Both Barcelona and Arsenal face a mammoth task to stay in the Champions League this week as the final second phase ties reach a mouth-watering conclusion.
The two clubs are chasing significant deficits from the events of their respective first leg fixtures three weeks ago, but whilst Barca’s mission looks tough, Arsenal’s seems nigh on impossible.
After a 1-3 reverse at the Emirates, the Gunners head to Germany to take on a Bayern Munich side who were completely dominant on their visit to North London, finishing clinically when it mattered to establish an advantage which appears to be more or less unassailable.
And what’s more, the runaway Bundesliga leaders are rampant following a six game winning run which has included a 6-1 thumping of Werder Bremen and a 1-0 success over closest rivals Borussia Dortmund who have themselves already reached the last eight of this competition.
An early goal is an absolute must if Arsenal are to have any chance; but ultimately, Arsene Wenger’s men are going to have to produce the greatest performance in the club’s European history to progress.
Goals from Jerome Boateng and Sulley Muntari gave AC Milan a priceless 2-0 first leg victory over an indifferent Barcelona in the San Siro but the Rossoneri will have to be focused at the Nou Camp and a real ‘backs to the wall’ job is anticipated from the Italians.
Barca’s big guns including Messi and Iniesta were rested in La Liga at the weekend and coach Tito Villanova is sure to prompt his team to throw everything they have got from the first whistle in Cataluña.
With all of their attacking class and flair, the hosts are undoubtedly still well in the tie where many other top European sides would have been written off at the halfway stage.
And recent history has demonstrated that Milan are prone to collapse on the big stage – they threw away a 4-1 first leg lead against Deportivo La Coruna in the tournament nine years ago, before capitulating at the hands of Liverpool in the final of the 2005 renewal.
Nevertheless, despite clearly lacking the outright consistency to form a title challenge in Serie A this season, Milan have racked up wins against Lazio and Genoa since the first leg and are evidently brimming with confidence at the moment.
The outcome really is anyone’s guess – and the same can be said for Galatasaray vs. Schalke who go into their second leg encounter with the tie on a knife edge after their 1-1 draw in Istanbul.
Jermaine Jones’ away strike certainly hands Schalke the edge however and the German outfit, widely touted as dark horses at the start of the campaign, can get the job done in Gelsenkirchen.
Malaga and Porto complete the last 16 line-up and this should be another game that goes right to the wire.
Porto definitely possess the greater European credentials having won the Champions League twice before and that could well help drag Vito Pereira’s men into the quarters with a slender 1-0 advantage in the bank heading to La Rosaleda.