Monday’s Champions League round of 16 draw brought about some intriguing fixtures for the English clubs still involved. Tom Simmonds takes an immediate look at them.
Leicester City fans who think their magic carpet ride in Europe can’t possibly last any longer might have bemoaned their draw against Sevilla, who have exercised a monopoly on the Europa League in recent seasons. The draw is as tough as it gets without any of the glamour of pulling Real Madrid or Bayern Munich out of the hat, as they might have done. Sevilla currently sit third in La Liga, keeping pace with Barcelona, who are only a point better off than them after 13 games.
Sevilla have players in their ranks who are wise to the nuances of the Premier League. Steven N’Zonzi – a player who none of the big English clubs seemed to fancy despite his impressive performances for Blackburn and Stoke – has found his home among the orange groves. Jorge Sampaoli has trusted him with the key defensive midfield role and his adeptness frees up Samir Nasri, among others, to wreak havoc further up the pitch. Their squad has pace, the high fitness levels needed to sustain their pressing game and depth in terms of playing resources. While you can never write Leicester off given what they have done over the past couple of seasons, this tie has the look of the end of the adventure for the Foxes.
Arsenal must be wondering why they went to the trouble of finally winning a Champions League group when they were given a two-legged affair against Bayern Munich as a reward. The Gunners shouldn’t despair, being away from home first offers them a chance to dictate the terms of the tie provided they can get away from the Allianz with a narrow defeat or better.
Last season’s 2-0 group stage win over Bayern at the Emirates provides a blueprint for how they might go about beating them again. The game turned on a brilliant Petr Cech save from Robert Lewandowski, and Arsenal got the better of it by displaying an aggression which their critics constantly claim they lack. Whether a side managed by the Premier League-savvy Carlo Ancelotti will be as susceptible to conceding as basic a goal as Olivier Giroud’s opener as one managed by Pep Guardiola is remains to be seen. What is apparent is that Bayern aren’t performing as Ancelotti would like, with two defeats in the group stages, and their parity at the top of the Bundesliga with franchised upstarts RB Leipzig isn’t something anybody could’ve foreseen. This is a vulnerable team and Arsenal are in a relative position of strength at present. Could this be the year they break their round of 16 hoodoo?
Monaco – who beat Arsenal at this stage in 2014-15 – have been awarded another mission in England, drawing Manchester City after helping throw Tottenham Hotspur out of the competition in the group stages. While this year’s Monaco are without their three goal scorers in that game at the Emirates in 2015 – Geoffrey Kondogbia, Dimitar Berbatov and Yannick Carrasco – they have gone about replacing them well. Unloved by Manchester United and Chelsea fans, Radamel Falcao has taken well to his return to the principality. His 12 goals in 14 games this season, including a hat-trick against Bordeaux on Saturday, demonstrates that he retains his lethality when given the service.
Monaco are free-scoring in general with 53 goals in 17 league games, which sees them sit second behind Nice in Ligue 1, as the pair seek to break Paris Saint-Germain’s stranglehold on the domestic title. We saw in their games against Spurs that Monaco are capable of playing some very nice and effective football against better sides than the French top-flight can put in front of them. On paper, City should have enough to come through this but they would be foolish to assume that all they need to do is turn up to progress. A team with the extent of the defensive problems that City are enduring at present cannot take anything for granted, and they will not have this tie all their own way, even if they do prevail as expected eventually.
The good thing all of these clubs involved is that the ties will not be played until February, which gives them plenty of time to iron out any issues they are being plagued by at present – be it with work in training or in the transfer window. Come game time, it will be interesting to see how much the patterns established by the clubs can be altered.
What are your predictions for the round of 16 games?
Follow Tom on Twitter at @TallulahOnEarth