Finally the best soccer tournament in the world returns this weeks as the Champions League picks up again on Tuesday and Wednesday with a couple of mouth-watering matches.
Match of the day
Manchester City-Barcelona, City of Manchester Stadium
Bayern v Arsenal is a great tie, but Man City v Barcelona has a little bit extra. You have the perennial Champions League contenders in Barcelona versus the nouveau riche of Manchester City.
Under Manuel Pellegrini this season City have finally gotten over their Champions League group stage jitters and they have the know that if they beat Barcelona they will be one of the favorites to win the competition in May. But is is still a big hurdle for City to overcome, especially with Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho and Matija Nastasic all out injured.
When the draw was made in December, Barcelona were going through a tricky patch of form, but with Lionel Messi seemingly back to his best, and Neymar for also, Barcelona will lead to Manchester playing perhaps their best football of the season. comeback from injury.
The other matches
Tuesday 18 February
Bayer Leverkusen-Paris Saint-Germain
This is another tie that is looking very different from when the day was first announced. So impressive in the early part of the season, Leverkusen have lost a lot of momentum in recent weeks and will tackle PSG having suffered two consecutive reverses at home. Beaten 1-0 after extra time by Kaiserslautern in the German Cup last Wednesday, Sami Hyypia’s men then lost 2-1 on their own pitch to Schalke, a result which has weakened their hold on second spot in the Bundesliga.
In contrast, PSG are firing on all cylinders, standing five points clear of Monaco in Ligue 1, and thanks to their star-studded squad they have genuine ambitions to win Europe’s most illustrious prize. Quarter-finalists last term, the French side will be hoping for another supreme performance from Swedish talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has racked up 19 league goals so far in 2013/14.
Wednesday 19 February
How Milan do against Atetico will largely depend on the form of Mario Balotelli. The unpredictable forward can sometimes let a match pass him by, but he is equally capable of outrageous moments of skill, such as his incredible 35-yard goal in the 1-0 win over Bologna on Friday. For their part, Atletico look to be back on track after a run of three successive losses, including two at the hands of arch-rivals Real Madrid. Diego Simeone’s side dispatched Real Valladolid 3-0 at the weekend to keep themselves locked on points with Barça and Madrid at the head of the Liga table, but they will have to make do without full-backs Filipe Luis and Javier Manquillo, plus Portuguese midfielder Thiago.
As for Arsenal’s much-anticipated showdown with Bayern, the two teams famously met at the same stage of the competition last year, when Bayern won 3-1 in London and the Gunners came close to making a remarkable comeback winning 2-0 in Munich.
The Bundesliga powerhouse advanced on away goals and eventually went on to lift the trophy at Wembley, since when they have remained at their fearsome best. A stunning 16 points clear in germany, Bayern will travel without Franck Ribery and Xherdan Shaqiri, but coach Pep Guardiola boasts a wealth of options and will be buoyed by the excellent form of Thiago Alcantara. For their part, Arsenal lie a point behind Premier League leaders Chelsea and have stuttered of late, not least due to a punishing schedule that handed them two meetings with Liverpool and one with Manchester United in the space of a week before facing the European champions, matches which produced a win, a draw and a defeat.
Stat of the week
61.4% – There have been 140 knockout ties since the Champions League settled on its current format, and 86 of those contests have been won by the team playing the first leg away from home showing the importance of winning the group and being a first place seed. Can Arsenal, Man City, Milan or Leverkusen beat the odds and cause the upset?