The dreadful group stages are finally over, and we can now look ahead to the round of 16, two-legged knockout round. These days, it seems almost a foregone conclusion that certain match-ups will emerge, that there is a conspiracy to force two clubs upon each other at the most inopportune time, or opportune depending on who you ask. This year is no different as a repeat of May’s final, Wenger’s now correct premonition, revenge, and snooze-fests were drawn in Nyon earlier today. UEFA, in all their glory, will continue the expanded schedule of the round of 16 to maximize viewership and TV revenue. The first legs will be played February 15/16 and 22/23, followed by the second legs on March 8/9 and 15/16.
Undoubtedly, all eyes will turn to the premiere match-up of this round as Arsenal face off against Barcelona. Of course, it may only prove premiere in the sense that both clubs play the most aesthetically pleasing football on the planet. Although as was evident in the first 45 minutes at the Emirates, and Messi’s dismantling of the Gunners in the return leg, this is and most likely will be anything but a competitive confrontation. Barcelona almost seem better than they were last year coming off a near-perfect demolition of Real Madrid 5-0. Meanwhile in North London, Arsenal have only themselves to blame for finishing second in the group and consistently lacking the big-game gusto both in Europe and domestically.
Elsewhere, Bayern will relish the opportunity for revenge against a Mourinho-less Inter Milan, after losing in the 2010 Champions League final 2-0. Benitez has this club in a tailspin as they distance themselves ever more from league leading Milan each week. Bayern should expect a “healthy” Arjen Robben by that time and will like their chances this year.
Real Madrid and the round of 16 are a poisoned union, having been eliminated at this stage of the tournament six times running. Earlier this year, it was a familiar foe in Lyon who knocked out the Spaniards convincingly over both legs. With Mourinho at the helm this year, chances are quite minimal that Lyon will repeat their feat. Although you never know with Madrid.
As for the other English clubs, United and Chelsea emerged relatively pleased with draws against Marseille and Copenhagen respectively. Tottenham’s group topping performance, however, conveniently landed them Serie A leading AC Milan. Redknapp surely must be wondering how his porous defense will deflect the attacks of Ibrahimovic, Robinho, and Pato. However, Milan’s aging squad will only get older by next year and Tottenham have shown everyone their ruthless speed and attacking prowess throughout this tournament. Can Zambrotta really corral Gareth Bale?
The full draw is below:
AS Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk
AC Milan v Tottenham Hotspur
Valenca v FC Schalke
Inter Milan v Bayern Munich
Lyon v Real Madrid
Arsenal v Barcelona
Marseille v Manchester United
Copenhagen v Chelsea