Barcelona and Arsenal on the brink
Barcelona and Arsenal need to produce superlative performances this week if they hope to reach the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals after opening their round of 16 ties with defeats by two-goal margins.
The Catalan club will have the advantage of playing at home when they tackle AC Milan on Tuesday, but like Arsenal – who visit Bayern Munich the following day – they know they must score three goals without reply to advance.
The two remaining midweek ties are tighter affairs, although Schalke will be confident of their chances thanks to their 1-1 draw away against Galatasaray last time out. As for Malaga, they will rely on home comforts as they seek to wipe out their 1-0 deficit against Porto.
The draw for the last eight will take place on 15 March in Nyon, Switzerland. It will be a completely open draw, with no seeding and teams from the same country able to face each other. The first side to be drawn in each tie will contest the opening leg at home.
This week's fixtures
Tuesday 12 March
Barcelona-AC Milan (first leg: 0-2)
Schalke-Galatasaray (first leg: 1-1)
Wednesday 13 March
Bayern Munich-Arsenal (first leg: 3-1)
Malaga-Porto (first leg: 0-1)
Match of the day
Barcelona-AC Milan, Camp Nou, Barcelona, 20.45 CET
In midfield, Barça's trademark fluency and rhythm seem to have waned, while the forward line is short of its devastating best. As a result, Los Azulgrana recently suffered consecutive losses to Real Madrid and find themselves needing to come back from two goals down against a Milan side in full flow. That said, the Camp Nou outfit still have a formidable weapon in Lionel Messi, who hit his 40th La Liga goal this campaign with a delightful chip against Deportivo. The Argentinian forward remains capable of outrageous individual exploits, but the telephone lines between New York and La Masia will surely have been extra busy of late as Barcelona strive to rediscover their collective swagger.
In the Milan camp, the main question mark concerns who Massimiliano Allegri will field up front, given that Giampaolo Pazzini is unavailable due to a leg injury and Mario Balotelli is ineligible for selection. Allegri is likely to decide between 18-year-old French talent Mbaye Niang and 22-year-old Spanish striker Bojan Krkic, who originally learnt his trade at Barcelona. Whatever happens, I Rossoneri have vowed to attack, with Vice-President Adriano Galliani promising his side will not allow the Catalans to lay siege on the Milan defence. "It won't be like Fort Apache," he said.
The other matches
Strong favourites to progress, Bayern are targeting a fourth spot in the quarter-finals in the last five seasons, while Arsenal hope to avoid elimination at this stage for the third consecutive year. The statistics suggest that the German giants have a 97.8 per cent chance of going through, and they will be additionally buoyed by their home record against English sides, having won ten meetings, drawn five and lost just once. The last remaining team from the English Premier League have triumphed three times in Germany, meanwhile, in addition to four draws and five losses. In short, Arsene Wenger's men require a minor miracle if they are to turn their fortunes around.
Malaga suffered their first ever Champions League defeat in the first leg as Porto kept them under pressure for 90 minutes and denied them the opportunity to play their usual game. "They didn't let us breathe," said Isco after the match, but his team will take heart from their home form at this level, where they remain unbeaten and have already engineered notable wins this term, seeing off Milan 1-0 and Zenit St Petersburg 3-0. The history books suggest this tie lies very much in the balance, although Porto have a 58.4 per cent chance of qualifying based on past European results – and the Portuguese contenders have already progressed 33 times after an identical result in the opening leg.
Unbeaten on home soil in the Champions League this season, Schalke are currently on a high after edging local rivals Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in the Bundesliga on Saturday. Jens Keller's side can also draw confidence from the fact that they have won every single previous home encounter against Turkish clubs, though they must cope without Klaas-Jan Huntelaar after the Dutch forward suffered a knee-ligament injury at the weekend. That will have come as welcome news for Galatasaray, who fully believe in their chances, not least since they have won their last two away games in Europe. Motivation levels are also likely to be high among the club's sizeable German-born contingent, while dangerous trio Wesley Sneijder, Didier Drogba and Burak Yilmaz all have the ability to make the difference.
Player to watch
Hamit Altintop will be eager to impress when he returns to the town where he was born to take on former club Schalke, for whom he played between 2003 and 2007. The versatile Gelsenkirchen native scored 11 goals in 113 outings for the German club and caught the eye thanks to his superb vision and powerful shot – which was again to the fore when he fired against a post in the first leg. Hamit's twin brother Halil – the younger of the two by ten minutes – also turned out for Schalke, the forward representing Die Königsblauen from 2006 to 2009 and notching 17 goals in exactly the same number of games as his sibling. Returning to the present, Altintop is actually one of five German-born players in the Galatasaray squad, along with Hakan Balta, Engin Baytar, Ceyhun Gulselam and Furkan Ozcal.
0 – The number of sides since 1970 to have qualified for the next round of Europe's most prestigious club competition after losing the first leg 3-1 at home. That is the mountain facing Arsenal, although their chances of qualifying look slightly rosier if every European Cup match in history is considered, with 2.03 per cent of teams prevailing after finding themselves in a similar predicament.
What they said
"The time has come for us to get going again and get back to being who we are. At Barça, everything seems to come crashing down when you lose two matches, and when you win it's normal. Here, you have to win every game," Lionel Messi, Barcelona forward.
Have your say
Will there be an English club in the quarter-finals?