The knockout stage of the 2013/14 Champions League campaign has taken shape, with only 16 of the continent’s finest left in the hunt for Europe’s top prize.
Monday’s draw in Nyon, Switzerland, threw up several fascinating encounters, not least Arsenal’s showdown against Bayern Munich and Manchester City’s clash with Barcelona.
First-leg matches for the round of 16 will be played during the weeks of Feb. 18/19 and 25/26, before the return fixtures on March 11/12 and 18/19.
Among the eight seeded clubs, there have been 23 European Cup and Champions League triumphs, while the unseeded sides only account for seven, all which have been won by Milan. Bayer Leverkusen and Arsenal have both been losing finalists in the past.
However, the Gunners now face a massive challenge if they wish to make it to the quarter-final stage after being handed reigning champions Bayern.
Munich succumbed to Arsenal in the second leg of last season’s Champions League meeting, but even a 2-0 victory at the Allianz Arena wasn’t enough to claw Arsene Wenger’s side past their Bundesliga tormentors.
Now, Wenger will seek redemption for that near miss against a side currently seen as favourites to win the competition, per Oddschecker. Bayern have lost one game all season and, like the Gunners, are top of their domestic league.
Manchester City will also feel a slight lack of fortune in their draw against Barcelona, which sees director of football Txiki Begiristain and Yaya Toure meet their old club.
Having shown their potential with a 3-2 win over Bayern just last week, City’s stacked squad is most certainly up there with the best on paper, but this will be their first step into the Champions League knockout phase.
Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi in particular will be a duo drawing great attention for this matchup, with the Argentinian pair afforded a brief moment of head-to-head competition in advance of the 2014 World Cup.
Messi and Aguero should both have recovered from injury by the time these two are set to clash, and with 33 goals between them already this season, per Transfermarkt.co.uk, goals should be guaranteed.
Of all the English clubs, the draw was perhaps kindest to David Moyes’ Manchester United, a rare bright spot for them in a troubling campaign to date. Olympiacos are not known for going deep into the tournament and are among the weakest sides left in the competition.
In four Champions League clashes against Olympiacos, United have never lost. In fact, they conceded their first goals to the Greeks in their most recent fixture, a 3-2 win at the Karaiskakis Stadium in 2002.
The English giants have never scored fewer than two goals in any individual match against Olympiacos, per Statto.com, but their attack hasn’t been consistently firing on all cylinders this term.
Jose Mourinho’s premonition regarding Didier Drogba’s return to Stamford Bridge came true after Galatasaray were drawn as Chelsea’s next obstacle.
The Ivorian netted 157 goals in 341 games for the Blues, per Chelsea’s official website, but will now be looking to heap misery on his former club with the view of firing the Turkish titans into the quarter-finals of this year’s competition.
After failing to get a club into the quarter-finals of last year’s competition, England have a far better chance of doing so this time and are the joint-most represented nation left in the tournament alongside Germany.
While that may be the case, Spain will argue their case for glory to be the strongest, considering all three of La Liga’s bastions were seeded for Monday’s draw.
Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid currently make up the top three of the Spanish top flight, in that order, with Diego Simeone’s Atleti side tied on both points and goal difference with reigning champions Barca.
What’s more, Los Rojiblancos managed to qualify for the round of 16 with the biggest deficit between them and second place in their group, a huge 10 points separating them from fellow qualifiers Zenit St. Petersburg.
Ahead of the draw, defending champions Bayern Munich were deemed favourites to retain their crown with the bookies, ahead of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Dortmund.