It wasn’t pretty, but on Tuesday Son Heung-Min and Bayer Leverkusen were able to advance out of their group and into the Champions League knockout rounds.
Bayer narrowly edged Spanish side Real Sociedad 1-0 in their match, that combined with Manchester United’s 1-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk allowed the German team to jump their Ukrainian counterparts for second place. The draw for the round of 16 will be next Monday (December 16). The 16 teams who advanced are split into two groups: seeded and unseeded (first place and second place). Unseeded teams will play the first leg at home and the second leg away. The first leg will take place in mid-late February and the return leg will take place two weeks later. The groups are:
Manchester United (A)
Real Madrid (B)
Paris Saint-German (C)
Bayern Munich (D)
Borussia Dortmund (F)
Atletico Madrid (G)
BAYER LEVERKUSEN (A)
Manchester City (D)
Schalke 04 (E)
Zenit St. Petersburg (G)
AC Milan (H)
Teams are not allowed to face (in the round of 16) teams from their group or association. So for Bayer Leverkusen that means that Manchester United (group), Bayern Munich (association), and Borussia Dortmund (association) are out. That leaves five difficult challenges in: Real Madrid, PSG, Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, and Barcelona.
In my personal opinion, I would rank the challenge (from easiest to hardest) as: 1) Chelsea 2) Atletico Madrid 3) Barcelona 4) PSG 5) Real Madrid.
– Chelsea has questions marks in attack and defense. Torres, Eto’o, and Demba Ba have been wildly inconsistent and Mourinho doesn’t seem to know what to do with them. In defense Terry is getting older and David Luiz and Gary Cahill are occasionally erratic. Ashley Cole seems to have fallen out of favor with Mourinho, which has seen Cesar Azpilicueta often at left back, with Ivanovic at right. The midfield remains a strength with Eden Hazard showing game changing abilities at times. Juan Mata remains a fringe player, and there are rumors he may move in January. Andre Schurrle (the man Son replaced) has done well since he moved to London.
– Atletico may seem easy to some, but watchers of La Liga know that the other Madrid side is extremely difficult to beat. Diego Costa is having the best season of his life, and there’s a quite a bit of talent behind him in the likes of Koke, Arda Turan, and Thibaut Courtois. Extremely well organized, they have proven to be a very good cup team, and will be hard to beat over two-legs.
– Barcelona is an interesting proposition. They should be the stiffest test that Bayer could face, but, defensive questions involving the long-term fitness of Carles Puyol and inconsistency in Pique, Mascherano, and Bartra all give me the thought that maybe, just maybe, Bayer could get something. Of course, by then Messi should be back and playing which is always a reason to think Bayer has no chance, but questions remain about Barca’s new “style” under Tata Martino, and some of the senior players, Xavi and Iniesta most notably, seem to be getting uneasy with the new manager. If the tie was a one-off I’d say Bayer could nick it, but over two legs, probably not.
– PSG has emerged as a continental force. Mid-East money has allowed them to stock up on a wealth of talent, and after a couple iffy years they’re putting it all together. Ibra is up top, and this year he has Edison Cavani backing him up. Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta, and Blaise Matiudi make up a strong midfield. A strong defense of Jallet, Thiago Silva, Alex, and van der Wiel/Maxwell, with Salvatore Sirigu in goal round things out. New manager Laurent Blanc has retained the defensive solidarity that Ancelotti left while adding some attacking flair.
– Real Madrid coasted through the group stages. A 2-2 draw in Turin with Juventus was the only blip in their group campaign. Madrid scored 20 goals (with Ronaldo picking up 9 of them) in the group, and looked neigh unbeatable at times. Worrying things for opponents will be that Karim Benzema is getting his confidence back and Gareth Bale has hit his stride as well. The return of Xabi Alonso helped settle the defense, which probably remains the only question mark. Iker Casillas remains the cup keeper, but with few real matches to keep him sharp will his form drop? Center duo Pepe and Sergio Ramos always seem to be red cards waiting to happen, and ongoing injury problems for Raphael Varane will be a concern for Carlo Ancelotti.
We’ve done a lot of polls lately, but let’s do another shall we?