Dec 18, 2009

Here's who will win the Champions League Round of 16 match-ups

Hopefully that title got your attention. The match-ups have been drawn and the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 is set. Using our Top 25 ranking as a guide, we will tell you in no uncertain terms exactly who will advance to the quarterfinals. This process has worked out brilliantly for us in the past, so why not go to the well once more?

The draw itself was, well, interesting. If UEFA was anywhere near as corrupt as FIFA we'd all be screaming about the process being rigged, the way it so obviously was in the recently-conducted World Cup draw. However, UEFA is slightly less corrupt than FIFA (think a municipality in Moldova versus Kabul's central government), so slightly fewer of us are complaining. For my part, I will say that it's uncanny how both organizations (FIFA and UEFA) just so happened to get exactly the draw that stands to benefit their TV ratings the most. But enough about that.

Admittedly this might have waited until the latest version of the Top 25 is released Monday morning. But the draw was today so it's only fair that we use the data available to us at this time. Here goes:

Barcelona (top 25 at time of this ranking: 1) vs. Stuttgart (unranked)
Here you have a team that has lost but once all season and won a tough group against a club that barely qualified out of the worst group of them all. An absolute no-brainer: Barca's the pick. Stuttgart will likely wish they had been relegated to the Europa League after seeing this draw.

Girondins Bordeaux (2) vs. Olympiakos (13)
This one, too, is an easy choice. Bordeaux hit a brief rough patch a few weeks ago but emerged unscathed: first place in their Champions League group, first place in Ligue Un. The match-up with Olympiakos, while not as easy as, say, Barcelona's, should not pose a serious challenge to a team of Bordeaux' caliber. Which is too bad, really, because we think the Greek side have potential. Granted their Champions League group was not very difficult but they've done well domestically (first place in the Greek Super League). They've met their match here though. Bordeaux should take this one with relative ease.

Chelsea (3) vs. Inter Milan (6)
Now things get interesting. On one hand you have Chelsea, a team that we considered the best in the world as recently as a fortnight ago. Opposing them are Inter Milan, who peaked at number 2 but have since fallen back to earth. Who will win? Chelsea have too much fire power. Inter are a bit fickle. Blues will win, but it could be close.

Manchester United (4) vs. AC Milan (9)
Who could have imagined that David Beckham will face his old club in the UEFA Champions League? It's almost as outlandish as, say, England being drawn into a World Cup group with the U.S.! Sadly for Becks, his team will lose both encounters: against Man United here and against the Yanks June 12. Yes we went there. What'cha gonna do about it?

Real Madrid (5) vs. Olympique Lyonnais (unranked)
If this match-up had taken place a month or two ago it would have been a real cracker. Now however, there is a clear favorite: the club from Spain's capital city. L'OL started very strongly to the season but have had a horrible time of it recently. They even dropped out of the Top 25 altogether, something that has not happened in the two plus years I've been keeping the rankings. In France's Ligue Un they are now a mid-table side, if you can believe that. This match-up will just pile on their misery. Real to advance.

Sevilla (7) vs. CSKA Moscow (unranked)
We were looking forward to seeing Sevilla tested by a top club outside of Spain. We'll have to wait a bit longer. CSKA Moscow, for all their charms, are not even the best team in Russia (that honor goes to Rubin Kazan, who made a lot of noise in Europe the past couple of months and will surely be a force to be reckoned with in the Europa League). Sevilla are tough; they defeated Real Madrid and, uh, that's about it. Both teams emerged from weak groups (very weak in Sevilla's case). The team from Andalucia will prevail but what happens after that is anybody's guess.

Arsenal (8) vs. Porto (11)
Last year Porto had a great run that very nearly took them to the semifinals. Unfortunately for them, Cristiano Ronaldo scored one of the nicest goals you'll see and Man U advanced in their place. This year, will a different English team bring about Porto's ouster? Yes, Arsenal will. But it will be close again. Ultimately, the skill, speed and talent of Arsene Wenger's side will spell doom for the Portuguese club--just like Man United did for them last year. But if you were going to bet on an upset, this might just be the one to pick.

Bayern Munich (10) vs. Fiorentina (unranked)
After a slow start to the season Bayern Munich have been on a tear and find themselves at a season-high 10th spot in our top 25 ranking. Fiorentina had a few moments and were most recently sighted in the Top 25 on Nov. 9, when they were 17th. Unfortunately, the Florentine side have few quality victories to their name and were undoubtedly the beneficiaries of Liverpool's disintegration. So this one should not be close. However Bayern are a fickle bunch and who knows what will happen to them between now and Feb. 17. By that point they could be out of the Top 25 again. Or maybe not: the team has confidence now and after the victory at Turin know they are capable of great things. Regardless of what happens in the next two months, they should be able to summon the Entschlossenheit to get past Fiorentina. I love these German words for which there is no real English equivalent, don't you?

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