The Champions League knockout stage is upon us and the 16 teams paired up offer a number of interesting match ups. The pairings are:
Manchester City FC (ENG) v FC Barcelona (ESP), Olympiacos FC (GRE) v Manchester United FC (ENG),
AC Milan (ITA) v Club Atletico Madrid (ESP), Bayer Leverkusen (GER) v Paris Saint-Germain (FRA),
Galatasaray AS (TUR) v Chelsea FC (ENG), FC Schalke (GER) v Real Madrid (ESP), FC Zenit (RUS) v Borussia Dortmund (GER), and Arsenal FC (ENG) v FC Bayern Munich (GER).
Greece's Olympiacos are drawn with England's Manchester United in what should be a tough tie but with ManU pulling out the needed results. This is the biggest chance David Moyes will have to build some semblance of a post-Furguson era at Old Trafford, and Wayne Rooney and company are spoiling for something to smile about. So, I predict a Moyes smile at the end. Galatasaray should not be overwhelming challengers for Chelsea and the Only One and the same could be said for Dortmund's passage at the expense of Zenit.
Spain's Real Madrid drew Schalke who though tough, particularly at home, should present Real with a surmountable obstacle, particularly if Ronaldo continues his torrid fun of form. Bayern Munich have drawn Arsenal and this should be an epic battle if one tilted toward the Germans. It will be fun to see Mesut Ozil go against his national teammates but in the end European Player of the Year, Franck Ribery, should be the one moving on.
Barcelona without Lionel Messi and Manchester City without Sergio Aguero will not be an even match as the Catalans simply have too much firepower. Nevertheless, City has been playing well and will not make it easy on the La Liga leaders. Though Pellegrini's troops were perhaps the toughest rivals the Catalans could have faced, the nod must go to Neymar's troops. If Messi heals fully in time for this round then the tilt is more pronounced toward the Spaniards.
This leaves the two most intriguing match ups of the tournament so far. Will AC Milan finally play to its potential--assuming Massimiliano Allegri plays his best eleven--and pull off an important win over an Atletico Madrid that has been humming all La Liga long? Can Allegri save his job with a decent run in the Champions League? Will David Villa and Diego Costa prove too much for the porous Milan defense? Will Kaka finally have a good enough run of form on this bigger stage to induce a wavering Felipe Scolari to add some non-Neymar creativity into the Brazilian National Team? My guess is that Atletico is the clear favorite here but this is the upset match up in my view and I will predict an AC Milan squeaker will decide the tie.
This leaves us with a PSG vs. Bayer Leverkusen match up, perhaps the most evenly matched of ties in this round. My bet though is that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has something to prove, having been left out of both the 2014 World Cup and the Ballon d'Or competition. So, my prediction is that he has a stellar performance and moves his team on to the next round.
When the dust settles we should have PSG, AC Milan, Barca, Real, Dortmund, ManU, Chelsea, and Bayern still standing.