Germany crash out of World Cup!

The thrilling first stage of the 2018 World Cup ended with Japan qualifying due to having fewer yellow cards than Senegal, Lionel Messi finally arriving in Russia, and Germany’s shock exit in their 2-0 defeat to South Korea.

Surprisingly, many teams who won the World Cup failed to get out of the group stage four years later in recent times such as Spain and Italy, and Germany have now joined this unexpected list.

They were, perhaps, the least likely of these teams to fall in the group stage four years on as the core of their 2014 winning side remains in the squad today, with players such as Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller still key men for the team.

However, between two poor defeats, a narrow last-gasp victory over Sweden was not enough for the Germans, who ended up finishing bottom of their group in Russia.

Whilst their backline, which includes Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels in front of Manuel Neuer, seemed extremely strong on paper, they failed to keep a single clean sheet and looked disjointed throughout.

In addition, Timo Werner of RB Leipzig was trusted as Germany’s number 9 after a very impressive season in the Bundesliga, but the young striker never seemed goal hungry and his movement played into the defence’s hands as he failed to score in all three games.

This incredibly poor campaign could have knock-on effects too; the generation of youngsters who missed the success of 2014 may lack inspiration, and the Bundesliga could also suffer a hangover as a result of Germany’s disastrous tournament.

Elsewhere in the tournament, Argentina turned their campaign around with a hard-fought win over Nigeria that saw them scrape through.

After a very poor start to the tournament where they were outclassed by Croatia and Lionel Messi failed to spark, it was Messi’s unbelievable goal that broke the deadlock against the Nigerians, but they needed a late winner from Marcos Rojo to qualify for the knockout stage after Victor Moses had levelled from the spot.

It was Ever Banega’s first start of the competition that appeared to be the key to unlocking Messi, as Banega consistently found Messi and other forwards with direct passes, something that Argentina had lacked in their opening two games where they had repeatedly passed the ball sideways. Banega’s brilliant pass set up Messi, who pretended to come short for the ball before darting in behind the defence and controlling the ball at top speed before blasting the ball into the top corner.

Finishing second in the group has punished them with a round of 16 against France, although Les Bleus, who may have topped their group, have failed to dazzle so far in Russia.

On paper, France’s squad is far stronger than Argentina’s and they should be favourites, but it could depend on whether or not Messi is unleashed as he was against Nigeria or if he is contained like in their games against Iceland and Croatia.

So far in the competition, no teams have been outstanding, as Spain rode their luck on their way to reaching the knockout stage and France, as we know, did not impress.

However, the three most promising teams so far have probably been Brazil, Belgium and England, yes, England.

After a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in their opening game, Brazil won their remaining two games to top the group and they appear to have been improving throughout their campaign.

Phillipe Coutinho has been their star man so far, whilst Neymar has threatened to light up the tournament at times.

Tite’s side sailed through qualification for this year’s finals and at the moment they have given enough evidence to suggest that they are one of the most likely teams to come out on top on July 15th.

As for Belgium, they won all three of their games in the group stage, overcoming Panama and Tunisia with ease before beating England 1-0 to top the group.

It has been common knowledge for a while now that Belgium have some top players in their squad but just need to perform well as a team, so this start has been extremely promising.

England also impressed in the group stage, especially in the 6-1 victory over Panama, but it is still difficult to tell if they will be a strong contender for the trophy.

Gareth Southgate’s men face Colombia in the round of 16 in what is possibly the hardest game of the round to predict.

Both sides managed 6 points in the group stage, and both have showed a relatively secure defence and a threatening attack, so Tuesday’s match at the Otkrytie Arena could be special.

Another team that must be mentioned is Croatia, who dazzled on the way to winning all three of their games, most notably in their 3-0 destruction of Argentina.

As we expected Luka Modric has been outstanding so far, whilst the likes of Ivan Perisic, Ante Rebic and Ivan Rakitic have showed that Croatia are a force to be reckoned with, and potentially a dark horse at this tournament.

World Cup Matchday 1 review: Why Spain can win

6 days, 16 matches and 38 goals since Russia kicked off the 2018 World Cup in Moscow last Thursday, and this edition’s festival of fun has got off to an extremely promising start.

Not many would have foreseen the host nation’s exhilarating start at the Luzhniki stadium last week, and albeit against relatively weak opposition in the form of Saudi Arabia, their impressive 5-0 victory was a pleasant surprise for many neutrals who may have expected a cagey, tense opener.

Notching two goals and an assist, CSKA Moscow’s Aleksandr Golovin was a constant thorn in Saudi Arabia’s side as he provided two pinpoint crosses for Russia’s first and third goals before adding a delightful free-kick in the 94th minute to crown an excellent performance.

The 22 year-old is the subject of interest from numerous Premier League clubs this summer, but for now he will hope to steal the headlines and guide his country through their group.

Another star of the opening game was Villarreal winger Denis Cheryshev. Following Alan Dzagoev’s injury, Cheryshev was introduced as a first half substitute, and his pace immediately caused Saudi Arabia problems down the left-hand side.

Just before half time, his audacious flick to evade two defenders before lashing the ball into the top corner gave Russia breathing space, and his outside of the foot curler in the closing stages was another beautiful goal.

Whilst Dzagoev was no doubt an important player for the Russians, his injury may prove to be a blessing in disguise as Cheryshev’s pace and skill make them far more threatening when going forward.

A day later, two dramatic late goals gave Uruguay and Iran wins over Egypt and Morocco respectively before the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi hosted the most intriguing fixture that the group stage draw produced.

Euro 2016 winners Portugal faced Spain in an encounter that many hoped would be a thriller – and it didn’t disappoint. That game had it all.

A hat-trick from one of the world’s best in Cristiano Ronaldo, a goal of the tournament contender from Nacho, late drama, controversy, and overall, exciting football.

Spain had sacked their manager, Julen Lopetegui, just two days before their campaign began, after Lopetegui joined Real Madrid without consulting the national side.

Whilst it may seem ridiculous that Lopetegui didn’t notify his current employers of the fact that he would be taking on a new job, it was even more ridiculous that the decision was taken to sack him so soon before the World Cup, especially as key players such as Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta pleaded with the Spain president to keep Lopetegui in his job.

Nevertheless, former Real Madrid centre-back Fernando Hierro has taken the reigns, and after two days of pure chaos, their tournament couldn’t have begun any worse when Cristiano Ronaldo was tripped in the penalty area and struck home to give Portugal the lead inside just four minutes.

The impressive Diego Costa then struck back for Spain, before a shock error from the usually outstanding David De Gea gifted Portugal the lead again when he allowed Ronaldo’s shot to slip through his fingers.

Costa fired them level once more in the second half before Nacho’s outrageous strike put them 3-2 ahead, but in the 88th minute, that man Cristiano Ronaldo confirmed his hat-trick with a stunning free-kick.

Whilst a draw in their opening game was not what the Spaniards would have hoped for, their performance was more than promising.

Defensively, the three goals they conceded did not point to any ongoing problems that could potentially resurface; a penalty was needlessly given away, their goalkeeper uncharacteristically made a huge mistake and they conceded a stunning free-kick. These are not long term problems, and assuming that De Gea is back to his best for the remainder of the tournament, with Ramos and Pique in front of him, Spain’s defence should not be a worry. And neither should their attack be.

In Diego Costa, they have a man who provides them with a different way of scoring goals.

Usually, Spain rely on beautiful passing moves to carve chances open, but Costa gives the side another dimension, as demonstrated with his first goal, a goal that Spain would never have scored before he was in the team.

Sergio Busquets picked the ball up midway inside his own half and immediately got his head up and looked for Costa over the top. The striker shrugged off Pepe before bullying the other Portugal defenders and typically lashing the ball into the corner. Classic Costa.

Add this to the brilliance of Isco, Iniesta and David Silva, who can pick almost any defence apart with their skill and vision, along with the pace of Iago Aspas and the threat of Marco Asensio from the bench, and Spain look capable of scoring freely at this tournament.

Despite their managerial mayhem prior to the tournament, Lopetegui has laid the foundations of a potential winning side, so there’s no reason why they can’t go all the way.

And, even though they only picked up a point, Spain arguably looked the most impressive side in the competition thus far – other big names such as France, Germany, Argentina and Brazil all struggled, and despite their undoubted quality, none of those sides seemed to gel in their openers.

France relied on a strange own-goal to overcome Australia in a 2-1 victory, and it remains to be seen whether or not Didier Deschamps can get the best out of his talented squad, especially when it comes to players like Paul Pogba and Ousmane Dembele, who both have unquestionable talent but both endured a season of inconsistent performances for their clubs.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was Germany’s 1-0 defeat to Mexico as the world champions couldn’t find a way past a good-looking Mexican side.

Hirving Lozano, who looks a real talent, gave Mexico the lead in the first half, and the often cool and collected Germans were unable to claw it back and ended up slumping to a loss.

The Germans should still be a strong force this year though; they always are – but is this one tournament too many for Joachim Low?

Lionel Messi and co. were also extremely underwhelming as Argentina were held to a 1-1 draw with a resolute Iceland side that successfully nullified the threat of the little number 10.

Tightly marked for 90 minutes, Messi struggled to find space at all and was unable to weave his magic.

He had a shot from just outside the area which curled narrowly wide, but his clearest chance came from the spot as he was gifted the opportunity to put his team 2-1 in front.

Messi’s penalty record has been poor in recent years and his penalty on the day was even poorer as the Icelandic goalkeeper Halldorsson comfortably pushed it away.

Argentina face Croatia on Thursday facing problems that have stayed with them throughout Messi’s entire international career – how do you get the best out of him?

For now, it seems unlikely that they ever will, but it will be intriguing to see if he can pull a rabbit out of the hat and turn Argentina into contenders – at the moment, they are far from challenging for the trophy.

Brazil were the final ‘big’ team that failed to perform. They were by no means awful in their 1-1 draw with Switzerland, but they lacked a cutting edge. Still, with Willian, Jesus, Coutinho and Neymar about this should not be a problem, and they are still among the favourites.

Finally, regarding England, Gareth Southgate’s side deservedly claimed a 2-1 win over Tunisia courtesy of a brace from Harry Kane, and although they had to wait until stoppage time to get the winning goal, Southgate’s men were the superior side.

Not only should England have been awarded two clear penalties, they spurned countless opportunities through Jesse Lingard and John Stones.

Defensively, England weren’t really tested and only gave away a goal because of Kyle Walker’s careless foul, so it is still unknown as to whether or not their new-look defence can keep out the top teams, but going forward, England show promise.

As we know, Harry Kane is a hugely important player for the team and his goals could prove pivotal if England are to go deep into the tournament, whilst pace will not be an issue with Raheem Sterling, Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford in the squad.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s cameo appearance was also promising, so going forward England could be a threatening team.

Each team has only played one game so far and it is extremely hard to tell who will be lifiting the trophy in Moscow on the 15th July, but Spain could be the real deal – or will football be coming home?

 

 

Footballmagic Player of the Year 2017: Cristiano Ronaldo

It is unquestionably common knowledge that in football, the game’s elite have, down the years, consistently stepped up to the plate in the most important matches. It is also common knowledge that Cristiano Ronaldo is no exception; goals in the 2008 and 2014 champions league finals, the winning goal in the Copa Del Rey in 2011 and countless other goals when his teams have needed him most.

In 2017, he took stepping up to the plate to a whole new level.

Zinedine Zidane had gone where no other manager could, and he had rested Ronaldo repeatedly throughout the season. It was a bold move; Ronaldo doesn’t like being on the bench, but it turned out to be genius. When in other seasons Cristiano had appeared to be unfit towards the latter stages, the Frenchman’s resting of his prize asset proved pivotal in their league and champions league double as a fully fit Ronaldo reaped the benefits of being frequently rested and tore it up in the big games.

He kicked off his astonishing run in April, where Real hosted Bayern Munich in the first leg of the Champions League quarter finals. After falling behind to a first half Arturo Vidal goal, Ronaldo did what he does best and turned the game on its head with a brace.

In the second leg, he stepped up another gear – after his 76th minute equaliser look set to send Real through to the semis, a Sergio Ramos own goal meant extra time was on the horizon, and Ronaldo capitalised in style, adding two further goals to complete a hat-trick.

His goals had been responsible for leading Madrid through, and they didn’t stop there; in a crunch match of a semi-final against local rivals Atletico Madrid, a second hat-trick in a row all but ensured a place in the final, without the second leg even having been played.

He remained in fine form to score the goal that won Madrid la liga on the last day against Malaga, before they faced off against Juventus in the Champions League final.

The ‘Old Lady’ had kept Lionel Messi’s Barcelona at bay over two legs in the quarter finals, but while Messi was thwarted,  Ronaldo could not be contained.

His impressive finish in the 20th minute opened the scoring in the biggest game of them all, and mid-way through the second half his goal made it 3-1 to Real, sealing  the win.

His crucial goals in crucial games were a vital source of Real’s success in winning the league and Champions League, and his outstanding goal of the bench in the Spanish Supercopa against Barcelona contributed to success in that tie also, before his free-kick in the World Club cup final put the cherry on the cake after a truly unbelievable year.

Personally, I don’t think Ronaldo is the best player in the world. His powers are diminishing slowly, and a tough tie against PSG in the champions league and huge ground to make up in La Liga means that 2018 could be a struggle for him. Nevertheless, due to a combination of Zidane’s excellence and his own brilliance, 2017 was, undoubtedly, his year.

I am compelled to mention four of the other outstanding players of the year, as Lionel Messi, Isco, Neymar and Luka Modric were too good to not be talked about.

Messi was a close runner-up for this award, but after Barcelona were swept aside by Juventus it was almost out of the little genius’s hands as he was forced to watch on as Ronaldo scored goal after goal after goal.

Messi’s brace in El Clasico in May was something special, the first a goal that made Dani Carvajal ( who, may I mention is a terrific player) look like someone playing football for the first time, and the second a world-class team goal, rounded off by Messi with a sumptuous finish in added time to make the score 2-3 to Barcelona.

He also saved his country with a memorable hat-trick, three brilliant goals against Ecuador which sent Argentina narrowly through to this summer’s World Cup finals in Russia.

Isco is also a player who must not be forgotten as he showed his quality in style towards the end of last season.

Often in Ronaldo’s absence, it was Isco who stepped up and made the difference putting in a string off class performances that sent Real on their way to the title.

Luka Modric was also consistent as ever throughout 2017, and as one of the world’s best players he was a vital cog in Zidane’s triumphant outfit.

Finally, we have Neymar. He stole the show in March when Barcelona needed three goals to knock PSG out of the Champions League with three minutes let of normal time. A truly brilliant free-kick, a cool penalty and an impressive assist later resulted in perhaps one of the most amazing comebacks football has ever seen.

But Neymar, rightly or wrongly, felt that he wasn’t shown enough love by the club for his performances, that one in particular, and in the summer, with a hint of irony, PSG themselves paid £200m to bring him to Paris, and he has started his career in the French capital impressively.

So, Modric, Neymar, Isco and Messi are not to be forgotten, but Ronaldo’s brilliance prevailed in a memorable year.

PSG smash world transfer record with £200m Neymar deal

You could buy around 792,000,000 freddos for £200m. You could also sign Riyad Mahrez 400 times, according to his price when signed by Leicester. Instead, PSG have splashed the cash on Brazlian superstar Neymar in an unlikely transfer.

He will cost significantly more than double the price of the world’s former most expensive player, Paul Pogba, and many are suggesting he left after growing tired of surrendering the spotlight at Barca to Lionel Messi.

Messi, who has been a Barcelona player since the age of 13, has had the adoration of Barca fans for his entire career, and with his status as arguably the best player in the world, he regularly grabs the headlines.

When Neymar first signed for Barcelona in 2013 he made it very clear that he understood his role as second to Messi, and appeared to acknowledge that the Argentinian would dominate everything at the Camp Nou.

Now, after four seasons in Catalonia, it seems that the  25-year old is in search of his own personal success. After all, he won every club competition that there was to win during his Barca career, but he is yet to win the Ballon D’Or, and possibly feels that in order to step out of Messi’s shadow he must move to the French capital.

It was against PSG themsleves that Neymar scored two late goals and provided an impressive assist in the dying moments as Barcelona completed an unforgettable 6-1 victory in order to progress to the next round of the champions league against all odds.

However, despite being undoubtedly man of the match and performing brilliantly to save his side, it was an iconic image of Messi celebrating in the stands with the Barca fans that made the back pages, even though Neymar had a far more effective game than his team-mate.

It has been suggested that this hurt Neymar, who felt that it was his turn to be idolised by the club’s fans, but again it was Messi who got the credit.

Now he is at the club that he tormented in last season’s astonishing comeback, and he will be the main star in a PSG side looking to finally crack Europe.

For years the owners of the club have craved success in Europe, but they have consistently fallen short. This year, with their £200m man, it could be very different.

Being the star man at the club, and the league for that matter, will not only mean that Neymar is more likely to get the attention of fans and pundits across the country, but he will also be able to stand out and be the main man, which could boost his Ballon D’Or chances.

In addition, whilst PSG chase European success, domestic success is also likely as Paris often dominate their league despite Monaco’s success last season, so the Brazilian will be able to add to his already magnificent trophy cabinet.

So what does all this mean for Barcelona?

Well, having £200m to spend will certainly help, and they are targeting the likes of Paulo Dybala, Phillipe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele.

The latter pair seem the more likely, although Barca would have to pay a premium to prise Coutinho off Liverpool’s desperate hands.

Reds manager Jurgen Klopp insists that their star man is not for sale, but should Barca make an offer in excess of £90m, it would be hard for Liverpool to turn down.

He would make a shrewd addition to their midfield, but filling the void on the left wing, Ousmane Demebele could be the perfect fit.

Although he is arguably yet to fully prove his quality, the French youngster showed lots of potential in an impressive campaign at Borussia Dortmund last season, and his key attributes would probably fit the bill for the Catalans.

His pace can stretch opposition full backs, creating space for Barca to push up and dominate as they love to do, whislt his convenient ability to use both his left and his right foot effectively is ver useful for a winger.

So, the key questions for next season in Barcelona and Paris will be, who will Barca sign? Will they perform? And is Neymar the best player in the world?

 

 

Premier League to be expanded to 22 teams

For the first time since the 1994/95 season, the Premier League is set to feature 22 teams in a decision that has startled the entire world of football.

It was decided the ‘showpiece’ league should include more teams in order feature even more excitement, with this change commencing in time for the 2017/18 Premier League season.

Instead of the usual three teams being promoted, there will now be five teams going up from the Championship, with four automatic promotion spots and the usual  play-offs still in place.

The new format will involve the 1 team that win the league claiming a Champions League knockout stage place, whilst the following 4 teams will go into the usual group stage, and the 17 others missing out, although there will still be three Europa League places up for grabs.

This extreme decsion will of course cause controversy, and whilst the FA suggest that the move will benefit the quality of the league, it is difficult to see how, so it certainly seems as though there are a lack of pros with regards to the decision.

There are, however plenty of cons, beginning with the fact that the winners miss out on the group stage of the Champions League, where teams often take the opportunity to blood youngsters and give them vital game time.

Also, it will cause great confusion in the lower leagues, where teams may completely change their ambitions for the season, and teams that may have given up on a play-off place may have had a chance had they known that this bizarre chance would occur.

Overall, it seems like an absurd, out of the blue change which could be detrimental to English football for years to come.

Claudio Ranieri sacked as Leicester manager!

It was just nine months ago when a usual bubbly, cheerful and likeable Claudio Ranieri lifted the Premier League trophy high above his head after Leicester’s outstanding triumph.

He had, quite frankly, guided the Foxes to an impossible victory, beating 5000/1 odds in the process and swiftly overcoming immediate public scepticism with regards to his appointment.

Although the input of modern managers is often made out to be more important than it actually is, a number of key decisions made by Ranieri directly affected their incredible rise, such as when he replaced the more attacking full back of options of Richie De Laet and Jeffrey Schlupp with more solid defenders in Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs.

This lead to a significant increase in clean sheets and a generally far more stable back four which was key in their rise up the table.

Also, away from tactical decisions, the Italian instilled an unbreakable team spirit within the camp, and promising the entire squad with a pizza after their first clean sheet clearly helped improve self-esteem amongst his players.

Overall, it is clear to see that whilst their unbelievable feat included some moments of magic from his players and a little bit of luck, Claudio Ranieri did a remarkable job considering the aim was to avoid relegation.

So, with their goal for last season being to avoid relegation, a title win and qualification for the Champions League should surely have earned Ranieri extra leeway with regards to this season’s performances.

However, it has in reality been the exact opposite.

Due to his brilliant work in his first season, the standard was unfairly raised and he was expected to maintain Leicester’s new found ‘high-achieving club’ status despite the loss of the pivotal N’golo Kante, so although he guided them through the Champions League group stage with ease and has kept them outside the relegation zone, which was their goal before his heroics, the board have taken the appalling decision to relieve him of his duties.

Maybe they think that the club are doomed with Ranieri at the helm, but they haven’t really given him the chance to prove that he has what it takes to keep them up, and in reality, is there a manger they can bring in that can instantly change everything and do a better job than what Ranieri has done this season? It is very unlikely.

Even if the veteran is not the best man for the job looking into the future, it surely would have been a wise idea to at least wait until the end of the season to part ways with the most successful manager in their history.

So, we will have to wait and see if they can somehow bring in a new manager that can improve on their current form, but whatever happens, this harsh sacking has left everyone feeling the pain of Ranieri. Poor, poor Claudio.

Champions League Round of 16 Preview #2

You’d have thought we’d seen everything. From Zidane’s incredible volley to Messi’s El Clasico masterpiece, Manchester United’s comeback against Bayern, or even last week’s 4-0 thrashing by PSG at the hands of Barcelona. Yet, there may be a fairytale to top it all off, never seen before in this competition.

Leicester City.

It would seem impossible. A disastrous Premier League campaign sees them sat one point outside of the relegation zone and three points away from being bottom of the league altogether. Now more than ever, the odds seem stacked against them. But surely we’ve learnt our lesson by now; in 2014/15 we said they’d go down, in 2015/16 we said the same, and now we’re saying they can’t succeed in the Champions League.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not expect Leicester to overcome Sevilla over two legs. Nor do I expect them to get close to Jorge Sampaoli’s dazzling side. But never write Leicester off.

Vardy could yet spring back into life, along with Riyad Mahrez, and if they can regain their previous defensive solidarity, they have every chance of keeping the tie alive going into the second leg, although we’ve been saying they need to re-impose their mean defence all season, and it’s never happened, so whilst there is still part of me that has a small crumb of hope that they can still defy the bookies and the pundits, I expect them to be brushed aside by the reigning Europa League winners for the past three years running.

Sevilla, who currently sit third in La Liga, have at times been devastating going forward under new attack-minded coach Sampaoli.

The Argentine, who guided Chile to back to back Copa America titles against his home nation, has transformed Sevilla into a title-challenging outfit this term, and whilst they look unlikely to take the crown come May, they still sit above Atletico Madrid.

The other English side competing this week are Manchester City. Pep’s side began the season in rampant form but soon went off the boil and haven’t really regained impressive form since, but with the quality in their squad in the obvious tactical nous of Guardiola, a European dream is still alive.

In their way are Ligue 1 Monaco, who are serious title contenders after years of domination in France’s capital.

After topping their group in qualifying, accompanied by the fact that they have been so impressive domestically this campaign, this tie could really go either way, and although City have a far superior squad, I would argue that they’re not favourites for this one.

Bayer Leverkusen host Atletico Madrid in the third of the four matches, and with both sides performing relatively poorly in their leagues sitting eighth and fourth respectively,  this should make for an open and interesting tie, with progression to the quarter-finals vital for the campaign’s of both sides.

Still, Diego Simeone’s Atletico may have lost their cutting edge in La Liga, but they topped their group finishing ahead of Bayern and thus avoiding a tie with Arsenal, so there are reasons to be optimistic at the Vicente Calderon.

However, Bayer Leverkusen will see this is as a difficult tie that will yet be important to win, putting them in a difficult position.

Finally, Porto welcome Juventus in a type of encounter that would often be categorised as ‘predictable’.

Nevertheless, these types of games often catch you out, and just when it looks like Juventus should prove too strong for their Portuguese opponents, especially over two matches, all could not go to plan for Allegrini and co.

So, it appears that all games should be relatively straight-forward other than the intriguing match up of Manchester City against Monaco – but this is football; you can never be sure.

Champions League Round of 16 Preview

So, the Champions League is back, and this is where it gets serious, and the questions we ask every year come back around. How far can the English teams go? Will Bayern beat Arsenal again? Will Barca or Real get knocked out early? Will there be a surprise winner?

The round of 16 draw has thrown up a couple of crackers, and in the first week’s action we see Benfica take on Borussia Dortmund, Paris Saint Germain host Barcelona, Bayern Munich welcome Arsenal (again, the predictable eye roll from your typical Arsenal fan,) and hosts Real Madrid face Napoli.

The first game will see an inconsistent Dortmund side look to regain their form outside of the domestic programme, with Thomas Tuchel’s side hoping for European refreshment at the Estadio de la Luz.

However, under Rui Vitoria, Benfica currently lead the way in Portugal despite the loss of Renato Sanches to Bayern in the summer, and they will be no pushover for the German favourites.

Still, with Brazilian striker Jonas appearing to be a doubt for the game, they could offer little attacking threat, although bright spark Goncalo Guedes, compared already to Cristiano Ronaldo, will definitely be one to watch when Benfica do look to get forward, although don’t be surprised to see Tuchel’s side dominate possession.

As for players to look out for in yellow, young Ousmane Dembele seems to be a real prospect and his skill and energy is aesthetically pleasing to watch, and he could prove the key in a game where his side are likely to dominate.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will as always be a difficult man to contain, and whilst the domestic form of both sides has contrasted so far this season, I expect Dortmund to have too much quality on the night, although it will be by no means straight-forward.

Also tomorrow night, Barcelona travel to Paris in what has become an increasingly common fixture in recent Champions League campaigns, although the Spanish giants have ran out as victors every time.

Furthermore, in a league which is so often a stroll for the French heavyweights, Unai Emery has struggled since switching from Sevilla in the summer with the club sitting in second place after 25 games gone, three points behind leaders Monaco.

The loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Manchester United has no doubt affected PSG but the form of Edinson Cavani has been encouraging.

Still, his normally impressive six group stage goals don’t come close to the ten goals of Lionel Messi, who only played five of the six games.

Messi, who is arguably playing the best football of his career, still poses the same question to opposing managers – who do you stop him?

And whilst he is occasionally contained, the likelihood of containing Luis Suarez and Neymar also could prove just as difficult, with both of the South American forwards terrorising PSG in recent seasons with stunning displays.

The usual meeting between Bayern Munich and Arsenal has been thrown up by the draw once again, and despite the fact that Arsenal finally topped their group this year, their luck rewarded them with the German champions, who they have lost to in each of the last three ties.

However, there is optimism to be had for Wenger and co. as the Gunners frequently beat Bayern and have come very very close to ousting them in recent years.

Arsenal will, as usual be praying for Alexis Sanchez to be on song, as when they are, they are rarely stopped, but it has scarcely happened so far this season and it again seems unlikely that they will be capable of pulling off the upset.

Don’t be surprised to see Wenger start Olivier Giroud who has proved a threat against Bayern in the past as he could be the key to winning the tie, but they’ll need more than just Giroud.

The final game sees reigning champions Real Madrid host Napoli, and despite Madrid’s relatively uninspiring group stage showing where they failed to top their group, they consistently make the semi-finals of this competition with ease, year after year, and setbacks rarely stop them – how many times have we seen them on the brink of being knocked out, only for a late moment of Ronaldo magic or a Sergio Ramos header to save them in the dying embers of games.

This will to win and never give in is what has helped them reach the latter stages so often, and is why they’ve won the Champions League twice in the last three years.

As for Napoli, Dries Mertens and Marek Hamsik could well catch Zidane’s side out and there is quality throughout the Italian side, so it will, like all of the other games, be fairly closely contested although this game also features a team considered favourites.

But then again, what is the point in labelling a team as ‘favourites’? Were Leicester favourites for the title? No. Were Portugal favourites for the Euros? Of course not. So really, whilst you can analyse players, form, tactics and everything else, it is always inevitably inspiringly unpredictable.

Will Gabriel Jesus be a success in the Premier League?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that throwing Gabriel Jesus in at the deep end immediately after his signing from Palmeiras was the wrong option.

Besides, Pep Guardiola already has a world-class striker at his disposal in Sergio Aguero, so Jesus should be eased in from the bench, given short bursts of game time in order to show what he can do and prove himself.

Yet Pep doesn’t do safe or simple. Pep takes risks. And whilst this season has not been ideal so far, the decision to drop Aguero for Jesus has instantly paid off, with three goals in his first three games in English football.

Still at the tender age of 19, Jesus is unlikely to fire City to a surprise comeback title, however, the Brazilian wonderkid appears to possess all the attributes to make it at the top level.

He was impressive in Brazil’s triumphant Olympic campaign in the summer, and he has shown signs already of being a genuine top quality player, linking up to great effect with the likes of Neymar and Phillipe Coutinho in first-team action in World Cup qualifiers.

He is an intelligent and skilful false number 9, who can effectively drop in the hole and look to create, or get in the box to finish of moves, both of which are ideal for City.

He has great skill and ability on the ball, able to run at speed, pick passes and beat players in one-on-one situations, and after scoring 28 goals in Brazil with Palmeiras, it seems that he could potentially develop into a very accomplished finisher.

His first goal in the 2-1 win against Swansea was a clever finish, and not only can he round off moves but he shows a classy striker’s instinct, frequently getting into the right positions when his team are getting forward.

All three of his goals in England so far have demonstrated his clever positioning, and his early form has already seen him clinch Aguero’s place in Pep Guardiola’s first eleven, with the Argentinian being dropped to the bench against Swansea.

Whilst this first team joy may not last for Jesus, he will certainly be another exciting attacking option for Guardiola at his disposal; he has the talent to become a special player.

No, he won’t drastically change things for a struggling Manchester City team, but his pace, dribbling and attacking qualities could prove pivotal in their pursuit of a top four finish.