The draw for the knockout phases for the Champions and Europa League were this past week. I always find this to be one of the more exciting times of the year as there are always big match-ups. For the Champions League, the biggest match-up is the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United for the first time since being sold. Here are my first impressions of the match-ups.
Galatasaray vs. Schalke 04
Schalke topped their group despite turmoil in their domestic campaign, but they got a pretty favorable draw with a match-up with the Turkish side. The experience of deep European campaigns will give Schalke the edge in this match-up.
Celtic vs. Juventus
Juventus and Celtic have great European history, and both will see their campaigns this season as being a return to that greatness. However, Juventus are the far stronger side and should advance although Celtic can make it tough for the first leg.
Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich
Munich have been impressive this season, while Arsenal’s struggled have been well documented. Arsenal may strengthen in January, so things could change, but their defensive frailty will always make Munich the favorite.
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Borussia Dortmund
Dortmund have greatly improved on their campaign from last season, but Shakhtar are a tough and experienced side. Dortmund are more talented, but I think Shakhtar could pull the upset here.
AC Milan vs. Barcelona
Milan are still a team in transition and Barcelona are Barcelona. I think the games will feel like a waiting game as AC Milan try to hold out against the Spanish.
Real Madrid vs. Manchester United
This is a tough one to call. If they played now, I would give United the advantage, but Madrid are simply more talented and have time to put it together. Given they are behind Barcelona, I expect Madrid to fully concentrate on this match-up and Jose Mourinho will get past the Red Devils.
Valencia vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Valencia are a solid side, but they have struggled this season. Their ability to keep possession may frustrate PSG, but with Lucas Moura adding attacking talent in January, I expect the French side to advance.
FC Porto vs. Malaga
The Iberian match-ups are always spicy, but with the recent suspension of Malaga from future European competition adds a little intrigue to this one. Malaga were impressive in the group, but Porto know how to advance in these European competitions, so I give them the edge.
For the Europa League, a number of big name teams are involved with Chelsea, Liverpool, and Internazionale. The defending champions Atletico Madrid are also a strong side to watch, but the Russians and Ukranian sides are a strong force that could play a big role in the tournament.
BATE Borisov vs. Fenerbahce
BATE Borisov seem to be getting stronger each season in Europe, but Fenerbahce experienced group should work.
Internazionale vs. CFR Cluj
CFR Cluj did well to finish third in their Champions League group, but Internazionale have too much to fall here.
Levante vs. Olympiacos
Olympiacos have plenty of experience, but Levante were impressive in their group. This is one of the match-ups too close to call for me.
Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Liverpool
Zenit have some internal strife with some resentment to new signings Hulk and Witsel, but Liverpool’s youth and depth will see them struggle against a stronger side.
Dynamo Kyiv vs. Bordeaux
Bordeuax have been solid, and don’t lose often (only twice in Ligue 1 so far), but they draw often and that will keep this match-up close.
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Benfica
Benfica will be disappointed to have been knocked into the Europa League, and they face a tough side in Leverkusen. Benfica’s experience still gives them the edge with Oscar Cardozo leading the way.
Newcastle United vs. Metalist Kharkiv
Newcastle United will likely focus on their domestic form, and therefore I think the Ukranians will dominate this one.
Stuttgart vs. Genk
Stuttgart have been up and down and have the more talent between these teams so they should win despite Genk’s impressive run.
Atletico Madrid vs. Rubin Kazan
This is a tough game for Madrid as Rubin are an experienced in Europe and have a strong defense. If Radamel Falcao stays, Atletico have the best player in this tournament and should advance.
Ajax vs. Steaua Bucuresti
Steua did well to win their group while Ajax did well to advance ahead of Manchester City in their group. Ajax looked better in Europe and should win this one.
FC Basel vs. Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk
FC Basel are strong up front, but the loss of Xherdan Shaqiri to Munich hurts their creativity where Dnipro will have too much for them.
Anzhi Makhachkala vs. Hannover 96
Anzhi look to be a rising power in Russia and winning the Europa League would be a nice statement. This should be a good battle, but the finishing touch of Eto’o will get them to advance.
Sparta Prague vs. Chelsea
Chelsea are the clearly stronger side and as long as Chelsea take the competition seriously, they will win advance here easily.
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Lazio
Monchengladbach are not as strong without Marco Reus, but they are still a solid side, but Lazio should be stronger.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Lyon
Tottenham got a tough draw here against a Lyon side that have been at the top of Ligue 1. This should be a good match-up, and the game-changers on the wing for Tottenham will win it.
Napoli vs. Viktoria Plzen
Viktoria Plzen did well to win their Europa League, but Napoli have too much for them in this game.