The road to the Champions League Final continues with four matches this week and four the following week. The final 16 teams show how diverse the field is, with seven different countries represented beyond group play. The current stage is in the familiar “home and away” format, with the second leg of the competition scheduled for March. Let’s take a closer look at the four matches scheduled for this week.
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Chelsea
In the Champions League quarterfinals last year, these same two teams played at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea scored a goal late in the match, resulting in a 3-3 draw which allowed them to advance to the semifinal round. The first leg of this competition will be played in Paris, so it would seem that PSG might be a slight favorite to prevail at home. But a closer look at both teams will reveal that the play of Chelsea has improved since their last encounter, while PSG has had their share of difficulties on the pitch.
Along with an existing stable of talented players, the Blues have added Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Juan Cuadrado to their squad, while Les Parisiens, while still having a talent-laden team, currently find themselves trailing both Marseille and Lyon in the Ligue 1 table. Look for PSG to try to play a more open-flowing game early in order to dictate the tempo of the match, with Chelsea capitalizing on the counterattack. Diego Costa should be well-rested after completing his three-game suspension in the EPL.
Prediction: Chelsea 3, PSG 1
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Bayern Munich
Shakhtar were runners up in group play, largely due to a result of weak competition. They beat BATE Borisov in two matches by scoring twelve goals while maintaining a clean sheet. Their four other matches produced pedestrian play, and resulted in three draws and a loss. This was good enough to propel them out of the group stage, but was hardly a confidence builder for the following round. They are matched up against a tough Bayern squad, who are currently well-entrenched at the top of the table in the Bundesliga.
Additionally, they were successful in group play against tough competition, with their only loss being a 3-2 final coming at Etihad Stadium against Manchester City. Additionally, while Die Roten are currently competing at home, Shakhtar have been on winter break since Dec. 12. Shakhtar have scheduled various friendlies in the interim, but there is no substitute for competitive matches held on a regular basis. While this is the home leg for the Hirnyky, look for Bayern to dominate.
Prediction: Bayern 2, Shakhtar 0
Basel vs. Porto
With Basel firmly entrenched in the top spot of the Swiss Super League and Porto one point out of the top spot in Portugal, both countries have placed their top teams into the Champions League round of 16. And these two teams are very evenly matched.
The Swiss have veteran captain Marco Streller as their anchor, while Porto will be relying upon Colombian striker Jackson Martinez for their firepower. Expect close matches in a home and away competition that could go to either team.
Prediction: Basel 1, Porto 1
FC Schalke 04 vs. Real Madrid
Currently in fourth place in the Bundesliga, the Gelsenkirchen have a well-balanced team. With veteran striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar teamed with Maxim Choupo-Moting, they have ample firepower up front. But Schalke have struggled offensively in the Bundesliga this season, relying more on a scrappy defense.
It’s a different story for Los Blancos, whose depth in scoring goals seems to be almost limitless. Their names read like a who’s who of European football to include Ronaldo, Rodriguez, Bale, Modric and Benzema.
Madrid are currently in the top spot of La Liga by a mere point, but that is as much a testament to their league competitors (Barcelona, Atletico Madrid) than to any shortcomings on their roster. It is hard to see how Schalke can advance past Madrid—winners of last year’s Champions League trophy.
Real Madrid 4, FC Schalke 2