The third week in February marks the resumption of the 2013-14 Champions League tournament and the Round 16 matches offer some potentially thrilling clashes over the next month as some of the best teams in Europe compete for a quarter-final place. For several teams, a timely return to peak form is evident while for others there are concerns surrounding key personnel and such factors only add the intrigue in deciding which teams may progress.
Arsenal must face a Bayern Munich team which is unbeaten in the Bundesliga this season with an almost unassailable lead at the top of the table. Although Manchester City beat them at the Allianz Arena in the final group match, there is little evidence to suggest that they may surrender their Champions League crown especially against an Arsenal team which has recently shown a slight dip in performances. The prolonged absence of Aaron Ramsey is not helping the Gunners.
With Lionel Messi displaying signs of a return to fitness, Barcelona may yet prove worthy challengers to Bayern Munich and they must overcome a Manchester City team which can be awesome on any given day but recent results suggests that Sergie Aguero will be seriously missed in attack.
One of the more enthralling ties pitches Schalke against Real Madrid with both teams unbeaten in their league campaigns during 2014. Schalke are a far better team than when they lost 3-0 in both ties against Chelsea during qualifying and with Klass-Jan Huntelaar regaining match sharpness after an injury plagued season, they should provide a stern test for a Real Madrid team which appears to be improving as the season progresses.
That could be said about last season’s losing finalists Borussia Dortmund who were rocked by early season injuries to their first choice defenders. With several of those players now returning to the fold, manager Jurgen Klopp is hopeful of improving upon a below par performance during the qualifying stages. A recent 5-1 away win at Werder Bremen was more reminiscent of Dortmund’s normal form and they may be too strong for Zenit St Petersburg.
Among the other ties, Chelsea would appear to be favourites against a Galatasaray team for whom Didier Drogba will be savouring the prospect of playing against his former team, while Atletico Madrid face a difficult tie against Clarence Seedorf’s AC Milan. Only two weeks previously Atletico would have been considered certainties especially after topping La liga but three recent defeats have dented their reputation.
A Zlatan Ibrahimovic inspired Paris Saint-Germain may prevail against a Bayer Leverkusen team which flatters to deceive at times and Manchester United have no easy task against an under-rated Olympiakos squad which leads the Greek Superleague by 17 points prior to 15th February.
With the Round of 16 matches spread over a four week period a fascinating month of football is awaiting.