Some matches are better than others, and it’s no different among the 8 clashes in the Champions League knockout stage. Real Madrid and Manchester United take center stage obviously, but the names of Arsenal, Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Barcelona don’t necessarily make their clashes better in quality than those with “smaller” names in them.
Best – Real Madrid & Manchester United
Where do we start? Two excellent teams with a tendency to score lots of goals? Cristiano Ronaldo playing against his ex for the first time? Jose Mourinho and Alex Ferguson mind games disguised by great love for one another? The history as well as the present make the build for this match so easy to do. Mourinho will probably play more conservatively when needed. Ferguson doesn’t have the players to play that way.
Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Dortmund
Shakhtar did lose two matches, but looked like the best team in the group for five out of their six games. The Brazilian horde plays some wonderful football, especially at home, and don’t seem to change their style and intentions no matter the opponents and the venue. Same goes for Dortmund, who seem to be saving their best this season for the Champions League. There are more interesting matches in terms of global interest, but none of them will be of higher quality.
Porto vs Malaga
The question is this – Can Malaga, with the fabulous Isco, keep up their pace until February. The lack of depth and funds is going to be a load on their minds, shoulders and legs. Porto play some fantastic football and Malaga are one of those teams that have only one mode – the question is taking advantage of all the open space and freedom they allow. Like Donetsk vs Dortmund, this isn’t the most interesting match in terms of fan appeal, but it should be about great football.
Arsenal vs Bayern Munich
There’s no way getting round it. Arsenal, improved or not by the time this stage comes, are huge underdogs at the current situation. Bayern are cruising through the Bundesliga and weren’t too troubled in the Champions League as well, despite that stunning loss to Borisov. Arsenal look to play attacking football but don’t always muster up the right kind of effort, while Bayern are often a joy to watch, especially against teams that let them play.
AC Milan vs Barcelona
If you thought Milan were underdogs last season when they got to play Barcelona in the same stage, than multiply it by quite a lot this season. No Zlatan Ibrahimovic, only 7th in the Serie A, managed to escape their group despite winning only twice in six matches. This team is in rebuilding or decaying, you make the decision, but it’s inferior in pretty much every position to Barcelona’s machine.
Galatasaray vs Schalke
Two teams that love playing counter attacking football will have to take the initiative in this one. A big question with Schalke is if they keep Huntelaar going into this clash. With him, they’re big favorites. Without him, and without a reasonable replacement, the mighty Burak Yilmaz and a very enjoyable Galatasaray side might surprise the Germans, ranked only 7th in the Bundesliga.
Celtic vs Juventus
Don’t be fooled by Celtic’s win over Barcelona. This team isn’t probably one of the top 16 clubs in Europe at the moment, but a special kind of energy and brave defending can get you pretty far, if the dice fall the right way. Juventus aren’t exactly a team that mind playing cautiously away from home or even at home, which will force Celtic to open up a bit and probably seal their fates. When you place the Italian league leaders against a team struggling to win the depleted SPL, you don’t expect much of a fight.
Valenica vs PSG
Although Valencia do have their moments, they’re only 11th in the La Liga, suffering from a bad defense and a stagnant offensive game. PSG are mostly Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but it’s enough for a shared lead in Ligue 1, and there’s no arguing their depth and quality, which doesn’t come out in consistent portions, but should be enough to lift them into the last 8.