With the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 draw in the books and the competition taking off until February, it is time to analyze and anticipate the world's premier club competition.The 16 remaining teams have been paired up and will play a two leg tie with the winner advancing to the Quarterfinals. With most of the world's best and most famous clubs in the competition, there are scintillating match-ups all around the tournament.
The clear cut most intriguing pairing for the Round of 16 is a rematch of a Quarterfinal from a year ago with Barcelona and Arsenal squaring off. A year ago, the two clubs played to a 2-2 draw at Emirates Stadium, but when the tie moved to Camp Nou it became the Lionel Messi show. The sensational Argentinian scored four goals in the second leg to lead the Catalans through to the semifinals. Now, Barcelona appears to be the world's best team and are 12/5 favorites to win the Champions League, but there is some ill will between the two clubs now that Barcelona spent the entire summer trying to lure Cesc Fabregas away from London with some talk and methods that irked the Gunners. With the incredible Barcelona attack and skill of Arsenal players such as Samir Nasri, Marouane Chamakh and the aforementioned Fabregas, the two matches should be full of flair and beautiful attacking soccer.
Just as most are sure Barcelona is the world's best team, most were sure that AC Milan was the best team of the group of runners up and whichever group winner drew the Italians would be an unfortunate lot. Well, as is historically fitting, Tottenham Hotspur are that unfortunate lot, but the Spurs of the last year are nothing like the Spurs of years gone by and their tie versus Milan will give them a chance to prove it. Tottenham finished the Group Stages with 18 goals, more than any other team in the competition, and their attacking verve no matter the scoreline makes for entertaining matches. Add in the great attacking players like Gareth Bale, Rafael Van der Vaart and Luka Modric and it's easy to see how the North London club has managed to bag so many goals, but Milan isn't short on talent either. Long hailed as two of the futures of Brazilian football, Pato and Robinho have been at the heart of the Milan attack, scoring six goals apiece this season. Tottenham will make a return trip to the San Siro, where Bale scored three goals against Inter during the Group Stage, and odds are that both the match in Milan and London are filled with goals.
Not to be overlooked is a pairing of Manchester United and Olympique Marseille. The French club topped Ligue 1 a year ago and have strengthened their squad with the additions of players like Loic Remy. After a slow start to the season, Marseille are picking up steam and may be the second best team in the group of runners up. Of course that may not mean much at Old Trafford against a United team that is leading the English Premier League despite not hitting their top form yet. Whether Lucho Gonzalez can find space and work on picking apart the United back line will likely determine the chances of Marseille, which is quite the challenge for the Argentinian.
Neither Bayern Munich nor Inter Milan are playing close to the level that they were playing at last season when the two clubs met in the Champions League Final, but they remain two of Europe's biggest clubs. Munich has seen themselves fall to sixth in the Bundesliga as they continue to wait on Arjen Robben's return from injury. Without the Dutchman, Munich has looked benign and could very well be beaten, but right now Inter hardly look like the club to do it. With Jose Mourinho having left the club for Real Madrid following their Champions League triumph last season, Inter has struggled to look anything like the reigning European Champions. Rafa Benitez has been fairly criticized match after match and it is unclear if he will still be managing the club when the competition resumes in February. The quality of play this season between these two teams is hardly anything to light anyone afire, but any time you can see two of the most famous clubs in the world square off it is always a treat.
The rest of the Champions League Round of 16 pairings are nothing to sneeze at. Shakhtar Donetsk surprised Arsenal to win their group and could be primed for a few more surprises. Real Madrid will also have to prove they can beat some of the best, beginning with a match-up against a Olympique Lyon team that is capable of playing at a very high level. Whatever the pairing though, the Champions League always produces some of the best football in the world. The only shame is it doesn't resume for two months.