Come February each year, the Champions League reverts to the tried and tested format to decide who’s the best team on soccer’ most lucrative continent. For the one of the only times this decade English teams don’t enjoy full representation with Chelsea and Arsenal left to fend for the empire. It means Clyde Tyldesley will have to hit ITV4 to reminisce about “that night in the Nou Camp.” With the draw now in the books here’s a look ahead at what we can expect to see…
Lyon v Apoel Nicosia
Background… Apoel became the only Cypriot side to ever reach the knockout stages and managed to win a group they looked destined to finish bottom of. A stingy defence allowed an average of a goal a game. Apoel have no Cypriots in the side and are peppered with a Latin American/Portuguese flavor.
Don’t mention… Lyon only made it here thanks to a dodgy final group game.
Looking to emulate… Apoel: The Dynamo Kiev side of the late-90s that had an improbable run to the semi-finals.
Lyon: Their 7-1 victory in Zagreb in every remaining game.
Cliché to be trotted out… Anything from here on in is a bonus for the Cypriots.
Napoli v Chelsea
Background… If there was a team Chelsea didn’t want to face it was the Neapolitans. The ferocious home support Napoli enjoy was the side’s biggest asset until a team of stars was moulded around Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik. Chelsea have a manager that is still trying to figure out his best team and they could well exit the competition here.
Don’t mention… Fernando Torres has cost Chelsea £10million per goal since his arrival.
Looking to emulate… Chelsea: Barcelona 2011 – winners.
Napoli: UEFA Cup winning side of 1988/89 when Maradona led them to the title.
Cliché to be trotted out… I can hardly hear myself think Ray (in reference to the atmosphere in Naples).
Milan v Arsenal
Background… AC Milan was the side many feared and surprise-surprise an English side ended up drawing them. In Arsenal’s favor, Milan has Zlatan Ibrahimovic – a player that rarely turns up for games played after Christmas. They also don’t have a Rory Delap style long-throw merchant at their disposal either meaning the wobbly Gunners defence will breathe a sigh of relief.
Don’t mention… Arsenal’s reserve goalkeepers.
Looking to emulate… Arsenal: The finalists back in 2006 when they came so close.
Milan: Any of the seven winning teams that have come from AC.
Cliché to be trotted out… Of Zlatan…”For a big lad he’s good with his feet.”
Basel v Bayern
Background… These two both qualified at the expense of the Manchester sides with Bayern getting out of the “group of death.” Basel isn’t an easy place go but Bayern’s brittle defence is a match for any side.
Don’t mention… Bayern’s loss in the final back in 2010.
Looking to emulate… Bayern: Any of the four sides that have won the competition.
Basel: Themselves, from little over a week ago when they overcame Manchester United.
Cliché to be trotted out… Basel enjoyed a good day at the office against Manchester United.
Bayer Leverkusen v Barcelona
Background… The reigning champions had a reasonably routine group stage and will be confident of progression, even without the injured David Villa. Leverkusen have an aging Michael Ballack and it’s likely this is his last hurrah on the Champions League stage.
Don’t mention… Bayer “treble horror” in 2002.
Looking to emulate… Barca: Last season’s side that won the competition.
Bayer: The side of the early 00s that narrowly lost to a Zinedine Zidane goal in the final.
Cliché to be trotted out… There are no easy games at this stage of the competition.
CSKA Moscow v Real Madrid
Background… Madrid will come into the tie confident of progressing with Jose Mourinho making them tick in all competitions (save last week’s embarrassment at home to Barca). CSKA won’t have played for two months once the game comes around and it shows why they’re switching their season as of next year.
Don’t mention… Madrid’s poor record in Europe over the past ten years.
Looking to emulate… Real: Any of the nine championship winning sides.
CSKA: UEFA Cup winning side of 2005.
Cliché to be trotted out… Something to do with the weather in Russia. There are too many to mention.
Zenit v Benfica
Background… Zenit first time in the last 16 gives Luciano Spalletti a chance to flex the side’s wallet in January. Benfica will be tough as they came top of a tough group containing Manchester United.
Don’t mention… Benfica haven’t won the competition for almost 50 years.
Looking to emulate… Zenit: The side that won the UEFA Cup in Manchester in 2008.
Benfica: The team of the 60s that won the trophy twice.
Cliché to be trotted out… See above.
Marseille v Inter
Background… Inter had the easiest group of all the seeds and managed to labor in coming top. Marseille beat Dortmund home and away to qualify for the last 16 and are a formidable side.
Don’t mention… Only time Marseille ever won the trophy was shrouded in scandal.
Looking to emulate… Inter: Champions of 2010.
Marseille: Champions of 1993.
Cliché to be trotted out… This free kick is in Sneijder range.