Anyone up for a Champions League late lunch Tues or Wed 2:45 pm of either week let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So Champions League Round of 16 Returns this week on Tues/Wed with 4 matches including huge games featuring PGS hosting Barcelona on Tues 2:45 pm on Fox Sports 1, while Dortmund and US youngster Christian Pulisic face Benefica on the road on FS2 and Arsenal traveling to Bayern Munich Wed at 2:45 again on FS1, while defending champs Real Madrid host Napoli on FS2.
Tues, Feb 14 – Champions League
2:45 pm Fox Sport 2 Benfica vs Borussian Dortmund
2:45 pm Fox Sport 1 PSG vs Barcelona
Weds, Feb 15
2:45 pm Fox Sport 1 Bayern Munich vs Arsenal
2:45 pm Fox Sport 2 Real Madrid vs Napoli
Thurs, Feb 16 – Europa League
1 pm Fox Sport 1 Gent vs Tottenham
3 pm Fox Sport 1 Man United vs Saint Etienne
Fri, Feb 17
2:45 pm beIN Sport Juventus vs Palermo
Tues, Feb 21 – Champions League
2:45 pm Fox Sport 2 Bayer Levekusen vs Atletico Madrid
2:45 pm Fox Sport 1 Manchester City vs Monaco
Weds, Feb 22
2:45 pm Fox Sport 1 Sevilla vs Leicester City
2:45 pm Fox Sport 2 Porto vs Juventus
Champions League round-of-16 W2W4: Real’s chances to repeat, Bayern vs. Arsenal (again!), must-watch Monaco
Repeat? Get Real
No club has ever won back-to-back European Cups in the Champions League era. But that doesn’t mean Real Madrid cannot be the first.Things are complicated, however, by a fixture pile-up caused by the FIFA Club World Cup and the postponement of their league game at Celta Vigo last weekend. Plus, after going a record 40 games unbeaten, Real have wobbled since the turn of the year, a little like they did in Carlo Ancelotti’s final season two years ago.Real also go into the round of 16 as a second seed after failing to top their group for the first time in four years. Zinedine Zidane’s side trailed Sporting at the Bernabeu until the 89th minute and in Poland vs. Legia Warsaw until the 85th.There is a suspicion that, even for a club like Real that defines itself by this competition, winning La Liga is slightly more of a priority this season. After all, they’ve been Spanish champions only once in the past nine years.
Gabriel Jesus to galvanise Man City?
Has any other club signed as big a talent ahead of the second half of the season? Julian Draxler at Paris Saint-Germain comes to mind, but that’s it. Sure, it would maybe have been better if Man City had addressed their defence. But Jesus can inspire them.Pep Guardiola has reached the semifinals of the Champions League every year during his coaching career and City themselves reached the last four a year ago. And did they not also beat Barcelona in November with arguably the performance of the group stages?The Champions League is not the Premier League. In Europe you still have to be aggressive and control second balls — something Guardiola admits he has needed time to get to grips with in England — but the emphasis often lies elsewhere.There are other nuances. In the Champions League, Guardiola can perhaps be himself a little more and play the football he would like to play. Not that he has compromised his philosophy these past six months. Monaco will be a big test, though. A trap, even.
Auf wiedersehen, Arsenal?
Not necessarily, for Bayern Munich have their own problems. There has been a dip in intensity under Carlo Ancelotti, although his relaxed approach to high-pressure situations is often held up as the reason why he is the most successful manager of all time, along with Bob Paisley, in this competition.Bayern didn’t allow opponents to breathe under Guardiola. But that has changed. In the group stage, for example, they lost to Rostov. Changes to a more counterattacking style haven’t exactly helped Thomas Muller, while Renato Sanches hasn’t made as big an impact as was hoped, though it is early days.Then there are other personnel issues to consider. CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge criticised Jerome Boateng in November for taking on too much outside of football. Last week, captain Philipp Lahm announced he will retire at the end of the season. The timing of the announcement surprised Bayern rather than the decision itself. Not everyone is on the same page.
Can Mertens make Madrid pay?
In December, on the day Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat trick for Real Madrid in the Club World Cup final, Napoli’s Dries Mertens went one better and scored four. With 13 goals in his past eight appearances — that’s one every 54 minutes — there isn’t a hotter player in Europe at the moment. The papers in Italy are calling him “Dries Armando MaraMertens.”
“For me, you the best!” Ikea Casillas tweeted at Gigi Buffon. “I don’t choose, we are the best!” Buffon replied. The best goalkeepers of their generation meet again when Porto play Juventus and, while Casillas has declined dramatically in comparison with Buffon, who remains as brilliant as ever, his performance against Sporting recently did roll back the years.
@gianluigibuffon , what do you think? For me, you the best!! https://twitter.com/championsleague/status/823877048947142656 …
Eye of the Tiger
It looked like Radamel Falcao was finished but El Tigre is back as top scorer for Europe’s top-scoring team. Falcao’s goal-per-game ratio in European competitions is 0.91. To put that into context, of players with more than 30 career goals, it’s higher than Gerd Muller (0.89), Ferenc Puskas (0.88), Lionel Messi (0.82) and Alfredo di Stefano (0.77).
Monaco have scored 101 goals this season, which is quite the contrast to the defensive team that counterpunched to the quarterfinals the season before last. They haven’t evolved completely, though: This team isn’t top-heavy.Instead, it has great balance between youth and experience, physicality and finesse. Plus, Bernardo Silva, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Kylian Mbappe and Thomas Lemar are all superstars in the making. Leonardo Jardim can outcoach the best of ’em, too.
The Eagles’ nest
Benfica vs. Borussia Dortmund pits some of the best young stars in Europe against each other. Among them, the full-backs capture the imagination. Nelsinho is on Bayern’s short list to succeed Philipp Lahm and it remains a mystery why Barcelona let Grimaldo go. Meanwhile, Raphael Guerreiro, Portugal’s left-back at Euro 2016, has been reinvented as a midfielder since moving to Dortmund.
The madness of King Jorge
For the first time in four seasons, the Europa League will have a new winner because three-time winners Sevilla are not defending their title. Instead they are moving up a weight, like a prizefighter, and their knockout pedigree is second to none.Jorge Sampaoli’s crew ended Real Madrid’s record-breaking unbeaten run in January and few are giving Leicester a chance. Sevilla’s games are often spectacular — what else would you expect when you sign seven attacking midfielders in two windows — and, while Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino is out, the philosophical spirit of Marcelo Bielsa lives on.
Dortmund must grow up
“Stay young. Stay foolish” would be an appropriate motto for Dortmund right now. Thomas Tuchel’s team is very talented, but very raw. While it is hard to expect consistency from young players, some are taking longer than others to get used to the way things work.
Dortmund can blow teams away; they were the top scorers in the group stage with 21 goals, and Tuchel is one of the smartest coaches out there. But their defence is shaky and their away form miserable. They’ve won just three times on the road all season in the Bundesliga.
Have Barca forgotten how to play?
Well, that was the subject of an article in El Pais last week. Barcelona have frequently looked ordinary this season, which is quite extraordinary given that Luis Enrique has got Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar to call upon.But that’s something of a general theme this season. Real, Barca and Bayern all remain formidable but don’t appear, at least so far, to be the forces they were. Opponents have more reason to believe.
Is this the Old Lady’s year?
When you’ve won five league titles in a row and then sign your rivals’ best players, creating the (false) impression of having killed the competition at home, then greater scrutiny of European performances is guaranteed.Juventus’ midfield isn’t as good as when they reached the final two years ago and they have struggled, relatively, for balance this season. But only Atleti defend as well and Juve are every bit as reliable as they are versatile.Their new “Five Star” formation, with Mario Mandzukic sacrificing himself on the left, has brought back memories of the role Samuel Eto’o played during Inter’s 2010 treble win. Might it be the difference, the final piece of the puzzle? The Old Lady is humble enough to recognise that she will also need Lady Luck on her side.And finally …Never ever rule out Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid.James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.