacle in the road for Pep Guardiola as he seeks to win the Champions League with Bayern Munich at the third time of asking.
The Catalan boss might be leaving the club in the summer, so there will be an added pressure on this clash at a time when Bayern are sure to have the Bundesliga title all but wrapped up.
This one could go all the way, but Bayern’s extra quality could just nick it.
Team to qualify for the quarter-finals: Bayern Munich.
Dynamo Kiev vs. Manchester City
The first leg of this clash will take place at an empty stadium in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, as the hosts are being punished for the racist behaviour of some of their fans during the group-stage draw with Chelsea earlier this year.
That will make for a strange atmosphere and an element of the unknown that Manchester City will have to overcome as they seek a place in the last eight for the very first time. However, it would take a spectacularly bad result for the English side to mess this up ahead of the second leg at the Etihad Stadium.
That is where qualification for the quarter-finals should be achieved, with Dynamo Kiev unable to match their 1999/2000 run to the semi-finals of this competition when their front two were Andriy Shevchenko and current boss Sergei Rebrov.
Luckily for City, they aren't that good this time around.
Team to qualify for the quarter-finals: Manchester City.
PSV Eindhoven vs. Atletico Madrid
This might not be the most aesthetically pleasing of the last-16 ties, but Diego Simeone should be able to drill Atletico Madrid towards a third successive quarter-final appearance at the expense of PSV Eindhoven, who have reached this stage for the first time since 2006/07.
PSV won nine of their 10 Group B points at home, so the first leg of this clash is going to be crucial for Phillip Cocu’s men, who will aim to repeat their defensive showing in earning a goalless draw at Manchester United when they go to the Spanish capital.
Atletico Madrid have better attacking players than United at the moment, though, and the talents of Antoine Griezmann and others should be enough to break down the Eredivisie side over the two matches.
Simeone will then fancy his chances of matching whichever manager he comes up against in the last eight.
Team to qualify for the quarter-finals: Atletico Madrid.