Previewing the UEFA Champions League Round of 16

On Monday, fans in Paris and Madrid lost their minds. While Manchester City gets Basel and Bayern gets Besiktas, PSG will face Real Madrid in the Round of 16. After the Whistle previews and predicts the chaos.

Basel vs. Manchester City

Kevin de Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, and Manchester City are 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League, and get a favor from UEFA. This won’t be close.

Pick: Manchester City

Bayern vs. Besiktas

This is the point where I make an argument for Besiktas.

This is the point where I acknowledge Bayern is going to win by 90 goals.

Pick: Bayern

Roma vs. Shakhtar Donetsk

The Ukrainians were so good in the group stage that Shakhtar eliminated Napoli and pushed Man City for the top spot. Meanwhile, Roma sits at fourth in the Serie A, and doesn’t have Mo Salah to carry the team when Edin Dzeko can’t score. I’ll take the upset here.

Pick: Shakhtar Donetsk

Juventus vs. Tottenham

The Spurs were flying through the first five games. Tottenham then made the mistake of playing red-hot Arsenal in the Premier League, and haven’t beaten a team since, except for Stoke. Juve has surged up the Serie A standings, and run into an Inter Milan roadblock. The team from Torino possesses a little¬†more firepower, and should put up a few goals on a stuttering Totteringham defense.

Pick: Juventus

Porto vs. Liverpool

Vincent Aboubakar will be a handful for Liverpool’s vertically challenged defenders, but Porto isn’t the power they once were. Mohamed Salah’s incredible run of form should continue as the Reds advance to the quarters.

Pick: Liverpool

Sevilla vs. Manchester United

While their weekend performance at Real Madrid didn’t show it, Sevilla is a dangerous side to come up against. Romelu Lukaku’s struggles against high-quality opposition pose problems for MUFC, but Mkhitaryan, Martial, and the on-fire Marcus Rashford will propel Manchester United to a most-needed victory. Too many M’s?

Pick: Manchester United

Chelsea vs. Barcelona

The Blues haven’t been terrific, dropping to third in the loaded Premier League. Arsenal and Liverpool are nipping at Chelsea’s heels, and Antonio Conte might choose to focus on England. Barcelona have no such qualms, as Lionel Messi and Co. are on top of La Liga. This won’t be close even if Chelsea fields their starting XI.

Pick: Barcelona

Real Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain

Neymar and Dani Alves face a familiar foe in Spanish giant Real Madrid. Kylian Mbappe’s transformation into superstardom has continued, and the Parisians won’t struggle to light up the score sheet. Defending will be the concern.

Real Madrid has slipped this season, slotting in at fourth in La Liga. Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. have focused more on the Champions League, and draw the best team in Europe for their troubles. Dani Carvajal and Sergio Ramos will have to anchor a surprisingly ineffective defense, while Ronaldo, Marco Asensio, and the attack will have no problem scoring. This should be an amazing two games.

Pick: Paris Saint-Germain ūü§Ď

 

Far too early semifinals prediction: PSG, Bayern, Barcelona, Manchester City

Far too early finals prediction: Paris Saint-Germain over Bayern Munich

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2017-18 UEFA Champions League: Reviewing the group stage draw!

Manchester United.

Liverpool.

Manchester City.

Chelsea.

Tottenham.

2017 is the first year in history that five Premier League teams will participate in the Champions League. Some of them were drawn into favorable groups. Some, more average. And two were absolutely shattered. Read on to find out!

Group A

Benfica, the champions of the Portuguese Liga NOS, were the first team off the board. Featuring the dangerous Goncalves Jonas, they are still a beatable opponent. Most sides would be content with facing them.

Manchester United would like their chances. They have posted two straight 4-0 wins at the start of the Premier League, and the attack of Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford may not be PSG/Barcelona/Atletico Madrid quality, but is still quite fearsome. But. . .

Swiss giants¬†FC Basel¬†were the team from the third pot. The last time the Red Devils faced Benfica and Basel in the same group was the disastrous 2011/12 campaign in which they crashed out of the group in third. Don’t underestimate CSKA Moscow either.

 

Group B

It’s time for “supposedly predictable group with four really, really good teams”, featuring Bayern Munich. The Bavarians added Colombian superstar James Rodriguez from Real Madrid, (more on them later) which adds yet another element to an attack already featuring Robert Lewandowski and Arjen Robben.

The defending German Bundesliga champions were drawn against perhaps the best Pot 2 side in PSG. The Parisians shattered¬†transfer records and shocked the world, acquiring Neymar from Barcelona for ‚ā¨222 million. They also manage to include Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria, and Marco Verratti in what must be an enormous wage budget.

Anderlecht¬†won their 34th¬†title domestically in Belgium last year. Due to Belgium’s rapid rise in the UEFA coefficient rankings, they would be in Pot 1. . . next year. As it stands, everybody is ignoring a dangerous side that features Leander Dendoncker and ŇĀukasz Teodorczyk.¬†Whoever of Anderlecht and Celtic¬†finishes third will likely go far in the Europa League. It’s a shame one of these talented sides has to finish fourth.

 

Group C

How fun! The Diego Costa transfer saga has reached a new height, as Chelsea and Atlético Madrid were the first two teams drawn into the group. Eden Hazard vs. Filipe Luis? Yes, please!

However, they will have a tough time of it. Italian giants AS Roma were in the third pot thanks in part to an awful coefficient. Just to name names, how will the vaunted Blues defense manage against the likes of Radja Nainggolan, Edin Dzeko, and Stephan El Shaarawy? All three of these sides will also have to take the long, loooong trip to Qarabag in Azerbaijan, a place that has become a bit of a fortress as of late.

 

Group D

There will be a high level of quality in this gauntlet UEFA calls a group. First off, Italian champions and last year’s UCL runners-up,¬†Juventus¬†need no introduction. Barcelona¬†don’t either, though it is curious how they will replace the departed Neymar.

Olympiakos are sneaky good. Quality summer signings such as Vadis Odidja-Ofoe add to a side that has dominated Greece’s Superleague for what feels like forever. Are they ready to make the jump and progress to the knockout rounds of the UCL? Not in this group. Not with Sporting CP¬†pushing them just to stay out of the bottom.

 

Group E

Spartak Moscow¬†are probably not going to win their group. The surprise Russian champions occupy the spot that would have gone to Anderlecht if any Belgian side’s goal differential would have been one better last year.

One.

At the moment, star Dutch winger Quincy Promes hasn’t left for a bigger club. They will need him to stay if they have any hope of beating¬†Liverpool¬†and Sevilla.¬†Good luck. NK Maribor¬†likely won’t pose a threat, as they only managed to keep six clean sheets all season in the Slovenian league.

 

Group F

Because Real Madrid won the Champions League and La Liga, and because they are one team, not two. . . the other Pot 1 spot for some reason goes to Shakhtar Donetsk? Not sure how that works, but okay. Having produced the likes of Douglas Costa, the Ukranian side’s academy has propelled them into the UCL. They face a tough task with Manchester City. The three-pronged attack of Kevin de Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, and David Silva has been ripping apart Premier League defenses so far this year. I didn’t even mention Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, or Leroy Sane.

The Napoli are no stranger to the underdog role. They live it every year in the Serie A with Juventus and Roma. But that attack. Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, and Jose Callejon highlight a side that also appreciates the defending of Kalidou Koulibaly and Raul Albiol.

When you beat Ajax and PSV, you’re no joke. When you do it twice? Enter¬†Feyenoord. The Dutch side’s chances in this brutal group start and end with star midfielder Jens Toornstra.

 

Group G

AS Monaco shocked the world last year. Not only did they beat out PSG and Lyon to win Ligue 1, they dominated it. But Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, and Tiemoué Bakayoko have all left for the Premier League. Kylian Mbappe and Thomas Lemar are the subjects of massive transfer sagas that seem to have no end. They should get past a weakened Porto side, and an always-underperforming Besiktas.

RB Leipzig¬†are a Pot 4 team. Why? They’ve not been in the Champions League since the club was founded in 2009. Apparently that trumps having the likes of Naby Keita, Emil Forsberg, and Timo Werner in a side that beat out Borussia Dortmund to finish second in the Bundesliga.

I don’t get it either.

 

Group H

Just what is this group?!?!?!?

Title holding¬†Real Madrid don’t need any introduction. What does is how screwed they were with this group. Borussia Dortmund¬†actually finished above Madrid in last year’s group stage, but they have lost Ousmane Demb√©le to Barcelona.

Tottenham¬†finished second in the Premier League last year behind Golden Boot winning Harry Kane and Young Player of the Year Dele Alli. The added burden of the UCL will be more difficult for them, especially in this group. Don’t dismiss¬†APOEL Nicosia, as the Cypriot champions usually pull a surprise or two.

James Rodriguez finally leaves Real Madrid!

Colombian star James Rodriguez has finally completed a move away from Real Madrid, after being linked to Inter, Arsenal, PSG, Manchester United, and others. But he hasn’t gone to any of the aforementioned teams.

Speculation had grown over James’ future after Real manager Zinedine Zidane repeatedly left him on the bench, choosing to play Casemiro in a defensive 4-3-3. The Spanish giants initially demanded close to ¬£75 million for him, which ruled out most clubs as potential destinations for Rodriguez.

Yesterday it was announced that James (Haw-mace) has moved to Bayern Munich! Real Madrid put the correct price tag on the world class CAM. However, sources report that the German club has decided to loan him for two years, with an option to buy. This is the staggering bit: the fee. Bayern will pay ¬£5 million each year of his loan, and then have an option to buy him permanently for only ¬£30 million! Incentives could see the total fee rise to ¬£45.2 million, well below Madrid’s asking price.

This is a ridiculous deal for the Bavarians. Remember when 22 year old James Rodriguez won the Golden Boot at the 2014 World Cup, scoring in every game? Remember how he took control of the round of 16 clash against Uruguay? (And that ridiculous volley!)

At age 25, the Colombian wizard hasn’t even hit his prime, but has notched 46 goals, 45 assists, and 27 Man of the Match awards in just over 10,000 minutes of game time. The list of active players to go 45/45/25 in 10,000: James, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar. That’s it.

 

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