Monaco probably won’t get much of the ball in the two matches, so it’s crucial it’s recycled well by the talented midfield trio of Moutinho, Jeremy Toulalan and Geoffrey Kondogbia. But it’s the former who boasts that little bit of magic needed and he must show it against the Gunners if his team wants to make it into the last eight.
Verdict – Last-16: This tie certainly won’t be a cakewalk for Arsenal, but Monaco look poised for a narrow defeat over the two legs. They’ll contain the Gunners and will be tough to beat, but their performances in Ligue 1 and Europe this season suggest they won’t have quite enough in their offensive play to get the better of the Londoners.
Last season, Paris Saint-Germain looked as though they were primed to launch a major assault towards European glory and although they spent big last summer, their chances of success sadly look a little slimmer this season.
On the domestic front the French champions have been a far cry from their free-flowing best. Laurent Blanc is striving for a balance between the attacking talents of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Lucas Moura et al and consequentially they’ve had some big problems when it comes to consistency in Ligue 1.
The Champions League has yielded some encouraging signs however. PSG qualified from a tough group with ease and their 3-2 victory over Barcelona at the Parc des Princes in this season’s competition showed that this is a group of players capable toppling anyone when they click. But there seems to be a lack of clear strategy when playing on the road.
They’ll have the chance to avenge last season’s quarter-final loss to Chelsea when they square off in the first knockout round of matches, but while the Blues are a dramatically improved outfit, the Parisians are still searching for their mojo.
Key Man – Blaise Matuidi
A loss of form and fitness have diminished Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s influence this season, but in the heart of the PSG midfield, Matuidi is growing into just as critical a player. The Frenchman is unrelenting industrious, ferocious in the tackle and is showcasing a burgeoning responsibility to take responsibility with the ball at his feet.
Against Chelsea’s clutch of exquisite midfield men, Matuidi’s ability to close off spaces and physically impose himself will be the hallmark of a potential PSG victory. Some top quality performances would further enhance the player’s burgeoning reputation as one of European soccer’s best central midfielders.
Verdict – Last-16: Sadly, PSG look as though they’ll have to wait another year at least to sample Champions League glory. The Blues are in formidable fettle and the Parisians remain a potentially brilliant but wholly inconsistent team; it’s going to take a staggering turnaround in fortunes if the French champions are going to get through this tie.
In what looked like a very even Group H on paper, Porto emerged as the superior side in the group, winning four and drawing two of their matches. Their reward for topping the group is a very winnable last-16 tie with Basel and there will be sense amongst the group that this is a squad with a chance of making a surprise deep run.
Julen Lopetegui has a host of capable players at his disposal and although there aren’t many star names in the group, Porto boast plenty of pace, skill and tons of energy. If the Dragoes can add some organization to compliment these desirable attributes then they should surge into the quarter-finals and from that point on, anything is possible.
It’s something this club knows more than most after they unexpected hoisted this trophy aloft 11 years ago and although they’d be one of the weakest teams on paper in the last-eight, Porto are a team that have the requisite class to capitalize should any opponents take a complacent approach to their tie.
First they have to get past Basel and like the Portuguese giants, the Swiss club are a team looking to spring a shock in this competition. The attacking prowess of Jackson Martinez, accompanied by the likes of Cristian Tello and Yacine Brahimi should give Porto, but Lopetegui hasn’t instilled the defensive cohesion required for them to be considered as dark horses for eventual glory.
Key Man – Jackson Martinez
This Porto team is bristling with intricate, incisive players, but the burly Colombian forward gives them a completely different option in the attacking third. Martinez’s hold-up play is refined, his utilization of space is astute and in front of goal, he’s expertly clinical.
There are a host of top Premier League clubs reportedly tracking the Porto man and with the creativity supplying him he should get plenty of opportunities against Basel. If the Portuguese club are to progress beyond the last-eight, Martinez must provide an immaculate foil for those around him and gobble up clear chances that come his way.
Verdict – Quarter-Finals: Getting past Basel and into the last-eight would represent a major achievement for this Porto team. If they do get past the Swiss champions there will be dreams of replicating their astonishing feat of 11 years ago, but the Dragoes don’t have the quality required to make it to the semi-finals.
The reigning champions were in a sensational spell at the back end 2014, but as Real Madrid get set to defend their title, some cracks are starting to appear for manager Carlo Ancelotti.
Admittedly, it doesn’t take much to plunge Real Madrid into apparent crisis, but the concerns that were conjured in the aftermath of their 4-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid are serious. The lack of endeavor, diligence and classy personnel in defensive positions were stark, and it’s certainly something the rest of Europe’s elite will have taken notice of ahead of potential meetings.
If they can recapture the swagger that was on show during the aforementioned 22-match winning run then they’re going to be very tough to stop. Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema combined to devastating effect during that stunning spell and Ancelotti will be desperate for the former to rediscover the stratospheric goalscoring feats that were on show earlier in the season.
Real will be looking to add another history-making chapter to their European Cup history by becoming the first side ever to retain the Champions League in its current format. But history dictates—as does sagging form and an ever-increasing injury list—that they may find it difficult to triumph once again.
Key Man – Cristiano Ronaldo
While he’s not quite at his peak form at the time of writing, Ronaldo has cemented his status as the world’s finest footballer with some stunning displays this season. His prolific goalscoring earlier in the campaign bordered on ridiculous and if he can replicate that in the latter stages of the Champions League, Madrid have a great chance.
Ronaldo came into his own at vital times for Los Blancos during their run to the final last season and with key players currently suffering with injury problems, the onus will be firmly on him to shine again. It’s a spotlight that the Portuguese sensation typically relishes.
Verdict – Quarter-Finals: The reigning champions should have more than enough to get past Schalke, but if they run into a top side in the quarter-finals they could be in line for a shock exit. They have quality, but an industrious, energetic side like Atletico, Bayern or Chelsea would have too much for Real in their current form.
After going up against a formidable Real Madrid team in the last-16 in the previous campaign, Schalke’s Champions League hopes were abated in a flash. They lost 6-1 to the eventual winners in front of their own supporters in the first-leg, but they have a chance to gain a degree of revenge when they face the same opponents at the same stage this season.
A year on, is there much that suggests they have a better chance? Well, this time round they have a manager who has won this competition in Roberto di Matteo; his experience and know-how will surely give Schalke more of a fighting chance this time round.
The Ruhr club are an inconsistent side, though. They’ve not been able to put together a sustained run of positive results as of yet in the Bundesliga and injuries to key players have sapped momentum from the team at decent times. Schalke do boast some talents Real must be wary of though, especially Cameroonian forward Eric Choupo-Moting.
If they can somehow can past Real, this is a team that could thrive off the momentum accrued. The home leg is going to by absolutely vital for Di Matteo’s team and it’s paramount they bring their very best if they’re going to head to the Santiago Bernabeu with a fighting chance of qualifying for the next round.
Key Man – Benedikt Howedes
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