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UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Predictions

Barcelona and Manchester City Offer the Toughest Round of 16 Fixture to Predict

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Barcelona's Lionel Messi points after he scored against AC Milan during a group H Champions League soccer match …

COMMENTARY I Arsenal was doomed to a bad Round of 16 match-up. A draw in Naples would have been good enough to avoid Europe's ultra-elite, but Napoli beat the Gunners 2-0 on the final match day of group play, and the only Round of 16 options for the North London club were Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.

As luck had it, Arsenal drew Bayern Munich, the defending European champion.

Bayern collected 15 points in the group stages. Save for three dropped points against Manchester City on the final match day, Bayern was blemish-free entering the knockout rounds. Without a doubt, the German powerhouse was the least desirable draw in the Round of 16.

With both Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid collecting 16 of the possible 18 group stage points, both Madrid-based clubs boasted the best records in group play.

Of the two Madrids, Atletico is considered to be the more dangerous side at the moment due to a slight lead in the domestic league and head-to-head wins in the last two Madrid derbies. Arguably, Atletico was even a tougher draw than Barcelona, but two months before the return of the Champions League affords enough time for form to slide. At the moment, however, not many consider AC Milan lucky or give the only Italian side remaining in the competition much of a chance to progress.

Bayern will best Arsenal, Atleti will ax Milan, and Real will roll through Schalke.

Paris Saint-Germain, or PSG, also packs a punch in the knock out rounds. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva look to avenge last year's heartbreak elimination in the quarterfinals of the competition.

Against Barcelona, PSG drew 2-2 in Paris and 1-1 in Spain. Barcelona advanced on the away goals tie-breaker, and PSG was eliminated despite not suffering a loss in either leg. This time around, the French champions have added Edinson Cavani to the superstar strike force with the hopes that his quality will knock in that necessary extra European goal.

Although Bayern Leverkusen is second in Germany and playing well, PSG's quality should overcome its German opposition.

With four quarter-finalists selected, eight teams fight for the final four spots.

By not being allowed to face any British sides this early in the competition, Manchester United was guaranteed to miss out on the two toughest group runner-ups, Arsenal and Man City.

Galatasaray, Schalke and Olympiakos represented three group runner-ups that all group winners were hoping to draw. The Turks lost three of their six group stage matches and somehow still managed to qualify for the knockout rounds. The Germans and Greeks both lost twice in the group stages, and all three sides lost on home soil during group play.

As luck had it, Manchester United drew Olympiakos. Although United is in no state to take anything for granted, manager David Moyes probably clicked his heel in delight when United's draw was announced. Even this lackluster group of Red Devils should manage an appearance in the quarterfinals.

Chelsea stammered through a dark spell in November. Once the smoke cleared, though, Jose Mourinho's men still finished top of their group and were within striking distance of the top of the Premier League. Drawing Didier Drogba's Galatasaray will produce plenty of story lines, and the fan atmosphere at Stamford Bridge should be electric for this tie.

Ultimately, Mourinho's experience in the competition provides the Blues enough of an edge to advance.

Last season's runner-up, Borussia Dortmund topped the "group of death." With a disintegrating backline, Dortmund will welcome the two-month gap before the Champions League returns for the knockout rounds. Dortmund lucked out by drawing arguably the weakest side remaining in the competition, Zenit St. Petersburg.

With only one win in group stage play, Zenit was extremely fortunate to advance. The Russian club collected only six points in six group stage matches. Without being too bold, one would expect Dortmund to defeat the Russians.

With seven quarter-finalists chosen, only one spot remains. However, the final tie of the Round of 16 is the most intriguing and toughest to predict: Manchester City and Barcelona.

After dominating Arsenal in domestic play and coming from behind in Munich on the final match day of group play, Manchester City was not on anyone's Christmas wish list. As luck would have it, Barcelona drew the Citizens in a mouth-watering fixture. Picking between the quality of Barcelona and Man City is a near impossibility, and the eye-watering fact that this match is two months away is painful to acknowledge.

When pushed to make a prediction, it is always difficult to bet against Lionel Messi. Neymar is progressing and growing in Messi's absence, but ultimately, the edge is Messi.

The first legs of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 will be held at the end February, and the deciding second legs will be in early March.


Shahan Ahmed is a Yahoo Contributor in Sports and has covered the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, German Bundesliga, and UEFA Champions League for the past four seasons. You can follow Shahan on Twitter @perfectpass and @ShahanLA

 

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