The Champions League is back and it is as mediocrely exciting as ever! The show doesn’t really start to heat up until after this round but that final step still must be hurdled.
I feel that the Champions League needs a bit of a mix up because it has become very predictable and stale. When I wrote my preview for the group stage, I got 14/16 of the correct teams going through and the two I got wrong were from the two most competitive groups (Sevilla and Monaco). It makes the group stages too much of a formality for most of the teams and even the last 16 at times can be a bit of a drag at times.
The problem UEFA has is that the gap between the best teams in Europe and the rest is becoming ever larger and due to that the Champions League is losing its draw in the early rounds. The group stage used to be dynamic, however now they are anything but, add to that the Europa League, a tournament that lots of teams can’t be arsed with and there is a real problem.
They really need to either look at expanding the Champions League to 64 teams and doing straight knockout throughout or having a knockout round with the current format and then doing the group stages when there are 16 teams left. It’s hard to fix the tournament, however the current format just isn’t that good. With the exception of a few ties you could almost skip straight to the quarter finals and not feel like you’ve really missed anything.
Paris Saint Germain v Barcelona
Probably the best tie of the last 16, a giant of the game playing the most manufactured team in Europe. PSG have long been the numpty tipsters outside pick because for years they’ve dominated a terrible league despite the fact that they were at best an average team. This season PSG have been struggling in the league and even somehow managed to finish second in a group to Arsenal, the real shocker in all of this.
Barcelona aren’t what they were a few years ago, and they have shown on a regular basis this season that they can be caught out. Despite that Barcelona are a much better side than PSG and will have little struggle in beating them. Barca’s front three is the best in the world and although I feel that it won’t likely be enough for them to actually win the Champions League, as the rest of the team isn’t quite good enough. Ultimately it will depend how the draw falls, but they will need a very generous run to make it to the final.
Benfica v Borussia Dortmund
Benfica were fortunate that they landed in a soft group as they fumbled their way through to the last sixteen. It’s hard to measure Benfica’s form as the Portuguese league isn’t one I watch and the quality isn’t the best. My natural thinking is that Benfica will struggle in this match, however they do have a strong European experience going for them which is always handy.
I expect Dortmund to make it through this tie, they are the perfect cup team, who will be able to give the Champions League their full attention. The problem Dortmund will have is that their squad isn’t to the level of some of the other big teams and they may struggle if they pick up the inevitable injury to a key player. I doubt that they will be able to go very far but they should make it through here.
Bayern Munich v Arsenal
Another solid tie which pits Bayern against their old rivals (loosely used) Arsenal. Bayern will be giggling to themselves about this draw, they almost couldn’t have picked a better team to draw. Arsenal are by no means the worst top seed from the group stages but they are lightweight and will be easily brushed aside by a quality team like Bayern. Bayern will like their chances this season, both Barca and Real seem to be on a bit of a downturn and none of the English sides quite seem up to it. Bayern have the team, with the experience and the manager who are all more than capable of winning this. After three years of underperforming, this could the season where Bayern get back to the very top.
Poor Arsenal, finally win their group after years of trying and end up drawing Bayern of all teams. Sadly for Arsenal they almost certainly will go out at this stage once again because they quite simply aren’t good enough. Arsenal are the definition of lightweight, players who don’t show up for the big games and disappear when the going gets tough. It is a terrible indictment of Wenger’s time at the club that despite making the Champions League consistently, they never actually do anything but disappoint, expect more to come.
Real Madrid v Napoli
There are several good teams who managed to finish second, but despite not having a poor season I don’t think Madrid will win the Champions League. They should get through Napoli fairly comfortably but a combination of Madrid looking rather lacklustre form running into this year and that no team has ever retained the Champions League, I don’t see them doing very much. Despite his fantastic record, I don’t rate Zidane as a manager, his team is overly reliant on Bale and Ronaldo and if either is off form or injured then this Real team is nowhere near good enough.
Napoli will be pleased to have made it this far but the best they can hope for is an upset victory over Real. Napoli despite winning their group are one of the weakest team left in the competition. Naples is a tough place to go and if Real aren’t on their game then they could have a real chance of causing the upset, I would however be very surprised.
I have Barca, Dortmund, Bayern and Real going through, which should make for a very good half of a quarter finals.
So who do you think will make it to the quarter finals of the Champions League? Do you think I was harsh on Arsenal? Or are you simply excited that Leicester will be making their last 16 debut appearance in a mere week!?!? Leave a comment and share those thoughts.