What’s in a Draw: Who Can Win the Champions League?
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While Valentines’ Day remains a day of love and celebration, it holds added significance for football fans in 2017. After all, February 14th will see the long-awaited return of the Champions League knockout stages, as Europe’s top 16 teams compete for the most prestigious prize in club football.
The nature of the draw for the UCL knockout stages is always interesting, of course, as while some ties can pit favourites against one another there are others that enable underdogs to mount an assault on the next round.
This year is no different, so let’s take a look and the draw and see how this will impact on the final destination of the Champions League crown…
A Clash of the Titans, and the Last Chance for Wenger?
The stand-out tie in this years’ round of 16 has pitted French champions PSG against their Spanish counterparts Barcelona, with both sides hopeful of progressing to the quarter finals. Despite the stellar nature of the tie, however, both sides have underperformed domestically this season, with PSG second after four consecutive title wins and Barcelona one point behind Real Madrid in La Liga having played two more matches. This game therefore takes on added significance, while PSG may feel as though they will never have a better chance to overcome the Spanish giants.
The bookmakers do not seem to agree, however, with PSG’s odds of winning the UCL having risen to 33/1 since the draw, while Barca remain the narrow Champions League favourites at 10/3.
Elsewhere, there is a sense of deja vu in Munich as Bayern Munich will entertain Arsenal over two legs. Bayern are the second favourites for the title at 4/1, of course, and few believe that potential dark horses Arsenal (25/1) can overcome their German rivals and reach the quarter finals for the first time in 2010. The draw could have been kinder to Bayern, however, as there is no doubting the quality that the Gunners possess and their capability of beating Carlo Ancelotti’s men.
The mounting pressure on Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger may convince the Frenchman that this is his last chance of winning the UCL with the Gunners, however, and this could yet inspire a surprise run deep into the latter stages of the competition.
Making History: Will Real or Leicester Claim the Prize?
Third favourites Real Madrid can be backed at 5/1 at present, as they aim to become the first side in the Champions League era to retain the prestigious crown. Los Blancos face off against Napoli in the round of 16, while they will be hoping that either Barcelona or Bayern Munich run afoul of their opponents and optimise their chances of progression.
We cannot finish without a reference to struggling Leicester City, as the EPL champions have reserved their best form for the Champions League this year will struggling domestically. While the Foxes are outsiders for the title at 66/1 and face a huge challenge in overcoming last years’ Europa League winners and La Liga surprise packages Seville, their counter-attacking playing style and European form may be enough to extend their run beyond the second round.
With all this in mind, and Pep Guardiola’s unpredictable Manchester City side also in the mix at a value-packed 12/1, calling this year’s UCL winner is as difficult as ever. The draw may offer some insight in terms of the favourite’s progress, and a defeat for either Barca and Bayern could throw the competition wide open.