This week’s Round-of-16 second leg matches in the UEFA Champions League are full of both promise and intrigue. Chelsea should be comfortable defending a 2-0 lead at home to FC Copenhagen, but the other three ties are delicately poised, and whatever else happens, at least two former champions will be heading for the exit by Wednesday evening.
Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have home advantage and are favourites on paper at least, but all three will need to be wary of ambitious visitors. Marseille travel to the north-west of England knowing one goal would force United to score two. Inter Milan head to Bavaria confident of cancelling out Bayern’s away-goal advantage, while Lyon know they have recent history on their side in the Spanish capital.
UEFA Champions League Round of 16, second leg (all matches 20.45)
Tuesday 15 March
Manchester United - Olympique de Marseille (0-0)
Bayern Munich - Inter Milan (1-0)
Wednesday 16 March
Chelsea - Copenhagen (2-0)
Real Madrid - Lyon (1-1)
Match of the week
Real Madrid - Lyon, Madrid, Santiago Bernabeu stadium, Madrid, Wednesday 16 March 20.45
Omens can be found, good and bad, depending on which side you support. Lyon fans will take comfort from the fact that Real Madrid have not advanced beyond the Round of 16 since the 2003/04 season, and have not beaten OL in seven matches. Madrid supporters will point to the stat showing that on the 20 occasions Los Merengues have returned to the Bernabeu from a first-leg away draw, they have gone through 19 times. OL have also been knocked out of European competition six times after drawing a first-leg tie at home.
Lyon need to score this time around if they are to have any hope of progressing, and deadly front duo Lisandro Lopez and Bafetimbi Gomis will expect to do just that. Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, will be aiming to add to his tally of four Champions League goals this season and close the gap on his eternal rival Lionel Messi, who has already found the net eight times in Europe’s prestige club competition this term.
The other matches
Bayern Munich - Inter Milan
Bayern put a run of three straight league defeats emphatically behind them on Saturday. Star duo Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery combined to devastating effect as the German champions destroyed Hamburg 6-0. The Dutch talisman hit a hat-trick and provided an assist for Ribery, who returned the favour for two of Robben’s strikes.
Coach Louis van Gaal will leave the German club this summer and intends to do so with his head held high. Retaining the Bundesliga title looks out of reach but revenge for the 2-0 defeat to Inter in last year’s final is high on the Dutchman’s priority list.
Samuel Eto'o could be crucial to Inter’s hopes. The Cameroon legend scored his 31st goal of the season at Brescia on Saturday and will look to benefit from his side’s need to attack. Another key duel could be the one pitting Arjen Robben against his international team-mate Wesley Sneijder.
Manchester United - Olympique de Marseille
Manchester United's current injury crisis means Rio Ferdinand, Park Ji-Sung and Nani are all unavailable for selection. But as they showed in their 2-0 FA Cup quarter-final win over Arsenal on Saturday, when the likes of Rafael, Fabio and a fit-again Antonio Valencia all shone, United have great strength in depth. Wayne Rooney’s return to goalscoring form allied with the fact that the Red Devils have not lost in 12 matches at home to French opposition make OM’s task look a daunting one.
Marseille put the previous weekend’s disheartening 2-1 home defeat to Lille behind them with a 2-0 win away to Rennes on Saturday. Missing target man Brandao, the men from Provence do however have French international striker Andre-Pierre Gignac to call on as they look to score the goal that would make life difficult for Alex Ferguson’s charges.
Chelsea - FC Copenhagen
Off the pace though not entirely out of the Premier League title race, Chelsea have made winning the Champions League their number one objective this season. The 2-0 lead and the manner in which they controlled the first game suggest the west Londoners should have little trouble against a Danish side who were made to pay for their lack of experience at this level.
Player to watch
Karim Benzema appears to have finally found his feet at Madrid. The French prodigy scored the away goal in the first leg at Lyon, and has bagged a brace on each of his last three La Liga appearances, against Malaga (7-0) at Santander (3-1) and at home to Hercules. The 4-4-2 formation deployed by Jose Mourinho in recent weeks is evidently creating the chances an increasingly-confident Benzema has been snapping up
1 – the number of times in Champions League history a side that lost the first leg at home has gone on to qualify for the next round. Ajax did it in the 1995/96 season when they lost their semi-final first leg 1-0 at home to Panathinaikos, only to go through by virtue of a 3-0 win in the return leg in Athens.
What they said
"We’re the old lnter again. We’re playing to win every game," Wesley Sneijder, Inter Milan attacking midfielder.
Have your say!
Will a French or Italian side make it through to the quarter-finals?