Monday, December 14, 2015

Predicting the UCL Round of 16

Good news for England? Not exactly. The UCL draw came out today and only Manchester City will be favored in their matchup among the three British teams. Arsenal will tee off against Barcelona, a team they have only beaten once in seven Champions League matches. Most famous was the loss in the finals when two late goals cost them their first European Cup, though some other fateful days simmer in the hearts of Gooners, including the second leg in 2011 when a 2-1 first leg win was turned around by a questionable red card on Robin van Persie, a horrific error by Fabergas right before halftime and a late miss by Bendtner. Chelsea certainly have a chance to exact some revenge on a PSG side that used a late goal and then extra time second to squeeze past the Blues last year. On paper, it is PSG without a second thought, but Mourinho is certainly a manager that knows how to win, so don’t count them out yet. Finally is City, who have the mouthwatering opportunity to finally get past the Round of 16 by beating the heavily outmatched (and outspent) Dynamo Kiev.

Looking at the rest of the matchups, the most interesting include Roma against Madrid and Juve against Bayern Munich. Madrid and Munich are two of the early favorites for the title, having won two of the last three between them, and victories by the German and Spanish sides would actually help England in their coefficient war with Italy, as they already have three teams through, to Italy’s two and a chance to outpace them in the Europa League as well (with Tottenham’s matchup against Fiorentina of particular interest as England tries to keep their fourth place spot in the UCL). Some of the minnows in the field have had incredible luck with their draws, including Wolfsburg, who face KAA Gent in a two-leg battle they should be able to navigate through and Zenit, who face a Benfica team that seems slightly overmatched in this encounter. The finalist from two years ago, who only missed out as the result of a late goal by crosstown rivals Real, face a seemingly straightforward tie against PSV. Here are my predictions:

1. KAA Gent v. Wolfsburg: I like Wolfsburg to end the Gent dream run (3-1 on aggregate)

2. AS Roma v. Real Madrid: Real should win rather handily (5-2 on aggregate)

3. PSG v. Chelsea: I see an upset here, Chelsea (3-2 on aggregate)

4. Arsenal v. Barcelona: I really want to pick the Gunners, and I think they have a chance – as did the Iraqi army in our two wars – but hard to go against that front three unless the Gunner’s D really steps up (5-4 on aggregate)

5. Juve v. Bayern: last year I might have chose differently, but I think Bayern has too much talent for a Juve team that, while improving in recent weeks, is minus some of the key players from last season’s run (6-2 on aggregate)

6. PSV v. Atletico: this should be pretty straight forward for Atletico (3-1 on aggregate)

7. Benfica v. Zenit: AVB has done impressive things with this Zenit side and, even as they are struggling in their domestic league, I think they win a tight two legs (3-2 on aggregate)

8. Dynamo Kiev v. Manchester City: City need to show they belong in the upper echelon of Europe. The push for the next level begins here (5-2 on aggregate).

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