With the UEFA Champions League draw completed on Monday, we now know the composition of the knockout bracket that will decide this season’s European champion. We were blessed with a bunch of powerhouse pairings, with three matchups from last season’s Champions League being relived as well as a rematch of a final from the mid-1990s.
A clear hierarchy of contenders and pretenders already revealed itself after six matches during the group stage, and the draw appears to have only further stratified the haves from the have-nots. Let’s break down the pairings and project what might happen in the culmination of this year’s tournament..
Paris Saint-Germain v. Chelsea
The Londoners are leading the Premier League at this point, and after some early stumbles they also strolled through to the next stage of the Champions League without too many troubles. Though they drew matches against Schalke and NK Maribor, Chelsea finished the group stage as one of just three teams to qualify for the next round without sustaining a defeat. They were also tied with Real Madrid for the highest goal differential, meaning that the English leaders are rounding into form at the most dangerous possible time for every other Champions League hopeful.
Their opponents, Paris Saint-Germain, lost only once in the group stage, spliting the home-and-away series with Barcelona. They haven’t lost at home yet this season, and between Ligue 1 play and the Champions League have suffered just two defeats all season. Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic provide plenty of punch on offense, and David Luiz’s defection from Chelsea to PSG will be a fun story to follow. The main question for the Parisians is whether manager Laurent Blanc can outwit Jose Mourinho. Blanc’s tactics have been questionable this season, and he’s facing a master of the managerial craft. That could be enough to tip the scales between two well-matched squads.
Manchester City v. Barcelona
Manchester City looked like they might finish in dead last in Group E four matches into the group stage after CSKA Moscow knocked off the Sky Blues at Etihad Stadium. Then they turned around and defeated Bayern Munich and Roma on the last two matchdays to move from fourth to second and book passage to the knockout round. Currently hovering in second place behind Chelsea in England, the defending Premier League champions are suddenly one of the more dangerous wild cards in the competition. They obviously have the talent to pose a threat deep into the tournament, but must stay consistent.
Barcelona, their opponents for a second straight season in the knockout stage, are hardly as dominant as they were four years ago when they romped to a second Champions League title in three years. That said, the Catalans are still a force to be reckoned with in European football. The blaugrana lost a 3-2 thriller to Paris Saint-Germain on the last day of September, but atoned for the defeat on the last matchday of the group stage with a 3-1 return at Camp Nou. The team features a dangerous attack that includes wunderkind Lionel Messi, Brazilian sensation Neymar, and El Mordedor himself. Like Bayern, anything less than the semis would be a disappointment.