Right off the bat, we get a rematch of last year’s epic quarterfinals bout. A refresher: PSG won the first leg at home 3-1, thanks to a David Luiz own goal and a 93rd minute Javier Pastore strike that seemed to have put the tie out of reach. But in London, Demba Ba’s 87th-minute goal made it 2-0 to Chelsea and sent them through anyway. PSG, a club whose stated objective is to win in Europe – concerning themselves much less with winning in France, although they do that anyway – will once again have to go up against the cunning of José Mourinho. And David Luiz? He’s now a PSG player. Both teams have looked deeper and sharper this year. This gonna get good.
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February 25: Arsenal – Monaco
At last, a decent round of 16 draw for Arsenal. For the last four years, they have stranded at this stage. They fell to Bayern Munich last year and two years ago, AC Milan the year before that, and Barcelona four years ago. Every single one of those contests was fairly close. Now, at length, they get a more palatable opponent in Monaco. The Monte Carlo outfit had immense sums of money pumped into it two summers ago, but lost Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez this past transfer window. They have languished in Ligue 1 and should be a surmountable obstacle for the Gunners.
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February 24: Manchester City – Barcelona
You have to sort of feel bad for Manchester City. Since they became a rich and shiny club, they’ve reached the Champions League four times. The first two years, they didn’t survive deadly group stage draws. The last two years, they have. But each time, they immediately ran into Barcelona. In 2013-14, they lost 2-0 at home in the first leg and basically robbed themselves of any chance to advance – they lost the second 2-1 in Catalonia to 91st-minute Dani Alves goal. City haven’t been running as smoothly as last year and just reaching this stage was on ordeal. If they’re ever going to be a properly big club, they’ll have to figure out how to survive matchups such as these.
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February 18: Schalke 04 – Real Madrid
This one can go one of two ways. As you’ll recall, this very matchup happened in last year’s round of 16 as well. It wasn’t pretty. Real won the first leg 6-1 – in Gelsenkirchen. Then, at a canter, they took the home leg 3-1. The aggregate score was 9-2 – the sort of score you’d see in a lopsided under-10s game. With Real possibly looking even better than last year, how do Schalke react? Surviving the group stage was a close-run thing for them. And their domestic season has been a bit of a shambles. In October, Roberto Di Matteo was hired to replace Jens Keller and things have improved, rising from the bottom half to sixth place. But whether they can compete with the reigning European champions this time is the question.