After dominating a rather weak group, Barcelona came into the Round of 16 confident. Against Bayer Leverkusen, it was more of the same from the Blaugranes. Controlling the ball well, they had a lion’s share of the possession, 75%, and used patience and opportune attacks to beat their German opponents. This was not hard as Bayer gave the ball away very easily, which led to one of Alexis Sánchez’s goals. Leverkusen, like many other teams, could not contain Lionel Messi as he continued to float balls over the top, one of which was latched onto and dispatched sweetly by Sánchez. The Germans only easy chance was a high cross which was headed home by Michel Kadlec, and this game has all but confirmed that this matchup may be a walk in the park for Barça.
Flying under the radar as they entered the tournament, Apoel Nicosia won their group and booked their next round matchup against French giants Lyon. Though Apoel is the only Cypriot side to ever reach the Round of 16, they did not show the endeavor or inspiration that was so prevalent in getting them this far. Their only shot came in the 88th minute which produced a fine save from French international Hugo Lloris. Unlike Apoel, Lyon had many opportunities on goal, but only five found the target, one being the fine finish from Alexandre Lacazette that gave them the victory.
As the temperatures continued to drop at the Stadion Petrovskiy in St Petersburg, there was still a game that needed to be played between Zenit and SL Benfica. The frigid temperatures hovered between 5 and 10 degrees the whole game, but watching the cold spectacle was well worth it. Maxi Pereira of Benfica put his side up after an error by Zenit goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov, but Zenit’s Roman Shirokov quickly drew his side level after a well taken volley. After the break, the fireworks began as Sergei Semak scored after brilliant team play. Then, shortly after, Benfica looked to have snatched a draw when another Zhevnov howler allowed Oscar Cardozo finish from close range, but just two minutes later Benfica conceded a killer as Shirokov completed his brace and assured a win for the Russians.
Yet again, defense is the reason for the bemoaning of the Gunner faithful. Arsenal never looked settled at the San Siro and were humiliatingly torn apart 4-0 by the Rossoneri. Milan’s Kevin Prince-Boateng struck a beauty to put AC up in the 15th minute, and, from then on, it was pure domination. In the 38th, Zlatan Ibrahimović crossed for Robinho to tap in from 6 yards out. Things got worse quickly for Arsenal before halftime as their impressive defender Laurent Koscielny limped off the pitch and was replaced by Johan Djourou. After halftime, Robinho took advantage of Thomas Vermaelen’s slip outside of the box as he slammed home the clincher from 18 yards out. Any hopes of comeback were ended in the 78th minute, when Koscielny’s replacement Djourou clumsily knocked over Ibrahimović to concede a penalty, which the big Swede slotted into the bottom right corner, leaving Arsenal with a lot of work to do in the 2nd leg at the Emirates Stadium on March 6th.