Churn gets tougher as Barca, Chelsea and Man City approach last-16 in Champions League

After the draw is held for the round of 16, Ian Hawkey looks into each clash in detail and what the ties have in store.
Barcelona with Lionel Messi, left, will be a tough opposition for Manchester City, who may be without Sergio Aguero. Lluis Gene / AFP
Barcelona with Lionel Messi, left, will be a tough opposition for Manchester City, who may be without Sergio Aguero. Lluis Gene / AFP

After the draw held for the round of 16, a look into each clash in detail and what the ties have in store.

PSG v Chelsea

If they provide as much suspense as these clubs did in the quarter-final last season, it should be entertaining.

Chelsea have several reasons to believe they are in stronger position now than they were last March, however, when they lost 3-1 in Paris and needed an 87th minute strike from Demba Ba in London to progress on away goals. The Premier League leaders have more bite these days, while the French champions have not taken control of Ligue 1.

A big night for David Luiz, made the most expensive defender in history last summer when PSG bought him from a Chelsea ready to live without his swashbuckling interpretation of the role of centre-half.

Juventus v Borussia Dortmund

The club who master Italy but cannot fathom Europe against the club who breezed into the Champions League knockouts while slumping to the very bottom of the Bundesliga.

An intriguing tie in many aspects. How will a long-in-the-tooth Juve defence handle the counter-attacking speed of Dortmund?

Will a trip to Italy bring the best out of Ciro Immobile, the Dortmund striker whose qualities as Serie A’s leading scorer last season, with Torino, have been glimpsed only rarely.

One for the nostalgics, too: a rare re-run of the 1997 final, won by Dortmund.

Manchester City v Barcelona

Viewed from two months away, both clubs have reason for trepidation ahead of this sequel to the meeting, won by Barca, at the same stage in 2013-14.

City’s current injury list denies them the services of three senior strikers, Stevan Jovetic, Edin Dzeko and, most importantly, Sergio Aguero, the man Barcelona will fear most.

And up against Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, City need a fit Vincent Kompany.

Barca’s difficulties are less to do with manpower than method. The best teams they have played this season – PSG in Paris, Real Madrid away – have found them loose in defence and in a dilemma about how closely to trust their admired pass-and-move principles.

Schalke v Real Madrid

This was the tie Roberto Di Matteo, a Champions League-winning coach in 2012 with Chelsea, really did not want as his reintroduction to the knockout stages of the tournament.

Madrid thrashed Schalke 9-2 on aggregate in Germany in the last-16 last season, in what was a festival for the so-called ‘BBC’ strike force, Benzema, Bale and Cristiano. If anything, Madrid now look stronger.

Luka Modric has a good chance of recovering fitness by February to give a majestic midfield its balance. Madrid, currently looking to add to their run of 20 successive wins while claiming the Club World Cup, should be quietly relishing their return to Germany.

Arsenal v Monaco

Stylists against stoics, and perhaps more of a test for Arsenal than they might imagine in their relief at drawing what was supposedly the least threatening opponent among the seeded clubs.

Monaco carry the meanest defence in the tournament through to their first appearance at this stage for a decade. They are tough to break down.

They are certainly less pleasing on the eye than they were when, more than 20 years ago, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was making his name as a coach there.

His return to the Principality adds a sheen to the second leg. As does Dimitar Berbatov’s return to London, where he delighted English audiences for Spurs for a few seasons.

Shaktar Donetsk v Bayern Munich

This was supposed to be the season where Shaktar’s authority in European football was challenged and brought down to earth by political strains in their region of Ukraine. We are still waiting.

Their blitzing of Bate Borisov – 7-0 away, 5-0 at home – in the group stage is warning enough of their firepower.

Bayern are still strong favourites, and would expect their long injury list to have shortened a little by February, and to have the Bundesliga title close to graspable by then, given their domestic swagger.

Pep Guardiola, their coach, is wised up and warier of the type of ambush that Real Madrid prepared for Bayern in last year’s semi-final. Shaktar would need to think up something special.

Basel v Porto

It is more than five seasons since Porto, consistently competitive in Europe’s elite tournament, reached a quarter-final.

They will eye this tie as a good opportunity to make good their reputation as their country’s best ambassadors in the Champions League, but they need Jackson Martinez, their powerful striker, in form and fit.

A Portuguese coach, Paolo Sousa, stands in their way. His adventurous Basel will be motivated by having overcome Liverpool to reach this round.

Sousa’s task is to take the Swiss champions beyond the glass ceiling of the last 16, where they recorded a famous win over Bayern Munich in 2012, though lost that tie on aggregate.

Bayer Leverkusen v Atletico Madrid

Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid can no longer be considered dark horses in Europe. They are stronger than that.

Two Europa League triumphs and a Champions League final since 2010 establish their credentials, as does the way they negotiated top spot in a tough Group A to reach the last 16.

Doubts concern the Spanish champions’ stamina and what they can offer should their refined formulas of set-piece strength and sharp counter-attack not yield a result. But Leverkusen, walloped at the first knockout stage by PSG last year, probably do not have the tools to ask hard enough questions to Atletico over 180 minutes.

sports@thenational.ae

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Published: December 15, 2014 04:00 AM

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