When I saw the headline “Ronaldo is Ferguson’s Champions League ‘gift’”, I panicked at a Ronaldo Premier League return. Panic ye not though opposition fans, it was just a reference to the Champions League draw, and what a feast of unpredictable ties we have on offer.
The last 16 often throws up some horrific mismatches, minnows who wriggled through the net of elimination (full marks for that metaphor) versus giants, which holds its own charm admittedly.
However, this is the pinnacle of European football. You don’t want to settle for mediocrity this year, do you? Well buckle up then, as I take you through the post-Christmas cheer up, more formally known as the last 16 of the Champions League.
The brilliance of this draw is down to some of the great match-ups it has produced and, although not all are as glamorous as each other, ties like Galatasaray vs. FC Schalke are sure to have us guessing.
Galatasaray will rely on their hostile home and improved Champions League form, but will need to be at their best to subdue this emerging Schalke team. Well run, organised and with the sniper striker that is Huntelaar, Schalke are one of the three very dangerous German outfits in this round.
Similarly, FC Porto vs. Malaga is a punter’s nightmare. For all the pedigree Porto have in Europe, Malaga topped their group. A group which included Zenit St Petersburg and AC Milan. Call this one at your peril, because if there was a club who needed Champions League stability, it’s Malaga. The motivation is there for more than just the trophy.
Valencia vs. Paris Saint Germain is one of the easier to call in this fan’s opinion. Valencia finished second in their group with an impressive 13 points and can call on the goal-scoring services of the impressive Soldado and Jonas, but it’s hard to look beyond PSG. The money, the players and the mentality are there. If they’re all on the same page they will reach the business end of this Champions League competition.
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Borussia Dortmund continues the fun. To come away from Donetsk with anything is worth a nod of approval from any club in Europe, but Borussia Dortmund are in unbelievable form. Topping the hardest Champions League group I’ve seen for years, this is a team who, make no mistake, can win this tournament.
My beloved Arsenal. Right now, it’s hard to call this in Arsenal’s favour. Bayern are the favourites big style. Running away with the Bundesliga and with a squad I rate as highly as most in the world right now, Arsenal will have to pick up some serious form to negotiate this one. However, make no mistake, this is a mouth-watering encounter. It’s up to Arsenal to make this a corker.
What Celtic have achieved is marvellous, ridiculous, sensational. I’m struggling to pick just one adjective, but basically they have to relish this. Victor Wanyama could be key to getting Celtic in the mix but, the truth is, if they can penetrate and hold off one of the best Juventus sides for years, they can do anything in this tournament.
AC Milan vs. Barcelona. I’ll make this short and sweet. This is a game of wounded titans. Celtic embarrassed Barcelona twice and AC Milan have looked short domestically and in Europe. The winners will take a lot from this.
I wonder if you noticed I’d been building up to this, arguably the biggest fixture. Out and out, two of the most exciting attacks in world football: Rooney, Van Persie, Ronaldo, Ozil, Khedeira and Bebe will go head-to-head in what is pure footballing pudding: Manchester United vs. Real Madrid.
I advise you all to tuck in heartily, because you’ll be back on the gruel of Reading vs. QPR at some point.
That’s the Champions League folks, and that’s why it’s so wonderful. We don’t need another 32 teams, do we?Tweet