Steven Beacom: End of the line for British clubs ...but only after some crackers
The draw for the last 16 of the Champions League is made and now Manchester United, Arsenal and Celtic know who they must defeat to move a step closer to the final at Wembley. Will it be sweet 16 for the British teams? Unlikely is the answer. Here’s my take on all the games.
GALATASARY v SCHALKE
There are some stunning ties to look forward to next year and a few that are in the underwhelming category. This is definitely the latter. There will be some atmosphere in Turkey, but I can see Schalke making it through to the last eight as German football bites back.
CELTIC v JUVENTUS
It could have been worse for Celtic, but not by much. Neil Lennon will relish this contest, though, and he will fancy his team can do a job on the Italians, especially after coming through a group containing Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow.
The Hoops will have to take a first leg lead to Turin to have a chance. Easier said than done with the brilliant Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings for Juventus.
ARSENAL v B MUNICH
And so Arsenal’s long wait for a trophy will go on. Any Gunners fans dreaming of a Champions League final in May can forget it now. Bayern Munich are a team on a mission after losing last year’s decider on their own patch. Arsene Wenger and his players won’t get in the way of that.
Verdict: Bayern Munich
SHAKHTAR DONETSK v BORUSSIA DORTMUND
For me the toughest game of the eight to call. These two aren’t the biggest clubs left in the competition but they are extremely dangerous outfits capable of going all the way. Dortmund excelled in the group stages — just ask Manchester City — and are great to watch but Shakhtar have some really classy players like the much coveted Willian, Fernandinho and Luiz Adriano. This will be close.
AC MILAN v BARCELONA
It’s always special when these two giants collide — one of the great match-ups of European football. I can see only one outcome, though, and that is victory for Barca. Like Bayern, the Catalan club feel they blew it last season and want to put that right. Having the greatest player of all-time, Lionel Messi, in the best goalscoring form of his life will help. Xavi and Iniesta are equally determined to play and win again at Wembley, as they did in 2011. Then there is the extra incentive of doing it for coach Tito Vilanova who will undergo chemotheraphy over the the next six weeks.
REAL MADRID v MANCHESTER UNITED
What an epic confrontation this promises to be. Obviously the headline act will be the great Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford, but there is so much more to savour.
It’s Jose Mourinho versus Sir Alex Ferguson. Special One against Special One. It is possible that this could be the last season for both at their current clubs which makes the tie even more appetising. Whether Jose indulges in the mind games remains to be seen. He might just respect Fergie too much for that.
But with Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso and Mesut Ozil in Real’s ranks United are going to have their work cut out even if Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney are on top form. Expect goals and two thrilling games.
Verdict: Real Madrid
VALENCIA v PSG
Given all the millions spent at Paris St Germain, return is needed on the investment and it should come in the shape of a quarter-final with perhaps better to come. Zlatan Ibrahimovic to make the difference.
PORTO v MALAGA
The least appealing of all the games and it hard to see Spain beating Portugal in this one.