Top UCL and Europa League Round of 16 fixtures
Both the UEFA Champions League and Europe League group stages have come to a close, with major upsets and surprises. The round of 16 and 32 draws for the UCL and Europe League, respectively took place on the 20th of December and coughed up some mouth-watering ties and here is, according to me, the top UCL tie and the top Europa League tie.
1. Real Madrid vs. Manchester United
This will be the first ever round of 16 fixture between the Spanish and English giants in the UEFA Champions League. Neither side has been convincing in their group stage campaigns, with United having to come back from behind on several occasions and Madrid losing top spot to Borussia Dortmund.
The tie is guaranteed to be an explosive one as both sides boast arguably the best attacking threats in Europe. The Rooney-RVP combination for United is frightening for opposition defenders as the two seem to have developed a telepathic relationship. Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have hit form at the right time and have the ability to torture Los Blancos’ full backs and United should have Shinji Kagawa back from injury in time for the first leg.
Real Madrid will not be fazed by United’s menacing attack when comparing it to their own. The Spanish side have their attack led by Karim Benzema, with Higuain as a replacement. Mezut Ozil will most likely be pulling the strings for Madrid but the obvious threat will be Cristiano Ronaldo. It will be his first competitive return to the ‘Theatre of Dreams and a masterclass performance from him, over the two legs, would not be surprising. The mentality of both teams is likely to be ‘score more goals than you concede’ as the back four for both teams have been woeful this year.
Despite all the world class players on show, the spotlight will definitely be on the two managers. It is rumoured that this season will be Sir Alex Ferguson’s last and his replacement will be Jose Mourinho, who is almost certainly departing from the Bernabeu at the end of the season. Both coaches will want the UCL trophy more than ever this season and the tactical battle on show will be an intriguing one.
2. Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Liverpool
Zenit’s premature exit from the Champions League was a huge disappointment, especially after millions were invested into the club last summer. Nonetheless, they will be a force to reckon with in the Europa League and can be branded as one of the favourites to win the tournament. The arrival of Hulk and Belgian midfield maestro Axel Witsel was designed to take the Russians to the next level and winning the Europa League will be the first step in doing so. In their way though, are Liverpool.
The Merseyside club finally look like a cohesive unit under Brendan Rodgers, with star striker Luis Suarez leading the line. Liverpool will depend on the revitalized Jose Enrique to keep Hulk at bay and also rely on the blistering pace of starlet Raheem Sterling. Rodgers is likely to field a full strength team against Zenit as a second string side just won’t do. Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Danny will have to be at their best for Zenit, against the solid partnership of Skrtel and Agger.
The key battle will be between Bruno Alves and Luiz Suarez; arguably the best player on the turn in European football. Away goals will be crucial in this round of 32 tie and might be the decisive factor for the club that progresses in the tournament.