Following a lengthy layoff, the UEFA Champions League resumes this week with the first leg of the Round of 16.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of this week’s games…
THE BIG GAME
Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich: These sides are familiar Champions League rivals, having squared off on four occasions in the last five years, with the Gunners bowing out three times at the hands of the Bavarians in the first knockout round.
This season, the Gunners topped their group for the first time since 2012, but their reward was a Round of 16 showdown with mighty Bayern, who finished runners-up behind Atletico Madrid in Group D.
Bayern routed Arsenal 5-1 in Germany in their previous meeting, and based on current form you’d have to give the edge to the Bundesliga giants. If Arsenal is going to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2010 then they’ll have to keep it close in Munich on Wednesday—otherwise the series could be over before the return leg in London.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Edinson Cavani, Paris Saint-Germain: The Uruguayan hit man has been in blistering form, with nine goals in his last six games (and 33 goals in all competitions this campaign). He also ranks second in scoring in this season’s Champions League with six goals—only Lionel Messi, with 10, has more.
PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN vs. BARCELONA
Despite spending big money on star players, PSG has yet to make a splash in Europe. The French champions have exited in the quarterfinals in each of the last four seasons, and they’re still looking to
break through the glass ceiling and advance to the semifinals.
Barcelona eliminated PSG in 2013 and 2015, and the Spanish giants have lost only one of their last six games against their French counterparts in Europe—and that was in the group stage in 2014.
Tuesday’s tilt at the Parc des Princes pits the tournament’s top scorers—Messi and Cavani—against one another. But while Barcelona also boasts the dangerous Neymar and Luis Suarez, PSG is pretty dependent on Cavani for offence—aside from the Uruguay international, only Lucas has more than 10 goals for PSG this season.
BENFICA vs. BORUSSIA DORTMUND
Borussia Dortmund has struggled in the Bundesliga—they currently sit fourth in the table, 15 points adrift of league leaders Bayern Munich. But in Europe, Die Schwarzgelben (The Black and Yellows) have dominated.
Dortmund went undefeated in the group stage (four wins and two draws), scoring a tournament record 21 goals in six games to win a group that included defending champions Real Madrid. It’ll be interesting to see if they continue their hot streak in Portugal on Tuesday.
As for Benfica, they are flying high in the Portuguese league—they lost their first game of the campaign in December, and sit atop the domestic table. The Eagles are playing in the knockout stage for the second straight season, a first for the club—they fell to Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals last year.
REAL MADRID vs. NAPOLI
Wednesday’s affair at the Benabeu should be an entertaining affair, as it pits two of the hottest clubs in Europe who are committed to playing attacking soccer.
Madrid hasn’t lost at home in 11 Champions League games (with nine wins), while Napoli is riding an 18-match unbeaten streak (12 wins) in all competitions.
While the Spanish outfit is aiming to reach its seventh consecutive quarterfinal, Napoli, who have only lost one of their last seven European road games, is competing in the Round of 16 for only the second time in franchise history.
PERSON OF INTEREST: ARKADIUSZ MILIK
When Real Madrid face Napoli on Wednesday, they could have their hands full thanks to the dangerous presence of striker Arkadiusz Milik.
Milik suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his left knee in early October while away on international duty with Poland. But he was on the bench for the first time this weekend in Napoli’s 2-0 win over Genoa in Serie A, and he could see action against los blancos at the Bernabeu.
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THE BIG QUESTION
There’s been a lot of speculation in recent weeks about Arsene Wenger’s time at Arsenal finally running out.
It’s been suggested that Arsenal’s Round of 16 series with Bayern Munich could be a make or break showdown for the Frenchman in terms of his future with the Gunners.
All of which leads us to ask….
HE SAID IT
"For me it’s impossible to stop [Lionel Messi]. You have to tie him up." – Paris Saint-Germain winger Lucas told the Associated Press.
DID YOU KNOW?
Benfica captain Luisao is set to make his 500th appearance for the Eagles on Tuesday.