Arsenal draws AC Milan while Chelsea does battle with Man City killer Napoli
The Champion League’s Sweet Dieciseis will have a different look this year with Manchester United and Manchester City will both watching from the sidelines. Regulars Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Arsenal, AC Milan, Inter, and Bayern Munich have all made it through the group stages as well as Cinderellas APOEL from Cypress and Basel, the Manchester United killer. Teams like Lyon, Benefica, and CSKA will have to step up their games. Napoli and Leverkusen could be the wildcards. Barcelona is the team to beat.
Here are the matchups with teasers. The home and homes will be played on Feb 14/15 and Feb 21/22
Lyon v APOEL Nicosia: Lyon is one of just a handful of teams to quailfy to this round every year since the Champions League went to this format in 2003-2004. The French got in by goal differential after throttling Zagreb 7-1 in their final qualifier. That said, they have a chance to advance a round after getting paired with upstart APOEL but … don’t dismiss the Cipriots right away. They have a nice blend of South Americans (5 Brazilians) and Euros (3 Portuguese) and play solid football. Sportsbetting3 is calling for APOEL to advance.
Napoli v Chelsea: This is the best Naples tean since Maradonna and Careca teamed up in the mid and late 80s. The celeste were almost single-handedly responsible for sending home Manchester City. This is Naples first taste of UCL competition and ultra-confident. Good teams playing with house money and nothing to lose is a tough combination to beat. Chelsea is very experienced but older with a rapidly closing window. This could be the last chace for Drogba, Terry, and Lampard to lift the hardware. Sportsbetting3 likes Napoli.
AC Milan v Arsenal: A tough draw for both teams. AC Milan has been knocked out early by Brits the last three years but the Devils may have one of the top three strikers in the game in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Seedorf, Nesta and Zambrotta have all won this tournament before and add up to about 45 years experience at this level. The Gunners have had success against Italian clubs in the past but will need someone other than Van Persie to find the back of the net. Sportsbetting3 has AC Milan moving on.
FC Basel v Bayern Munich: Asl Manchester United what happens when you don’t show up to play FC Basel. The Swiss have unis similar to Barcelona but that’s where all similarity ends. Bayern is loaded, especial with goal scorers like Gomes, Robben, and Muller. Generally considered the biggest threat to the Spaniards, Bayern has the added motivation of knowing that the final will be played on their home turf. Bayern Munich easily.
Bayer Leverkusen v Barcelona: The Germans are paying for falling asleep in their final group match, a draw at Genk. Michael Ballack leads the Leverkusen charge but they should have won their group avoiding a matchup with the best team on the planet. Barcelona will be missing David Villa for six months with a broken leg but never miss a beat and are off back-to-back wins in “El Classico” and in the far East. Mess, Xavi, and on and on and on … take Barcelona.
CSKA Moscow v Real Madrid: CSKA advanced on the hot foot of Seydou Doumbia who scored in five of the group phase matches. The Russians have a solid back line but are also at a huge form disadvantage as their home league is on winter break. Real Madrid will be ready to play and looking for a rematch with Barcelona. Jose Mourinho tries to win his third Champions League title with his third different team. Real … the games are a formailty.
Zenit St Peterburg v Benfica: Zenit is well back and very experienced with Russian nationals coached by a slick Italian. Like CSKA, not having the benefit of league play during their hiatus is a major problem vs better squads. This is a great spot for Benefica to emerge from the shadow of Porto by going deep into this tournament. This team has a nice blend of youth and experience and could catch one of the big boys off guard when they are at their best. Couldn’t have a better draw in the opening round.
Marseille v Inter Milan: Marseille had just about flatlined in the UCL before coming back from 2-0 to beat Dortmund in their final group phase game. They do benefit from one of the strongest/hostile home camps in French football. Inter won the whole thing in 2009 and had won five straight Scudettos before last year. After a brutal start to their Series A schedule, Claudio Ranieri was brought in to right the ship. The Nerazzuri can concentrate completely on this tournament as it is all they have left to win. Inter in a shootout.
Current odds to win the Champions League courtesy of Bovada
Real Madrid 13/5
Bayern München 5/1
AC Milan 25/1
Inter Milan 33/1
Zenit St Petersburg 100/1
Bayer Leverkusen 200/1
APOEL Nicosia 250/1
FC Basel 250/1
CSKA Moscow 300/1