Friday, 27 December 2013

UEFA Champions League and Europa League Draws - Reaction and Analysis:

Hello and welcome to my latest blog post, where I have analysis and a reaction to the UEFA Champions League and Europa League draws which took place on Monday morning and afternoon, for the knockout rounds in both European competitions. 

As you can see in the picture above, that is the official draw for the Last 16 of this season's Champions League, but just to recap here are the fixtures which will take place on the 18/19th and 25/26th of February 2014 (depending on what ties are playing on either a Tuesday or Wednesday):

Manchester City vs Barcelona:
An interesting encounter for both teams, Manchester City have the chance to prove their worth in the Champions League, while Barcelona can boast their dominance again after a lacklustre performance last season as they were comprehensively thrashed by the eventual winners Bayern Munich. 

City played relatively well in their respective group this season, despite coming second on goal difference which is a contrast to how they performed the past two seasons - not getting through to the Last 16 on both occassions simply because they were overwhelmed by the talent and fight of the teams they would have expected to beat in their group (for example Ajax, who played them off the pitch at times even though you would have predicted a comfortable City win)

Dominant: City have improved a lot in the last few years, and are favourites for the EPL title. Could they go far in the Champions League aswell? 

Barcelona also played relatively well, finishing top of their group with 13 points out of a possible 18 and capping off their group with a 6-1 thrashing against Celtic on the 11th of December.. 

They will want to go further than they did last season, and for the first time they know that this tie will not be one of the easiest, so they have to be on top form with Messi & co against Pellegrini's moneybags. 

Out: Barcelona will be hoping that the world's best player Messi is back for their tie against City in February.

Olympiacos vs Manchester United:
This tie looks like a mismatch in terms of quality, with Greek champions Olympiacos going up against the defending EPL champions Manchester United.

United have not been extremely strong or convincing in Europe so far this season, partly because of the fact that they are going through a transition period without long-serving manager of 26 years Sir Alex Ferguson, but also because their squad is not strong in depth and they are heavily reliant on van Persie, Rooney and Januzaj for their chance creation. 

As weird as it may seem, Olympiakos have a decent chance of troubling United in the two-legged tie because even though they do not have any world-class players as such, they are hard to break down in defence and have a clinical in-form striker in Konstantinos Mitroglou who could cause some havoc for defender Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans...

Watch out: Mitroglou could be the deciding factor for United as they look to reach the Last 8.

Milan vs Atletico Madrid:
Probably the most open tie in the Last 16, you have two teams who have fallen by the way side in the past few years but still have great players in their respective squads and are performing well in their leagues (Serie A and Liga BBVA respectively) 

Milan back a few years ago had the likes of Pirlo, Kaka in his prime, Thiago Silva, Ibrahimovic and Robinho for example - now they have more money (as they sold their best players) but no world-class player seems to want to join them. 

Lucky for them, they have former Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli in their strikeforce aswell as Italian starlet Stephan El Shaarawy and teenager M'Biaye Niang. 

Atletico Madrid on the other hand have produced some of the best players (at the time) in the past 5 years, and could pose a significant threat with the likes of young starlet Koke and proven Brazillian striker Diego Costa in their ranks.

Potential: Manchester United and Milan are among the teams who are interested in young starlet and winger Koke, who is one to watch in the Last 16.
Clinical: Diego Costa is dangerous - he will play a pivotal role for Atletico in the Last 16. 

They sit top of the Liga BBVA table, 3 points above title rivals Barcelona with a game in hand - having impressed so far this season with consistent performances and clinical finishes against the lower sides in the league. 

Bayer Leverkusen vs PSG:
PSG will obviously be the favourites to progress through to the quarter-finals in this tie, simply because of the shear quality and depth in midfield and attacking options in their squad. 

The likes of Ibrahimovic, Cavani, Lucas, Thiago Silva, Verratti, Matuidi and Menez will always strike fear into the opponent - however you can never truly count Leverkusen out. 

A couple of facts for you;

FACT: Ibrahimovic and Cavani have scored 26 goals between them in Ligue 1 so far this season.

FACT: Ibrahimovic is one assist off the assist leader, Monaco's young starlet and Colombian attacking midfielder James Rodriguez.

FACT: PSG have conceded the second least amount of goals in Ligue 1, behind 3rd placed Lille (conceded 6) with 11

Inspired form: PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored 14 goals in Ligue 1 this season, two more than closest rival and team-mate Edinson Cavani. 
The solid German outfit Leverkusen are currently in 2nd place in the Bundesliga, with 37 points out of a possible 51 in the league.

They will be looking to striker Stefan Kiessling and fast winger Sidney Sam for their attacking force against PSG, whose defence can be tested at the best of times despite a solid back-four which boasts Brazil centre-back Thiago Silva.

FACT: Kiessling and Sam have scored 16 goals between them in the Bundesliga this season, which is half of the team's goals in total. 

Dangerous: Kiebling has already scored 9 goals in the Bundesliga this season, 2 less than the top scorer in the league.
Sam has certainly stepped up to the place to replace forward Andre Schurrle, who left for Chelsea in the summer.
Stats don't lie: Sam is top of the league for his country and club - with 7 goals and 5 assists this season.
Galatasaray vs Chelsea:
At first glance at this tie, you'd expect Chelsea to have an easy fixture and dominate - right? 

Well they might find it slightly harder when they come up against the likes of former striker Didier Drogba who just happens to be the player who scored the winning penalty to win them their first UEFA Champions League trophy in May of last year. 

Chelsea have won two European trophies back-to-back, with the Champions League in 2012 and the Europa League at the end of the last season despite not being on top form in both competitions. 

They will be the favourites against Galatasaray, who narrowly lost to Real Madrid in the Last 16 last season.

Chelsea won the Europa League this year in May, beating Benfica in the final.

Schalke 04 vs Real Madrid:
Looks like a mis-match for the Bundesliga side Schalke, as they host arguably one of the best footballing sides in the world in Real Madrid. 

The German outfit have never had an easy Last 16 tie, and this one will not be an exception as they look to shock the Spanish giants despite their powerful strikeforce of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Schalke have great players of their own such as wonderkid Julian Draxler, striker Klass-Jan Huntelaar, deadline day signing Kevin-Prince Boateng and winger Michel Bastos, but their Champions League form of late has not been particularly impressive - so can they challenge Real for a place in the quarter-finals? Or will Ronaldo & Co destroy the Germans? 

Zenit St. Petersburg vs Borussia Dortmund:

Arsenal vs Bayern Munich:
Again. Arsenal narrowly scraped through their tough group despite having 12 points from 6 games to their name, and who do they get in the Last 16? None other than the defending Champions League winners themselves, Bayern. This would be considered a decent match-up, if only these two sides had not gone head-to-head at the same stage this time last season. 

The result? 
Bayern beat Arsenal 3-1 at The Emirates
Arsenal beat Bayern 2-0 at the Allianz Arena

So... Bayern Munich progressed to the quarter-finals on away goal rule (scoring away from home in the first leg of a European competition doubles the advantage in the second leg)

So.... Arsenal will be desperate to seek revenge against their German opposition. 
Both teams have a lot of respect for each other, similar play-styles and this tie has all the makings of a fascinating spectacle. 

Who will win? Hard to say. 

And here is the full draw of the Last 32 of this season's Europa League (more analysis closer to the ties): 

Note - The 8 teams that came third in their respective Champions League groups are also involved in the Europa League as a result.