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UEFA Champions League Preview: Arsenal, Barcelona look to overcome first-leg deficits

On paper, the four matches set to take place in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 this week don’t seem too exciting as three of the four features teams with large advantages.

However, nothing is impossible on Europe’s biggest stage, even for perennial underachievers Arsenal. The Gunners, Barcelona and Napoli are all looking to reverse poor away legs into memorable comebacks on home soil. But winning at home against Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid isn’t an easy task.

The other match of the quartet sees Borussia Dortmund host Benfica in a second leg that could end up being tighter than the other three due to the score after one leg. Benfica holds a slim 1-0 advantage on the German side heading into Wednesday’s match in Dortmund.

Below is a look at all four matches taking place in the Champions League this week:

Napoli vs. Real Madrid (Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 2) (Real Madrid leads, 3-1, on aggregate)

Injuries of Note: Raphael Varane and Fabio Coentrao are out for Real Madrid, while Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to be back in the lineup after sitting out the weekend trip to Eibar. Dries Mertens suffered from cramping against Roma this weekend, but it shouldn’t keep him out of the Napoli lineup.

Key to the Game: The first 15-20 minutes will be key for Napoli at its home ground. In order to capitalize on its away goal, the Serie A side must take the game to Real Madrid from the start.

Matchup to Watch: Keeping with the impetus in the Napoli attack, whoever starts in attack for Napoli must go right at the Real Madrid back line. If Pepe and Sergio Ramos can absorb the surges from Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon and others, the Spanish giants will be off to the quarterfinals.

Quote: “We have to go out and play our game. Our game is all about playing football and trying to win. At no stage will we be looking to manage the game. I’m sure that we’ll have to dig in, but we’re prepared for that.” – Zinedine Zidane

Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich (Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1) (Bayern Munich leads, 5-1, on aggregate)

Injuries of Note: Mesut Ozil isn’t ready to return to the Arsenal lineup yet due to an illness, while Alexis Sanchez should return after being benched against Liverpool. Bayern rested a few players over the weekend, and they should return for the second leg in London on Tuesday.

Key to the Game:  Arsenal needs a miracle after digging a four-goal hole in Germany three weeks ago. The Gunners have to start with an attacking mindset, and that means committing extra numbers forward if it leaves them open to a quick strike on the counter for the visitors.

Matchup to Watch: If Alexis Sanchez starts, all eyes will be on him after his benching on Saturday. If the Chilean plays, he’ll have to be at his best from the start against a stout Bayern defense that won’t concede anything easily.

Quote: “When you don’t win, everybody always says the same thing, that you don’t fight enough. Football is not only about fight. It’s also the freedom to go for it, the freedom to play.” – Arsène Wenger

Barcelona vs. PSG (Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1) (PSG leads, 4-0, on aggregate)

Injuries of Note: Thiago Silva was absent for the first leg in Paris, but he’s expected to be in the PSG back line on Wednesday at the Camp Nou. However, Angel Di Maria, Adrien Rabiot and Thiago Motta are doubtful. Barcelona should have as close to a full squad as possible.

Key to the Game: Just like the two sides facing large deficits on Tuesday, Barca must start strong. The Catalans have the best chance of reversing a lead this week because of their recent form in front of the net. They have 11 goals in their last two games. If the home side scores early, it will put PSG under pressure and it could set up a thrilling 90 minutes, or more.

Matchup to Watch: Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez will try and crack a PSG defense that has let in 18 goals in league play this season. PSG has conceded two or more goals seven times across all competitions, with the last occurrence coming on December 11 against Nice.

Quote: “We need to remain faithful to our style. We’ll try to stop them from creating chances. It won’t be easy; we know that just a single goal for them will be decisive. It’s a great challenge; the situation is complicated but not impossible. The support of our fans will play a big role.”- Luis Suarez 

Borussia Dortmund vs. Benfica (Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 2) (Benfica leads, 1-0, on aggregate)

Injuries of note: Mario Gotze and Marco Reus remain out for Borussia Dortmund as do Nuri Sahin, Sven Bender and Sebastian Rode. Alex Grimaldo is the only long term injury for Benfica.

Key to the game: Benfica is playing with the smallest margin of any visiting side in the second leg this week. Weathering the storm of the fierce Dortmund attack in front of a boisterous Signal Iduna Park is key. If the Portuguese side keep the game scoreless for a half, then it can start to search for an away goal.

Matchup to watch: Benfica’s center backs must win the battle against Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ousmane Dembele, but the midfielders of the Portuguese side must also remain firm and try to dictate the pace of the contest. If the visitors can contain the front five of Dortmund, they’ll have a great chance of progressing to the final eight.

Quote:  “You can see that we have confidence, that we’re focused and taking it step by step. At the moment we’re developing well and having a good spell.”- Thomas Tuchel

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