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The Prospector

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The Prospector

Assayer of Student Opinion.

The Prospector

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Champions League is finally back

The Round of 16 Champions League draw is one of the worst days in sports.

I hate it. Sure, we learn who will play who in the first of the decisive stages of the most competitive soccer tournament there is, but then we have to wait months before these matchups actually occur.

Thankfully though, the Champions League is back this week with some great matchups and some of the best soccer the sport has to offer.

As any fan would know, the eight matchups are split into two weeks.

The first week of competition pits Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea against the high-spending Paris St. Germain, the ultra-talented Bayern Munich versus Shaktar Donetsk, defending champions Real Madrid and Germany’s Schalke 04 and Portuguese superpower FC Porto against the Swiss FC Basel.

The most attractive of the four games has to be the re-match of last year’s quarterfinals when Chelsea miraculously escaped elimination against the Zlatan-less PSG. Plagued by injuries and many underachieving players who have not seen their best form throughout this season the French squad cannot be considered the favorite by any stretch of the imagination—especially when you consider the fact that Chelsea is considerably better than that team that was lucky to reach the semis of last year’s tournament.

Cesc Fabregas, Juan Cuadrado and Diego Costa are significant upgrades that have contributed to Chelsea playing very un-Mourinho like—that is enjoyable to watch.

I would add Thibaut Courtois to the list, but it seems Petr Cech is set to make the start, even though it seems crazy to me. Cech is good, but Courtois is one of the best three keepers in the world right now, at least.

I guess you can make a case for PSG, because they really have nothing to lose. Those players like Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani, Ezaquiel Lavezzi, among others who seem to still be hung over from the World Cup could be compelled to show their best football under the bright lights of the biggest stage.

The combination of Silva and David Luiz is good enough to negate the threat of Costa and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the best forward in the game—an attack centered around him will always be dangerous.

PSG’s only chance of advancing past the Premier League leaders will come at home on Tuesday. They need to go to Stanford Bridge with some sort of advantage, two goals would give them a real chance.

The question is, can they come together and produce their best form when it matters most? And will Mourinho let his side play or will the special one be content with leaving Paris not losing? Hopefully it’s the first one and we get a game we all enjoy.

There is not much to talk about when it comes to the Bayern-Shaktar matchup. The German powerhouse who struggled coming out of the winter break seem to be getting back into their usual menacing form after a 8-0 annihilation of fellow Bundesliga squad Hamburg.

It is still unbelievable for me to think that Frank Ribery, Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Gotze, Thomas Muller, David Alaba, Manuel Neuer and Xavi Alonso are all on the same team.

Even without captain Phillip Lahm, Thiago Alcantara or Javi Martinez, there is no arguing this is the deepest, most talented squad there is in the world. I have no doubt Pep Guardiola’s men will have no trouble with the Ukrainians and there should be plenty of goals to keep this one-sided tie entertaining.

I don’t know who got luckier FC Basel or FC Porto. There was no side any of the group winners would have liked to face more than the team from Switzerland.

By the same hand, the opponent for Basel could have been much worse than the Dragons. Neither of these two teams is a realistic candidate to play in Berlin come June, but it’s a nice opportunity for Porto to reach the quarterfinals—something they have not done since winning the tournament in 2004.

It’s a great opportunity to get many of its young promising players some experience. The value and experience of guys like Alex Sandro, Hector Herrera, Casemiro, Bruno Martins Indi could really improve if they are able to play the way they have been as of late in this kind of stage.

Finally we have the champions. I would love to make a case for Schalke against the La Liga leaders and it would not be that farfetched—Real Madrid always struggles with these kinds of teams, they just do.

Carlo Ancelotti has a lot of key pieces out of commission too, but the German squad has even more. Both of these teams will be hampered by injuries and Madrid’s struggles as of late might make this a much more even matchup, especially in this first leg in Germany.

Still, at the end of the day Real Madrid is going to advance because they are Real Madrid and Schalke is just Schalke.

There is no soccer like the one played in Champions League and the first set of matches should provide plenty of excitement. With great players and interesting storylines across the board we should have plenty to talk about come Thursday morning. I’m so glad the wait is finally over.

Luis Gonzalez may be reached at [email protected].

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Champions League is finally back