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UEFA Champions League Team-By-Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

CL Preview 600x362 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

The resumption of the UEFA Champions League knockout phase is the prime indicator that the serious business is about to kick off in European soccer. It’s crunch time, in short, and teams will resume their respective European commitments with dreams of glory and hopes of parading the trophy around the Estadio Da Luz, Lisbon come May 24, 2014.

This season’s last 16 is bristling with quality out, each with their own case to make for the title knowing they are just seven games away from clinching a spot in footballing immortality.

Here, we run the rule over every team in the last 16 and make some bold predictions (draw permitting, of course) on who we think will be contesting the European Cup final this time round. Can anyone halt the runaway train that is the holders Bayern Munich? Can Borussia Dortmund go one better than last time around? Will the English teams feature? And how will the Spanish teams fare alongside their tightest title race in years?

We’ve done our best to help you make your own mind up. Feel free to let us know who YOU think will be crowned Champions of Europe come May 24 and what you’re expecting from this season’s Champions League knockout phase.

All statistics courtesy of Who Scored? All kick off times are Eastern time.

Arsenal

Arsenal 600x399 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Manager: Arsene Wenger

Last 16 Fixtures:

Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich, Wednesday 19 February, 2:45PM

Bayern Munich vs. Arsenal, Tuesday 11 March, 2:45PM

Arsenal XI UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Likely Arsenal XI for the Last 16

Arsenal came through the toughest of all the groups to make it to the last 16. But defeat to Napoli in the final fixture meant they were ousted from the top spot by Borussia Dortmund and they’ve landed a tie with European Champions Bayern Munich for the second season running in the first knock-out round.

But you could argue they have a better chance of progressing than this time last year, for Arsene Wenger’s side look a better rounded and steelier outfit this season. They have topped the Premier League for large portions of the domestic campaign, and some strong performances in Europe bode well for the knock-out stages. Particularly their dismantling of Napoli at the Emirates and their marvelous 1-0 win in Dortmund.

It’s going to take a couple of huge performances to overhaul Bayern, but the Gunners can take some comfort from their 2-0 win at the Allianz Arena last season, not to mention Manchester City’s triumph there in the group stages during this season’s competition. If they somehow make it through to the quarterfinals, they’ll certainly fancy their chances of going all the way to the final. It’s a rather big if, though.

Strengths

Wenger has an embarrassment of riches in midfield, and the talents of Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil give the team a continuous creative buzz. The central defensive duo of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have been rock solid too, discounting a couple of capitulations against Manchester City and Liverpool. Looking forward, if they can Aaron Ramsey back into the side ahead of the second leg, then that would be a major boost to the Gunners.

Weaknesses

The midfield can look a bit samey as all the players are stylistically similar. The injury to Theo Walcott robs Wenger of a completely different attacking dimension and the onus looks set to be on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to bring a dynamism and directness to the Arsenal midfield.

Key Man – Olivier Giroud 

GIROUD 600x337 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

So much of Arsenal’s recent renaissance has been down to the performances of the former Montpellier man. Giroud has honed his skills and developed into an excellent front man, providing a suitable foil for the intricate style of Arsenal’s midfield schemers.

With little in reserve in terms of natural centre-forward players, the Gunners are hugely reliant on the No.12, and he must stick his chances away if they are to stand any chance of progressing.

Verdict: The worst possible draw for the Gunners means it’s difficult to see them progressing into the last quarterfinals. They’ll go not further than the LAST 16, but expect them to run the champions very close.

 

Atletico Madrid

Atletico 600x399 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions 

Manager: Diego Simeone

Last 16 Fixtures:

Milan vs. Atletico Madrid, Wednesday 19 February, 2:45PM

Atletico Madrid vs. Milan, Tuesday 11 March, 2:45PM

Atletico XI UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Likely Atletico Madrid XI for the Last 16

Diego Simeone’s side have really caught the eye this season. At the time of writing, Los Coloncheros sit atop of La Liga and have a very feasible chance of busting the Real Madrid/Barcelona duopoly in Spain’s top division. It’s a potential achievement made even more remarkable when you consider they sold Radamel Falcao last summer and have invested very little of his substantial transfer fee back into the playing squad as of yet.

They have been pretty impressive in their Champions League exploits too. Atletico finished top of their group and have been rewarded with a very winnable tie against an out-of-sorts AC Milan outfit. Simeone’s team will be majorly confident of breezing past the seven-time European champions and into the last eight of the competition.

And if they get there, then they are a team that the majority of sides will be looking to avoid. Simeone has Atletico playing with discipline, energy, incisiveness and a bit of stardust to boot. Players like Thibaut Courtois, Miranda, Gabi and Diego Godin have been excellent in the team’s defensive efforts so far this campaign, whilst the likes of Diego Costa, Koke and Arda Turan have posed an unwavering attacking threat. In addition, the recent signing of Diego from Wolfsburg will give them another intricate offensive dimension and will allow Simeone to be much more flexible with his team selections; something that will be key in the latter stages of this competition.

Strengths

The cohesiveness and energy of this Atletico side has been unparalleled across Europe this season. Simeone has them wonderfully drilled and hugely clinical all aspects of their play. The front two of David Villa and Costa compliment each other well and the inverted wide players—Koke and Turan—are so difficult to pick up when drifting off the right and left respectively. Even if teams can puncture Atletico’s stubborn defensive effort, they have to beat Courtois, who is fast establishing himself as one of Europe’s top goalkeepers.

Weaknesses

The squad has little experience when it comes to the knock-out stages of the Champions League, and the same can be said for Simeone as a manager. In their starting XI, only David Villa has a pedigree for winning major domestic and European competitions. The squad is a little lightweight in some areas too, so they will be desperate not to pick up any injuries or suspensions.

Key Man – Thibaut Courtois

Courtois Key 600x400 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

The Belgian stopper has been sensational this season and a mainstay of Los Coloncheros sensational form. On-loan from Chelsea for the third consecutive season, he has now played over 100 games for Atletico, and in doing so has established himself as arguably the best young goalkeeper on the planet. As the tournament gets into the deeper stages and Atletico face more illustrious opposition, he needs to be at his absolute peak.

Verdict: Potential dark horses for the title? Atletico’s style will certainly pose plenty of problems for some of the more illustrious sides and they remain something of an unknown quantity in the Champions League. They’ll beat Milan comfortably in the last 16 and looking forward, have a fearless squad who are going to be exceptionally difficult for to beat. But a run to the QUARTERFINALS will be as far as they go this year.

 

Bayer 04 Leverkusen

Leverkusen1 600x407 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Manager: Sami Hyypia

Last 16 Fixtures: 

Bayer 04 Leverkusen vs. Paris Saint-Germain, Tuesday 18 February, 2:45PM

Bayer XI UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Likely Bayer Leverkusen XI for the Last 16

Leverkusen have enjoyed a very steady campaign to date, and as the weeks tick by they look increasingly likely to cement their spot in second place in the Bundesliga. With Bayern Munich but a dot on the horizon and a host of inconsistent teams battling for the remaining European berths, Bayer 04 could find themselves with little to play for soon. With that in mind, they’ll be desperate for a decent run in the Champions League.

Sami Hyypia’s team qualified from a difficult looking group which contained Manchester United, Real Sociedad and Shakhtar Donetsk. A couple of heavy defeats to the English champions did blemish their group phase performance, but to get out of the group in itself will have been viewed as a success. They will face big spending Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 and Bayer will be certainly be under less pressure than their opponents to progress. It’s something that could well work in their favour.

Key players seem to be hitting their stride at the right time, too. Heung Min-Son is enjoying his best spell since signing for the club, and his match-winning display against Borussia Monchengladbach recently suggests he is ready to make crucial contributions for his team. He’ll be ably supported by the ever-vibrant Sidney Sam and the predatory Steffan Kiessling in Bayer’s attacking efforts.

Strengths 

There is a great variety in Bayer’s squad. The aforementioned attacking trio all bring their own set of attributes which give Hyppia’s team a pleasing blend of offensive styles, whilst the midfield duo of Simon Rolfes and Lars Bender are very capable at blocking off the midfield. The holding duo allow the forwards the freedom to roam and offer staunch protection to the back four. They are tactically flexible too, capable of playing a possession-based style or on the break.

Weaknesses

Whilst they have excellent variety, Leverkusen lack a genuine match-winner. They don’t have a player who can conjure up a goal out of nothing and drag them over the line. They are an effective attacking unit, but when it’s not clicking it can sometimes look a little rigid. They also showcased a susceptibility to direct, pacey players in the group stage, with Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia posing all kinds of problems for the back line in their two group games.

Key Man – Lars Bender 

Bender Key UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Undoubtedly the heartbeat of this team, German international Bender is a player that has been majorly impressive throughout the course of this campaign. The 24-year-old is a rock in the middle of the pitch and his reactions, concentration and tidy distribution have been key to Bayer’s attacking and defensive exploits so far this campaign. He’ll be vitally important against PSG, as French side’s superior technical players looks likely to see them dominate proceedings.

Verdict: Hyypia has fashioned a cohesive side that are often pleasing on the eye whilst maintaining a stubborn ‘tough to beat’ quality. But they lack the attacking spark that would see them make an impression deep into this tournament. PSG will have too much firepower for them in the LAST 16, but that represents a sterling effort for Hyypia in his first year as Leverkusen boss.

 

Bayern Munich

Bayern1 600x411 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Manager: Pep Guardiola

Last 16 Fixtures: 

Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich, Wednesday 18 February, 2:45PM

Bayern XI1 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Likely Bayern Munich XI for the Last 16

After Bayern Munich bagged a magnificent treble last season, it was difficult to see just how this remarkable side were going to get any better this season. But under Pep Guardiola they’ve taken their game on another level.

The former Barcelona boss has refined Bayern’s passing style whilst implementing a high-pressing game when off the ball. The pressing in particular has made them an even more difficult side to play against and when you’re facing players of that quality for such prolonged periods of the game, they are enormously difficult to stop. Die Bayern are running away with the Bundesliga and that means their attentions can be fully focused on becoming the first team to retain the European Cup in the Champions League format.

Despite a tricky last 16 draw against Arsenal and a bit of a hiccup in their final group game against Manchester City, they remain the overwhelming favorites for the title. After securing their first European Cup for 12 years at Wembley last season the Bayern players will be desperate to make it two in two, and that would put them well on their way to another clean sweep of trophies.

Strengths

How long have you got?  The manager has won this competition before, as have most of the players. They have fashioned a winning mentality within a squad that has so many quality players in every position in the team. Guardiola has got the team even fitter off the ball and that has made them even more stubborn to play against. They have the best goalkeeper and the best full-backs in the world, the midfield is bursting with class, quality, pace and power, whilst goals flow freely from all areas of the pitch. Bastian Schweinsteiger is also close to a return after a lengthy injury layoff.

Weaknesses 

There may be a worry that a lack of real competition domestically could soften them up for the European games. Plus, the pressure of retaining trophies has hindered many sides in years gone by.

Key Player – Thomas Muller 

Muller Key1 600x450 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

The German international forward has proven himself as a crucial figure for both club and country down the years, but his versatility has made him a vital player under Guardiola. Muller has played as a central midfielder, a wide midfield player, a wide forward and a central striker under the new Bayern boss, and his patent for popping up with big goals at vital moments in games will once again be key in the latter stages of this competition. Expect him to play as the lone forward for this Bayern team, and for his inimitable anticipatory skills to see Bayern into the latter stages of the tournament.

Verdict: It’s difficult to see anyone stopping the German juggernaut, for never has a team been so well equipped to retain the Champions League crown. This team will make history, and be crowned CHAMPIONS of Europe for the second consecutive campaign.

 

Borussia Dortmund

BVB1 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Manger: Jurgen Klopp

Last 16 Fixtures:

Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Borussia Dortmund, Tuesday 25 February, 12:00PM

BVB XI1 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Likely Borussia Dortmund XI for the Last 16

Things seemed to start so well for Dortmund this season. Many anticipated that with Mario Gotze offloaded to rivals Bayern Munich things were about to get very difficult for Jurgen Klopp. But the signings of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhirtaryan slotted seamlessly into Die Borussien’s line-up and they seemed set to challenge Bayern atop of the Bundesliga.

But a pretty extraordinary spell of injuries put a halt to their momentum. Key players like Ilkay Gundogan, Neven Subotic, Mats Hummels, Lukasz Piszczek and Jakub Blaszczykowski have all suffered with long-term problems and Klopp has had to patch-up and re-jig his side accordingly.

Not only has it hampered them in the Bundesliga, but in European competition too. They were heading out of the Champions League until the very last minute against of their final group game. But Kevin Grosskreutz’s late winner sent them through into the last 16 as group winners.

The reward is a very winnable tie against Russian outfit Zenit St. Petersburg, and with key players returning to action, BVB supporters will still dream of going one better than they did last season, where they were beaten in the final by Bayern.

Strengths

With Klopp at the helm, there is still persistent togetherness and unyielding sense that this Dortmund team just don’t know when they are beaten. Going forward they are incredibly incisive and in Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus, Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan, there are so many goals in the team. Their trademark pressing also makes it very difficult for the opposition to establish any kind of a rhythm.

Weaknesses

Subotic’s influence will be a big miss in central defense, as will the industry, energy and quality of Blaszczykowski on the wing. Another worry is that with so many players gradually coming back into the side, the cohesiveness this team showed during their run last year might not be quite as prominent this time round.

Key Man – Marco Reus 

Reus Key2 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Reus will typically operate from the left-hand side, but is given license to roam across the forward line and cause endless problems with his pace, power and intelligence. He’s so dangerous when cutting inside and either linking up with Lewandowski or taking a strike at goal. With Gotze gone, he’s taken on the mantle of Dortmund’s talisman and it is a responsibility which he looks to be relishing.

Verdict: Dortmund just haven’t shown the same levels of consistency that were such a hallmark feature of their game last season. They will have too much for Zenit in the last 16, but the QUARTERFINALS will be where their run ends this season.

 

Chelsea

Chelsea1 600x337 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Manager: Jose Mourinho

Last 16 Fixtures:

Galatasaray vs. Chelsea, Wednesday 26 February, 2:45PM

Chelsea XI1 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Likely Chelsea XI for the Last 16

Chelsea seem to be coming into form at pretty much the perfect time. The Premier League title race is beginning to hot up, and with the Champions League just around the corner, Mourinho’s side look set to be in the reckoning for both domestic and European silverware come the end of the campaign.

And the Champions League is a tournament which Chelsea’s Portuguese chief is something of an expert in. After winning the tournament with Porto in 2004 and Inter Milan in 2010, Mourinho will be looking to make history by becoming the first manager to win the tournament with three different sides.

He’ll certainly fancy his chances as the 2012 European champions have started to move through the gears in January and February. There are signs that this Chelsea has a more and more obvious Mourinho influence and when you consider the success he has had in European competition, that can only be a good thing with the last 16 looming.

Chelsea topped their group to qualify earning a tie against Roberto Mancini’s Galatasaray side, a team likely to include the mercurial Wesley Sneijder and Chelsea legend Didier Drogba.

Strengths

Mourinho has an excellent blend of youth and experience within his squad. Experienced players like Petr Cech, John Terry and Bransilav Ivanovic are complimented by the young starts like Eden Hazard and Oscar. It gives the side a wonderful balance and they are beginning to develop into a well-disciplined, cohesive team. The magic comes from Hazard, who is developing into a regular match-winner for this Chelsea side.

Weaknesses

The obvious issue has been the lack of a top-class forward. Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto’o will do a job, but neither have quality comparable to the attacking midfield players supporting them. Chelsea will also miss Nemanja Matic, who will be cup-tied for the Champions League knockout stages. His influence in the team has already proven to be key and that means the ageing Frank Lampard and erratic David Luiz will battle it out for a spot next to Ramires as a holding midfielder.

Key Man – Eden Hazard

Hazard Key1 600x423 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Whilst Juan Mata and Kevin De Bruyne wilted under the demands Mourinho places on his attacking midfield players, Hazard has flourished. The Belgian has added an industry and steel to his game which gives the team a much more solid and aggressive feel. Combine these new found characteristics with his supreme talent and Hazard is well on his way to becoming one of the world’s best players. In his current form, the Belgian has the ability to fire Chelsea into the final.

Verdict: Of all the English teams, Mourinho’s men look set to have the most fruitful campaign. They’ll make it to the SEMIFINALS and that will represent an excellent effort in Mourinho’s first season back at the club. 

 

FC Barcelona

Barcelona1 600x337 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Manager: Gerardo Martino

Last 16 Fixtures:

Manchester City vs. Barcelona, Tuesday 18 February, 2:45PM

Barca XI1 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Likely FC Barcelona XI for the Last 16

Tata Martino’s Blaugrana outfit head into the last 16 with nobody quite knowing what to expect from then. In an attacking sense they’ve been magnificent, with Alexis Sanchez, Pedro, Neymar and Cesc Fabregas all raising their game and chipping in with goals during Lionel Messi’s recent injury layoff. In midfield too, Sergio Busquets has been typically studious whilst Andres Iniesta continues to dazzle. Defensively however, there are some big, big worries. But more on that later…

Barca came through and eventually topped a tough group containing Milan, Ajax and Celtic to qualify for the knockout rounds. Their “reward” is an exceptionally difficult last 16 draw against free-scoring Manchester City and it’s a tie that has had neutrals salivating in anticipation. Both sides would have fancied their chances of going long into the tournament after strong domestic form and promising qualifying campaigns but we’re set to lose one at the first hurdle of the knockout phase.

From a Barcelona point of view, overcoming City would give Martino’s side a huge boost going into the last eight. They’ve notched the hardest draw possible for any of the group winners and if they can prosper against City’s phenomenal attacking talent, then it’d be a hugely positive sign with some bigger challenges to come.

Strengths

They look irresistable going forward. Alexis Sanchez is growing into the player Barcelona hoped he would after he signed from Udinese. He’s been suitably supported by some dynamic displays by Pedro, whilst Fabregas’ performances from a central midfield and a false-nine position have been outstanding. Neymar has shown glimpses that he is ready to make a major impression too, but he may miss the last 16 ties against City due to injury. Oh, and they have Lionel Messi finding his feet again following a couple of months on the sidelines.

Weaknesses 

Barca are a team that will always give you a chance to score and that could cost them dearly in the Champions League. The defence has been unsettled throughout the course of the season due to injuries and suspensions. Barca’s first choice defensive duo of Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano have both suffered with a loss of form too, so clean sheets could be hard to come by in the knockout stages. The dwindling influence of Xavi Hernandez is also something of a concern.

Key Man – Lionel Messi

Messi Key1 600x406 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

At the time of writing, Messi had scored six goals and notched six assists since in his eight games since returning from injury. For Blaugrana fans, the Argentianian’s return has come at the perfect point, with plenty to play for on the domestic and European front. Messi had played non-stop football for a long time prior to his injury and there is a point of view this injury and the subsequent recuperation may have been a blessing disguise. Given their defensive frailties, Messi will need to be at his absolute peak if Barca are to secure an historic fifth European Cup triumph.

Verdict: Martino will be thankful that City look likely to be without a fully fit Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero for their last 16 tie and they will just sneak through as a result. But even Messi won’t be able to haul them into the final this time. The QUARTERFINALS is as far as they will go this year.

 

FC Schalke 04

S04 600x337 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Manager: Jens Keller

Last 16 Fixtures:

FC Schalke 04 vs. Real Madrid, Wednesday 26 February, 2:45pm

Schalke XI UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Likely FC Schalke 04 XI for the Last 16

Schalke will be coming into the last 16 after an excellent start to the calendar year. First and foremost, they managed to keep hold of their prized asset Julian Draxler despite well documented interest from Arsenal. They also managed to snaffle the signature of Leverkusen’s Sidney Sam on a pre-contract which represents another wonderful piece of business for the club.

Those transfer successes have manifested into a pretty positive vibe about the place and five wins and a draw from their last six Bundesliga games speaks volumes about the confidence this team is playing with at the moment.

Keller’s team qualified in second place behind Chelsea in their group and would have been expecting a tough tie in the last 16. But Real Madrid represent one of the favourites for the trophy and boast a stunning array of attacking talent.

Schalke will have to be at their absolute best if they are to run Los Blancos close, but such is the feel-good factor emanating from the Veltins Arena at the moment, they’ll go into this one with absolutely nothing to fear.

Strengths

At centre-back, Schalke have a host of dependable and experienced players that they can call upon, giving the team great reliability. In attack they are also spoilt for choice, with the blistering pace of Jefferson Farfan, the ingenuity of Draxler and the predatory instincts of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar all likely to cause panic in opposition back-line’s.

Weaknesses

There is little in terms of depth or quality in the full-back positions and that will be a big worry with Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo on the flanks for their last 16 opponents. There has also sometimes been a struggle to strike a balance between the double-pivot midfield duo, with Kevin-Prince Boateng having occupied one of those spots as of late; a role that he has rarely operated in during his career.

Key Man – Jefferson Farfan

Farfan Key 600x416 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Mention Schalke and talk of Draxler will not be far off. But the standout player for Keller’s side this season has been right-winger Farfan. The Peruvian is what you might call a “proper” wide player; he loves to take on the full-back on the outside or the inside, using his pace to devastating effect and whipping dangerous crosses into the penalty area. He’ll push the opposition defence back and will be a huge threat if the game becomes stretched, which it is likely to do so against Madrid.

Verdict: Given their recent form and an easier draw, Schalke could have been one of the surprise packages of this season’s tournament. But Real Madrid are a top class outfit and Schalke’s European exploits will end at the LAST 16 stage.

 

Galatasaray

Galatasaray 600x400 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Manager: Roberto Mancini

Last 16 Fixtures: 

Galatasaray vs. Chelsea, Wednesday 26 February, 2:45PM

Gala XI UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Likely Galatasaray XI for the Last 16

Galatasaray qualified for the knock-out rounds by beating Juventus 1-0 in the final game of the group stage, pipping the Italian champions to second place. Finishing runners up in their group means Gala face a very tough tie against the 2012 champions Chelsea and that represents an emotional reunion for Didier Drogba with his former employers.

The Turkish outfit come to the game in good form, having won 4 of their last 5 games, and suffering only 2 defeats in the 20 league games played at the time of writing.

It’s also a fantastic opportunity for Roberto Mancini to demonstrate his managerial pedigree in the Champions League after he was heavily criticised for failing to deliver with Manchester City in his previous role. He will know Chelsea well and his recent experiences in English football will certainly be of assistance to his new employers.

He will be tasked with getting the best out of veterans like Drogba and Wesley Sneijder; players who are the heartbeat of this Galatasaray team, but given their advancing years, players who are unlikely to get many more cracks at this competition.

Strengths

In the aforementioned duo comes the Turkish side’s biggest threats. The experience of Drogba and Sneijder, both of who have won this competition, will be key if they are to get past Chelsea and into the latter stages. Galatasaray also midfield players who are technically adept and have it in them to control the tempo of the game. Felipe Melo and Selcuk Inan will most likely play in a midfield diamond looking to break up play and dictate the pace respectively.

Weaknesses

When the game becomes stretched, Galatasaray are lacking a direct, pacey player to take advantage and exploit to counter attack. This means that their build-up play can be a little ponderous and they often become over reliant on a flash of creativity from the likes of Sneijder or Inan. It means teams can push right onto them with little fear of getting caught on the break.

Key Player – Wesley Sneijder

Sneijder 600x387 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

The Dutch maestro may not be quite as influential a player as he once was, but his showing against Juventus in his side’s crucial group game demonstrates he can still turn it on in the big games. His eye for a pass will be vital if Galatasaray are to break down this tight-knit Chelsea defence.

Verdict: Mancini’s side are still very much a work in progress and at the moment, they just don’t have what it takes to get a result against a side like Chelsea over two legs. The LAST 16 is as far as they’ll go this season unless Sneijder and Drogba can roll back the years in stunning fashion.

 

Manchester City 

City  600x399 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Manager: Manuel Pellegrini

Last 16 Fixtures:

Manchester City vs. Barcelona, Tuesday 18 February, 2:45PM

City XI1 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Likely Manchester City XI for the Last 16

Under the tutelage of Pellegrini, Manchester City have been massively impressive this campaign.

Domestically their stratospheric goalscoring looks to break all sorts of records and on the European front, they qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time, beating the holders in their back yard on the way.

They couldn’t quite top the group and as a result will face European juggernauts Barcelona in the last 16. A couple of weeks prior to this tie, many fancied City to send La Blaugrana packing. But injuries to Fernandinho (who may feature in the first leg) and Sergio Aguero (who definitely won’t feature in the first leg) means that City’s chances are looking a little slimmer all of a sudden.

Granted, they still have plenty of firepower in the form of Edin Dzeko, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic, but it will be interesting to see how Pellegrini utilises his forward line after they were given a lesson by Bayern Munich at the Etihad in the group stage; the German’s 4-5-1 system dominating Pellegrini’s preferred 4-4-2.

Expect Negredo to lead the line on his own and James Milner to come in and bolster the midfield. After his hugely impressive cameo in the FA Cup win against Chelsea, Samir Nasri should also start the first leg at the Etihad Stadium.

Strengths

Even without the crown jewell of their offensive armoury, City are still a formidable attacking force. Negredo has taken to English football like a duck to water, Dzeko has continued to chip in with plenty of goals and David Silva has played himself into mesmeric form. Factor in the forward surges of Yaya Toure, the blistering bursts from Jesus Navas and the intricacy of Nasri, there aren’t many teams that could match City in an attacking shoot-out.

Weaknesses

Defensively there are plenty of concerns. Vincent Kompany is one of the world’s premier central defenders, but at times it feels like he is holding the defence together on his own. Full-backs Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandr Kolarov can get caught up the pitch on occasions and that can leave the two centre-backs a little exposed.

Key Man – Vincent Kompany

Kompany 600x337 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

City’s Belgian captain is a hugely important player for this side. In many respects he is the complete defender and his front-foot style is vital to the pace and purpose with which City play. Kompany is aggressive, cultured and an astute reader of the game. His lead-by-example style gives his teammates a noticeable lift and the further City go in this competition the more prominent his influence will become.

Verdict: The tie against Barcelona could go either way and much hinges on the fitness of key City players. It’s an exceptionally tough call, but I see the Spanish champions just edging it and leaving City out of the competition at the LAST 16 stage. Expect a pair of magnificent games, though.

 

Manchester United

MUFC UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Manager: David Moyes

Last 16 Fixtures:

Olympiakos vs. Manchester United, Tuesday 25 February, 2:45pm

United XI UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Likely Manchester United XI for the Last 16

After a summer of seismic change at Old Trafford things were never going to be easy this season. But David Moyes would have never imagined that being Manchester United boss would be quite as difficult as this. The Red Devils are way off the pace in the Premier League and look set to miss out on the Champions League for next season. That is, of course, unless they win it.

Whilst even the most ardent of Manchester United supporters will admit that remains unlikely, European football will represent a welcome distraction from United’s Premier League struggles. That’s because all-in-all, United’s best performances under Moyes have come in the Champions League, with the 4-2 and 5-1 wins over Bayer Leverkusen standing out.

They topped a potentially tricky group containing Bayer, Shaktar Donetsk and Real Sociedad and have been rewarded with a tie against not only the weakest team left in the competition, but a team who sold their outstanding player in the January window. With that in mind, there is no excuses for Moyes and United not to progress to the last eight of the competition. The pressure is well and truly on though, and it’ll be up to them to step up and deliver; admittedly something we’ve seen very little of so far under Moyes’ tenure.

Strengths

In Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, United have two of Europe’s finest strikers. If they can link-up and catch fire in the Champions League then that will be crucial to United’s hopes of making a deep run. On the flanks too, they have twin threats in the exuberant Adnan Januzaj and direct Antonio Valencia. Defensively, in David De Gea they have an extremely talented and increasingly reliable goalkeeper.

Weaknesses

United’s central midfield has been a source of concern for a long time now and it does seem to be lacking a dominant, dynamic presence. Defensively there are also concerns and Moyes will have to juggle between a host of players who harbour concerns over both form and fitness. But perhaps most worryingly of, confidence in the squad seems to be at its lowest possible ebb.

Key Man – Wayne Rooney

Rooney Key 600x337 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

The England man has been United’s standout player in what has been a disappointing campaign and Moyes will be looking to him to galvanise this group of toiling players. Rooney will be hungry to make an impression in this competition after he was dropped for United’s second leg with Real Madrid last season. Typically, when Rooney performs, so do United, but he’ll have to be at his absolute best if the Red Devils are to even think about making it to the latter stages of this competition.

Verdict: The draw has been kind to United and they should have too much firepower for Olympiakos. But with self-belief at a premium with this squad and Moyes’ inexperience in European competition, it would be a massive surprise to see them progress past the QUARTERFINALS.

 

Milan

Milan 600x450 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Manager: Clarence Seedorf

Last 16 Fixtures:

Milan vs. Atletico Madrid, Wednesday 19 February, 2:45pm

Milan XI UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Likely Milan XI for the Last 16

Milan progressed to the round of 16 by finishing second in a tricky group containing Ajax, Celtic and Barcelona; now an awkward tie against a resurgent Atletico Madrid outfit awaits them.

With their domestic form being very hit and miss, this is the Rossoneri’s only chance for a trophy, but as is the case with Manchester United, it’s looking very unlikely.

The mood is significantly more positive  around the San Siro with Clarence Seedorf at the helm, but there are still plenty of problems with this Milan side that will take a lot longer to fix. Granted, their results have improved under their tutelage of their former midfielder, but in truth performances haven’t been that much better.

You have to wonder how they will be feeling ahead of this game with Atletico. Simeone’s side are the antitheses of everything that Milan have been so far this campaign and it’s difficult to see how the Rossoneri will go about matching their intensity and energy. It’s also worth noting that Milan have only one won of their last ten games in Spain, losing seven.

Strengths

AC Milan have a lot of players who can change the game in an instant. Players like Kaka, Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy can all win games with their individual brilliance and that can often prove to be the difference in tight Champions League ties. In defence, they have a collection of centre backs brimming with experience: Philippe Mexes and Cristian Zapata are the two most likely to get the nod here.

Weaknesses 

With eight wins, eight draws and eight losses in Serie A, it’s obvious that this Milan side lack both concentration and consistency. And whilst they have players who can change a game in an instant, if they don’t fire then this team have yet to showcase an ability to dig-in and churn a result out. 

Key Player – Kaka 

Kaka Key 600x337 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

The Brazilian maestro is back at the club where he is adored after a torrid few seasons at Real Madrid. Sitting behind the striker, he posses great dribbling ability, ball control and has the knack of finding unerringly accurate passes. He’s by no means back to his best, but at the moment he’s definitely Milan’s biggest attacking threat.

Verdict: If Milan can rediscover their focus, then they can be a hard nut to crack. However, the draw has not been kind to them, and a tie against Atletico in the LAST 16 will be the end of the line for them. They will be comprehensively out-battled by Simeone’s troops.

 

Olympiakos

Olympiakos 600x393 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Manager: Michel

Last 16 Fixtures:

Olympiakos vs. Manchester United, Tuesday 25 February, 2:45pm

Olympiakos XI UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Likely Olympiakos XI for the Last 16

Olympiakos qualified from Group C, finishing second behind Paris Saint-Germain. Their only defeats were to the eventual group winners and as a result the Greek giants progressed ahead of Benfica on goal difference.

After drawing the 2008 champions Manchester United in the last 16 they may well fancy their chances of progressing through to the quarterfinals. Michel’s team are currently 17 points ahead in the Greek Super League, so they will be coming in the game in good form and established in a winning groove. That will surely give them major impetus up against a team who are bereft of any kind of confidence.

The obvious blow for this team is the loss of talisman and top scorer Kostas Mitroglou, who was sold to Fulham in the January transfer window. His goals were key in their progression into the knock-out phases and the onus will be on the rest of the side’s attacking talent to step up and help compensate for that significant loss.

Strengths

Olympiakos bring a freshness to the game, using their pace and wide players to attack teams. They have accurate passers of the ball, who are capable stretching the play laterally and making space for the likes of Joel Campbell and Nelson Valdez. Javier Saviola, who’s playing for his sixth club in the Champions League competition, is set to lead the line and he remains a canny, composed forward capable of causing problems. Lastly, their supporters are likely to create an intimidating, raucous atmosphere for any visiting teams.

Weaknesses

The sides downfall comes duly down to the lack of quality opposition they come up against week in, week out. Apart from Panathinaikos, no other team in the Greek Super League are a household name and facing a sudden injection of quality in these knockout games could overwhelm them.

Key Man – Javier Saviola

Saviola Key 600x337 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

The much-travelled striker will be Olympiakos’ main goal threat after the departure of Mitroglou. Having played for the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, the diminutive Argentine brings a lot of big game experience and that must be tapped into if Olympiakos are to progress. Able to play either as an attacking midfielder or a striker, he has made up for his regressing pace with clever through balls, improving finishing and intelligent hold-up play. He’ll be looking to add to the two goals he bagged in the group stages against United.

Verdict: Having sold their main goal threat you wonder were the goals are going to come from. The LAST 16 will be the end of road for the Greek giants, but even that will be viewed as a major success for this team.

 

Paris Saint-Germain

PSG 600x337 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Manager: Laurent Blanc

Last 16 Fixtures:

Bayer 04 Leverkusen vs. Paris Saint-Germain, Tuesday 18 February, 2:45PM

PSG XI1 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Likely PSG XI for the Last 16

After bolstering their already hugely impressive squad with the signing of Yohan Cabaye in the January transfer window, Paris Saint-Germain look ready to embark on a trophy laden end to the season. The Ligue 1 title looks likely to end up in the French capital, but there are many tipping them to add the European Cup to their trophy cabinet too.

And why not? Their squad is overflowing with hugely talented players who will be hungry to better their quarterfinal appearance from last season. In that campaign they were particularly unlucky not to knock out Barcelona and one year on from that tie, their squad has more quality, is deeper and considerably more matured.

PSG coasted through their qualifying campaign to top their group with the standout performance coming from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their 5-1 win in Anderlecht. In the last 16, they will surely fancy their chances against a Leverkusen side who despite looking a very cohesive outfit for the most part this campaign, seem to have hit something of a rut in the build-up to this tie.

Strengths

Casting a glance over that likely XI, the thing that standouts out most is the attacking talent Laurent Blanc has at his disposal. Ibrahimovic has been outstanding this season and he has been suitably supported by Edinson Cavani from the right wing and Ezequiel Lavezzi from the left. In reserve, they also have the likes of Javier Pastore, Jeremy Menez and Lucas Moura who are all capable making a big impression from the start or off the bench. Blanc has assembled a spine that is well set and unshakeably strong.

Weaknesses

The full-back positions are a little bit of a concern and on paper look like the weakest link in the team. In addition, similar to Bayern and Olympiakos, being comfortably the best team in their domestic division could see them lose a little bit of sharpness as the competition goes on.

Key Man – Thiago Silva

Silva Key 600x446 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

In the eyes of many, the Brazilian captain is the world’s finest central defender. He has it all: pace, power, supreme anticipation and excellent distribution. Silva is a inspirational figure for this PSG team and although Cavani and Zlatan will be tasked with sticking the ball in the back of the net, the influence of their talismanic centre-back is just as significant.

Verdict: PSG have an awesome squad that look capable of beating any side on any given day. They will have learnt from last season and the additions of Cavani and Cabaye will see them make a run to the final. They’ll finish RUNNERS UP eventually though, with Bayern being a little too strong.

 

Real Madrid

Real Madrid 600x416 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Manager: Carlo Ancelotti

Last 16 fixtures:

FC Schalke 04 vs. Real Madrid, Wednesday 26 February, 2:45pm

Real Madrid XI UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Likely Real Madrid XI for the Last 16

Carlo Ancelotti’s men won 5 out of their 6 fixtures in the group stages, scoring a whopping 20 goals in the process. The was more than any other team in the competition, with the main highlight being the stunning 6-1 win away to Galatasaray.

As they finished first in their group, the draw was relatively kind to them and they will play German side FC Schalke 04 in the last 16. 

As of late, Ancelotti has fashioned a 4-3-3 system that accommodates the attacking talents of Gareth Bale, Crisitiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema. It’s a fearsome offensive line-up and one that will strike fear into opposition players and managers alike.

Schalke are playing well, but Real will be confident they have enough firepower to make it through to the last eight of the competition and from a Madridista point of view, hopefully beyond. That elusive tenth European title has eluded them for over a decade now and the Madrid players will be desperate to get their hands on it this time round.

Strengths 

Is there a more dynamic attacking team in European football? The athleticism of Bale, Ronaldo and Di Maria make Los Blancos incredibly dangerous on the break and that in itself makes opposition teams apprehensive about pushing forward. They are also capable of slowing the game down when necessary, with Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso able to dictate the play and recycle possession for extended periods. The emergence of Jese Rodriguez also gives Ancelotti yet another attacking option.

Weaknesses

It could be said that Real Madrid’s only downfall is their lack of cover upfront. If Benzema were to get injured, then Los Blancos would have to rely on the inexperienced Alvaro Morata or another player operating in an unfamiliar role. With Sergio Ramos and Pepe, Madrid have also have defenders who have a penchant for making occasionally rash decisions.

Key Player – Cristiano Ronaldo 

Ronaldo Key1 600x390 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

In Ronaldo, Madrid currently have the world’s best player. The 29 year-old has scored 31 goals in 26 appearances this season, 9 of which have come in the Champions League competition. Considered by many as one of the games greatest, he has the ability to do absolutely anything in the final third of the pitch and he can use that talent to fire Madrid to an unprecedented tenth European Cup triumph.

Verdict: Ancelotti is well acquainted with this competition and with the talent at his disposal, has the skills to guide this team to European glory. But the 4-3-3 looks a little overbalanced towards attacking and they’ll get found out in the SEMIFINALS if they come up against a strong defensive side.

 

Zenit St. Petersburg

Zenit 600x337 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Manager: Luciano Spalletti

Last 16 Fixtures: 

Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Borussia Dortmund, Tuesday 25 February, 12:00PM

Zenit XI UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Likely Zenit St Petersburg XI for the Last 16

Zenit set a record in qualifying for the last 16, but it wasn’t one that they’ll be overly proud of. They qualified with just six points from their six games and with that they became the team to accrue the lowest amount of points whilst still qualifying for the last 16. They won just one game in the qualifying stage, which was away to FC Porto.

It’d be fair to say that the Russian side were not overly convincing in their qualifying group. A 4-1 loss in the final group game to Austria Wien represents an appalling result and after stuttering into the last 16 in somewhat embarrassing fashion, they will be doubly keen to demonstrate what they can do in the knockout stages.

A draw against Dortmund looks like a tough one on paper, but Klopp’s men have suffered with injuries and inconsistencies this campaign. They too just about made it into the next stage and will not relish going to play in sub-zero temperatures in the first leg of this double header.

Strengths

Zenit have genuine quality on both flanks. On the right they have the bludgeon-like, all action qualities of Hulk, whilst on the left the Portuguese playmaker Danny loves to drift inside and wreak havoc between the lines. They are allowed that freedom because of the studious defensive work and discipline of the two holding midfield players: Axel Witsel and Konstantin Zyryanov.

Weaknesses

Alexander Kerzhakov is beginning to struggle as a lone forward and given the style Zenit look to implement, they could do with a much more mobile, physical presence spearheading their attacking play. Defensively they also look a little short and another capitulation akin to their 4-1 defeat against Wien must be avoided, especially when you consider Dortmund’s attacking talent.

Key Player – Axel Witsel

Witsel Key 600x337 UEFA Champions League Team By Team Guide: Preview, Likely Lineups, Key Players and Predictions

Witsel is a classic box-to-box midfield player. He can get about the pitch, make tackles and play key passes in the attacking third. Up against Dortmund’s stellar midfield line-up, he’ll have to be at his industrious best to shut them down and allow Zenit to establish a foothold in the contest. If the game passes him by, then the Russian outfit could get overrun by the intense Dortmund pressing.

Verdict: Spalletti’s team will have felt fortunate to qualify for the knockout stages and will be desperate to capitalise on that good fortune. But their defensive frailties will be exposed by Dortmund’s attacking talent. They’ll go no further than the LAST 16.

About Matt Jones

Matt has been writing for World Soccer Talk for more than two years, contributing pieces about myriad topics and regularly lending his voice to the podcast. Matt has covered games live for the website from a host of venues, including Wembley, London and the ANZ Stadium, Sydney. He is a regular at Goodison Park where he watches his beloved Everton, but harbours an unyielding interest in all aspects of European soccer. You can get in touch with Matt via e-mail at mattjones@worldsoccertalk.com or on Twitter @MattJFootball
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