Champions League Round of 16 Preview: Part One

It’s back! After a 3 month wait, the Champions League knockout stages are here! 16 teams remain in Europe’s top competition, and the writers at Off my Pitch are ready to look like fools by making some predictions. Throughout the tournament, we’ll keep track of how all the writers do, as well as how you readers do, so be sure to vote in the polls!!

 

Barcelona – PSG

Leg 1 – 14 February 2017 – Parc des Princes

Leg 2 – 8 March 2017 – Camp Nou

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Photo courtesy of Ryu Voelkel – Flickr

While Barcelona has struggled to get a foothold in La Liga this year following their title-winning campaign the year before, the Blaugrana have not struggled in the Champions League. Barça won 5 of their 6 games in the group stage, and they ran away from Celtic, Borussia Monchengladbach, and Manchester City to win Group C.

PSG, however, stumbled slightly in Group A. The Parisians drew with group winners Arsenal twice, and the big disappointment was a 2-2 draw at home to Bulgarian side Ludogorets on matchday 6. A win would have sent PSG top of Group A, and if it wasn’t for a late goal from Ángel Di María, Ludogorets would have won the match. PSG is locked into a tough battle at the top of Ligue 1, which is proving more difficult than expected after the loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Manchester United.

I think Barcelona have too much class to be beaten by PSG. Edinson Cavani has blossomed in his role as the primary goalscorer, but an injury to Thiago Silva will prove detrimental to the Parisians chances for beating Messi and company. I expect a hard fought 1st leg, but Barcelona will run away with this one when the clubs battle it out in Spain.

My Prediction: Barcelona

JP’s Prediction: Barcelona

Pedro’s Prediction: Barcelona

Ryan’s Prediction: Barcelona

Mac’s Prediction: Barcelona

Wes’ Prediction: Barcelona

Benfica – Borussia Dortmund

Leg 1 – 14 February 2017 – Estadio da Luz

Leg 2 – 8 March 2017 – Signal-Iduna-Park

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Photo courtesy of Linda Marsita – Flickr

These two clubs had very different group stages. Benfica had a relatively easy group, yet they drew twice to Besiktas and they fell twice to Napoli. Dortmund, however, faced Real Madrid, Sporting Lisbon, and Legia Warsaw. Dortmund’s offense combined to score 21 goals, more than any other team; meanwhile Benfica conceded 10 goals in the group stage, joint most of any club that advanced to the round of 16. The pressure is on Dortmund to advance in this matchup, so Benfica can go all out at home in the first leg and try to build a lead. My expert opinion? They’ll be unsuccessful.

My Prediction: Dortmund

JP’s Prediction: Dortmund

Pedro’s Prediction: Dortmund

Ryan’s Prediction: Benfica

Mac’s Prediction: Dortmund

Wes’ Prediction: Dortmund

Real Madrid – Napoli

Leg 1 – 15 February 2017 – Santiago Bernebéu

Leg 2 – 7 March 2017 – Stadio San Paolo

Photo courtesy of VAVEL España - Flickr

Photo courtesy of VAVEL España – Flickr

Real Madrid and Napoli competed in the same groups as Dortmund and Benfica, respectively. Madrid’s disappointing 3-3 draw at the hands of Legia Warsaw in Poland left them in 2nd place in the group, but they got an easier draw against Napoli in the Round of 16. Despite losing Gonzalo Higuain to league rivals Juventus, Napoli’s Dries Mertens has shone in the centre-forward role this year. The Belgian has notched 4 goals and 2 assists in 4 starts in the Champions League and 16 goals in 16 starts in the Serie A. Meanwhile, for Los Blancos, goals seem to be at a premium. Gareth Bale has scored just 7 goals in 18 starts in all competitions, and Karim Benzema has scored 10 goals in 19 starts in all competitions. 4 of those goals have come in the Champions League, however, so the Frenchman will hope to be on target once again this time around. World-beater Cristiano Ronaldo has notched 14 goals in 16 La Liga matches this year but has scored just 2 in the Champions League. This Real Madrid team has too much quality to not advance, but the defending Champions League winners will not find it easy if they fail to keep up with Napoli’s high-powered offense.

My Prediction: Real Madrid

JP’s Prediction: Real Madrid

Pedro’s Prediction: Real Madrid

Ryan’s Prediction: Real Madrid

Mac’s Prediction: Real Madrid

Wes’ Prediction: Real Madrid

Bayern Munich – Arsenal

Leg 1 – 15 February 2017 – Allianz Arena

Leg 2 – 7 March 2017 – Emirates Stadium

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Photo courtesy of Ryu Voeklel – Flickr

Wait… is this right? They’re playing again? Bayern knocked Arsenal out of the UCL round of 16 in 2005, 2013, and 2014, and they’ve faced in the UCL four times in the last five years. Carlo Ancelloti is accustomed to success in the Champions League, and Bayern fans are chomping at the bit to get a title after three straight semi-final appearances. Arsenal are in a bit of a tailspin at the moment, especially after a 3-1 loss to Chelsea a week and a half ago. But then again, it’s February. Bayern is too strong for Arsenal, and that will show in the first leg.

My Prediction: Bayern

JP’s Prediction: Bayern

Pedro’s Prediction: Bayern

Ryan’s Prediction: Bayern

Mac’s Prediction: Bayern

Wes’ Prediction: Bayern

Contact Writer John Horlander via email, and be sure to follow him on Twitter. Also, follow Off my Pitch on Twitter so you never miss an article!

Photo courtesy of Edwin.11 – Flickr

Frank Lampard: My footballing inspiration

After 21 years in the game, the Premier League’s best midfielder has retired. Frank Lampard, Chelsea legend, posted on Instagram on February 2 that he would be turning down any further contract offers and he would be retiring from football.

After 21 incredible years, I have decided that now is the right time to finish my career as a professional footballer. Whilst I have received a number of exciting offers to continue playing at home and abroad, at 38 I feel now is the time to begin the next chapter in my life. I’m immensely proud of the trophies I’ve won, of representing my country over 100 times and of scoring more than 300 career goals. I have many people to thank. I thank my parents for instilling in me the values of hard work, dedication and professionalism, values which I have carried with me in everything that I do. I am forever grateful for the support of my family, my wife Christine and my two daughters Luna and Isla. What you have given me off the pitch has always been my strength on it. I love you all very much. Also, my friends and my own team that have always been there for me. I would like to thank the amazing team-mates, coaches, managers and backroom staff that I was privileged to work with. I’d also like to pay tribute to the clubs that I have represented. Firstly, West Ham United who gave me my debut in 1996. Thanks to the people there that believed in me at that young age. More recently Manchester City and NYCFC. I greatly enjoyed my last playing years at these two clubs and really appreciate the support I received from City Football Group and both clubs’ fans. Of course, the largest part of my heart belongs to Chelsea, a club which has given me so many great memories. I will never forget the opportunity they gave me and the success that we managed to achieve together. It is impossible to give thanks individually to all the people that helped and supported me in my 13 years playing there. All I can say is from the day I signed until now and going forward, I'm eternally grateful for everything and to everyone. Chelsea fans gave myself and my teammates such incredible support. Their passion and hunger drove me on personally to give my best year after year. I couldn't have done it without them. Looking forward, I'm grateful to the FA for the opportunity to study for my coaching qualifications and I look forward to pursuing the off-field opportunities that this decision opens.

A post shared by Frank Lampard (@franklampard) on

Lampard is second on the all-time Premier League assists list, with 102, third in all-time appearances with 603, and fourth all-time in goals scored with 177. He won three Premier League titles, four FA cups, 2 League Cups, the Champions League in 2012 and the Europa league in 2013.

Far more important to me, as well as to many other Chelsea fans, was Lampard’s undying, dedicated loyalty and love to and for Chelsea Football Club. In the 13 years that he played for the Blues, Lampard was an unwavering source of confidence and pride that helped catapult Chelsea to the top of the footballing world.

Personally, I owe my love of football to Chelsea’s #8. I had followed the sport loosely for a few years without picking a favorite team, and in 2012 I watched the Champions League Final. Chelsea were playing Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena in Munich, Bayern’s home arena. With captain John Terry out of the game due to suspension, Lampard donned the armband and led the Blues to face Bayern.

The game was deadlocked at 1 after a late header by Didier Drogba, and the two team went to penalties. Frank Lampard stepped up to take his penalty, and he slammed it home top-shelf. Two rounds later, when Drogba slotted home the winner, the Chelsea squad went running towards the Ivorian and celebrated. Only one didn’t join them. Lampard went sprinting towards the other end of the Arena, sliding in front of the Chelsea supporters section. It was that moment that I knew, Chelsea had my heart.

I followed the Blues through the subsequent Europa League winning campaign and following years, and in 2014 Lampard left to go to the MLS.

He was loaned to Manchester City for the 2014/2015 season to maintain fitness before the MLS season. One of the most unforgettable moments was when he scored for City against Chelsea, late in the match to equalize. It was visible on his face, how bittersweet it was to score against Chelsea, and he held his hands up in a refusal to celebrate.

Lampard’s fortitude of character and magic on the pitch were an inspiration to me and a newfound fan, and to fans of the sport worldwide. Thanks for everything, legend.

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter @John_Horlander or by email. Also be sure to follow Off my Pitch on Twitter @Offmypitch.

Image courtesy of Ronnie Macdonald – Flickr