With UEFA Champions League action returning this week, let’s have a look at some of the crucial factors set to impact this week’s Round of 16 games.
Paris SG v Barcelona – 6.45am (AEDT), Wednesday, February 15 @ Parc des Princes, Paris
With Paris taking on Barcelona for the fourth time in the competition since 2012/2013, they would want to finally get past Barcelona after three straight losses. This is where new star signing and German international Julian Draxler comes in. Having just arrived from Wolfsburg, Draxler has quickly warmed to life in the French capital.
Starting the majority of games for Paris as a winger on the left-hand side, which suits Draxler’s pace and dribbling skills, while his ability to drift inside to an attacking midfield role makes him difficult to control. Draxler has scored four goals in eight appearances in all competitions so far for Paris. Draxler will get the chance to test out Barcelona’s right-side defence, against either Sergi Roberto or Aleix Vidal at right-back, neither of whom are natural right-side defending players.
Benfica v Borussia Dortmund – 6.45am (AEDT), Wednesday, February 15 @ Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Lisbon
Benfica were fortunate to get out of Group B, struggling to find consistency in the last two group games, including an unforgiveable loss to Besiktas after holding three-goal lead. They come up against Borussia Dortmund, who have been in fine form in the Champions League, scoring a competition-high 21 goals in the group stage.
It is clear Borussia Dortmund have the attacking talent to blow anyone apart, with superstars such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring goals for fun in the Bundesliga and Marco Rues beginning to find form and fitness. Combine this potency with old favourites in midfield behind them courtesy of Shinji Kagawa’s and Mario Gotze’s deft touches, it is easy to see how slick this Dortmund side can move when in the attacking third. Benfica will have to play very cautiously.
— Borussia Dortmund (@BVBSudtribune) February 9, 2017
Real Madrid v Napoli – 6.45am (AEDT), Thursday, February 16 @ Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
Real Madrid find themselves in the unusual position of hosting a Round of 16 first-leg tie. Thanks to drawing with Borussia Dortmund at home in December despite leading 2-0, this leaves them with a tricky visit to Napoli to contend with.
While Real Madrid had their long unbeaten streak of 40 games in all competitions end recently, they enter this tie without a loss in 10 Champions League games since April last year.
So why should they be fearful of Napoli?
Well, Napoli have been scoring plenty of goals in the Serie A despite losing superstar striker Gonzolo Higuaín last summer. Napoli have formed a very lethal attacking outlet of Dries Merterns, Marek Hamsik, José Callejón and Lorenzo Insigne, combining for 40 goals domestically. Having a more balanced team performance has helped Napoli find consistency and contest for the Serie A title, and this cohesiveness will keep Real Madrid on alert.
— Official SSC Napoli (@sscnapoli) February 11, 2017
Bayern Munich v Arsenal – 6.45am (AEDT), Thursday, February 16 @ Fußball Arena München, Munich
With Arsenal taking on Bayern Munich for the fourth time since 2012/2013, it appears as if they will have a mountain to climb if they want to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2009/2010.
Arsenal haven’t had the best run of late in the Premier League, recently losing 3-0 to Chelsea, with goalkeeper Petr Cech conceding an absolute howler of a goal to Cesc Fabregas. Compare this to Manuel Neuer of Bayern, who is known for his calmness on the ball as a sweeper keeper and defending the goal like his life depends on it.
Bayern Munich have been used to ending Arsenal’s season in the Champions League at this stage of the season, and will be chomping to unleash lethal Pole Robert Lewandowski, who has already scored five goals in six appearances in the group stage. Lewandowski also has 15 goals in the Bundesliga from 19 games, and he will be a key for Bayern in taking down Arsenal.
Now that @ElNennyM‘s back…
Given our current options, what would be your preferred midfield partnership? pic.twitter.com/PulV3KAfJk
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) February 12, 2017