Even if your team isn’t in the Champions League, the draw for the last 16 stage is regularly one that grasps the interest of the footballing world. With Arsenal, Manchester United and Celtic the only British teams on offer, following the early exits of Manchester City and Chelsea, the chances of a team succeeding from the confines of these shores is significantly weakened.
At this point, no draw is an easy draw for any team and with the teams out of the pot; fans can expect tantalising encounters for our British contingent. Will they qualify? Is the last 16 a hurdle too far for the Gunners, United and the Bhoys? The trio face tricky obstacles, it has to be said.
Arsenal vs Bayern Munich
Having finished second in their group, the last 16 encounter was never going to be kind to Arsenal. The North London side have already made one trip to Germany during this year’s competition, having secured a 2-2 draw with FC Schalke 04 after going 2-0 down at the Veltins-Arena.
However, the proposition of coming up against Bayern Munich will be a harder task for Arsene Wenger’s side. The Bavarian giants currently top the Bundesliga, nine points ahead of second placed Bayer Leverkusen after losing just once.
On top of that, Bayern succumbed to just one defeat in the group stages of the competition, while the fact that the scored the joint-second highest goals of all 32 teams, level of 15 with Real Madrid and one behind last year’s winners Chelsea, should give the Gunners backline something to worry about, having conceded 18 in the Premiership this season.
A return to form against Reading on Monday saw the midfield duo of Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere pull the strings from the middle of the park, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain confirming the club had been working getting the pairing between the opposition midfield and defence in training.
The duo will be key to securing safe passage to the next stage of the Champions League, especially if Bayern start Anatoliy Tymoshchuk in the holding role. Anyway, if worst does indeed come to worst, Marouane Chamakh netted against the Bundesliga giants in 2009 for Bordeaux at the Allianz Arena.
Celtic vs Juventus
Celtic Park was certainly rocking when Barcelona came to town. A 2-1 win over the Blaugrana gave fans of the SPL giants hope that they could qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since 2008.
A 2-1 win over Spartak Moscow in Glasgow earlier this month ensured a place in the last 16 and having finished second, the knockout stage was never going to be an easy encounter for the Scottish giants.
It could’ve been worse for Celtic, that’s for sure, but Juventus will provide a stern test for Neil Lennon’s side over the two legs. Currently topping Serie A and looking on course to land their second successive title, facing off against Antonio Conte’s team will be no easy encounter - just look at their performances home and away against Chelsea.
Key to progressing will be stifling the threat of Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal, but even then the Bianconeri have enough quality about them to see off their Scottish counterparts. However, it will give Juventus the opportunity to garner first-hand experience of Gary Hooper, of whom they’ve been linked with a move for.
Real Madrid vs Manchester United
Arguably one of the ties of the round, the battle between Europe’s supreme duo is one that has fans of football salivating at the prospect of watching the duo fight it out over 180 minutes. United fans will also have the opportunity to welcome Cristiano Ronaldo back to Old Trafford after his move to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in 2010.
Many will point to Real’s poor domestic form as the opportunity to progress to the quarter-finals, but with Jose Mourinho, himself likened as Sir Alex Ferguson’s replacement, throwing in the towel in the La Liga title hunt, his attention is expected to switch to the Champions League.
Los Blancos are desperate for European success once again, having failed to land the trophy since 2002. Having agonisingly crashed out in the semi-finals to Bayern last year on penalties, Mourinho will be eager to go one step further to land his third Champions League winners medal and Real’s 10th.
The United defence is certainly a cause for concern, having shipped 24 goals in the Premiership this year. While Nemanja Vidic is likely to have returned to first-team duties by then, the Real front-line is certainly one not to be taken lightly.
The two teams haven’t met one another since 2003, in a game dubbed the best in former Brazilian striker Ronaldo’s career. He received a standing ovation that evening at Old Trafford; will fans be witnessing the same when Portuguese Ronaldo returns to his old stomping ground?
Of the three British teams, one can only see United securing safe passage to the quarter-finals. Bayern Munich and Juventus are likely to be too hard a task for Arsenal and Celtic, respectively, and the second leg being at Old Trafford for Ferguson’s side will only bolster their chances of navigating their way to the last eight.
Elsewhere, arguably the tie of the round is Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Dortmund. Two teams sharing similar footballing philosophies and if the respective duo can hold onto their star men in January, there is no reason why the encounter can live up to the expectations of the football purists. Oh, and there is the small matter of AC Milan v Barcelona to think about too. Seconds out, Ding Ding...