In a cheeky twist of fate, the two loves of man present themselves this week. Luckily for men, or the discerning gent he has evolved into, Europe’s premier football competition returns this week on Tuesday and Wednesday for more top tier drama before nicely leading into Valentine’s Day on Thursday. No clashes this year then so you don’t have to sacrifice the football for your good lady (or vice versa). Focusing on the first matter on the agenda, it’s knockout time in the Champions League!
The Glamour Tie
The knockout rounds are guaranteed to bring together giants of the European stage but this year the football fan has hit the jackpot. Oozing glamour, the tie of the round pits nine-time champions Real Madrid against three-time champions Manchester United. A game neutrals hoped might feature as the centrepiece of the Wembley final in May is in fact taking place this week and has a number of subplots for added spice. It’s the return of United legend Cristiano Ronaldo to Old Trafford for the first time since his move to Real in 2009 for a world record £80million. Next is the tactical battle between Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho – potentially the next manager of United when Sir Alex finally decides to call in a day.
The Santiago Bernabéu hosts the fixture on Tuesday night where Ronaldo has been in scintillating form for Real. Having scored his 20th hat-trick at the weekend during three and a half seasons at the club, it’s fair to say CR7 has stepped up another gear in the white of Real. Hopes for a successful defence of their league title look lost after a string of poor results coupled with Barcelona’s dominance in La Liga this term. All Real’s hopes now rest on the cup competitions.
United have their own talisman to call upon too – Robin van Persie has come into the team like he was born to play there to continue his prolific scoring form that’s already delivered 23 goals. His form has been so good that 13-goal Wayne Rooney is struggling for headlines with RvP next to him. With United still challenging for the league Sir Alex will need to shuffle his pack accordingly.
All this goal scoring talent bodes well for the next couple of games then where the football fans will be given a feast of flair and skill from some of the greatest players playing the game right now. Both defences have been leaking like a sieve this season so surely they cannot end in a couple of goalless matches. It’s going to be tough picking a winner here.
Other English Interest
The next tie of the round sees Arsenal take on the might of Bayern Munich. Arsenal have pretty much given up on the league whilst Bayern look to be running away with things domestically so focus on the Champions League shouldn’t be a problem for either team. Bayern’s announcement that Pep Guardiola will be joining the club in the summer could have a galvanising effect of the team as the players look to play for retiring manager Jupp Heynckes whilst trying to show their worth to their incoming boss.
Arsene Wenger hasn’t had much to shout about at all this season but perhaps crucially he’s managed to persuade Theo Walcott to sign another contract whilst captain-in-waiting Jack Wilshere looks to be the next driving force in his team. The odds will be stacked against Arsenal though who look in danger of a potential routing at the hands of the German machine.
There should also be a mention of AC Milan’s tie with Barcelona but the Italians don’t look anything like their previous trophy-laden best after a host of big-name sales – although Mario Balotelli has joined (although cup-tied). This should be Barca’s tie. Celtic’s reward for qualifying to the knockouts is a glamour tie against Juventus. The Scots had one of the most memorable nights in their history when they beat Barcelona in the group stages earlier this season but over two legs the Italians should wrap this up comfortably.
Last 16 first leg fixtures. Second legs to be played 5/6th & 12/13th March
12th & 13th February
– Celtic vs Juventus
– Valencia vs Paris St Germain
– Real Madrid vs Manchester United
– Shaktar Donetsk vs Borussia Dortmund
19th & 20th February
– Arsenal vs Bayern Munich
– FC Porto vs Malaga
– AC Milan vs Barcelona
– Galatasaray vs Schalke