Champions League Round of 16 Preview – Feb 20th

Current Champion’s League Record: 5-1
February 13th
February 14th

1.Chelsea vs. Barcelona

On Tuesday, Barcelona will travel to England to face off against a familiar foe in this competition. Lionel Messi is tied for 2nd overall for appearances (24) in the round of 16 trailing only Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi has had plenty of success in the Champions League knockout stages where he has scored 21 goals. Getting his team on the scoreboard vs. the Blues on Tuesday, might not be as simple as the Barcelona #10 is accustomed to. The Argentine superstar has faced off against 37 different European clubs from different 16 countries over his career, only failing to score against 7 of them. Chelsea leads that group of nemesis vs. Messi holding him scoreless in 8 encounters. Over time, Messi has scored 100 goals in over 10,000 minutes of European football; that’s a goal approximately every 102 minutes. The only problem is he hasn’t got on the scoresheet in over 655 minutes when facing the Blues. Since 2000, these teams have met in the Champions League 12 times, the latest a thrilling tie in the 2011/12 semi-finals. Chelsea comes into this fixture with momentum after two home blowouts (4-0, 3-0), something that should give the team confidence coming into the pivotal tie vs. the Spanish side.

“I think it was very important to have this win (over Hull) to go through to the next round and play the FA Cup quarter-final. It is important for confidence because after two bad defeats for sure the confidence wasn’t up.” Chelsea Manager- Antonio Conte

Another boost to the teams moral should be Barcelona’s away record vs. English opposition where they are 9-8-15. Containing the Blaugrana’s counter-attack and limiting spaces will be crucial in defining what Barca can do.

“We have been analyzing this team for a long time; we started one month ago and analyzed this team. But we for sure will work together, work with the team, but not just to try to stop him: if we focus on just man-marking Messi, it can be very dangerous,” added Conte.

Let’s take a look how the first legs have gone in the previous three meetings:

October 18, 2006, 1-0 Chelsea
April 28, 2009, 0-0 Draw
April 18, 2012, 1-0 Chelsea

Yes, the rosters and managers have changed since these fixtures, but the blueprint for having success when facing the Spanish side is to absorb pressure and limit the open space. Playing compact and as a unit will be the key to Chelsea limiting what the visitors can do. Barcelona has failed to beat the Blues in the previous seven games, drawing five times and losing twice. I expect Chelsea to lose the possession battle like most teams do when facing Barca, but a bend but not break mentality will ultimately keep this game close. Play the under in the first game with both teams being cautious leaving everything to play for in the return leg. Four of the last five games between these two teams have ended in a draw, and only two of the last seven have seen over 2.5 goals scored.

The Picks:

Under 3 -168
Chelsea +.5 -129
Barcelona to advance

2. Bayern Munchen vs. Besiktas

Two of the hottest teams in European football square off in a pivotal matchup in the round of 16. Besiktas, the Turkish Super League defending champions, are undefeated in this competition. In the opening round, they collected all but four points in 6 games, winning on four occasions and drawing twice. Dating back to their group stage victory October 17th vs. Monaco, Besiktas have only lost 2 out of 27 games in all competitions.

The host has also been on a lascivious streak of their own, winning 20 of their last 22 fixtures dating back to the group stages. Bayern has been phenomenal under new boss Jupp Heynckes. The Germans have proved to be unbeatable in the Allianz Arena this season, only dropping points in one match that resulted in a 2-2 draw vs. Wolfsburg. If Besiktas truly want a shot at upsetting the German giants, they must embrace the role of underdog starting in the first leg. The loss of superstar goalkeeper Manuel Neuer could serve as a boost of confidence for the visitors if you look at Bayern’s recent matches. In the group stages, the German side conceded a total of 6 goals, allowing the competition to put the ball in the back of the net in the previous three matchups. Also, the over 2.5 goals, is 10-0 in Bayern’s last ten contest.

“Besiktas is a team that can play football and it’s no surprise that they are here. They won all three of their away matches in the group stage. They won’t hide, they like to play attacking football – if you let them. That’s the key. They will look for their chances, so we need to be prepared. I hope my team puts in a top performance to lay the foundations for reaching the quarter-finals.”- Jupp Heynckes

The German coach is well aware of the threat that the visitors pose. Besiktas scored a total of 7 goals and found the net in all of their away matches in the group stages. Getting an away goal would be crucial for the Turkish Champions, so look for them to attack from the opening whistle. I expect an open game and the German superteam will capitalize on their chances. An early score in the first 25 minutes of the game will change the tactics of the visitors leaving even more space for the Bayern counter. I fully expect to see goals in this match.

The Picks:

Bayern Munich -2
Bayern Munich Team Total over 3
Over 3.5

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