The Champions League and Europa League draws have been made and Germany’s six representatives all face tough tasks. Taking the fixtures into account, I weighed up how this might affect the teams’ progression in Europe and where they might ultimately end up.
Bayern qualified with almost no problems, rectifying their hiccup away at Arsenal by swiftly putting five past them in the return leg. Of all the teams to finish second in their groups, Juventus are one of the toughest – having reached the final last year the Italians mark a tough test for Bayern in the last sixteen, although the side has undergone a few significant changes since that night in Berlin, notably with Khedira, Cuadrado, Mandzukic, Alex Sandro and Dybala all arriving and Pirlo, Llorente and Tevez leaving. Coman and Vidal meanwhile have both swapped the black and white of Juve for the red of Bayern, to add a little more flavour to the tie. Bayern’s record against the Turin based side is decent, having won four of the eight ties and drawn another, and while Juventus will not be an easy obstacle, the Bavarians should still proceed as they look to continue towards the final in Milan. The first leg kicks off on Tuesday, February 23 in Italy.
Prediction: Bayern could reach the final should they avoid Barcelona. Currently Barca are probably the only side better than Bayern in Europe and while I cannot see the Germans beating them over two legs, in a one off match in Italy they will fancy their chances.
Die Wölfe begin the Round of 16 on Wednesday February 17th away to KAA Gent, who are arguably the weakest side left in the competition, and while Wolfsburg lack pedigree in the tournament, they will feel they can progress at the expense of the Belgians. The two sides have never met in a competitive match before so there is no history to draw upon, but while Gent sit top of their domestic table, their side lacks any reputable names. That is not to say the Germans should not be wary though, as Gent qualified ahead of Valencia and Lyon in their group and have earned their place in the last sixteen. The role of underdogs tends to suit Wolfsburg more, so with most expecting them to progress, they will have to be cautious.
Prediction: Although I expect Wolfsburg to knock Gent out, I do not think they will make it any further in the competition. With a favourable draw it is possible for them to make the semi-finals, but I expect them to exit in the last eight.
The Europa League Round of 32 kicks off on Thursday, February 18th. FC Augsburg will play host to Liverpool in the first leg, and Borussia Dortmund will host FC Porto in the first leg, while Bayer Leverkusen visit Sporting CP and Schalke head to the Ukraine for their first leg knockout matches. The return leg matches of the EL Round of 32 will be played on Thursday, February 25th.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Following their relegation into the Europa League, Leverkusen will still be frustrated by the home match against Roma following where they blew a two goal lead, costing them a place in the last sixteen. The Germans now find themselves with a tricky tie against Sporting Lisbon, but do at least stand a better chance of progressing in this lower tier competition.
The Portuguese side are currently top of their domestic league and boast one of the top youngsters in Europe with William Carvalho, but were less convincing in their Europa League group finishing behind Lokomotiv Moscow. Previously, Leverkusen have got the better of Sporting in three of their four meetings, the other of which ended in a draw, though the most recent tie came around fifteen years ago, a season before Bayer reached the Champions League final. The current German side are a difficult one to weigh up, they were unlucky to lose away at Barcelona and performed well against the competition holders in both ties, but sit sixth in the Bundesliga for a reason. If they are on their game then they can beat Sporting, especially with the second leg at home, and might well fancy their chances in the long run.
Prediction: I can see Leverkusen making the quarter finals and maybe even in the semis should they avoid the competition’s bigger sides.
Die Schwarzgelben would appear to be ‘back’ this year, eight points behind Bayern and seemingly enjoying the beginning of their new reign under Thomas Tuchel. Last sixteen opponents Porto, likewise, are second in their domestic league, but Dortmund will be confident given Aubameyang’s exploits this year. Aside from his eighteen goals in sixteen games in the Bundesliga, the striker has scored four goals in the Europa League group proper so far and three in the qualifiers. The two sides have not met in a competitive match before, but despite Porto being a difficult opponent, BVB will expect to progress and are considered one of the favourites for the competition as a whole.
Prediction: Depending on how seriously they take the competition, there’s no reason Dortmund cannot win the whole thing. I expect them to reach the final, at least.
FC Schalke 04
Schalke will have a difficult task in getting past Shakhtar Donetsk. The Ukranian side are top of their domestic league and are a notoriously difficult team to visit, and although they were less than impressive in a very difficult group, they remain a stern test. Schalke in contrast had a very favourable group and did not take it for granted finishing as leaders with zero losses next to their name. This will be die Königsblauen’s first real test in the competition however, and having not fared too well against the bigger sides in Germany so far this year, it will be an interesting affair. The two sides met in a last sixteen round back in 2005, with Shakhtar going through after a 1-1 home draw and 1-0 away win, the only previous meetings.
Prediction: Schalke tend to perform well in Europe regardless of how they are doing in the domestic league. Perhaps I am being biased given my affinity with them, but I think they have an outside chance to win the competition as a whole. Realistically, I am going to say they should reach the semis.
Although they have been struggling somewhat in the Bundesliga this year, Augsburg have done well in their first ever European adventure, squeezing through in second place in a group which contained Athletic Bilbao, Partizan and AZ. In their ranks is of course Raúl Bobadilla, the competition’s joint top scorer with six goals, but even with the prolific forward it is hard to see the Bavarians progressing any further having been drawn against Liverpool. The tie will see Klopp return to Germany which will likely be the focal point of the media’s attention, and given Liverpool’s previous success in both the then UEFA Cup and Champions League, Augsburg are firm underdogs. The situation isn’t hopeless, though, for the Fuggerstädter in terms of recent form, as FCA has two wins and a loss in their last three league matches while scoring three goals and allowing three, whereas Liverpool have only a draw and two losses in their last three EPL contests, having been outscored 7-2.
Prediction: Unfortunately I suspect this will be the end of Augsburg’s European campaign, but it might be for the best so they can stay out of the domestic relegation battle.
Overall, it is entirely possible that Augsburg will be the only German side to be knocked out of either competition after the first sets of knockout rounds, and it would definitely be a big plus for the Bundesliga if that were the case. They would of course join Gladbach who were themselves knocked out in the Champions League group stage, although that could have been an entirely different story had they played all their matches under the stewardship of Schubert. Die Fohlen definitely did not disgrace themselves in what was this year’s ‘group of death’, and went one better than their last journey into the competition where they were knocked out in the qualifying rounds. By the end of May meanwhile we could be looking at two German champions for the first time since 1996-97, which will only take the Bundesliga’s growing reputation even higher.
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