The Champions League’s knockout stage resumes this week and here are eight questions that are posed ahead of some mouth-watering clashes.
1. How can Real Madrid stop Neymar?
Edinson Cavani, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar make up the most feared attacking trio in Europe; they have scored 25 goals in their Champions League matches this term, averaging 4.17 goals per game. This potent attack strikes fear into the heart of the defending champions, even more so with Dani Carvajal suspended for Wednesday’s first leg.
In the Spaniard’s absence, Nacho will likely be positioned at right-back and entrusted with the task of shackling the world’s most expensive footballer. For Neymar, he will return to one of his favourite stadiums, as in three visits to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu with Barcelona he scored twice and contributed two assists. Nacho has shown he is capable of dealing with some of the best players in the world, but Wednesday will be his biggest test of the season.
2. Will Harry Kane be able to breach Juventus’ defensive wall?
Harry Kane is the most in-form forward in Europe, his goal record for the campaign thus far has been excellent and he arrives in Turin fresh from scoring the winning goal in Saturday’s North London derby. Never before has Tottenham Hotspur had such a chance of success in the Champions League, however the incredible defensive structure of the Italian giants stands in their way.
The Old Lady has conceded just one goal since November 19 of 2017; Kane will be tasked with finding a way through such a defensive wall.
3. Will Liverpool score the most goals in the Champions League?
Liverpool aren’t expected to come close to lifting the trophy this year, however Jurgen Klopp’s charges will certainly score a lot of goals. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have all hit form at the right time and they tore Southampton apart in Sunday’s 2-0 victory.
The Reds have been drawn with one of the weaker defensive units left in the competition in Porto and will look to net a few goals over the course of the tie. Ivan Marcano is a doubt for the Portuguese side and this only weakens them further, in 27 Premier League matches this season the English club has scored 61 goals. Few teams can claim to better their average of 3.62 goals per Champions League match in 2017/18.
4. Will Pep Guardiola restart his tradition of reaching the semi final?
Manchester City’s first knockout round defeat to Monaco in 2016/17 was the first ever occasion the former Barcelona coach had entered the Champions League in such a role and then not reached the semi final stage at least.
The Blues are a totally different proposition a year later though; they are strolling to the Premier League title and can perhaps focus solely on lifting the famed European trophy. FC Basel should prove no match for them and will do well to keep the score respectable over two matches.
5. Can Messi overcome his Chelsea hoodoo?
Chelsea being drawn with Barcelona reignites one of the great Champions League rivalries of the millennium, yet Lionel Messi has not been able to score against the London club in any of the previous seven meetings.
Barcelona have progressed in six of those seven games, yet Chelsea have garnered a reputation as being one of the very few teams who can consistently stop the Argentine. In a grand total of eight matches against Chelsea, Messi has taken 29 shots and hasn’t converted a single one. The match itself will provide an interesting dual with N’Golo Kante likely to man-mark him.
6. Will Sevilla end their round of 16 curse against Manchester United?
The Andalusian side have reached the round of 16 for the fourth time in recent seasons, only in 1958 have they been able to progress past this round. Already in this century they have fallen to Fenerbahce in 2008, CSKA Moscow in 2010 and Leicester City in 2017.
Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United await them this term and the Spanish squad will have huge difficult in overpowering a team boosted by the January arrival of Alexis Sanchez.
7. Bayern Munich are in fine form, can they make an under-the-radar run for the crown?
Since Jupp Heynckes’ arrival, the Bavarian club have been an unstoppable force. They have only lost three matches all season in all competitions and the Allianz Arena is a fortress for them with the club not seeing defeat at their own stadium in the Bundesliga since 2016.
Because of their early season struggles, few expected the German champions to make a real push to win the Champions League, however after 14 successive victories there is a sense that momentum is building under the veteran coach. Besiktas will be their first opponent but they lost their main source of goals in January as Cenk Tosun departed for Merseyside.
8. Will Roma move past their current crisis and perform on the big stage?
Roma qualified for the knockout phase by topping a group which contained both Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, this was an exceptional achievement but results have since dried up in the Italian capital.
Roma have won just three of their last 10 matches and head into a clash with Shakhtar Donetsk in the midst of a difficult moment. The Ukrainian side are no pushovers however; Guardiola even went as far to describe them as one of the best teams he has faced following the group stage battles with the English club. It remains to be seen whether the extended winter break for Ukrainian teams will benefit them against Roma.