Chelsea and former champions on the ropes
This season’s UEFA Champions League is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable yet. Following Lyon’s surprise elimination at the hands of APOEL Nicosia last week, former champions Inter Milan, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid all have work to do in this week’s ties after returning from their first-leg trips with two 1-0 defeats and a draw respectively.
Chelsea, the last surviving Premier League side in the competition, have even more work to do as they seek to claw back a two-goal deficit against a dangerous Napoli side.
FIFA.com looks ahead to a week that could see some big reputations taken down a peg or two.
The last English team in the competition, Chelsea have something of a mountain to climb at home to a Napoli side that accounted for Manchester City in the group phase. Inspired by their three-man front line, the Italians have won their last five Serie A games, to go with their impressive 3-1 first-leg victory. Their latest league triumph was a spectacular 6-3 demolition of Cagliari, all their goals coming from different players in a game that summed up their attacking philosophy, based on a 3-4-3 formation that also makes them a formidable threat on the break.
Chelsea were indebted to the ageless Didier Drogba as they edged past Stoke City 1-0 in their latest league outing, a scoreline they will need to improve on if they are to oust Napoli. In nine European ties against Italian opposition the Londoners have twice come back from a two-goal first-leg deficit, though never in the continent’s premier club competition.
The other matches
The only Round-of-16 tie between two former Champions League winners is nicely poised after Marseille’s narrow 1-0 win three weeks ago, secured by Andre Ayew’s stoppage-time header. Inter strike duo Diego Milito and Diego Forlan will be aiming to recapture their best form to guide the club to a third consecutive quarter-final in the competition, while l'OM have some shaky league form to put behind them after falling to a fourth straight league reverse without scoring a goal at Ajaccio at the weekend. That said, history is on the side of the French club, who have never lost in three visits to the San Siro.
Bayern Munich-FC Basel
It promises to be a tense evening at Munich’s Fussball Arena on Tuesday, where Bayern will set out to show that their 1-0 defeat in Switzerland was a mere blip. Beaten 2-0 at Bayer Leverkusen last week, the Bavarians bounced back in the best possible fashion by firing seven goals past Hoffenheim on Saturday, with Mario Gomez helping himself to a hat-trick. And having never been eliminated by a Swiss side in Europe, Bayern will fancy their chances of making a comeback.
Basel won 2-0 at Grasshoppers Zurich at the weekend to remain firmly in charge at the top of their league but have never won in five trips to Germany, drawing two and losing the other three of those games. Among the evening’s sub-plots is the duel between strikers Gomez and Alexander Frei, who have respectively scored six and five goals in the competition so far and lie second and third behind runaway leading marksman Lionel Messi.
Real Madrid-CSKA Moscow
Victorious in all six of their group matches, Real Madrid were pegged back by Pontus Wernbloom’s late header in Moscow and have more work than expected to do against a CSKA side with nothing to lose and a good record in Spain. Surprise 3-2 victors at Barcelona in 1992, the Russians also downed Sevilla 2-1 two seasons ago, and will be looking to Ivorian front man Seydou Doumbia to exploit any openings that come his way.
In stretching out a ten-point lead in La Liga and cruising into the knockout rounds of the competition, Real have shown little mercy to opposing sides and will be further bolstered by the return of Karim Benzema from injury. What's more, Los Merengues have lost only one of their last 20 home games in the Champions League, that defeat coming last season against eventual winners Barcelona.
Player to watch
Chelsea’s attacking spearhead for the last eight seasons, Didier Drogba is not contemplating an early Champions League exit in what will most probably be his last season at Stamford Bridge before departing for Asia. The rampaging Ivorian scored his 100th Premier League goal for the club against Stoke at the weekend, his 153rd in 326 games in all competitions for Chelsea. Should he lead the Londoners into the next round, it will be the latest in Drogba’s long series of stirring exploits for the Blues.
16 - If Chelsea are knocked out, there will be no English sides in the quarter-finals for the first time since 1996, 16 seasons ago, when Blackburn Rovers were the Premier League’s sole representatives in the tournament.
What they said
“I hope the San Siro will be full and that the fans give us a push. Even so, it won’t be an easy game,” Inter Milan coach Claudio Ranieri.