After a lengthy layoff, the UEFA Champions League resumes this week with the start of the round of 16.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s first leg games.
THE BIG MATCH
Real Madid vs. Paris Saint-Germain: It’s a marquee contest worthy of the being the tournament final. It’s also a match that pits two of the best players in the world against each other in Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar.
While Ronaldo has struggled (by his high standards) for goals in La Liga, he leads the Champions League in scoring this season with nine goals. Real sits fourth in the Spanish table, 19 points off the pace of leaders Barcelona, and there is genuine concern they might not even qualify for the Champions League next season – that winning a third-consecutive title might be their only way back into the Champions League.
PSG is humming along in Ligue 1, thanks in large part to Neymar (18 goals and 11 assists). Champions League glory is what they are after, though. Eliminating the reigning European champions is no easy task, but a win in Spain on Wednesday could effectively kill off the series and give them plenty of momentum as the competition enters the home stretch.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Neymar, Paris Saint-Germain: PSG went largely untested through the group stage, with a loss to Bayern Munch on Matchday 6 their only blemish. Neymar scored in five of PSG’s six opening-round matches, tallying six goals in total. However, a trip to the Bernabeu will be the Brazilian’s toughest test of the tournament thus far. Not only will he have the chance to put one over on his former rival, but he can also push Real to the brink of elimination and give PSG a decided advantage going into the return match in France.
Tuesday’s tilt in Turin pits one of the world’s most lethal strikers against a club with one of the stingiest defences. Tottenham’s Harry Kane has been in stellar form this season, with 36 goals in 37 games for club and country this season. He has also scored at least one goal in six of his last seven matches. Juventus’ back line has only been breached 15 times in 24 Serie A matches, and the Italian giants have only conceded one goal in their last 16 matches in all competitions.
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) February 11, 2018
Sergio Aguero stole the headlines with a four-goal effort for Manchester City’s 5-1 win over Leicester City on the weekend. But spare a thought for Kevin De Bruyne, who was very influential in collecting three assists. The Belgian has quietly put together a sensational campaign for the Citizens, and should be front and centre in orchestrating the attack when Manchester City travels to Switzerland on Tuesday to take on Basel.
There could be a few goals between the two sides in Wednesday’s contest in Portugal. Liverpool scored 23 times during the group stage, and even with the departure of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona, Mohamed Salah hasn’t slowed down a bit, and has continued to score with regularity. Top of the Portuguese table and unbeaten in 23 matches in all competitions, Porto showed off its offensive prowess in the previous round with 15 goals, the fifth-highest total of any team in the group stage.
In addition to his stellar form in the Premier League, Mohamed Salah has also been effective in Champions League play, netting five goals for Liverpool during the group stage. Porto would be well advised to keep close tabs on the Egyptian forward when they host the Reds on Wednesday.
HE SAID IT
“[Neymar and Ronaldo] are both quick, very strong one-on-one, they play quickly and put a lot of intensity into their games. Ney is smaller, and that’s perhaps his advantage. But they are both capable of turning games.” – Paris Saint-Germain winger Angel Di Maria.