With the Champions League Round of 16 behind us, Wasim looks back at fine wins for Leicester and Monaco, while posing questions for Guardiola and Sampaoli. Plus, Juve and Atletico are the two teams nobody wants to draw in the quarterfinals.
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With the group stages of the 2016/17 Champions League now behind us, attention is already turning to Monday’s round of 16 draw. As some of the continents big-hitters came second in their groups, many are anticipating a few tasty fixtures to come out of the hat on Monday.
There are two well-known stipulations in the draw. Teams from the same country cannot draw each other, nor can teams who played each other in the group stage. With those out of the way, let’s take a look at the possibilities for the 16 remaining teams in the draw.
Winners, Group A
Benfica, Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Madrid, Porto or Sevilla
Runners-up, Group A
Napoli, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Leicester City or Juventus
Winners, Group B
Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Madrid, Porto or Sevilla
Runners-up, Group B
Arsenal, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Monaco, Borussia Dortmund, Leicester City or Juventus
Winners, Group C
Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica, Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen or Porto
Runners-up, Group C
Napoli, Atletico Madrid, Monaco, Borussia Dortmund or Juventus
Winners, Group D
Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica, Manchester City, Bayer Leverkusen or Porto
Runners-up, Group D
Arsenal, Napoli, Barcelona, Monaco, Leicester City or Juventus
Winners, Group E
Benfica, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Porto or Sevilla
Runners-up, Group E
Arsenal, Napoli, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Leicester City or Juventus
Winners, Group F
Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica, Manchester City, Porto or Sevilla
Runners-up, Group F
Arsenal, Napoli, Monaco, Leicester City or Juventus
Winners, Group G
Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica, Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Madrid or Sevilla
Runners-up, Group G
Arsenal, Napoli, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Monaco, Borussia Dortmund or Juventus
Winners, Group H
Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Madrid or Porto
Runners-up, Group H
Arsenal, Napoli, Monaco, Borussia Dortmund or Leicester City
Looking at all the permutations, I am going to have some fun and pick a few possible matchups from the draw that would have fans all over the world excited. The matches are listed, keeping in mind group runners-up play the first leg at home and group winners host the return leg.
Real Madrid vs Arsenal (Sanchez and Ozil vs Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema)
Bayern Munich vs Barcelona (Ancelotti renewing his rivalry with Enrique)
Paris Saint-Germain vs Napoli (The Edinson Cavani derby)
Porto vs Monaco (A repeat of the 2004 Champions League final)
Bayern Munich vs Arsenal (Can Arsenal turn the tables on Bayern with the second leg at home? Also, Wenger vs Ancelotti)
Paris Saint-Germain vs Atletico Madrid (Unai Emery versus Diego Simeone after some great battles in La Liga)
Manchester City vs Borussia Dortmund (Master against disciple and a renewal of Guardiola’s brief rivalry with Tuchel)
Real Madrid vs Juventus (So many classic two-legged battles between these two giants and Zinedine Zidane’s history at both clubs)
Paris Saint-Germain vs Barcelona (Unai Emery’s teams always give Barcelona a very good test)
Sevilla vs Borussia Dortmund (Two of the most intense teams in Europe helmed by cerebral managers in Jorge Sampaoli and Thomas Tuchel)
Manchester City vs Atletico Madrid (Guardiola vs Simeone)
Bayern Munich vs Juventus (Last year was a classic and we also get to see Milan’s two best recent managers in Ancelotti and Allegri)
Real Madrid vs Monaco (Two free-scoring teams and would be their first meeting since the classic 2004 quarterfinal)
Paris Saint-Germain vs Juventus (The most dominant domestic dynasties in Europe against each other)
Sevilla vs Arsenal (A team that has thrived on knockout football against one that gets the jitters)
Manchester City vs Juventus (Guardiola vs Allegri after their classic last year)
Paris Saint-Germain vs Borussia Dortmund (Cavani, Di Maria, Verratti against Aubameyang, Reus and Weigl, to name just a few)
Matchday 5 of the 2016/17 Champions League is in the books and there was plenty of drama as some teams qualified for the last 16 while a few others saw their hopes dashed. The following are grades for all 32 teams as we get nearer to the conclusion of the group stage.
Confirmation of their qualification to the next round with a game to spare and group winners to boot. Even when Brugge pulled a goal back in the second half, Leicester looked comfortable and calm. It’s now time to revert to that template on the domestic front.
The dominant team in both their meetings against Spurs, Monaco looked assured and would have dished a thrashing to their English visitors but for the brilliance of Hugo Lloris in goal. Always known for their defensive prowess, Leonardo Jardim’s men have evolved into an intelligent attacking team. With the group won, Monaco will at the very least, want to replicate their run to the quarterfinals in 2015.
A win that exemplified all of Juventus’ best traits. For the first half an hour in Seville, Juve were rattled by their hosts’ pressing and a lesser team would have capitulated. Hanging in is what Juve do best though, and with their advantage in experience, they capitalized on the mistakes that the hosts eventually made. To top the group, all the Bianconeri now need, is a win against a Dinamo Zagreb side that are yet to get off the mark. A complete contrast from their visit to the Sánchez Pizjuán last season, where defeat cost them top spot and an easy draw in the last 16.
The great entertainers of the matchday with their manic 8-4 win over Legia Warsaw. Of course, the defending was atrocious and BVB could easily have conceded more. Thomas Tuchel will analyze the mistakes and chaos at the back, but for now all that mattered were the three points to stay ahead of Real. Dortmund now go to Madrid needing only a point to top the group.
A sensational win against one of Europe’s heavyweights. Rostov-on-Don witnessed a special night as their team beat Bayern 3-2 in a thriller. As this column has reflected previously, Rostov have put in the effort that embarrasses more seasoned clubs who have just rolled over in the competition. The underdogs just need a point in Eindhoven to qualify for the Europa League, but even if that doesn’t eventuate, they have given their fans the memory of a lifetime.
Glasgow hasn’t always been the most comfortable of venues for Barcelona, but they never looked like leaving with anything other than the three points at Celtic. In to the round of 16 as group winners, Luis Enrique will be happy with a job done. Now to sort out affairs in La Liga.
They still face a difficult task to qualify for the round of 16, but Lyon would happily have taken being alive going into the last matchday. Beating Sevilla by a two-goal margin is going to be difficult, but Bruno Genesio’s men will at least be playing at home, on the back of much-improved form in the last month. Can the likes of Lacazette and Fekir deliver a magical night for the fans in Lyon?
Bayern’s loss in Russia already reduced the pressure before kickoff, but Diego Simeone’s teams don’t believe in complacency. In control from the first whistle to the last, Atletico have deservedly won the group. Considering their domestic travails, it would be no surprise to see Los Colchoneros approach the Champions League with even greater motivation. There is a long way to go, but they are clearly the opponent that all other contenders want to avoid once the knockouts get underway.
For a team supposedly struggling, the French champions put in a dominating display at the Emirates. Edinson Cavani’s missed chances denied PSG all three points against Arsenal, but they have taken control of first place in the group at just the right time. There is something about London that brings out the best in PSG, and as was the case in their games against Chelsea in the last three seasons, their midfield put in a masterclass. If Thiago Motta and Marco Veratti can stay fit during the business end of the competition, PSG may just enter unchartered territory.
The ideal response after the dropped points in Warsaw last time out. Zinedine Zidane’s men were not particularly fluent, but their determination and hunger saw them getting the three points, just when it looked like they would have to settle for second in the group. They now welcome Dortmund in the last game, still with a chance to top the group with a win.
Their draw in Moscow looked better after Spurs’ defeat saw Roger Schmidt’s men go through to the next round. Leverkusen also deserve some credit for staying strong in the face of CSKA’s best performance in the competition this season. However, amidst the euphoria of qualification, Leverkusen will regret the nine points dropped from winning positions. It could end up costing them in the round of 16.
Being dominated by Copenhagen in both fixtures does not reflect well on Porto’s stature in this competition, but crucially they didn’t lose and got two points in their head-to-head. The Portuguese now need a win in their last game at home to a Leicester side with nothing to play for. Progression to the last 16 should be ensured.
At halftime in Istanbul, Besiktas were reeling on the brink of an exit, flattered by being just 3-0 down to a rampaging Benfica side. What happened in the next 45 minutes is scarcely believable, but somehow the Turkish champions rallied, scored three goals and got a remarkable point. Winning in Kiev is no guarantee, but Besiktas’ destiny is in their own hands as they face an opponent with nothing to play for, while Benfica and Napoli play each other in a high-pressure game.
In typical Arsenal fashion, Arsene Wenger’s men failed to show up just when a great opportunity presented itself. A win would have secured first place in the group for Arsenal in front of their own fans. In stead, Arsenal ended up lucky to get a point as they were dominated in midfield, grateful to Edinson Cavani for missing chances again. Second place and a tough draw in the round of 16 now awaits. So disappointing, yet so expected.
For half an hour, everything was going perfectly for Jorge Sampaoli against Juventus. Leading 1-0, Sevilla were set to qualify for the round of 16 as group winners. Then Franco Vazquez happened. The hosts still plugged away with 10 men, but eventually it caught up to them against a Juve side that just know how to win. A draw in Lyon will still be enough for Sevilla, even a single-goal defeat will do. So the permutations just about favour the Europa League champions, but there will be nervousness about the possibility of entering their favourite competition once again.
Finally, a display befitting of their reputation as a tough place to visit. CSKA missed some great chances to win against Leverkusen, but the draw means they have a chance to qualify for the Europa League if they beat a demoralized Spurs at Wembley. After all, the Russian champions are likely to take that tournament seriously compared to Spurs.
A stuttering performance by Pep Guardiola’s men. Except for a brief period either side of half time, City didn’t really hit the high notes in Germany. Qualifying in second behind Barcelona is no disgrace, but City should have at least taken the race for top spot down to the last matchday.
The draw against Basel means the Bulgarian champions have the head-to-head advantage over Basel for the Europa League spot, which is no mean feat for a club of their size. However, after their spirited and adventurous display against Arsenal last time around, the stalemate against the Swiss champions was quite underwhelming.
The story of their season. When they are on top, Gladbach look so good. However, it very rarely lasts, the opposition always likely to get a foothold in the game once the intensity drops. Thus was the case against City in the 1-1 draw. Nevertheless, Gladbach could never realistically aim to qualify for the round of 16 ahead of Barca and City and the consolidation of a Europa League place, means André Schubert’s men have a crack at a competition that is a right fit for their current stage of development.
A lucky barely-deserved point in Naples as the hosts threw the kitchen sink at them. While the round of 16 appearance of last season won’t be repeated, Kyiv are entertaining neutrals as the spoilers in the group. Napoli and Benfica will hope that Serhiy Rebrov’s men have one last trick in them when they host Besiktas on the last matchday.
3-0 up at half time against Besiktas, Benfica had one foot in the round of 16. They then contrived to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory. Last season’s defensive prowess has deserted the Portuguese champions and as a result, they face a nervous last game at home to Napoli, in which they will most likely need a win to qualify. Nervous times for Rui Vitória’s men.
The defending against Dortmund lurched between comedic and tragic as Legia could have conceded even more than eight. While the experts will not be impressed, one can’t begrudge the fans. A campaign that was going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons has now seen seven goals scored in two games against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. It’s not quite the stuff of dreams, but great memories nevertheless for the group’s whipping boys. At least they have gone down swinging!
Ostensibly having outplayed their opponents in every match, Copenhagen simply haven’t taken advantage of their dominance. Even if they win their last match away at Brugge, they’ll have to rely on Porto dropping the ball. Some may say it’s an undeserved fate, but getting the ball in the net, is after all, the most crucial part of the game.
At one stage Napoli looked on course to be the first team to qualify for the last 16 as early as matchday three. Since then, Maurizio Sarri’s men have dropped the ball spectacularly. Two opportunities to seal qualification at home have been squandered and the Azzurri now face a difficult game at Benfica with their hopes of progression in the balance.
Across their two games against Real, Sporting could justifiably argue that they weren’t outplayed. They were never favourites in a tough group, but no points in their four games against Real and Dortmund is a massive disappointment and they are yet to even cement a Europa League spot. Unlike their storied rivals in Portugal, Sporting are yet to make an impression in the Champions League.
Deers in the headlights in the first half, Brugge played with greater spunk in the second half and even scored a memorable goal. While they have yet to get a point, the Belgian champions have shown incremental improvement after conceding seven goals in their first two games. Can they end their campaign on a high at home to Copenhagen?
Previous vintages of Basel would have rightly believed they could upset PSG and Arsenal to make a genuine bid for the last 16. This version has lost the head-to-head to Ludogorets. Can their famous home form against English teams salvage something against Arsenal?
After waiting so long to make it to the holy grail, you get a group that you expect to qualify from, if not outright win. You’re built up as one of the most exciting teams that are ready to enter the big stage. Then you lose your first home game. And your second. Next up your schooled by a team with more nous and are thankful to your goalkeeper for keeping it respectable. Now, you are trying to figure out how to get out of the Europa League. That is the story of Tottenham’s Champions League campaign.
It’s no secret that Bayern have been below their best for quite some time. Nevertheless, a defeat against Champions League debutants is unacceptable. To compound matters, Bayern have now relinquished top spot of the group to Atletico, rendering the last match against their rivals at the Allianz Arena meaningless. A tricky draw in the round of 16 now lies in store and Bayern will have to buck up their ideas if they are to make the semis for a sixth consecutive year.
No wins, no points and no goals in five matches. Enough said.
Last season, PSV left the Vicente Calderon after a heartbreaking penalty shootout. It has been the most uninspiring of follow-up campaigns for the Dutch champions. They never looked like getting anything against Atletico. The fact that Rostov ended up performing better in matches against Atletico and Bayern adds salt to the wounds.
The Scottish champions were always likely to finish bottom of the group, but that they are out of Europe completely with a game to spare is a hammer blow to Brendan Rodgers. Without Europe, what benchmark can club, manager and players measures themselves against? Parkhead, home to so many memorable European nights saw only one point gained. Just not good enough by any standard.
In most La Liga seasons this matchup would be considered a gimme for Atletico Madrid. However, this Eibar team are a different beast altogether. The Basque team made Diego Simeone’s men sweat for the three points and ultimately the result was decided on the prowess of Koke’s set piece delivery.
The three points were crucial for Los Colchoneros, enabling them to stay in the hunt for the title. While that is the most important outcome of the match, two other aspects of the game stand out.
The first is that Saul Niguez started as centre back, covering for the suspended Diego Godin. This obviously speaks volumes about the versatility that the young Spaniard has. In his nascent career, the 21-year old Spaniard has been touted at various different times as an attacking midfielder, playmaker or false nine. Now, we can add centre back to his skill set. What this also tells us is that there may be no better manager in the world than Simeone when it comes to driving defensive discipline in his players. The romantics, including this writer, may ponder how attractive Atleti could be if their manager allowed his players to express themselves with a few more risky through balls or dribbles in a tight area. Simeone however, will rightly point out that the Rojiblancos have never had it this good. Intensity, focus and efficiency have resulted in unprecedented success for the club. That Simeone can mould all his players — veterans, superstars and youngsters — to his desired template is of immense credit to the Argentinian.
The other noteworthy aspect of the game is something that could ultimately come to restrict Atletico in the big games. Even against an opponent that chose to sit back, the home side only managed 50 % of the possession. Possession of course, isn’t everything in football. However, it does suggest that for all his attention to detail, Simeone has not been able to come up with a solid plan B. Recent results against Barcelona and Real suggest the traditional top two have become used to Simeone’s nuances and Atleti could face similar troubles against the continent’s established elite in the Champions League. While their willpower, physical fitness and desire to win can never be discounted, a little tactical variety and flair could enable Atleti to dream of even bigger things.