Germany are worthy world champions, and in recent years their domestic league has been in such fine fettle it shows.
I have always haboured skepticism aplenty about most rankings whatever the walk of life (the frequently revised Fifa compilation for national teams a case in point), but I find that the performances of European clubs in continental competitions fully acquit UEFA’s coefficients.
At a time when the Bundesliga’s renaissance was gathering steam somewhat beneath the radar and the Serie A’s ebbing could be dismissed as just a blip, UEFA took one Champions League slot away from Italy and handed it to Germany.
A few years down the road, the Germans have sent all four of their entrants into the last 16 of the Champions League, while for the Italians only their all-conquering domestic champions made the cut, and even then only just.
Ironically, the Germans know all too well that a lone representative can outlast and eclipse all, as Bayern Munich have occasionally done, but even if Juventus overcame the odds to be crowned European champions next May it would hardly mask the realities surrounding either league at the moment.
Bayern might be in a different league altogether because of their financial might, but the rest of the Bundesliga matches up favourably with the rest of the continent, while the Spanish La Liga and the English Premiership have also justified their billing with three teams each into the knockout phases.
There however are dangerous floaters in the moneyed PSG and rank outsiders Porto, the latter the only club from outside of the big four of Germany, Spain, England and Italy to win Europe’s most elite competition since Louis Van Gaal took his Ajax teenagers to the summit in 1995. It is a long way from February and much is bound to change, but even if I will return to these fixtures in more detail closer to d-day, here are my initial calls.
PSG vs Chelsea
Had Edinson Cavani had his scoring boots on last season, Chelsea might not have made it to the semis, and so to Jose Mourinho I say ‘be careful what you wish for’. The French champions will most likely have Zlatan Ibrahimovic to call on this time, and are crucially older and wiser. But with Matic, Fabregas, Costa and Drogba Chelsea are much stronger than they were then (there is Courtois and Felipe Luis too), and with typical meticulousness Mourinho will fine-tune his men to exploit any loopholes created due to the inevitable overzealousness old boy David Luiz will bring to the tie.
*Chelsea to edge it.
Man City vs Barcelona
City will hopefully have beaten the injury bug by then, especially where Aguero and Kompany are concerned, and they will have to hope that Yaya Toure returns intact from Afcon for he has a point to prove. Barca too have to hope that they can finally use Thomas Vermaelen and send Mascherano into midfield to give them a more solid look or they will be punished by a very talented but up-until-now unlucky side. Barca’s front three of Messi, Neymar and Suarez will be even harder to stop by Feb but with the talent on both sides evening out, the difference could be the little Argentine genius.
*Barca to squeeze through.
Leverkusen vs Atletico Madrid
The Germans are talented, dynamic and well drilled by Roger Schmidt (the new Dortmund), but the dogged determination of Atletico could prove too much to overcome.
Juventus vs Dortmund
Juventus are Europe’s premier underachievers and Dortmund have upset them on an even bigger stage before.
Because of the winter break however, the Germans don’t have too many games between now and then to ease their relegation worries and injury woes enough to concentrate on Europe.
They could decide to try and win the whole thing instead (we have seen it before), but it would be madness. Gives Juve an aantage they should take.
*Juventus to clinch it
Schalke vs Real
They are smoldering hot at the moment, but somehow I don’t believe Real Madrid will break the jinx and retain their European crown.
I doubt though that it is Schalke, their talent and good ethic notwithstanding, that will stop this incredible scoring machine.
*Real Madrid to aance
Shaktar vs Bayern
At the beginning of the season, Shaktar’s large Brazilian contingent had declined to return to a war zone complete with planes dropping from the skies.
They are back in their usual style, but now run into an altogether different but insurmountable enemy.
*Bayern all the way
Arsenal vs Monaco
The best knockout draw Arsenal have had in a long time.
Monaco are decent, with a mean defence, good midfield combo with Jérémy Toulalan, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Tiemoué Bakayoko and JoAo Moutinho, and scoring forwards Lucas Ocampos and Dimitar Berbatov.
Like all French sides before them however, not enough to handle Arsene Wenger.
*Arsenal, thank you very much
Basel vs Porto
Two good footballing sides that play Champions League every season.
One word – pedigree.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor