IT was a good move on UEFA’s part to spread the action of the Champions League Round of 16, where things really get moving, over an entire month.
Previously, the round of 16 duels were concentrated on just four days of play, so that as a fan one could see far fewer of the matches. And you could hardly keep track of who was playing against whom and on what days.
With keen interest I’ll be watching the city of Gelsenkirchen, where a year ago Schalke 04 – likewise in the round of 16 – lost at home to Real Madrid by 6-1 and so everything was decided then.
Real, the Champions League title defenders, remains a footballing giant despite their recent 4-0 thrashing by Atletico Madrid. A miracle must happen if Schalke this time is to eliminate Real, though in football anything is possible.
Naturally I’m hopeful that Schalke will emerge honourably from the affair.
Above all, it meets Real at a moment when the club is going through some problems of its own making and must try to resolve the issues surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo’s birthday party.
I think it’s okay to really celebrate your 30th birthday. Ronaldo couldn’t expect that beforehand, his team would be beaten 4-0.
But the fact that he did not invite a single Spanish player to his party does evidently pose the danger of a potentially explosive situation.
FC Barcelona faces peril in the fact that Manchester City can be seen as a near-equal opponent.
Even though the Premier League champions recently showed some weakness in its attack, when it managed only a 1-1 draw against relegation-endangered Hull City, and did have luck on its side in getting past AS Rome in the first round.
The Champions League is perhaps Manchester’s last chance for a title this year. Barcelona looks more solid. Up front, the stars Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez are sharing the goal-scoring duties.
Such a variety in the attack poses a clear advantage against teams that must rely on only one striker.
Spanish champions Atletico Madrid, the losing side against Real in last year’s Champions League final, won’t have it as easy against Bayer Leverkusen as it did more recently against Real Madrid, though of course such a victory provides a big boost.
Things have gone well for Fernando Torres in returning to his native club. He’s now scoring regularly again, in contrast to his time at Chelsea and AC Milan. With a bit of luck, Leverkusen won’t be without its chances. But experience says that this duel favours Atletico.
The most interesting matchup for me is Paris St. Germain against FC Chelsea. Paris was only group runner-up behind FC Barcelona, but it will be all business now.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic seems to really flourish in the battle for international titles. It seems that the French league interests him less. Ibrahimovic is one of just a few world stars who can decide a match all on their own.
Chelsea is dominating the Premier League, with the 50 million euros they paid to Atletico Madrid for Diego Costa so far proving to be a good investment. Yes, PSG against FC Chelsea looks to be the most attractive match.
In the Juventus Turin-Borussia Dortmund pairing, Juventus at first glance looks to be the favourites, even though Dortmund is now slowly moving away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone.
Dortmund might even have it easier in international play. I believe that the match, despite Juventus clearly leading the table in Italy, could be a really balanced duel.
One can build up one’s confidence against such an opponent. At Juve, a lot will depend on their oldies – keeper Gianluigi Buffon is 37 while midfield playmaker Andrea Pirlo, at 35, appear to be indispensable. But at some point, age can catch up and affect one’s performance
Bayern Munich must travel to the Ukraine. I don’t believe that the precarious political situation there will have any bearing on the match, since the opponent, Shakhtar Donetsk, has had to change the venue from its war-disrupted city in the east to Lvov near the
Polish border in the west. Donetsk has a number of strong Brazilian players led by striker Luiz Adriano who in group play equalled Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of 9 goals.
The Bavarians in any case have no reason to underestimate anybody, since at the moment they are far removed from the fantastic form they had shown in the first round. Still, they should get the job done against Donetsk.
What remains is Arsenal London against AS Monaco and FC Porto against FC Basel. Arsenal shouldn’t have any problems, with its team having a great deal more experience than their opponent.
Meanwhile, FC Porto is always part of the action, and a lot speaks in favour of the Portuguese with their vast experience.
But Basel, since its return to the Champions League, has shown some great success
In this Swiss-Portuguese duel I can’t predict a favourite. It’s completely open. – (GMS)