Now that we’ve gotten past a pretty boring group stage, we can start looking forward to the real excitement in the Champions League with the start of the knockout rounds. As you can see, there are lots of intriguing matchups.
The headlining pairings of this round are definitely Bayern Munich vs. Arsenal and Barcelona vs. Paris Saint-Germain. These are teams that seem to play each other all the time in this competition, and usually with the same end result, but there is reason to think that things might be different this year.
Arsenal fans are probably banging their heads against their desks after seeing this draw; after finally winning their group with the promise of getting an easier opponent in the Round of 16 that that feat usually portends, the Gunners instead drew one of the toughest challengers in the whole competition. Still, Arsenal do have reasons to be optimistic. This is the best Arsenal team in years, and they will be facing a Bayern team that still hasn’t really clicked under new manager Carlo Ancelotti. If ever there were a time for Arsenal to beat Bayern, it’s now.
In a similar way, PSG are probably a little bummed at seeing their name pop up alongside Barcelona’s. Even given their relatively shaky start to the La Liga season, Barça are still Barça; no one wants to play them. However, first-year manager Unai Emery came to Paris in order to implement a playing style that would better combat the big Champions League favorites, and as his time in La Liga attests, he is quite adept at frustrating Barça. PSG’s Thiago Motta-Marco Verratti-Blaise Matuidi central midfield is as difficult a center to break down as any team in Europe will face. We’ll see if Barcelona’s historic attack can get past those guys enough times to create enough chances to win, and if Edinson Cavani can have a rare good couple days of finishing.
Across the other matchups, the Sevilla-Leicester one particularly catches the eye. Leicester avoided all of Europe’s blue bloods lurking in that group of group runners-up, and have a very winnable tie against Sevilla. Their league season has been pretty awful, but Leicester have been great in Europe. They still have an opportunity manage another miracle year.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering what’s in store for Tottenham and Manchester United on Thursdays, here’s the Europa League Round of 32 draw:
That Villarreal-Roma tie looks pretty appetizing. The rest is whatever, though.