Oh, Champions League, how we have missed you. It has really only been a few months and a new a year... since we last witnessed the glorious tournament, We know the pairings and we know the dates. We have been lucky that most leagues have resumed their play from holiday breaks to help crave our appetites. The only league that has not resumed is the the Russian Premier League, which resumes in March due to it being Russia, and it's hard winters...
Headlines, drama, and Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford, this is why we love the Champions League.
Juventus vs Celtic
"The Old Lady" makes it back to the Champions League for the first time sicne 2008. Following a scandal, and what seemed like a journey squad, things are back on track in the northern part of Italy. Juventus haven't rally made a dent since reaching the final in the 2002/2003 season. They also won the Serie A that year. Now, the reigning kings of Italy are back. having finished on top of the group that included Chelsea, Shaktar Donestk, and Nordsjaelland from Denmark. What was more remarkable is Juventus did not lose a single game in group play whilie defending thier Serie A crown and advancing through the Coppa Italia tournament. This "Old Lady" still has a lot of spunk and energy
"The Bhoys" were simply spectacular to watch this year. In a group that features Barcelona, Benfica, and Spartak Moskva, anything could and did happen. It went down to the wire whether or not Celtic would advance into the knockout stage for the first time since 2008. With a 2-1 victory over SPartak Moskva on the final day of group play, Celtic secrued their second place finish and advancment. Not too shabby. Oh yeah, They also defeated Barcelona. Only three clubs have done that all year.
The first leg is in Glasgow. You can certainly bet that Celtic Park will be in a uproar. look for Celtic and Scotland to get behind the "Bhoys" and earn a 2-1 victory over Juventus. However, Only one club has defeated Juventus all year in all competions at home. Juve's arch rival Inter owns that accomplishment. Solid Home field peroformance, and overall quality will carry Juventus to a 2-0 win giving Juve a 3-2 aggrogate advancement. take heart Celtic fans, with Rangers financial troubles, you are almost guaranteed entrance into the Champions League, your future looks bright to advance farther in the future.
Galatasary vs Schalke
We begin with Group G winners, Schalke.The Germans recorded an undfeated record in group play. "Die Königsblauen" earned three wins and three drawsin a group that saw Arsenal, Montpillier, and Olympicos. It's a good thing to,becuase while they found success in Europe, Die Bundesliga has been unforgiving. Currently sitting at 10th in the table, and having only one win for the past month, Schalke has nothing else to play for except for the Champions League.
Galatasaray were runners up in Group H. Finsiing level on points with Romanian side CFR Cluj, "Cimbon" advance by defeating the Romanians head-to-head.Unlike their counterparts, Galatasaray are on top of hte Turkish Super Lig. Now the hard part, balancing league and Champions League duties. That is precisely why they added Diedier Drogba and Wesley Sniejder. to add experience and talent to advance the club.
One club has a lot to play for, while the other has absolutely nothing to lose. One club has success at home, while the other is just looking for an excuse to get out of the house. the first leg takes place in Istanbul at the Turk Telekom arena. this 52,000 seat stadium will be packed. The aditions of Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba shows that this turkish club want to advance. Look for the stadium enter an uproar with a 3-1 victory making a return to the Millium stadium a difficult task. Schalke wins the return leg 2-1 with the damage already done. Galatasary advances while Schalkes wounds just get get deeper.
Paris St. Germain won convinvingly in Group A. recording five wins and one loss. The group consisted of Porto, Dynamo Kyiv, and Dinamo Zagreb.Not Europe's elite, but a group that PSG should win, especially with all the financial investments. Mirroring their success in the Champions League, PSG are currently number one in League 1. PSG enters the knock out round having an undfeated record in the past month. Not only will PSG march out Ibrahimovic, but David Beckham makes his return to the Champions League. It's almost as if the stars are alligning for PSG.
Valenica finished second in Group F. It should of a been a two horse race for second between Valencia and Lille, but Lille decided that it was holiday not to show up. Valenica was acutally unfortunate not to win Group F. Finishing level on points with Bayern Munchen, Valencia lost the tie breaker due to head to head performances and goal difference. Unlike PSG, Los Che are not on top of La Liga. Unlike PSG, the finances are not flowing. In fact, Valencia has had to sell off it's important players just to keep a float. They are not in first place in La Liga. They are currently in a fight with another spainish team, Malaga. Just two points seperates Malaga and Valencia for forth place. Both clubs are are in the knock out stage of the Champions League. This is
why football is entertaining. Watching clubs putting it all on the line.
The first leg heads to the Spainish coast. Now it's time to see if all that money was spent wisely for PSG. Look for PSG to win 2-0 away from Paris, then draw back at the Parc Des Princes. This is what PSG paid all that good money for. Ibrahimovich has a lot to prove. It past he has failed to show up for the biggest matches, and shown up, a 50/50 odd. I would bet on Zlatan to power PSG through.
Porto vs Malaga.
Malaga wins Group C. A group that including AC Milan, Zenit St. Petersburg, and Anderlecht. Now, if you saw this coming you should enter politcs. You can predict your own outcome. It also shows that AC Milan had not foudn an identity after selling off major players, Zenit has taken a step back, and Anderlecht just happy to play with the grown-ups. However, nobody will give you anything.
Not many gave Malaga a chance to win the group, they went otu and took care of business. They played a stauncy defense, and never losing a match. they currently are fourth in La Liga, in a battle with fellow knock out round partner Valenica.
Porto finished second in Group A. In all reality, it wasnt much of a group. It was going to come down to PSG and Porto to win it. Dinamo Kyiv and Dinamo Zagreb seemed perfectly happy just to get an invite to the party. SO, PSG finishes first, Porto second. Domestically, they are in a 12 round fight for first place, sitting level on points with rival Benfica, but on top due to tie breakers. Porto is undefeated in League Play. In fact, that last time they lost a match was on December 4th, to PSG.
This is a spotlight matchup.Malaga flies underneath the radar becuase they are not Barcelona nor Real Madrid, but they quitely went about their business and take care of it. Porto has to look up the word "losing" in a dictionary becuase it hasn't happen to them all that often this year. The first leg starts off in Porto, Portugal. The Portugese side has no intention of letting club from accross the Pyraneses mountains defeat them. Look for a draw in the first leg, then Porto earning the victory in Spain on the return leg.
Arsenal vs Bayern Munchen.
The Bavarains are rolling. Plain and Simple. Die Bundesliga is all but in the bag. Bayern have only recorded one loss. They have a rematch showdown vs Dortmund in the semi-final of the German Pokal, and they won their Champions League group. their only slip up was a loss to BATE in Belarus...They are pesky in Minsk.
Arsenal, same song, different dance. Is Wenger fired yet? Nope, ok move on. It's going to be hard to get rid of the guy, espeically when he pulls off his second season magic act. More than likely pull off a run to finish in the top four of the EPL and make it into the qualification for the champions league, yet again performing another magic show.
Honestly, there could not of been a worse draw for Arsenal. No really. Munchen never forgot how they gave away the Champions League last year, they are very determined to make up for thier mess. Bayern Munchen pace can quickly counter an attack by Arsenal, and thier players have the quality to finish. Bayern wins both legs. 1-0 in London, then 3-1 for the return leg in Bavaria. Que the complaining against Wenger again.
Shaktar Donetsk vs Borussia Dortmund
Group of Death? Dortmund laughed at the supposed "Group of Death." A group in the Champions League comprised of all League winners. Real Madrid, Ajax, and Manchester City. Many people said it was a race for third between Dortmund and Ajax. No way could Dortmund win the group... Well, they did. What was even more impressive? They did it without a single loss. Group D was conquored by the German champions.
Shaktar finsished second, edging Chelsea with tie breakers. trading blows with Chelsea with a home and home with each team winnign respectivly. Earning a brith in the champions league knockout, all while climbing to the top of the Ukrainian Premier league and putting aside a comfortable lead.
It's never easy for a western football club traveling east to a club based in the former USSR. The travel time, destination, often poor accomdations, and the weather. Shaktar will put up a fight, but Jurgen Klopp will also have Dortmund ready. The Bundesliga is all but won for Bayern Munchen, and Dortmund's young team is eager to prove a point, plus when you don't lose a match in the group of death, you have some quality. Dortmund travels to Ukraine and earns a 1-1 draw. The return leg heads back to Germany where the Signal Iduana will act as the 12th men. Dortmund win's 3-1 and advances.
Barcelona vs AC Milan.
Round Two, ding ding! Or is it round three.... or four?
Barcelona, let's see anything special happen? No. Not really. Business as usual. Leading La Liga by a mile, winning their group in the champions league. Lionel Messi scored the most goals in a calender year, I guess. Nope, nothing really going on in Barcelona.
AC Milan finished second in their group behind another La Liga team, Malaga. Milan has hit stride recently in Serie A. Starting off in mid table and now having driving forward for a champions league place. If ever there was a time to hit form,it's right before your clash with Barcelona. Milan has a lot of momentum currently, and that will be important.
History has a tendency to repeat itself. these clubs met four times last year in the CHampions League. Barcelona won the group stage, and they won the knockout round stage. Look for repitition. AC Milan and relouded upfront by addiing Mario Balotelli. Barcelona heads to Milan for the first leg. A draw is in the cards for these two teams. 2-2 in the first leg. However, the return leg heads to the Camp Nou. Look for Barecelona to win 3-1 and cruise into the next stage. Hey Mario, don't worry, you can play the next round on playstation.
Manchester United vs Real madrid
The best For Last.
When Manchester United won their group, and Real Madrid finished second in the "Group of Death," this was a possibility. As a football fan, this is a dream scenerio. For Ronaldo fans, this could cuase some confusion. Many people became Manchester United fans becuase of Ronaldo. Many still follow Manchester United or have even maintained an interest becuase of Ronaldo. In 2008, Ronaldo won the champions League while with Manchester United. That day in Moscow, Ronaldo headed home United's only goal in regulation.
United went on to defeat Jose Mourinho's Chelsea's side in penalty kicks. As a global brand, you have the two largest clubs on the planet. This is a pairing you wanted in the final, but you get it in the knockout stages. Real Madrid has the most Champions league titles with nine, but have not won the trophy since 2002. Mancheter United have three trophies, but have not won the competition since 2008, but have made it to the final twice since then, only to lose to Barcelona. The first leg takes place in Madrid. Real Madrid wins 3-2. The return leg heads back to Manchester. This will be Ronaldo's first ever visit since he made the move to Real Madrid. All eyes will be on him and Real Madrid. This leg will see a 2-2 draw and see Real Madrid advance. It's not personal, it's business. Anyways, Manchester United has the Premier League all but won, not a shabby consolation prize.