After allowing the international calendar to take centre stage for a week, the UEFA Champions League returns on Tuesday. AC Milan and FC Barcelona look odds-on to reach the last eight, but the other two round of 16 ties are still up for grabs after tight first legs.
Benfica v Zenit St Petersburg
In an very entertaining first-leg in Russia, Benfica picked up two invaluable two away goals, the second of which looked to have secured a late draw until Roman Shirokov’s 88th-minute winner, and the Portuguese side have to be confident of finishing the job at home where they have managed 15 victories, three draws and just one defeat in their last 19 European home games.
Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti, meanwhile, is without Danny, out for the season with a torn cruciate ligament, and cannot call upon recent loan signing Andrey Arshavin. Back in domestic action after more than three months out, the Russian Premier League leaders will hope Tuesday can inject further momentum into their season.
Arsenal v AC Milan
If Arsenal’s European campaign is to continue, they must do what only three teams have ever done in the history of UEFA competition: comeback from four-goals down. Beaten 4-0 in Italy, Arsène Wenger’s team must equal a Champions League comeback record held by Milan themselves, achieved in the 2003/04 quarter-finals.
Milan have never lost at Arsenal, but coach Massimiliano Allegri remains cautious. “I wish to underline that we have not qualified yet,” he said. While Arsenal might be able to regain some pride with a win on the night, it would be a massive upset to see them score at least four goals, while holding Milan scoreless.
FC Barcelona v Bayer Leverkusen
Leverkusen’s is an unenviable task. Only 3-1 down they may be, but on the face of it the Bundesliga outfit look to be staring as starkly down the barrel as Arsenal. Holders Barcelona are unbeaten in 13 European home matches and eyeing up a fifth straight appearance in the last eight, while Leverkusen are without an away victory in the UEFA Champions League in a decade.
Barca have not really played well for long periods of this season, especially away from home. Fortunately for then the game is at the Nou Camp and I expect Josep Guardiola’s side to progress.
APOEL v Lyon
APOEL made history by becoming the first Cypriot side to reach the knockout phase but will need to overturn a 1-0 first-leg loss if their fairy-tale campaign is to continue. APOEL, though, are very difficult to beat in Nicosia, losing only one of their last ten European home games.
Lyon have the experience of eight successive round of 16 appearances behind them. Not sure if that experience will be enough to keep at bay a pumped up APOEL side and crowd. This match has the potential to be the biggest upset of the night.
These final round of 16 second legs will be played on 13 and 14 March: