The 2015-16 UEFA Champions League continues this week with Round of 16.
Sportsnet’s soccer panel of broadcasters, writers and pundits offer their picks and predictions below…
ARSENAL vs. BARCELONA
Noah Love, Sportsnet.ca: Pity poor Arsene Wenger. Arsenal’s manager gets his squad into the Champions League every season, but the Round of 16 is his personal Kryptonite. Or at least it has been since the 2009-10 Champions League season, when the Gunners made it all the way to the quarterfinals. There, they lost to … Barcelona.
It is unlikely this year’s Arsenal can find a way past a Barca squad that hasn’t lost since Oct. 3 (2-1 to Sevilla). The Catalans played poorly this past weekend against Las Palmas and still walked away 2-1 winners. They played that game without suspended Sergio Busquets, the glue that holds the Barcelona midfield together, but he’ll be back for the game at the Emirates.
Arsenal is on a decent run of form of its own — the Gunners haven’t lost since Jan. 24 against Chelsea. But Barcelona won’t be stopped in the Round of 16. It is the odds on favourite to win the competition and repeat as champions. The Gunners will likely put up a decent fight, but the wait to get out of the Round of 16 will almost certainly go on.
Prediction: Barcelona wins 3-1.
JUVENTUS vs. BAYERN MUNICH
John Molinaro, Sportsnet.ca: Without question, this is the marquee tie of the Round of 16: the German champions vs. the league winners from Italy. Bayern is probably the second-best team in the world (second only to Barcelona) while Juventus is unbeaten in 16 consecutive Serie A matches (with 15 wins).
If that’s not enough, how about the great story-lines that surround this game? Gianluigi Buffon vs. Manuel Neuer in the battle of two of the best goalkeepers on the planet. Bayern’s Arturo Vidal returns to Turin where he was one of the best midfielders in the club game for many years, while Juventus forward Mario Mandzukic faces his old club.
Juventus will be missing Giorgio Chiellini and Alex Sandro for Tuesday’s tilt in Turin. But Juventus doesn’t have one of the best defences in all of Europe (just 15 goals conceded in Serie A) by mistake — they have plenty of depth and should be able to make due without the pair. Bayern is a dangerous side going forward, especially with Thomas Müller leading the line. They have a knack for tearing even the stingiest defences apart. Juve has quality options up front too, especially with Paulo Dybala in form.
I think this is going to be cagey affair, with Bayern being tight at the back and looking to get out of Italy wihtout conceding a goal, and Juve having trouble breaking down the Germans.
Prediction: A 0-0 draw.
MORE ON THE UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Sportsnet panel’s picks and predictions || PSV set to crash into Atletico Madrid fortress || Arsenal’s Sanchez a man of brilliant moments || Photo gallery: 10 to watch in Champions League || Photo gallery: Round of 16 matchups || Analytics: Europa League vs. Champions League
DYNAMO KYIV vs. MANCHESTER CITY
Gerry Dobson, Sportsnet : The Premier league title contenders are getting ripped for fielding a “B team” in their FA Cup match against Chelsea on the weekend. City lost to a rejuvenated Blues side, but there was method to Manuel Pellegrini’s madness. Something about the Champions League. Like it or not, the Premier League title and Champions League glory rank far above the once illustrious FA Cup.
Some people aren’t buying it. Alan Shearer for one says its nonsense that Pellegrini is complaining about a fixture pileup and that he started six teenagers in the Chelsea loss. Shearer argues that Barcelona had the same rest period between a domestic game and their Champions League tie but their big guns all played at the weekend. A tempest in a teapot, I think.
As for Dynamo Kyiv, here’s a team that hasn’t played a competitive match since December as many of the Eastern European leagues have been on winter break. These things can work two ways. The rest either rejuvenates, or rust sets in. Who knows. What we do know is that UEFA has lifted its ban on supporters for this match. Racist behaviour and other crowd nonsense led to the original three match crowd suspension which has been reduced and now completed. Another head-scratcher. Either way, Manchester City should have no trouble beating the Ukrainians.
Prediction: Manchester City wins 2-0.
PSV EINDHOVEN vs. ATLETICO MADRID
THOMAS MICHALAKOS, Sportsnet.ca: Coming off a frustrating scoreless draw away to Villarreal in La Liga, Diego Simeone must make sure this past weekend’s stutter-step doesn’t repeat itself on Wednesday at the Philips Stadion in Eindhoven. Dropping points in the league is one thing, the Spanish title isn’t a realistic goal this late in the season. However, a European title is a more realistic goal, especially with a favourable draw in facing PSV.
I’m not saying the Dutch Champions are pushovers and should be over-looked. Simeone is a student of the game and is always 100 percent focused regardless of the opponent. PSV has yet to lose a league fixture since returning from winter break (seven wins) and sit atop of the Eredivisie.
It’s difficult to imagine Atleti’s formidable offence being shutout two matches in a row, though, the Madrid derby happens this coming weekend at the Bernabeu. It’s an easy narrative to conjure up as an excuse should the worst happen. Eyes and minds mustn’t waver or the headlines can practically write themselves.
Prediction: Atletico Madrid wins 2-1.
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