Competitive play won't resume in the 2015 2016 UEFA Champions League until well into the New Year, but already, fans are getting excited for the next stage of Europe's most prestigious club football tournament. On Monday, December 14th, the UEFA announced the draw for the Champions League 2016 round of 16, with the first leg matches to take place on February 16th, 17th, 23rd or 24th and second leg matches scheduled for early to mid-March. Let's take a look at the match-ups!
The Games to Watch
Probably the highest profile draw for the round of 16 is the match-up between Bayern Munich and Juventus. Bayern won five of their six group stage fixtures, only dropping one game (against Arsenal). Juventus, meanwhile, have struggled to find their groove this fall, both in domestic and European play. After a dismal start to the Serie A season, though, the Zebras have begun a slow and steady march back toward the top slot, winning six matches in a row in Italy. Add their status as last season's UCL runners-up, and Juve have to be considered a threat to Bayern Munich here-even if the German heavyweights have reached the finals or semifinals in each of the past four Champions League tournaments.
Also extremely intriguing is the match-up between FC Barcelona and Arsenal. Barca are, of course, the reigning tournament champions and, therefore, the clearest favorites to clinch the title again in 2016. Arsenal, meanwhile, have struggled so far in the UCL, only just inching into the round of 16 with a last-minute win against Olympiacos.
In fact, with three wins and three losses in the group stage the Gunners had the second lowest point total in the groups (nine) of any of the soccer clubs that made it through to the knockouts. Still, Arsenal have been inching their way up the Premier League table all season, should pick up a few new players during the transfer window, and have time now for their existing squad members to recover from their injuries. It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how they hold their own against a team like Barcelona.
The other big question mark on the table is the battle set to play out between Chelsea and Paris Saint Germain. Chelsea, despite their domestic woes, are technically favored to win, having managed to top their group. (PSG came in second in theirs, trailing behind Real Madrid.) However, the Parisians are tough opponents even when a team is at their best, and Chelsea have certainly not been "at their best" for the majority of the 2015 2016 campaign. PSG also eliminated the Blues in the round of 16 last season, with Jose Mourinho's tactical, reserved style of play ultimately backfiring and giving the French football club the victory on away goals. Chelsea will have their work cut out for them.
The Rest of the Field
A year ago, the match-up between Real Madrid and Roma might have seemed like one of the bigger battles on the round of 16 table. This season, though, Roma have struggled to make an impression both in domestic play and in the Champions League. They only won a single game in the group stage, and are the only soccer club left in the tournament with a lower point total than Arsenal. Real Madrid, meanwhile, had a near-perfect group stage run and still have the asset of Cristiano Ronaldo, who has already scored 11 goals in this year's UCL. For those keeping track, in the 2014 2015 Champions League, no player tallied more than 10 points in the entire tournament.
Elsewhere, Wolfsburg are drawn against Belgium's Gent, Manchester City are set to face Dynamo Kyiv, Atletico Madrid will battle Dutch champs PSV Eindhoven, and Zenit Saint Petersburg will take on Benfica. Wolfsburg will likely win over Gent, who only skated into the round of 16 with a last-minute group stage win. Manchester City are probably England's best hope at a title while Atletico Madrid have been heating up in the La Liga and will likely bring the same level of pressure to the Champions League. Zenit Saint Petersburg, meanwhile, won five of their six games in the groups, versus Benfica's three.
Which football clubs are you rooting for in the next stage of the UEFA Champions League? Who do you think will reach the quarterfinals? Visit Soccer Box online today to pick up a new jersey for your favorite team, be it a Bayern Munich shirt or a Manchester City kit.