Celtic V Juventus:
Celtic will be delighted to have held on to star striker Gary Hooper after rejecting repeated overtures from Norwich, who failed to lure him south of the border. Hooper will be crucial to Celtic’s chances of progression as they seek to replicate their infamous victory over Barcelona.
The Hoops must get a result at Parkhead if they are to harbour any hopes of progression, as Turin is a notoriously difficult place to travel to. Juventus’ midfield of Vidal, Pirlo and Marchisio should control the game and their attacking wingbacks have the potential to overload Celtic’s midfield.
In contrast to Celtic, the Serie A side lack a reliable, clinical finisher. Seeking to rectify this, they have signed Fernando Llorente on a pre-contract agreement, but he will not arrive until the summer. Until then, they must rely on football’s perennial nomad, Nicolas Anelka, to provide their goals as Giovinco, Matri, Vucinic and Quagliarella have failed to fully convince this season.
Valencia V PSG
David Beckham’s arrival in Paris will undoubtedly increase the interest in this match, although the celebrity quasi-footballer is unlikely to displace Motta, Pastore or Matuidi from a solid PSG midfield and as such, he should have little bearing on this tie. Much will depend on the frustratingly inconsistent Zlatan Ibrahimovic; who ranges from the sublime to the maddening over the course of any given game.
The Mestalla is never an easy place to go, and Valencia will be confident of getting a result there. Whilst their financial problems have seen an exodus of star individuals, such as Juan Mata, David Villa and David Silva over the last few years, this is still a strong Valencia side.
Real Madrid V Manchester United
The most high profile tie of the round sees Mourinho pitted against Ferguson once again in what is likely to be a close, tactical affair. Stopping the returning Ronaldo seems of paramount importance for the English side, and Ferguson may seek to replicate the tactics recently used to nullify the threat of Gareth Bale.
Against Tottenham, Phil Jones was deployed in a deep midfield position, with instructions to protect Rafael, and a similar tactic may prove effective here. Expect United to play on the counter and to seek to exploit Madrid down the flanks as their fullbacks tend to be vulnerable defensively.
This tie could well come down to which team handles the occasion better, as both Old Trafford and the Santiago Bernabéu are iconic, sometimes overwhelming, places for any player to play. Whichever travelling team can better negotiate the emotional cauldron waiting for them should emerge victorious.
Shakhtar Donetsk V Borussia Dortmund
This is the dark horse for tie of the round, as Dortmund and Donetsk both possess a number of fluid and exciting attacking players. Willian’s exit to Anzhi Makhachkala has considerably weakened Donetsk, but they can still rely on the fluid interplay between Mkhitaryan, Douglas Costa and Fernandinho.
Dortmund, on the other hand, are no slouches themselves, as they can field Blaszczykowski, Götze and Reus behind the prolific Lewandowski. This sets up an intriguing encounter which is unlikely to be short of goals and will undoubtedly delight the neutral.
Porto V Málaga
This is perhaps the least anticipated of the upcoming ties, but should be an entertaining encounter between two sides performing well domestically and known for their fluid, attacking style of play. Jackson Martinez is the star man for Porto, having scored 15 goals in 16 league games this season.
Málaga’s financial problems have continued, which is why they lost defender Nacho Monreal to Arsenal, but still possess enough quality to trouble Porto. In particular, young Spaniard Izco is a class above what is in the Portuguese Superliga.
Arsenal V Bayern Munich:
Kieran Gibbs’ injury has Arsenal fans fearing the presence of Andre Santos on the team sheet for the visit of Bayern. Rather than let the woeful Brazilian face Robben or Ribery, Wenger may shift Vermaelen to fullback and seek to play a narrow defence as Chelsea did in the final last year.
Bayern’s wingers tend to be inverted and seek to cut inside and support Gomez, so this tactic may prove especially effective at stifling the Germans. Alas, Arsenal’s inconsistency and general defensive incompetence, along with Bayern’s strong domestic form, makes the Bavarians favourites, even at the Emirates.
Much will rely on whether Arsenal’s trio of Arteta, Wilshire and Cazorla can control the game or whether they will be overpowered by Schweinsteiger, Martinez and Kroos, in what will be a fascinating central midfield contest.
AC Milan V Barcelona:
Recent signing Mario Balotelli is cup-tied, having performed for Manchester City earlier in the competition. Thus, Milan will have to rely on the same group of players who scraped qualification from Group C with the lowest points tally of any remaining clubs, minus the departed Alexandre Pato.
Tito Villanova’s side are deservedly favourites to progress at the expense of Milan team undergoing a transitional period. These two clubs produced stimulating contests in last year’s competition, so, although Milan’s personnel have changed somewhat since, it remains one to watch.
Galatasaray V Schalke:
Galatasaray pulled off two of the more ambitious signings of the transfer window by bringing in Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder to bolster their squad. Both are former Champions League winners and will add physicality and creativity to Galatasaray’s attack, which had previously relied on the hapless Milan Baros.
The window was rather less positive for Schalke, as they lost influential midfielder Lewis Holtby to Tottenham, although the signing of Raffael may prove an astute replacement. Winger Michel Bastos was brought in from Lyon to provide opportunities for the prolific Klass-Jan Huntelaar. It’s too difficult to confidently say if Schalke’s unbeaten status in the competition will prevail over Galatasaray’s impressive signings.