It’s been two long months without UEFA Champions League football, and this week we finally get to see who makes strides toward May 28’s final at the San Siro.
Who’s headed to Milan? We’ve got 16 candidates, most of them who fit neatly into the “usual suspects” folder. Not a single side remaining in the tournament came via the playoff round; All joined at the group stage.
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Who doesn’t fit that bill? Well, Gent for one, and Dynamo Kyiv for another. The former is a Belgian side gunning for its first quarterfinal since 1992, while the latter is in its first UCL Round of 16 in 17 years.
A doozy gets us kicked off on Tuesday, with the first legs completed a week from Wednesday. Here’s what we’ll be watching:
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Chelsea
Tuesday in Paris; March 9 in London
We’ve got a rematch on our hands, down to the round. Last year, it was PSG that advanced past Chelsea via the away goals rule after a 1-1 draw at the Parc des Princes and a 2-2 stalemate at Stamford Bridge. While Chelsea has been playing very well, their form is nothing compared to a Parisien side that hasn’t lost yet in Ligue 1 (22W-4D). With Eden Hazard openly flirting with PSG and John Terry’s absence forcing Chelsea into a tricky back line, we have all the looks of a multi-faceted beauty here.
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Benfica vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Tuesday in Lisbon; Match 9 in Russia
The Round of 16 has become a regular thing for Zenitchiki, and the Russians are in a good spot. Leading scorer Hulk has 3 goals and 4 assists in the UCL this season, and Zenit won five of its six Group H matches. Benfica is out of the group stage for the first time since 2011-12.
Gent vs. Wolfsburg
Wednesday in Belgium; March 8 in Germany
Neither side made the UCL in 2014-15, now one will make the quarterfinals. Wolfsburg will be favored after navigating a tricky Group B with PSV, Man Utd, and CSKA Moscow, while Gent finished second to Zenit.
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Roma vs. Real Madrid
Wednesday in Italy; March 8 in Spain
After dealing with Barcelona in Group E, Roma is rewarded with another Spanish giant in the next round. Whether the Serie A side can topple Zinedine Zidane’s unit seems like a big ask, but at some point i Lupi’s investments in the future should manifest in the present.
Juventus vs. Bayern Munich
Feb. 23 in Turin; March 16 in Germany
The Old Lady hopes to make its second-straight final, but has to get by Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich as the manager makes his last Bundesliga ride before scooting over to Manchester City next season. Juventus has battered opponents after a slow start to the Serie A season, reclaiming the top spot this weekend with a win over Napoli. Will that momentum help them past a Bayern side starting to find its form?
Arsenal vs. Barcelona
Feb. 23 in London; March 16 in Spain
What does Arsenal get for managing a great escape from a poor group stage start? Just the best team in the world, now with an in-form and healthy Lionel Messi. This is one of the reasons Arsene Wenger found the big bucks for Petr Cech. He’ll be a big part of any upset bid from the Gunners.
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PSV Eindhoven vs. Atletico Madrid
Feb. 24 in the Netherlands; March 15 in Spain
On paper, this one shouldn’t be a big challenge for Diego Simeone’s troops, and Atleti only allowed a trio of goals in group play. Could underrated Mexico star Andres Guardado’s familiarity with La Liga help here?
Dynamo Kyiv vs. Manchester City
Feb. 24 in Ukraine; March 15 in England
On name alone, many will pencil Man City into the next round, but its Ukranian opponents did well in passing Porto and giving Chelsea a scare in the Group G title race. Serhiy Rebrov’s stingy side has attacking danger in the form of 26-year-old Andriy Yarmolenko, and City will face a challenge here.