Champions League set to return with a bang
© AFP

The UEFA Champions League picks up again on Tuesday and Wednesday with a mouth-watering tranche of last-16 contests, featuring three ties between strangers at this level and a high-profile reunion of past rivals.  

German holders Bayern Munich and Premier League hopefuls Arsenal are the teams due to be reunited, and each is one of four clubs from their respective nations still involved, with Spain boasting three representatives and one apiece hailing from France, Greece, Italy, Russia and Turkey.

The four remaining round of 16 match-ups will get under way on 25 and 26 February.

Match of the day
Manchester City-Barcelona, City of Manchester Stadium
Unacquainted on the European stage, both these sides will be taking a step into the unknown when they lock horns for a quarter-final berth. City have displayed remarkable consistency under Manuel Pellegrini this season and can pride themselves on being the sole team on the continent still involved in four competitions. That said, they have never progressed this far in the Champions League before, but they are sure to take strength from their home record against Spanish opposition, posting two wins and a pair of draws. They also look to be coping well without Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho and Matija Nastasic, as Saturday's 2-0 FA Cup win against Chelsea proved. As for Barcelona, the Liga leaders look to have recovered from a lean spell at the start of the year, helped in no small part by Lionel Messi's return to form. The Argentinian forward struck twice in Saturday's 6-0 defeat of Rayo Vallecano, which also brought a goal from Neymar on his comeback from injury.

The other matches

Tuesday 18 February

Bayer Leverkusen-Paris Saint-Germain
So impressive in the early part of the season, Leverkusen have lost a lot of momentum in recent weeks and will tackle PSG having suffered two consecutive reverses at home. Beaten 1-0 after extra time by Kaiserslautern in the German Cup last Wednesday, Sami Hyypia's men then succumbed 2-1 on their own pitch to Schalke, a result which has weakened their hold on second spot in the Bundesliga. In contrast, PSG are firing on all cylinders, standing five points clear of Monaco in Ligue 1, and thanks to their star-studded squad they have genuine ambitions to win Europe's most illustrious prize. Quarter-finalists last term, the French side will be hoping for another supreme performance from Swedish talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has racked up 19 league goals so far in 2013/14.

Wednesday 19 February

Arsenal-Bayern Munich
AC Milan-Atletico Madrid
Italy's last club in Champions League contention, despite lying mid-table in Serie A, Milan's fortunes tend to depend on the wavering form of Mario Balotelli. The unpredictable forward can sometimes let a match pass him by, but he is equally capable of outrageous moments of skill, such as his incredible 35-yard goal in the 1-0 win over Bologna on Friday. For their part, Atletico look to be back on track after a run of three successive losses, including two at the hands of arch-rivals Real Madrid. Diego Simeone's side dispatched Real Valladolid 3-0 at the weekend to keep themselves locked on points with Barça and Madrid at the head of the Liga table, but they will have to make do without full-backs Filipe Luis and Javier Manquillo, plus Portuguese midfielder Thiago.

As for Arsenal's much-anticipated showdown with Bayern, the two teams famously met at the same stage of the competition last year, when Bayern triumphed 3-1 in London and the Gunners prevailed 2-0 in Munich. The Bundesliga powerhouse advanced on away goals and eventually went on to lift the trophy at Wembley, since when they have remained at their fearsome best. A stunning 16 points clear in germany, Bayern will travel without Franck Ribery and Xherdan Shaqiri, but coach Pep Guardiola boasts a wealth of options and will be buoyed by the excellent form of Thiago Alcantara. For their part, Arsenal lie a point behind Premier League leaders Chelsea and have stuttered of late – not least due to a punishing schedule that handed them two meetings with Liverpool and one with Manchester United in the space of a week before facing the European champions, matches which produced a win, a draw and a defeat.

Player to watch
Always among the first names on the Manchester City team sheet, midfielder Yaya Toure - with 15 goals from 34 games - has been one of the driving forces behind his side's eye-catching campaign. But the former Barcelona player is expecting an emotional reunion with his old side. "It's very tough to play against your old team-mates and come back to the Camp Nou as an opponent," said the Ivorian international, a regular starter for the Catalan giants between 2007 and 2010. "I didn't want to come up against Barça yet. And then there's Messi – that's another problem. For me, he's the best."

The stat
61.4% – There have been 140 knockout ties since the Champions League settled on its current format, and 86 of those contests have been won by the team playing the first leg away from home.

What they said
"I've never been a big fan of teams that waited for counter-attacks," new AC Milan coach Clarence Seedorf.

Have your say
Which side could pull off the biggest surprise in Tuesday and Wednesday's games?