On Wednesday and Thursday, 8 out of 16 qualified teams will play their first-leg Round-16 games in the UEFA Champions League. In the first match at Lisbon, the home side Benefica will face the German Club Borussia Dortmund. There has been a drop in Dortmund’s form since December and they have won only two of their previous nine games in all competitions. Besides, they will be playing an away game. That gives some chance to Benefica. But one never knows because the match-day form is what counts. On the same day, FC Barcelona will travel to Paris to take on Paris Saint-Germain. Next day on February 16, there will be two more first-leg matches. Defending champions Real Madrid will be vying for their seventh straight Champions League quarterfinal as they take on Italian Club Napoli at their home venue, Santiago Bernabeu. However, Zinedine Zidane will have to look for a suitable substitution for Gareth Bale, who is sidelined due to injury. In Thursday’s other first-leg Round-16 game, Bayern Munich will host English Premier League side Arsenal. With Bundesliga leadership in a 7-point cushion acquired this week, Bayern may be difficult to beat at home.
In Wednesday’s first game, it will be a contest between two teams, who both play attacking football. However, Benfica and Borussia Dortmund will have to keep their recent setbacks at bay. Benefica will have the advantage of playing at home, where they have lost only 2 of their last 20 games against the German opposition. But the Portuguese club didn’t have a great performance moving into Champions League Round-of-Sixteen. As for Dortmund, they were beaten 1-2 by bottom-placed Bundesliga side Darmstadt last weekend. But Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel believes his side is capable of bouncing back regardless. As for Benefica, they might miss the services for their star player Jonas. In any case, Lisbon is set to see an exciting game on Wednesday night.
In the second match, Paris Saint-Germain play against FC Barcelona at home. It is the third time in 5 years that the two football giants play against one another in a knock-out contest. Both sides have minor injury issues but otherwise, all the star players are set to make their appearances. PSG coach Unai Emery says his side is not worried about playing against Barcelona, who have usually had an upper hand against them. Paris have won the last 10 out of their 11 games going into the first-leg of UCL’s Round-of-16. Barcelona will be led by the MSN trinity of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar and if these three strike form, Barca will be unstoppable. Coach Luis Enrique believes his team will win, though he concedes that Paris have been playing at a high level for several weeks. Enrique’s confidence comes from a possibility that Barcelona forwards can still outdo PSG by creating better goal-scoring chances on match day.
In the Spanish capital on February 16, defending champions Real Madrid will try to stop Napoli, who have been unbeaten in their last 18 games. Coach Zinedine Zidane will be worried that Gareth Bale is still not match-fit and his place may go to Karim Benzema. The Italians, however, have a full squad to choose from and they will do their best to create a shock result at Bernabeu. But Zidane has the home advantage in the first-leg and he will plan to win here. Madrid haven’t lost in their last 11 outings at home and they will also be looking forward to making it to their 7th straight Champions League quarterfinals.
This week’s last Round-of-16 first-leg game will be played at Munich, where hosts Bayern Munich look a stronger side on current form against the visiting EPL side Arsenal. Bayern is fresh from their leadership status in Bundesliga and they are certain to carry the momentum forward. Bayern also reached the quarterfinals of the German Cup by defeating Wolfsburg 1-0. But Arsenal is no mean side. They are currently third in the Premier League and recently advanced to the fifth round of the FA Cup. Arsenal have also notched up victories in their last four games and they can seriously challenge Bayern on their home pitch. Coach Arsene Wenger, who was handed a 4-match touchline ban, will be back on Thursday and his return could boost the gunners.
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