Last year’s beaten finalists Bayern Munich’s chance for revenge away to champions Inter Milan stands out as the concluding UEFA Champions League Round-of-16 first-leg matches are played on Tuesday and Wednesday.
France’s contenders enter the ring this week, hoping to upset the odds. Lyon are underdogs against nine-time European champions Real Madrid, despite the fact that the Spanish giants have fallen at this stage in the last six editions, and were knocked out of the competition by Les Gones just 12 months ago.
Manchester United will need to be on their toes away to Marseille, who despite missing a number of key players to injury have European pedigree as the only French club to have won the competition, back in 1993. Chelsea head for Copenhagen, meanwhile, desperate to put their poor domestic form behind them and take a step towards a piece of major silverware that is missing from their well-garnished trophy cabinet.
Second week Round of 16 first-leg matches (all kick-offs 20.45 CET)
Tuesday 22 February
Wednesday 23 February
Inter Milan-Bayern Munich
Match of the day
Inter Milan-Bayern Munich, Milan, Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Wednesday 20.45 CET
Nine months to the day since they beat Bayern 2-0 in the final at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, Inter Milan welcome the German champions to the Giuseppe Meazza. Leonardo’s appointment as head coach at the turn of the year heralded a change of fortune for the Nerazzurri, who have since made up eight points on leaders AC Milan. Up to third in Serie A just five points behind the Rossoneri, Inter are unbeaten in ten home Champions League games (seven wins and three draws) but will be without ineligible striker Giampaolo Pazzini.
Bayern are also a side very much on the up after a poor start to their Bundesliga campaign. Their rise to third spot has coincided with the return to form and fitness of big guns Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben. Germany star Schweinsteiger pulls the strings in midfield, Muller breaks down defences with his powerful running, and Robben is a world-class creator and scorer. Should Mario Gomez, top scorer in the German league with 18 strikes, recover from injury in time, Bayern will feel more than capable of taking an away goal or two back to Bavaria. The guile of coach Louis van Gaal versus the unstoppable Leonardo, who averages 2.45 points per match since taking over Inter, also makes for an intriguing tactical battle of wills.
The other matches
Chelsea have been on the slide these past few months. Seven defeats into an initially promising Premier League campaign, the Londoners may approach their trip to Copenhagen more with trepidation than expectation. The Danish club are the first from their country to reach this stage of the competition, and have nothing to lose. A run of eight games without defeat and 18 successive European matches in which they have scored at least once, give Loverne (the Lions) further cause for optimism. Carlo Ancelotti knows crunch time has come early this season for a side who were knocked out of the FA Cup by Everton on Saturday and face Manchester United in a last-chance Premier League encounter next week.
Lyon are something of a bogey team for Real Madrid. Not only were Los Merengues knocked out of the competition by Les Gones last year, they have also lost on their last three appearances at the Stade Gerland. French teamwork has prevailed over Spanish flair, but Madrid coach Jose Mourinho at least has experience of knocking the Rhone club out of the tournament, having engineered a 4-2 aggregate quarter-final victory in Porto’s Champions League-winning campaign of 2003. It will not have escaped Mourinho’s notice that Lyon have been finding their form of late, firing eight goals in their last two matches. OL old-boy Karim Benzema, meanwhile, will be desperate to play in a stadium he knows so well.
It has been 18 long years since Marseille last made it to the quarter-finals of the competition, and they went on to win it that year. Manchester United, in contrast, are hoping to book a fifth straight appearance in the last eight and will expect to profit from the absences of the injured Andre-Pierre Gignac and Mathieu Valbuena. Add the fact that OM have only found the net seven times in their past nine matches, with Gignac scoring four of them, to Manchester United’s clean sheets in their last three Champions League away games and it seems reasonable to suggest the freescoring Premier League leaders are favourites in the Mediterranean city.
Player to watch
Fernando Torres has struggled since his mega-money move to Chelsea on transfer-deadline day. The Spain striker will hope to get off the mark for his new club, and inspire them to a much-needed victory, in Copenhagen.
0 - the number of times Real Madrid have defeated Lyon since the 2005/06 season. In six matches, the French side have recorded three wins at home and three draws away. Real Madrid have not made it into the quarter-finals of Europe’s most prestigious competition since the 2003/04 season.
What they said
"We’ve already played Manchester United, Barcelona and other top sides. Our job is to ensure we are still in it for the second leg," Stale Solbakken, the Norwegian coach of FC Copenhagen.
Have your say
Will Real Madrid finally vanquish their round-of sixteen curse?