Champions League

Usual suspects in Uefa’s round of 16

2017-02-12 06:09
Real Madrid players celebrate after beating rivals Atlético Madrid in the Uefa Champions League final. Real Madrid players celebrate after beating rivals Atlético Madrid in the Uefa Champions League final. (Angel Martinez, Getty Images)

Johannesburg - When the 16 teams remaining in the Uefa Champions League embark on the knock-out stages, it will very much be a case of the same old story, as the usual suspects have advanced from the group phase.

The first-leg fixtures of the round of the last 16 will be played midweek over the next two weeks.

The only club to gate-crash the illustrious party is last season’s surprise Premier League winners Leicester City, who seem to have kept all their match-winning performances this season for the lucrative competition.

While the Foxes are struggling in the Premier League and are sitting perilously close to the relegation zone, they made sure to progress in the Champions League at their first attempt before they played their final game.

Their round of the last-16 match against Sevilla is not one of the stand-out fixtures, but it will leave both teams cautiously optimistic about making the quarterfinals.

A trio of matches is vying for the title of being the main attraction of the round: Manchester City vs AS Monaco; Bayern Munich vs Arsenal; and Paris St Germain vs Barcelona.

The clash between City and Monaco sees two big-spending clubs going head-to-head, with City’s Middle Eastern money taking on the financial muscle provided to Monaco by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev.

Each occasion

City’s Spanish coach Pep Guardiola is aware that it will not be easy against the French side.

“My impression against Paris St Germain [Guardiola watched the 1-1 draw between the two sides] and what I’ve seen is ... they’re a really strong team; they score a lot of goals; they are physical,” he said.

“We have to go to the gym in the next few days!”

For Guardiola, success in the Champions League is arguably even more important than for his Monaco counterpart, Leonardo Jardim.

Unlike Guardiola, whose club lies third on the table, 10 points behind Chelsea, the Portuguese coach has taken Monaco to the top of Ligue 1, and they are looking like a good bet to win their first league championship since 2000.

Bayern Munich and Arsenal have met three times previously at this stage and, on each occasion, the German team has gone on to the next round. Bayern have been omnipresent in the semifinals of the Champions League for the past six seasons and will not want to see that run come to an end against the Gunners.

Their form in the domestic cup and league has not been outstanding, even if they have been getting results, prompting Dutch international Arjen Robben to say: “At the moment, it is not enough – we need to do it better. But, normally, we are always there when we have to be.”

Win competition

Barcelona fans, meanwhile, have had to endure the humiliation of seeing their bitter rivals Real Madrid winning the trophy twice in the past three years, while they have won it once.

Barca’s opponents, Paris St Germain, is another super rich club that has gone out to try to buy success. But while the Qatari millions have helped the club to four successive Ligue 1 titles, as well as two cup triumphs, they have fallen short where it really matters: in the Champions League.

They will have their work cut out for them against Barcelona, though, if they want to continue their run of five consecutive quarterfinal appearances.

Defending champions Real Madrid face Napoli, while two former winners in Benfica and Borussia Dortmund face each other in Lisbon in their first-leg match.

Between them, Atlético Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen have appeared in four Champions League finals, but neither club has yet to win the competition.

Atlético have been losing finalists in two of the last three editions of the competition, while Leverkusen were famously renamed as Neverkusen in 2002, when they lost the German Cup final, the German League and the Champions League final within the space of nine days.

But as they go head-to-head, only one of the teams will be able to dream of a title that has eluded them.

The final fixture sees Porto take on Juventus.

The fixtures :

Tuesday: Benfica vs Borussia Dortmund; Paris St Germain vs Barcelona

Wednesday: Bayern Munich vs Arsenal; Real Madrid vs Napoli

Tuesday, February 21: Bayer 04 Leverkusen vs Atlético Madrid; Manchester City vs Monaco

Wednesday, February 22: FC Porto vs Juventus; Sevilla vs Leicester City.

Read more on:    uefa  |  soccer
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