UCL 2013 Knockout Stage: The Round Of 16

The round of 16 has been set, and there are more than a few interesting match-ups here. The undoubted tie of the round is Real Madrid vs. Manchester United, but there are also some other intriguing games to be played, with Shakhtar Donetsk taking on Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal facing Bayern Munich.

Galatasaray vs. FC Schalke 04
Celtic vs. Juventus
Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich
Shakhtar Donetsk vs.Borussia Dortmund
AC Milan vs. Barcelona
Real Madrid vs. Manchester United
Valencia vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Malaga vs. FC Porto


Obviously most of the attention will be focused on that tie between Real and United, but there's lots of interesting stuff here. The most striking thing is how well-balanced most of these ties are - the likes of Malaga-Porto and Shakhtar-Dortmund are unlikely to produce a Champions League winner, but could easily produce a finalist and will be fascinating games.

Barcelona vs. AC Milan

AC Milan aren't quite as formidable of a side as they have been over the last two seasons, but they've improved significantly as a team in recent months, and could end up hitting their stride just in time for their UEFA Champions League clash with FC Barcelona. The two sides were placed together in the Round of 16 and will get a chance to play a rematch of last season's group stage fixtures.

Key player:
Riccardo Montolivo - Who was I going to pick, Lionel Messi? It's obvious that the little magician is the tie's best and most important player, so much so that it's hardly worthwhile to write about. The biggest difference between Milan getting steamrolled and pulling off an upset could potentially be Montolivo, the versatile central midfielder who has played advanced and deep-lying roles for Milan and Italy over the last year. His defensive positioning will be key against Milan, and his incredibly precise long balls will be Milan's best way to create chances.

Matchup to watch:
Stephan El Shaarawy vs. the right side of Barca's defense - He's just 20-years-old, but Stephan El Shaarawy is already Milan's best attacking threat, and arguably the best Italian forward in the game today. He lines up on the left side of Milan's 4-3-3 and does plenty of both drifting wide and cutting in onto his right foot for shots. Between Javier Mascherano's inconsistency, Carles Puyol's age and Dani Alves' tendency to get caught up the pitch, there should be plenty of space for El Shaarawy to exploit. If Milan can get the ball to him - which is no easy task in and of itself - he should be able to capitalize on the space he's granted.

Valencia vs. Paris Saint-Germain

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of the world's top center forwards, and has been for the better part of a decade, but his best performances always come in league play. For Ajax, Inter Milan, Barcelona and AC Milan, he never brought his best in the UEFA Champions League. In Paris Saint-Germain's Round of 16 tie against Valencia, they'll be expecting him to shed his reputation as a player who can't get the job done on Europe's biggest stage.

Key player:
Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Because, come on, of course it's Zlatan. PSG goes as he goes, and fortunately for them, he's been one of the best players on the planet so far this season. As long as Ibrahimovic is scoring goals and setting up his teammates, PSG are difficult to stop, but they've struggled whenever he has failed to play well (which hasn't been often) or when he's been absent from their lineup. PSG won't win if he doesn't perform.

Matchup to watch:
PSG's midfield vs. Ever Banega - A big part of the reason why PSG are overly dependent on Ibrahimovic is because they haven't sorted out their midfield exactly right. They have plenty of talented players in the center, but they're yet to find the perfect balance. That might be a problem if Ever Banega is healthy and in form. Los Che's playmaker is the engine that makes them go, and he allows them to keep possession against superior teams. Zlatan can't score if his midfield can't win the ball off Banega.

Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich

Arsenal have been drawn against German giants Bayern Munich in what could be a highly entertaining Champions League clash. The Bavarians have been in imperious form in Bundesliga, storming to the title of winter champions with little fuss, while Arsenal's season has been decidedly less serene. They've suffered setback after setback after a promising start, and will need to be at their very best to have a chance of going through.

Key player:
Toni Kroos - The German playmaker has been at the heart of Jupp Hencykes side this season in the central attacking role of a standard 4-2-3-1. He's a highly intelligent player with the ability to vary his role according to a match, boasting fine tactical awareness that proved crucial in Bayern's semi-final victory over Real Madrid last season. He'll be called upon to play a similar shuttling midfield role in a game that will be heavily based around possession and the midfield battle.

Matchup to watch:
Javi Martinez vs. Santi Cazorla - The Bayern midfield trio of Kroos-Schweinsteiger-Martinez is tantalising, and the latter will be charged with closing down the Gunners' pivotal attacking threat, Santi Cazorla. The two compatriots actually last faced each other when both were playing for different teams, but there'll be no love lost when the silky playmaker will go directly head-to-head with the physicality of Martinez.

Source: UEFA, Associated Press

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