After a frenzied month of exciting soccer, the Champions League Round of 16 is nearly finalized. This is the really intriguing stage of Champions League, especially this year, as Arsenal, Manchester City and Leicester City have all advanced to the knockout stages.
Tottenham, however, was not as lucky as it is the sole English team that failed to advance.
While Leicester is having a dismal Premier League title defense, the Foxes could be in for a stunning Champions League campaign. In fairness, Leicester benefitted from a ridiculously easy group stage and faces a challenging opponent in the next round in Sevilla, the winner of the Europa League.
Fortunately, Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has returned from a hand injury, bolstering an often shaky defense. If forwards Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez continue to perform relatively well, there is a slim chance that the Leicester City dream could continue.
Sevilla has continued to dominate both European competitions and the domestic leagues. In fact, Sevilla has carved a place for itself in the top three of La Liga and managed to snap Real Madrid’s historic 40-game winning streak.
As much as I would like to see Leicester defy the odds, I find it very difficult to see the Foxes getting through an in-form Sevilla.
As is usually the case with Arsenal, the Gunners face an incredibly difficult matchup in the Round of 16. In the past couple of years, Arsenal has faced FC Barcelona, AS Monaco and Bayern Munich immediately after the group stages.
This year Arsenal faces Bayern Munich, despite the Gunners finishing as the top team in their group. This pairing lends credit to many fans’ conspiracy theory that the draws for the Round of 16 are rigged, but Arsène Wenger and his team expect to do their best given the circumstances.
It would be easy to write Arsenal off, considering that history is not on the English team’s side, but this year’s squad has the potential to do the unthinkable.
A large reason for this is due to the stellar play of midfielder Mesut Özil. Özil has often faced heavy criticism throughout his Arsenal career, and it is rumored that the German will be leaving in the summer, but for now, Özil is Arsenal’s best player and is boasting an incredible year.
As for Bayern, Carlo Ancelotti and his team have looked shaky at times. It seems that the fluid team movement that defined Bayern in the past has transformed into a heavy dependence on certain players.
A second-place finish in the group stage indicates that this strategy has not paid off. If Arsenal can take advantage of Bayern Munich’s identity crisis, the Gunners have the potential to break the curse of the last few years and advance past the Round of 16.
On paper, it looks as though Manchester City has benefitted from the luck of the draw, especially compared to Leicester and Arsenal. Pep Guardiola’s City will come up against Leonardo Jardim’s AS Monaco.
It would be easy to assume that City will pummel the tiny Monegasque side, but this could be one of the most competitive series in the entire Round of 16.
Monaco is currently challenging Paris Saint Germain for the top spot over in Ligue One, largely thanks to Radamel Falcao’s return to form. Falcao encountered dismal spells at both
Manchester United and Chelsea, but fortunately for the Colombian, it looks as though those horrific days are over.
After a lightning-fast start to the season, Manchester City has slowed down quite a bit. The team finds itself all the way back in fifth, far behind league leader Chelsea.
There appear to be several confidence issues, with Guardiola himself admitting that perhaps the problem lies with him. One thing is certainly clear: Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, who was brought in as a replacement for Joe Hart, has been absolutely abysmal.
If Monaco applies pressure to Bravo, it is very likely that City will be left in the dust.
With three weeks until the Round of 16 begins, the teams have ample time to prepare against their respective opponents and attempt to get one step closer to a Champions League title.
Vanessa Craige is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. The Beautiful Game appears every Tuesday.
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