The UEFA Champions League resumes this evening with a mouth-watering clash between Paris St-Germain and Real Madrid.
For years the middle of February has been synonymous with the return of club football's most competitive and illustrious tournament. The UEFA Champions League Round of 16 commences on Tuesday evening with a sizzling affair in Paris.
Paris St-Germain welcome Real Madrid to the Parc des Princes as the two sides prepare to meet for the first time since 2018. In their six previous Champions League meetings, Real Madrid won three times while PSG have recorded a solitary victory.
In this season’s group stage, Madrid topped Group D with 15 points while Paris accrued 11 points to end runners-up behind Group A winners Manchester City.
Both teams in question currently top their respective domestic leagues. PSG are comfortably sat at the summit of Ligue 1 by a 13-point margin, having lost one league game all season. Madrid, meanwhile, lead La Liga by four points and have tasted defeat just twice.
Former Barcelona man Lionel Messi is set to come up against Real Madrid for the first time since leaving the Catalan club, and the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner has netted 26 goals in 45 previous encounters with Barça’s arch rivals.
Conversely, Kylian Mbappé will oppose Madrid for only a fourth time with the French superstar poised to join Los Blancos on a free transfer at the end of the season.
Neymar has been deemed available for selection after the Brazilian forward overcame an ankle injury which he picked up in November. Sergio Ramos has been ruled out of the first-leg clash in Paris, with the ex-Madrid skipper continuing his recovery from a lengthy calf injury.
Tuesday also sees Portuguese champions Sporting CP tackle English champions Man City. As mentioned, City topped Group A ahead of PSG whilst Sporting snuck through Group C after edging Borussia Dortmund by virtue of head-to-head record.
Sporting and Man City have met twice before, ten years ago in the Europa League Round of 16, with either side winning one leg apiece. Sporting advanced on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate score.
Pep Guardiola's men lead the Premier League by nine points and are on course to seal a fourth league title in five years. Sporting are second in the Primeira Liga, six points adrift of leaders Porto.
City’s record signing Jack Grealish will miss the trip to Lisbon with a recurring shin problem, while Gabriel Jesus is unavailable with a muscular issue.
On Wednesday attention turns to Italy where Inter Milan entertain Liverpool at the San Siro. This will be the teams' third meeting this century, and the first since the 2007/08 UCL Round of 16 when Liverpool advanced 3-0 on aggregate.
Liverpool won all six of their Group B matches, while Inter finished runners-up to Real Madrid with 10 points in Group D.
Jurgen Klopp's Reds are yet to lose a match in 2022 and are nine points behind Premier League leaders Man City, whereas defending Serie A champions Inter are engrossed in a captivating title race along with AC Milan and Napoli. Ahead of Liverpool's imminent visit, Inter have won one of their last four league games.
Bayern Munich make the relatively short trip across the German border to take on defending Austrian champions RB Salzburg. At a travel distance of 116 kilometres between Munich and Salzburg, this Round of 16 tie boasts the shortest trip between two opponents.
Salzburg and Bayern met in last season's Champions League group stage, with the Bavarians coming out on top in both games. This season Bayern advanced from Group E with a maximum 18 points, while their Austrian counterparts narrowly came second in Group G by one point off group winners Lille.
Bayern suffered a shock 2-4 defeat to lowly VfL Bochum at the weekend, but still occupy top spot in the Bundesliga by six points over Dortmund. Salzburg hold a 14-point lead at the top of the Austrian Bundesliga.
Next week the remaining four first-leg ties take place, starting with Villarreal versus Juventus and Chelsea against Lille on Tuesday.
Europa League holders Villarreal host Italian heavyweights Juventus for the clubs' first-ever competitive rendezvous. Villarreal finished second in Group F – one point off Man United – while Juventus won five games out of six to win Group H ahead of Chelsea.
After a shaky start to the season under Max Allegri, Juventus have risen into the top four in Serie A and the Bianconeri are unbeaten in their last 11 league games. Villarreal are currently 7th in La Liga, albeit Unai Emery's Yellow Submarine sit three points shy of Barcelona in 4th.
Juve's new signing Dusan Vlahovic will be looking to make an instant impact in Europe's elite, following the Serbian striker's €70m switch from Fiorentina in January.
Chelsea and Lille prepare for battle in the only last-16 pairing that remained intact after the draw ceremony had to be redone in December. These two teams were previously grouped together in Group H in the 2019/20 Champions League, with the Blues winning 2-1 home and away.
UCL holders Chelsea could only muster second place in Group H behind Juventus, while the reigning French champions won Group G with 11 points.
Despite celebrating FIFA Club World Cup success last week, Chelsea have endured a slump domestically in the past two months – taking only two wins from eight Premier League matches since mid-December.
Thomas Tuchel and his team will undoubtedly be seeking to make the most of their Champions League defence, and their next task will be to outdo a Lille outfit who are 10th in Ligue 1 and who have won two out of five games this year.
Ajax Amsterdam travel to Benfica next week Wednesday, as the two lock horns for the first time since the 2018/19 group stage.
Benfica won only two games this season in Group E but it was enough to fend off Barcelona for second spot behind Bayern. Benfica are third in the Primeira Liga, trailing leaders Porto by ten points.
Ajax have been nothing short of sublime this term, collecting total points in Group C and dominating the Dutch Eredivisie. Ajax have scored 69 goals and conceded a minuscule five goals in 22 league games, and Erik ten Hag's side have lost one of their last 14 matches. Following an impressive run in the 2018/19 Champions League knockouts, Ajax should by no means be counted out for making another statement this time around.
The eighth and final Round of 16 clash has paired two out-of-form teams in Atlético Madrid and Man United. The two clubs are set to share a pitch for the first time in more than three decades, since the European Cup Winners Cup 2nd round in 1991.
Man Utd scraped through Group F as winners with 11 points, with Atlético salvaging seven points to finish second behind Liverpool in Group B.
Atlético have stumbled as of late, conceding 11 goals in their last four league games which has resulted in Diego Simeone's troops dropping out of the La Liga top four. United have won less than half of their 24 Premier League matches this campaign, including two wins from six in 2022.
The away goal rule was abolished ahead of the current season, and any knockout ties which are level after two legs will be decided via extra-time and penalties if necessary.
UCL Round of 16 fixtures:
15 Feb - PSG vs Real Madrid
15 Feb - Sporting CP vs Man City
16 Feb - Inter Milan vs Liverpool
16 Feb - RB Salzburg vs Bayern Munich
22 Feb - Villarreal vs Juventus
22 Feb - Chelsea vs Lille
23 Feb - Benfica vs Ajax
23 Feb - Atlético Madrid vs Man United
Second leg ties are scheduled for 8/9 and 15/16 March.
The Europa League also resumes this week with the Round of 16 play-offs on Thursday. Europe's secondary club competition was reformatted ahead of this season in order to accommodate the inaugural Europa Conference League.
Europa was cut from twelve groups down to six, with all group winners automatically advancing to the Round of 16, and the runners-up each contesting a two-legged play-off against a Champions League third-placed team.
The standout fixtures in the play-offs sees Borussia Dortmund clash with Rangers, while Barcelona and Napoli battle it out in a Diego Maradona derby.
UEL Ro16 play-offs, selected fixtures:
17 Feb - Barcelona vs Napoli
17 Feb - Dortmund vs Rangers
17 Feb - Porto vs Lazio