Ultimate Guide to Champions League Round-of-16 Week 1: Old Rivals Face off Again

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistFebruary 15, 2016

(L-R) Nemanja Matic of Chelsea, Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint Germain during the champions laegue match between Paris Saint Germain and Chelsea at Parc des Princes on February 17, 2015 in Paris, France(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

It's back, and it's knockout time.

The UEFA Champions League returns with round-of-16 action on Tuesday, and with eight teams walking out to that famous music and eyeing a place in the quarter-finals, let’s get the ultimate guide to the week’s action.

Tuesday, February 16

Benfica vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg, Estadio da Luz, Lisbon, 7.45 p.m. GMT / 2.45 p.m. ET

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 21: Artem Dzyuba (C) of FC Zenit St. Petersburg celebrates his goal with Hulk (L) of FC Zenit St. Petersburg during the Russian Football League match between FC Zenit St. Petersburg and FC Ural Sverdlovsk Oblast at the Pe
Epsilon/Getty Images

Zenit Saint Petersburg will have been counting down the days until the return of the Champions League given they were one of the most impressive sides in the group stage.

Only Real Madrid picked up more points than the 15 Zenit amassed in Group H, in which Artem Dzyuba hit six goals in six games and Hulk was arguably the best player in the competition so far.

They’ll go to Lisbon with a manager who knows all about their opponents and three players who used to call the Portuguese capital home, and Andre Villas-Boas, Axel Witsel, Javi Garcia, Ezequiel Garay and company will be confident of taking a good result back to Russia. History is on their side, too.

Zenit have won three of their four clashes with Benfica, as well as on their last three visits to Portugal, where Villas-Boas will be determined to advertise his credentials in what is his final season in Saint Petersburg.

Two-time winners Benfica will need a good result to take to Russia, but Zenit are a tough nut to crack these days, and even if Nicolas Gaitan repeats his fine group-stage form, that might not be enough.

Prediction: Benfica 1-1 Zenit Saint Petersburg

 

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Chelsea, Parc des Princes, Paris, 7.45 p.m. GMT / 2.45 p.m. ET

(L-R) Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint Germain, Willian of Chelsea during the champions laegue match between Paris Saint Germain and Chelsea at Parc des Princes on February 17, 2015 in Paris, France(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

The third annual meeting of Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea has arrived with the clubs perhaps a little closer together than many thought.

When the draw was made, Jose Mourinho was still presiding over the Blues’ mess of a season as they lurched from one crisis to another, but Chelsea are unbeaten since Guus Hiddink strode back through the Stamford Bridge gates in mid-December and go into this game off the back of a 5-1 hammering of Newcastle United.

PSG were, by contrast, drawing 0-0 at home to Lille, but with the Ligue 1 title pretty much already sewn up—they are 24 points ahead of Monaco in second—they have been able to focus all efforts and energies on toppling the Londoners for the second year in a row.

Last season’s victory at this stage of the competition was seen by many as the moment PSG made the breakthrough they’ve been waiting for on the Champions League stage, and the summer addition of Angel Di Maria means that they’re an even better side now, but they’ll be facing a Chelsea side that suddenly seems to remember what it is.

Trying to reach the quarter-finals for the fourth successive season, the Parisians are going to need to keep things tight at home if they are to become only the fourth club after Barcelona, Liverpool and Manchester United to knock Chelsea out of the Champions League more than once, and a couple of injuries to key defensive players for the visitors might just tip this first leg their way.

Prediction: Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 Chelsea

 

Wednesday, February 17

Gent vs. Wolfsburg, Ghelamco Arena, Ghent, 7.45 p.m. GMT / 2.45 p.m. ET

GHENT, BELGIUM - DECEMBER 09:  Gent players celebrate after victory in the group H UEFA Champions League match between KAA Gent and Football Club Zenit Saint Petersburg held at Ghelamco Arena, on December 9, 2015 in Gent, Belgium.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaro
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Either one of these two will be a surprise quarter-finalist, but the fact Gent and Wolfsburg been drawn against each other means there will be no sense of just being happy to be in the round of 16.

The first Belgian side to play in the knockout rounds of the Champions League, Gent took advantage of the implosions going on at Lyon and Valencia to secure their place in the last 16, and they will be bidding to register Belgium’s first victory over a German side in Champions League combat.

They’ll be helped by the suspension of defender Naldo, the goalscoring hero of the Bundesliga club’s victory over Manchester United in what was effectively a knockout game back in December, and if Gent are to make any sort of impact in this tie, you sense that impact has to come at home.

But the hosts have been in somewhat indifferent form since they qualified, losing three times domestically and ceding control of the Belgian Pro League.

Wolfsburg can blow hot and cold, but with Julian Draxler back in goalscoring form in Saturday's win over Ingolstadt, they should have enough to navigate through this tricky first leg with a decent result to bring back to Germany.

Prediction: Gent 1-1 Wolfsburg

 

Roma vs. Real Madrid, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, 7.45 p.m. GMT / 2.45 p.m. ET

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 18:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid controls the ball during the International Champions Cup friendly match between Real Madrid and AS Roma at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 18, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by
Robert Prezioso/Getty Images

With just one win from their six group-stage games, 16 goals conceded and having failed to beat BATE Borisov either at home or away, mathematicians are still trying to work out just how Roma made it into the last 16.

Both of these clubs have changed their managers since the draw was announced, with Luciano Spalletti returning to the Italian capital to replace Rudi Garcia and Zinedine Zidane coming in for the unpopular Rafael Benitez in Madrid back in January. Spalletti will be clinging to the hope his side are inspired by the memories of a last-16 victory over Real when the pair met in the 2007/08 season, the Italian side winning both legs 2-1.

However, they were then comprehensively beaten by Manchester United in the quarter-finals, and it is that sort of gulf in class we could be experiencing here.

Real Madrid just look far too good for this Roma outfit, despite their improvement under Spalletti, and with Cristiano Ronaldo on 11 goals in the tournament so far, the Portuguese will be eyeing even more in his ongoing challenge to beat Lionel Messi at something.

If he’s on his game, then this could be a walkover for Real, with progression beyond doubt even before the second leg.

Prediction: Roma 0-3 Real Madrid

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