UEFA Champions League Preview

With the group stage of the UEFA Champions League done and dusted, leaving us with nothing short of blissful  memories, we look on to the round of 16 – with some mouth-watering encounters sure to leave you at the edge of your seat. Arsenal hope it will be a case of third time lucky when they host Barcelona in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie. The Gunners are looking to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2010, but know that it will be tough to get past the Champions League holders. Last season’s runners-up Juventus host Pep Guardiola’s Bavarian giants Bayern Munich. With various reports saying that Massimiliano Allegri could be on his way to England next season, and Pep already announced as Manchester City boss from the 1st of June, both managers will hope to leave their successors with European Champions. Another manager on his way out is Manuel Pellegrini. City travel to Ukraine to take on Dynamo Kyiv for their 1st leg. It would be the perfect way to say goodbye for Pellegrini by winning the Champions League in his final season. Phillip Cocu’s PSV will play host to Atletico Madrid in what should be a stern test for Diego Simeone’s side. Apart from the exciting matchups played, there’s still money to be made and loads of enticing odds on offer. 

Tuesday 23 February

32/10 Arsenal | Draw 28/10 | Barcelona 15/20 (21:45)

Click on the link for our full match preview!

24/10 Juventus | 22/10 | Bayern Munich 23/20 (21:45)

The Italian Champions host the German Champions. One of which won’t play any further part of the competition after their second leg. This is why you make sure that you win your group! Juventus missed out on finishing as group leaders after they lost 1-0 away to Sevilla on the final matchday of the group stages. The loss meant that Manchester City would overtake them after the Sky Blues managed a victory over Borussia Monchengladbach. The Old Lady finished as runners-up last season after they lost to Barcelona in the final. Juve would have some advantage this time round though if they were to make it to the finals of the competition knowing that it will be held in Milan, Italy. The Bianconeri are on a 16-match unbeaten home run in the Champions League with 10 wins. As a matter of fact, it was the Bavarians who last beat them on home soil dating back when the sides last met in 2013. Juventus will look to unleash Mario Mandzukic who will welcome the return of his old club Bayern Munich. The Croatian striker has never scored against Bayern in four attempts playing for Wolfsburg – but what a time it would be to start. Alongside Mandzukic will be Paulo Dybala. The Argentine has been in prolific form so far this season and is the clubs leading goalscorer. Dybala has received massive praise from the likes of Diego Maradona, Sergio Aguero and even Lionel Messi. The young talented striker will prove to be a menace against Bayern and will be tough to stop, knowing the type of runs he makes. When speaking of young prolific talents, another name that pops into your head is Paul Pogba. The Frenchman is undoubtedly the Old Lady’s key player in midfield. Juve look their best when they play as a team, but when it’s time to put in that extra individual work, it’s Pogba you turn to. He’s carried the Italian giants on his back many times this season after a very poor start to their league domestically. Storming up and down the pitch with great pace and a high work rate, Pogba has managed to turn defence into attack and cause havoc for the opposing team. Onto Bayern Munich, who dominated their group, winning five of their six matches played, scoring 19 goals and conceding just three times. The Bavarians have a decent record against Italian opposition and endured their biggest away win in the Champions League the last time they visited Italy, beating AS Roma 7-1 in last season’s group stage. With Pep Guardiola’s future finally determined, his Bayern side will hope to leave their manager with a Champions League winners medal before he makes the switch to Man City. The Bavarians will look to Manuel Neuer to stop the likes of Pogba, Dybala and Mandzukic who will be pushing to get a goal against his former employers. While we’re on the topic of former players, Arturo Vidal and Kingsley Coman will hope to claim bragging rights against Juve. Vidal spent four seasons in Turin where he was instrumental in midfield, leading the Old Lady to four Serie A titles. Coman was another player who was vital for the Italian outfit and will certainly prove to be a threat if given the chance. Up front, Robert Lewandowski will be leading the line with Thomas Muller just behind him, giving opposing defenders all sorts of headaches when they attack in numbers. This has all the makings of a final. I can definitely see Bayern finding the net here but my money is on Juventus to pull off a home win at 24/10. 

Wednesday 24 February

31/10 PSV Eindhoven | 23/10 | Atletico Madrid 9/10 (21:45)

Atletico Madrid have got to be the most underrated team in all of Europe. Diego Simeone’s side have done well to keep out of the spotlight, but still manage big wins which has seen them challenge Barcelona and local rivals Real Madrid for the Spanish La Liga. Atleti finished off as group leaders, losing just one match and are undefeated away from home in the tournament. Jan Oblak has been instrumental for Los Rojiblancos keeping 15 clean sheets in the domestic league – more than any other goalkeeper in Europe. The Slovenian international has cemented his place in the team and has helped Atletico form arguably Europe’s best defence. In front of him is the Uruguayan centre-back pairing of Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin, along with Juanfran and Filipe Luis occupying the full back positions. In attack, Antoine Griezmann has been one of Atleti’s stand-out players this season. The versatile Frenchman can play on both flanks, and even up front through the middle. His bursting runs and trickery make him almost impossible to stop at times. PSV have done well thus far, snatching second spot on the final day of the group stages – kicking Manchester United out. The Peasants are the first Dutch club to make it to the knockout stages since 2006. Despite selling their best player last season to United, Phillip Cocu’s side have managed to cope without him and in doing so, finished above Memphis Depay’s employers in the group stage. Cocu will be thrilled with the addition of Marco van Ginkel in midfield. The Dutchman is on loan from Chelsea and is eligible to play in this seasons Champions League after ending his previous loan spell with Stoke City. Van Ginkel has made an instant impact since his move and has managed to find the net on his debut. The PSV attacking trio of Luciano Narsingh, Maxime Lestienne and club captain Luuk de Jong will be a stern test for Atletico Madrid. Narsingh and Lestienne will provide the width on each flank, with de Jong being the key factor up front, holding off defenders and bringing the midfielders into play. Atletico have won five and lost four of their 10 matches against Dutch opposition. Despite the attacking players on showcase here, I expect a low-scoring encounter. A tight affair is expected and this one looks to close to call a winner. Back the draw at 23/10. 

51/20 Dynamo Kyiv | 47/20 | Man City 21/20 (21:45)

Manchester City will have their sights set on a first ever UEFA Champions League quarter-final when they take on Dynamo Kyiv in round of 16. Kyiv proved in the group stages that they are more than just an average football team. After being drawn in the same group as FC Porto and Chelsea, Europa League seemed destined for Serhiy Rebrov’s men. Kyiv defined the odds and ensured qualification, managing to take five points from Porto and Chelsea in addition to grabbing maximum points off Maccabi Tel-Aviv. Rebrov's men are on a nine-match unbeaten home run in UEFA competition’s dating back to February 2014. Dynamo have lost only two of 12 previous home matches against English opposition winning four and drawing six. This will certainly not be a walk in the park for City who will look to stop the likes of Andriy Yarmolenko exposing their shaky defence. Yarmolenko is good enough to be in most of Europe’s elite teams and has a wicked left foot in his arsenal. He’s powerful, fast and has good shooting ability, drifting inside from the right wing. Man City did well to finish Group D as leaders. Pellegrini’s side turned their horrendous Champions League form around compared to previous seasons, when they topped one of the hardest groups with Monchengladbach, Sevilla and Juventus being the other contenders. Away from home, the Citizens have been decent, winning two of their three matches and losing just once to Juve. City will need to be at their very best when they take on the Ukrainian Champions. Bad news for the Sky Blues is that they will be without Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian midfielder has been key for City this season and has found the back of the net 12 times in all competitions since his big-money move from Wolfsburg. Another key player that has been out for most of the season is club captain Vincent Kompany. Man City have lacked that commanding presence at the back with Kompany’s absence. Nicolas Otamendi and Martin Demichelis will take charge at centre back with Eliaquim Mangala also out injured. Much depends on the fitness of Sergio Aguero up front. The Argentine striker has been out for much of the season through injury, but seems to have that knack for goals when he is on the pitch. Although the signings of Raheem Sterling and De Bruyne have lifted the goalscoring pressure off Aguero, there’s only one candidate to lead the charge up front if they are to have any hope of reaching their first quarter final. Pellegrini should have a trick or two up his sleeve on knowing how to get to the next round, after previously doing so with Villarreal and Malaga. A trip to Ukraine will never be easy though, and I’m tipping Dynamo on the Win/Draw Double Chance at 7/10.

UCL Picks
Arsenal DRAW 28/10
Juventus WIN 26/10
PSV DRAW 23/10
Dynamo Kyiv WIN/DRAW 7/10 

Written by Jesse Nagel