The UEFA Champions League Round of 16 is in the history books, one with blowouts, comebacks, and nervy results. The competition now ticks up a notch, with Europe's best clubs competing on several fronts.
Now, the group and country disqualifiers go out the window. Teams who have met before can just as easily meet again, and domestic rivalries can spill over onto an international stage. Here are the participants left:
|Team||UEFA Coefficient||Titles||2012/13 Finish|
|124.664||2||Round of 16
Unlike years past, the top UEFA Coefficient countries – England, Germany and Spain – make up 87.5 percent of the field. Bayern will not only be battling for its own sake, but the future stature of German Football.
Several champions league rematches could be on the docket, while newcomers from country capitals will hope to stay in the mix.
The Best Draw: Manchester United
Normally this draw would shoot fear through a Bayern faithful that have endured heart break at the hands of the Red Devils in the past. However, a club that cannot intimidate its domestic rivals seems less of a monstrosity.
A wholehearted, passionate performance from Olympiakos pushed David Moyes and Manchester United to the brink. When everything was on fire, Robin Van Persie suited up and put it out, scoring a penalty/open play/free kick hat-trick to carry the English giants out of the flames.
One would dismiss the club's chances, using the seventh-place standing in the Barclays Premier League as a barometer. Consider, though, the sixth-place standing Chelsea was in when its run to the club's first international title. A club with nothing to lose can be a very perilous side to face.
That being said, no team is better equipped to berate Manchester United than Bayern is. The aging Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand would be no match for the ricochet machine Mario Mandzukic and the pesky space-operator Thomas Müller. Wayne Rooney and Van Persie may be menacing at times, but the midfield that provides the service is not.
This particular Champions League would be a perfect opportunity for Bayern to avenge their predecessors, sinking the hallowed Red Devils deeper into irrelevance.
The Worst Draw: Real Madrid
Recent success is always relative to the parameters. Real Madrid has reached the semifinal stage each of the last three years, but failed to get out of the Round of 16 the previous six years.
A deadly dynamic that manager Carlo Ancelotti can utilize is the most expensive combination in European history, Gareth Bale and Chirstiano Ronaldo. Real Madrid have scored at a rate of 2.80 goals per game with both Bale and Ronaldo taking part, 2.45 when one or both are absent. When both see the pitch during the same match, the two played a direct part in 49 of the 70 goals. Having possibly the most powerful left and right legs in one side makes any side a perennial contender.
Injuries in Real Madrid's squad could be a chink in its shiny armor. Jesé Rodríguez tore his anterior cruciate ligament Tuesday against Schalke 04, the same injury Sami Khedira has been recovering from. Karim Benzema left the league match against Málaga at the weekend, although he could return for the Clásico.
Los Blancos enter the 2013/14 quarterfinals with two 6-1 road thumpings (Galatasaray and Schalke 04), and has one of the best performers in Champions League history on their team – Ronaldo has scored 13 goals in seven matches. They are kings of the hill at this moment in time, although Atlético Madrid and Barcelona can still push them off.
Bayern and Real Madrid have faced off 12 times, the most Bayern has faced an international opponent. A quarterfinal draw would be a fantastic spectacle, although it would rob the later stages a European powerhouse.
The Homecoming Draw: Barcelona
Seven years as a player, 14 trophies as a manager, anguish as a departer, and now Pep Guardiola could potentially return to Camp Nou as a visitor.
The bout would be two sides Guardiola had a heavy hand in morphing the identities of. It would be full of tactical nuance, enchanging diligent jabs instead of reckless blows. It would be the greatest tug-of-war of possession, the pitch action compacted into a third of its size. With the 7-0 aggregate result in the not-so-distant past, Bayern would go in as the proverbial favorites, but Barcelona would want to clean its nicked reputation with emphasis, not relinquishing its era of European dominance lightly.
With his wheels fixed, the Lionel Messi Locomotive has powered in 13 goals in Barcelona's last 10 games. Alexis Sanchez has brought his play to a whole different level, not renouncing his role to Neymar without a fight. A wary defense a year ago now has a bit more life to it, Gerardo "Tata" Martino able to field a more seasoned Marc Bartra with veterans Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano and Carles Puyol.
If the two meet, the stakes will be a bit higher and the narrative will unravel in a different direction.
The Rivalry Draw: Chelsea
Red against Blue. Pep against Mourinho. Bundesliga against Barclays Premier League. Supporter-driven model against sugar-daddy model.
Didier Drogba will not be suiting up, but Edin Hazard and Oscar will be, two acquisitions from the summer of 2012 that have risen into crucial columns into Chelsea's foundation. On a continent where consistent central defenders are hard to come by, Chelsea also has one of the best defenses in Europe, with an ageless John Terry as the figurehead and Jose Mourinho pulling the strings.
At times, the Chelsea attack has looked stagnant, unable to finish in the final third. The London club has scored one goal or less in 18 of 45 matches in all competitions. Hazard is carrying much of the attacking load, for he is the only one in the Barclays Premier League top 10 in scoring. Free transfer Samuel Eto'o's contribution is comparable to the combined effort of €58.5 million Fernando Torres or €8.5 million Demba Ba.
Chelsea is more than a opponent; it is an antithesis, an insurgent to Bayern's reign. On the beautiful green pasture that is Bayern's rise to power, the Blues are the dog turd that ruins the curb appeal. Chelsea has been the only club thus far that has tripped up a full-fueled Bayern machine, forcing the triple champions to play from behind twice in the UEFA Super Cup.
It would be a UEFA rematch like no other.
The Klassiker Draw: Borussia Dortmund
With the stature of both clubs and the added DFL Super Cup, Bayern and Dortmund are now bound to meat four times a year. All four times could be meaningless if the two meet in the champions league for the second consecutive year.
Representing Germany loud and proud in Wembley Stadium a year ago, the two sides have gone separate paths, although Bayern's star poaching have linked their inroads once again. Robert Lewandowski would have to go against his future manager and give his yellow pride one last hurrah before storing his kit in his memorabilia collection.
The injuries Dortmund have struggled with have struggled with are more prevalent in the papers than on the pitch. In a side that lost Sven Bender, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Mats Hummels, Łukasz Piszczek, Marco Reus, Marcel Schmelzer, and Neven Subotić, the results that it has tallied on three fronts have been impressive. A Lewandowski yellow card suspension sure does not help Dortmund's Champions League aspirations, though.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a Ferrari on the right wing with enough gas to toe the Dortmund attack himself, and Kevin Großkreutz has turned into an amoeba, filling in the cracks. Nevertheless, the squandering squad depth will be the lactic acid that will hamper the finish lines the Schwarzgelben are pushing towards.
This Dortmund side will be more delectable to play than the ones of the past.
The Exorbitant Draw: Paris Saint-Germain
The Qatari project has turned a respectable, mid-table PSG into an international juggernaut, disregarding the Financial Fair Play guidelines before the proposed sanctions kick into gear.
With Zlatan Ibrahimović and Thiago Silva leading the front and the back, the Parisian side have proved themselves worthy to be among Europe's elite. It gave Barcelona legitimate trouble a year ago, and it will likely be as fickle, if not more, this time around.
The improvement from PSG has come from an integration, for Laurent Blanc has made his side into more than just a FIFA Ultimate Team club. While some chemistry still lacks a bit up front, the midfield has bridged the gap between a rather stout defense and a vicious attack. Yohan Cabaye and Bliase Matuidi have stabalized a rickety foundation in the center of the park, while Yohan Cabaye has filled the "Beckham-role."
Going to Paris will be a nice reward for a Bayern side with expectations weighing on their shoulders. It is an exciting match-up that its camaraderie will help them triumph in, as well as the first high-profile German-French competition that allows the Bavarians to travel to one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
The Dark-Horse Draw: Atlético Madrid
For the second consecutive year, three Spanish teams have reached the final eight in the Champions League, although the dark-horse that Atlético Madrid are replacing, Málaga, did not have as big of a chance of taking home the trophy.
Diego Costa has cleared the exhaust left behind from the Radamel Falcao transfer to AS Monaco. The Brazilian-turned-Spaniard has more than a third of Atlético Madrid's league goals to his name, with underrated addition David Villa providing a lot of support as well. Koke has come of age right before our eyes, grasping the attention of many outside Madrid.
Is Diego Simeone's side playing over its head? Los Colchoneros have steamrolled through much of La Liga, but has only one victory against Real Madrid and Barcelona. Holding Spain's top sides to one point is impressive, but not in therms of Champions League contenders.
Atlético Madrid will be fun to watch no matter who it draws, and it will be no field day for Bayern if that is how the selection unfolds.
The Champions League Quarterfinal draw will be at 12:00 CET (7:00 AM EDT) on FCB.tv and UEFA.com.
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