UEFA: Champions League resumes on Tuesday
The UEFA Champions League resumes this week with the first four matches of the Round of 16 stage to be played on Tuesday and Wednesday. The other four matches will see their first leg encounters kick off next week and we shall look at those games at the appropriate time. For now Stoppage Time – International Football Blog weighs up this week’s mouthwatering ties.
AC MILAN (Italy) v TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (England)
Serie A leaders AC Milan will have to put their title ambitions to one side and pursue their dreams of progression in the UEFA Champions League. The Rossoneri, who have won the trophy on a remarkable seven occasions, currently enjoy a three point lead over SS Napoli in the Italian League and have a potent strikeforce consisting of former Internazionale stalwart Zlatan Ibrahimovic as well as Brazilian duo Robinho and Alexandre Pato. Tottenham, on the other hand, are perhaps too far away from challenging for the English Premier League as they lie ten points behind leaders Manchester United but still harbour hopes of replicating their fourth place finish of last season. Their main outlet for goals will be Rafael Van Der Vaart but he will have to do without the assists of Gareth Bale who, having impressed earlier this season against the blue and black half of Milan, is missing from the first leg.
ARSENAL FC (England) v FC BARCELONA (Spain)
There’s been a lot of recent history between these two sides with the Blaugrana getting the better of the North London giants on each occasion. Following on from the 2006 UEFA Champions League final and their Round of 16 clashes from last season, both these teams come into this season’s matches performing well domestically. FC Barcelona are top of Liga BBVA by five points over arch-rivals Real Madrid and will meet their only title challengers in the final of the Copa del Rey too. Arsenal FC are also in a title fight but lie in second place, four points behind Manchester United in the English Premier League, and have reached the final of the League Cup as well as being still in the FA Cup which will be played this weekend. The obvious danger man for Barcelona is Lionel Messi, who has already scored a remarkable 40 goals this season in all competitions, whilst for the Gunners a lot will rest on the shoulders of boyhood Barca fan Cesc Fabregas. A fascinating clash awaits……
AS ROMA (Italy) v SHAKHTAR DONETSK (Ukraine)
It’s not always easy to predict how a clash such as this will turn out. AS Roma, eighth in Serie A, are approaching the business end of a difficult season in which even finishing fourth for a UEFA Champions League spot next season is far from guaranteed. Shakhtar Donetsk, on the other hand, haven’t played a competitive fixture since late November as the Ukrainian Premier League, which Shakhtar leads by twelve points over eternal rivals Dynamo Kyiv, is reaching the latter stages of its winter break resuming in the first week of March. AS Roma will hope that former AC Milan striker Marco Borriello can add to his tally of four goals in this season’s competition whilst Shakhtar have a significant contingent of Brazilian players aided by top scorer Luiz Adriano to help them in their first time beyond the Champions League group stages.
VALENCIA CF (Spain) v SCHALKE 04 (Germany)
Out of the title race and domestic cup Valencia CF will be putting all of their eggs into the Champions League basket as well as fighting for a top four spot in Liga BBVA and they have potentially been helped by having one of the easier draws of the tournament. That said, Schalke 04 have improved since the resumption of the German Bundesliga after the winter break and have risen up the table to 10th and reached the DFB Pokal semi-finals where they’ll face off against record cup holders FC Bayern in March. For the Gelsenkirchen side former Real Madrid star Raul will be hoping to continue his love affair with a competition he won three times with his previous club whilst his compatriots from Valencia will be relying on the goals of Roberto Soldado and Aduriz who have scored seven of the club’s sixteen goals in the tournament so far.