The UEFA Champions League returns this week with the Round of 16. There are four mouthwatering fixtures: Paris v Barcelona, Bayern v Arsenal (third time in five seasons!), Real Madrid v Napoli and Benfica v Dortmund. These games (Tuesday and Wednesday) and more can be found on my Soccer on TV calendar, bookmark it!
Later this week, Europa League on Thursday, FA Cup this weekend, the U20 MNT opens CONCACAF Qualifying on Saturday and MLS preseason games are creeping into the TV calendar, including a pair of Sporting KC games Wednesday and Saturday.
Tuesday: Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona
Barcelona and Paris played just one tie in the first 57 seasons of European Cup football but these days they can’t seem to avoid each other – this is the fourth time in five campaigns they have been paired.
It has rarely been easy but Barcelona have had the better of the fixture, and having lost just one of their last 22 matches in all competitions they will be formidable. Paris are doing non too shabby either, with ten wins, a draw and 34 goals in their last 11 outings.
Tuesday: Benfica v Dortmund
Dortmund broke the record for goals in a group stage with a free-scoring 21 as they topped a section including holders Real Madrid. That makes them favourites against a Benfica side that limped through with the fewest points (eight) of the 16 teams that survived the group phase.
But one stat looms large: in 20 previous home meetings with German opposition, Benfica have lost only twice.
Did you know? This is the only one of this week’s games featuring two former European champions.
Wednesday: Bayern v Arsenal
Fans criticised Arsenal in recent years for failing to take top spot in their group to secure a more favourable last-16 draw. This season there was no let-up, Arsène Wenger’s men topping Group A ahead of Paris. Their reward? Nemeses Bayern. If Paris are fed up of Barcelona, it’s nothing compared to the eye-rolling enmity Arsenal fans reserve for Bayern.
It is seven seasons since the Gunners last reached the quarter-finals and the German giants have been architects of their downfall at this stage twice in four seasons. Third-time lucky? Same old story?
Did you know? Bayern are on a record run of 15 successive UEFA Champions League home wins.
Wednesday: Real Madrid v Napoli
Incredibly, no club have retained the trophy in the UEFA Champions League era and if Zinédine Zidane is watching out for banana skins then he need look no further than Napoli. The Partenopei get their nickname from a character in Greek mythology and they have been playing like immortals over the past two months in a run of 18 matches unbeaten.
It all makes this a mouth-watering tie, unpredictable but for the fact that there will surely be goals – Napoli have been scoring for fun of late; Madrid have registered in each of their last 40 outings.