Saturday 16 December 2017 / 06:43 AM

UCL ROUND OF 16: KEY FACTORS

The first week of the Champions League’s Round of 16 saw Paris thrash Barcelona 4-0, Real Madrid outplay Napoli 3-1, Bayern Munich crush Arsenal 5-1 and Benfica edge Dortmund 1-0 as all four home teams saluted.

Let’s have a look ahead at what the UCL has in store for us this week:

Manchester City v Monaco – 6:45am (AEDT, Wednesday, February 22 @ City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester

Monaco would feel hard done by after finishing top in group E – they have to travel to play Manchester City, who Barcelona fell to on matchday 4. This presents a dangerous road trip for Monaco as they attempt to knock out Pep Guardiola’s team, with the City owners expecting Pep to lead them to win the competition.

Monaco have been matching it against the might of Paris-SG in Ligue 1. This is in no small part thanks to resurgent striker and current club captain Radamel Falcao, who has enjoyed returning to his the club after failing to adjust to the English Premier League with Chelsea and Manchester United.

City may have suffered a blow with new signing Gabriel Jesus injured after making an instant impact in Manchester, but Sergio Aguero will be primed to return as the top dog of City’s attack, eager to remind everyone why he’s still considered one of the best strikers in the world.

Bayer Leverkusen v Atletico Madrid – 6:45am (AEDT), Wednesday, February 22 @ BayArena, Leverkusen

Bayer Leverkusen did what they needed to do in the group stage without being spectacular, unless needed – namely, an impressive away win against Tottenham Hotspur. They now come up against last season’s runners up in Atletico Madrid, who are known for being a side that likes to play grinding, defensive football.

Leverkusen are a relatively young team, with only one outfield player over the age of 30 featuring in the group stage; this challenge comes at a good time for Leverkusen’s younger players,
Atletico like to put on a strong squeeze defensively, then break quickly on the counter with players such as Yannick Carrasco and Antoine Griezmann featuring heavily. With this in mind, Leverkusen’s midfield will need to be sharp on keeping the ball, and clever enough about where they concede possession on the pitch when trying to breakdown Atletico’s strong defence to avoid being countered.

Porto v Juventus – 6:45am (AEDT), Thursday, February 23 @ Estádio do Dragão, Porto

FC Porto have been known to punch above their weight in the UCL, regularly making the knockout stages in European competition despite having their best players picked off regularly by European teams. They come up against a daunting Juventus side, one that looks up to the challenge of defeating the elite of Europe once again this season after reaching the final in 2015.

Massimo Allegri has picked up where Antonio Conte left off with the Italian giants, orchestrating a formidable backline led by captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. The midfield is controlled by playmakers Miralem Pjanic and Claudio Marchisio, while up front they have Argentinian superstar Gonzolo Higuaín, along with rising star Paulo Dybala, who’s been making a name for himself.

FC Porto will rely on former Real Madrid and Spanish international goalkeeper Iker Casillias and his experience to keep this one in the balance heading into the second leg. Thankfully for Porto, he’s been reliable between the sticks this season.

Sevilla v Leicester City – 6:45am (AEDT), Thursday, February 23 @ Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, Seville

Despite throwing everything at their maiden European appearance by rotating the squad in the Premier League, this game couldn’t have come at a worse time for Claudio Ranieri and his men, who are involved in a relegation battle after winning the Premier League last season – along with being kicked out of the FA Cup by Millwall on the weekend.

Sevilla have been specialists in winning the Europa League over the years, and bring with them a wealth of European experience. Despite having manager Unai Emery picked off by Paris-SG in the summer, they acquired Jorge Sampaoli, with the former Chilean international manager keeping Sevilla hungry.

Keep an eye out for Sevilla midfielder Steven N’Zonzi, he can play as a box-to-box midfielder, acting as Sevilla’s workhorse in the middle of the park. His accurate passing on the ball will be useful for Sevilla to stay in control at home.

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About the author

Brett Sinclair

Sport has always been a big passion in Brett's life and he aims to share his vision with Commentary Box Sports' readers. Based in Melbourne, Brett covers AFL, NRL, cricket and football for CBS.

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