The UEFA Champions League group stage has concluded, meaning UEFA will have to dig out those plastic soccer balls again and decide the European fates of a club or two.
FC Bayern advanced top in their group, tied for most points in the group stage with fellow Group D'ers Manchester City. With goal differential on their side, the defending champions reach the Round of 16, which means their possible achtelfinale scenarios are a bit easier to swallow.
|A||Bayer 04 Leverkusen|
|D||FC Bayern München||Manchester CIty FC|
|E||FC Schalke 04|
|G||Atlético de Madrid||FK Zenit St. Petersburg|
Bold = Possible Draws
For the second consecutive round, FC Bayern avoid the three other 2013 semifinalists, and the only 2013 quarter-finalist that the trophy holders could play is Galatasaray. What the Reds can't avoid is a rematch with Arsenal, another trip to Russia, or a two-legged rendezvous with a seven-time tournament champion.
The Best Draw: Olympiakos CFP
Give the Greeks credit. Olympiakos needed to defend their turf against Anderlecht, and the club did. Olympiakos needed to be better than SL Benfica to advance, and the club was, twice. Olympiakos needed to not get blown out in Parc de Princes, and the club was not, keeping the goal differential low enough to advance.
The Greek champions had a nice group stage. Yes, nice. Going up against Paris Saint-Germain, quarter-finalists a year ago, Míchel's men sat deeper and conceded an average of 61 percent possession. Konstantinos Mitroglou may be the best Greek striker in the Greek Super League, but he disappeared in half of his appearances in European competition, with three matches of two shots or less.
Their two legged elimination in the Europa League against Levante a year ago is still in the back mirror. Given the other teams in this bunch, Olympiakos is the noticeable runt, even if it punched above its weight in the group.
The Worst Draw: Arsenal FC
While the second leg of the Round of 16 match for FC Bayern wound up a footnote to its spectacular season, the fact remains that Arsenal almost brought Bayern's treble dreams to a screeching halt. That near upset came without Mesut Özil, and not when Arsenal was a top-of-the-league side.
The Gunners still lack squad depth, yes, but which match will Arsene Wenger save his squad depth for? A league match against Crystal Palace, or the defending European champions? The FA Cup might add some fatigue, as will the busy schedule over the holiday season, but Wenger has always picked and chosen his battle, allowing his club to qualify for the Champions league despite not winning a trophy since 2005.
Olivier Giroud is having the best season of his career, winning an unfathomable 4.8 aerial duels per game and scoring 10 goals in 20 matches for Arsenal. More organized at the back, Wenger's side has allowed only 19 goals in 21 matches in all competitions, and has conceded multiple goals in only four matches.
If FC Bayern draws Arsenal for the second consecutive Round of 16, events will likely play a little differently than a year ago. Arsenal's confidence has never been higher, making them a dangerous club to play against.
The Cold Draw: FK Zenit St. Petersberg
Take out the fact that Zenit St. Petersburg has qualified for the Round of 16 twice in the last three seasons. The average temperature in St. Petersburg in February is -7 degrees Celsius (19 degrees Fahrenheit), according to climate zone. That is the same temperature at the start of FC Bayern's match against CSKA Moskva, plus Khimki Arena was a giant snow globe.
Die Roten overcame their first trip to Russia, but CSKA is not as deep of a side as Zenit is. Axel Witsel and Hulk are two bonafide pieces for Luciano Spalletti, while Danny and Roman Shirikov are quality veterans that finish well from midfield. Zenit have several questions in defense, but with 40 goals in 19 Russian League games, it has not really mattered.
Zenit St. Petersberg have never qualified for the quarterfinals, so FC Bayern are several tiers above them. The home leg will likely be a big result for the defending champs, but the away result could be a little more tricky. Bayern's class will probably win out, as long as the players do not freeze first.
The Headline Draw: AC Milan
A team that has won the title five times against the team that has won it seven times. A club that has a running 40 match domestic unbeaten streak against a club that had a 58 unbeaten streak of their own.
FC Bayern has never advanced past AC Milan in the five times the two clubs have met in European competition, including three times in the modern Champions League. In fact, the only match die Roten "won" against i Rossoneri was in 1990. Since the two sides were tied 1-1 on aggregate, the match went to extra time, and the late Stefano Borgonovo scored in the 100th minute to get the away goal AC Milan needed.
These two sides are a little farther apart nowadays, with FC Bayern coming off a treble campaign and only one loss in major competition while AC Milan struggling to stay afloat in Serie A. Mario Ballotelli is brilliant when he can stay on the pitch – he is already in yellow card danger with two during the group stage – although he disappears against the bigger sides in Serie A. Philppe Mexes is a solid defender, but he can't cover up all the defensive inefficiencies AC Milan have.
AC Milan showed their resolve a year ago, defeating Barcelona in the San Siro, and subsequently lost a two goal advantage in Camp Nou. Regardless, an Italian-German contest is always fun to watch, and would be one of the more intriguing Round of 16 match-ups if drawn.
The Dark-Horse Draw: Galatasaray SK
Despite struggling domestically, Galatasaray are hanging around the Champions League again. It were the rash of Europe a year ago, one that Real Madrid kept scratching but it would not go away. Now the football gods have blessed them with another run, a hail storm stopping the match after the first 31 minutes on Tuesday and a continued flury in the 59 minute continuation on Wednesday.
After the acquisitions of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder in the 2013 January transfer window, Galatasaray turned from a pony among stallions to a dark horse. This time around, Sneijder has struggled with injuries, while Drogba's scoring rate has stuck around a goal every three games despite possessing a quarter of Galatasaray's scoring in the group stage.
Real Madrid posted 10 goals on the Turkish Champions, yet Galatasaray still advanced due to its draw and victory against Juventus. Drogba tended to show up against big sides, while Felipe Melo provides Roberto Mancini with a consistent anchor in midfield. FC Bayern probably can take advantage of the 14 shots Galatasaray concedes per game once or twice, but the Sarı Kırmızılılar can be dangerous on the counterattack. This draw would not be a gimme by any stretch.
For those curious, FCB.tv will show the draw at 12:00 PM EST on Monday, December 16. UEFA.com will also stream the event for free.
Who do you think FC Bayern will/should draw in the group stage? Feel free to comment below.