On a day set aside to celebrate affection, there will certainly be no love lost as several European heavyweights restart hostilities in a bid to become the continent’s top dogs. The UCL has been missed and what better way to restart things with some midweek love?
Tuesday February 14, will see Barcelona travel to the Parc des Princes for the 4th time in 5 seasons after PSG fell apart on the final day to finish 2nd in their UCL group and ‘secure’ a tie with one of the premier first place teams. Barca will be counting on the form of Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez to see them past the Parisians.
Messi is top of the scoring charts while Neymar has the most assists. Suarez was on the score sheet the last times these teams squared off at this stadium. PSG will have their new signing Julian Draxler on show and can always look to dynamic forward Edinson Cavani for goals as his 33 goals in 34 games have proven. Unai Emery will not be so keen on this fixture though after losing to them 9 times in 12 meetings as Sevilla boss, winning only once.
Also on Tuesday, Group B runners up Benfica will welcome Group F winners Borussia Dortmund to the Estadio da Luz where they have lost just once. Benfica lost an important player in Goncalo Guedes to PSG but can still count on Greek forward Konstantinos Mitroglou who has chipped in 18 goals in 29 appearances for the Eagles. BVB have in their ranks World cup winner Mario Gotze as well as former African player of the year Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who will surely give Rui Vitoria a lot to do.
The most anticipated tie will undoubtedly be Arsenal’s trip to the Allianz Arena. The Gunners were rewarded for topping their group with yet another tie against Bayern who connived to finish 2nd in their group. Arsenal will be buoyed by the fact that only 2 of the 8 Group Runners-up in the 2015/2016 round of 16 progressed to the quarter finals as well as their win at the grounds in 2013. They in fact have only lost on 1 previous visit to the Allianz. However that loss will be fresh in their memories as it happened just las year when they were humbled 5-1 in a dominant Bayern display.
Napoli also travel to surprise Group F runners up and 11 time UCL champions Real Madrid in another mouth-watering tie. Napoli’s Dries Mertens is in the form of his life and has bagged 20 goals in 29 appearances for the Paretnopei and has been their main source of goals since the injury to star summer signing Arkadiusz Milik. Real Madrid’s Talisman has scored 17 goals this season but only 2 of those have come in the UCL, rather low by his illustrious standards and he will be looking to improve on that tally as he continues his quest for his 100th UCL goal.
On Tuesday the 21st, last season’s semi-finalists Manchester City will welcome red hot Monaco who have scored over 100 goals this season to the Etihad Stadium. City manager Pep Guardiola has been UCL Champion twice with Barcelona and has played in the semifinals every time he has entered the competition.
He will be hoping to continue this trend with his expensively assembled City squad who have so far underachieved in the league. The Citizens’ embattled forward Kun Aguero faces uncertainty over his future and may once again be left to as a spectator as Brazilian teenager Gabriel Jesus continues to win over Pep’s affections with his ‘easy’ start to life.
In what seems to be the theme of the UCL Round of 16, Bayer Leverkusen confront old adversaries Atletico Madrid who are currently struggling for domestic form and sit 4th in the La Liga in a repeat of a 2014/2015 Round of 16 tie which Atleti edged on penalties. Los Rojiblancos would not want this to get to penalties however, having missed 6 of the 9 they have attempted this season. Bayer have been in even worse league form sitting 9th in the Bundesliga, 20 points of the top and 8 points of the UCL places. They need a mid-season revival and this could just be the tie to spark their season back into life.
On the final day of the round of 16, English Champions Leicester City take on Sevilla despite their shambolic title defense where their only joy has come on the continent. They have managed 4 wins in 6 compared to 5 in 25 in the EPL. The Leicester fans can only hope the Foxes from last season turn up at the Sanchez Pizjuan and not the impostors from this season. They will need to be at their very best to overcome Sampaoli’s men who put an end to Real Madrid’s 40 game unbeaten run and are currently 3rd in the league, 2 points behind Barcelona and 4 ahead of Atletico Madrid.
The last tie in the round is at the Estadio do Dragao where FC Porto take on Serie A champions Juventus who are unbeaten in this year’s competition. The Portuguese aim to match their best placement since winning the trophy in 2004. Juventus were losing finalists in 2015 and have not won the competition since 1996. However, with the fire power in summer signing Gonzalo Higuain and the safe hands of club legend Gigi Buffon, they will feel as good a shot as any at dethroning Real Madrid and taking the European crown for themselves.
Porto on the other hand may have just discovered another gem in Andre Silva after his stellar performance against Leicester in the final group game sealed their progression to the last 16.
The excitement is at fever pitch among all football fans in anticipation of the return of Europe’s premier cup competition and to those planning some last minute schemes to get out of that Valentine ’s Day engagement for time with your one true love (UCL football), I say to you cheers, and may the force be with you!
Written by Ayoola Kelechi (@ayoola_kelechi)