Most of us in the United States were probably asleep this morning as dreams and nightmares played out in the UEFA Champions League Knockout Round draw.
Cut to the chase, here are the Round of 16 pairings:
*Note: The lower ranked teams, those listed first, will host the first game of two-legged contests.
Manchester City v Barcelona
Manuel Pellegrini’s Sky Blues had a marvelous week, beating Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena and Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium. Then, this draw occurred and the fortune cookie crumbled. Manchester City’s maiden run past the Group Stage got them the reward of facing the on-fire Neymar and his supremely skilled Blaugrana teammates. By the time these contests roll around, Lionel Messi will be back in action. Yaya Toure will need to defend well and hope to keep possession for City against his old Barcelona mates.
Manchester City is a club still on the rise, but are they to the level of Barcelona, yet? Both teams might rue their fate with such a challenging contest on the horizon, but neutrals got a true treat with this draw.
Olympiakos v Manchester United
If ever there was a case for the importance of winning your group, it’s this year’s tournament. Despite troubles in the English Premier League, Manchester United has performed admirably in Europe and was granted a seeded place in the draw that resulted in a plum matchup against the Greek champions.
Had they finished second, the Red Devils would have been matched against one of three dynamic Spanish sides (Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid), Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani’s Paris Saint-Germain or one of the two German sides, (Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund), who played in the final last year at Wembley Stadium.
Instead, they face perhaps the weakest team remaining in the competition. For once, fortune has shined on David Moyes in his spell sporting red and black.
AC Milan v Atletico Madrid
Which do you favor: the team with history or the team of the present? The Rossoneri and Los Colchoneros will decide what matters more, the experience of a club or the skill of its players when they lock horns in two intriguing matches.
Thierry Henry said last week as a guest pundit on the BBC that he would fear Atletico more than any other side in the competition because the players give everything for their shirt and have proven unbeatable at home thus far.
AC Milan, meanwhile, has slumped to 12th in the Serie A table and must undergo a major turnaround between now and February if they are to have a chance a dangerous duo of Diego’s: the brilliant tactician and masterful motivator Diego Simeone and his talisman Diego Costa.
Bayer Leverkusen v Paris Saint-Germain
Bayer Levekusen made it out of a difficult Group A narrowly beating Shaktar Donetsk to the second spot and, with Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Schakle, achieved history with four German teams in the final 16.
The odds of the Bundesliga quartet surviving to the quarterfinals grew longer this morning, though, as the boys from BayArena drew a dominant PSG team that appears poised to take another leap forward in European play.
The reigning Ligue 1 champions and current leaders made it to last year’s final eight and only lost out to Barcelona on goal difference. Having added star striker Edinson Cavani in the summer, the Parisians are a formidable foe. Simon Rolfes, Lars Bender and Stefan Kiesling will need to produce world-class performances for Bayer.
Galatasaray v Chelsea
Jose Mourinho got his wish, a reunion with Chelsea club legend Didier Drogba. The Ivorian hitman was the top Blues player during the Portuguese manager’s glorious first spell at Stamford Bridge and delivered the London side their first UEFA Champions League crown with his final kick in a Chelsea shirt.
After a stint in Shanghai, Drogba now plays for Turkish champions Galatasaray, who knocked out Juventus from this competition. He’ll surely receive a warm welcome when he returns to Stamford Bridge on March 13, but he and Gala’s other experienced stars—Emmanuel Eboue, Wesley Sneijder and Felipe Melo—will need two vintage performances to topple Mourinho’s new men.
Schalke v Real Madrid
Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen have a similar story. Each did well to get here. Each faces a massive mountain to trek farther into the competition. Schalke’s obstacle comes in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
Los Blancos are after their 10th title in Europe’s top competition and will be keen to strut their stuff against Schalke, led by 20-year-old rising star Julian Draxler.
This battle of two clubs to be represented by Spanish legend Raul appears to lean heavily toward the side hailing from his home country.
Zenit St Petersburg v Borussia Dortmund
The Russian club limped into the Knockout Round losing 4-1 to Austria Vienna but advancing as Porto fell to Atletico Madrid. Hulk, Axel Witsel and their well-paid teammates can’t count on being lucky against Borussia Dortmund who could be even stronger by the time this game arrives if injured stars return.
Now that der BVB has triumphed in the tournament’s Group of Death, Jurgen Klopp’s side appears ready to make another deep run in Europe.
Arsenal v Bayern Munich
Arsenal’s final day loss to Napoli put the Gunners in second place in Group F and ensured they would be dealt a difficult draw. Sure enough, they’ll face reigning champions Bayern Munich in a rematch of last year’s Round of 16 pairing.
One year ago, Bayern outclassed Arsenal in London, winning 3-1 dominantly through early goals from Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller and a late hammer blow from Mario Mandzukic. Arsene Wenger’s charges did themselves proud, though, in Germany with a shock 2-0 victory, crashing out on away goals but providing themselves a platform to go on and have a successful stretch run in the English Premier League.
Both teams are stronger now with the additions of Pep Guardiola at der FCB and Mesut Ozil at Arsenal. Bayern Munich will be the big favorites, but this is a tasty encounter and should make for two open, entertaining games.
Bayer Leverkusen v Paris Saint-Germanin, BayArena
Manchester City v Barcelona, Etihad Stadium
AC Milan v Atletico Madrid, San Siro
Arsenal v Bayern Munich, Emirates Stadium
Zenit St. Petersburg v Borussia Dortmund, Petrovski Stadium
Olympiakos v Manchester United, Karaiskakis Stadium
Galatasaray v Chelsea, Turk Telekom Arena
Schalke 04 v Real Madrid, Veltins Arena
Atletico Madrid v AC Milan, Vicente Calderon
Bayern Munich v Arsenal, Allianz Arena
Barcelona v Manchester City, Camp Nou
Paris Saint-Germain v Bayer Leverkusen, Parc des Princes
Chelsea v Galatasaray, Stamdford Bridge
Real Madrid v Schalke, Santiago Bernabeu
With the matchups now set, who do you think will advance to the Quartefinals? Who got the toughest and easiest draws? Debate away below.