The matchups have been set for the final 16 of the Champions League. The round of 16 matchups are as follows: Galatasaray v. Schalke, Celtic v. Juventus, Valencia v. PSG, Porto v. Málaga, Arsenal v. Bayern, Shakhtar Donetsk v. Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan v. Barcelona and Real Madrid v. Manchester United.
Obviously, since these teams made it to the final 16 of the Champions League, all the games should be entertaining and hopefully close. However, it is interesting to note how some of these teams, that are supposedly the best in Europe, are struggling in their respective leagues. Schalke is currently seventh in Bundesliga, which is only good enough for Europa League qualifying. Valencia is currently 11th in La Liga, 25 points behind league leaders Barcelona and seven points from Champions League qualifying. Arsenal is currently fifth in the Premier League, 15 points behind league leaders Manchester United and two points from Champions League qualifying. Finally, AC Milan is currently seventh in Serie A, 14 points behind league leaders Juventus and six points away from Champions League qualifying.
All of these teams have made it through Champions League group stages to become one of the final 16 teams to compete to become the champions of Europe. However, the teams mentioned above would not make the Champions League next year if the season ended today, and they are not close to competing for the title of their respective leagues.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Barcelona, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, PSG and Juventus are all currently atop their leagues. I found it interesting how far away these teams are in terms of success in domestic leagues. In theory, this would create some lopsided results in the round of 16. But, one of the great things about the Champions League, similar to March Madness with NCAA men’s basketball, is the ability for lesser teams to upset the favored teams. This is why a team like Chelsea was able to win the Champions League last year.
With all this said regarding the matchups, arguably, the most interesting matchup after the announcement Thursday was Real Madrid v. Manchester United. Jose Mourinho was brought into Real Madrid to win a Champions League title. In addition to that, there are also several other interesting storylines associated with this game. The first of these storylines is related to Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho has been under fire recently for poor results. Madrid is currently 13 points behind Barcelona in La Liga and Mourinho has pretty much conceded the La Liga title for the season. This has lead to speculation that he will depart the club at the end of the season. Mourinho has also expressed his desire to return to the Premier League and also the possibility of managing Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson retires, if ever. As the Telegraph has mentioned, this two-leg competition may be a tryout for Mourinho to possibly take over at the club.
The other interesting storyline is Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford. This is Ronaldo’s first return to Old Trafford since he departed for Real Madrid. It will be interesting to see the reception he gets and how he performs at his old playing field. If Real Madrid is to advance, Ronaldo will need to have two good performances to help his team get closer to winning that coveted Champions League trophy.
Written By: Eric Stoyanov, Contributing Writer, soccerprose.com
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