As we hit the middle of February, that means Europe’s top club competition returns this week with 16 teams continuing their hopes of advancing in the UEFA Champions League.
The Round of 16 begins on Tuesday with a headlining fixture occurring in Turin. Juventus hosts Tottenham Hotspur with the Old Lady coming in on great form. The hosts are unbeaten in all competitions since Nov. 19th, winning or drawing in their last 16 fixtures. Tottenham is coming off a huge 1-0 win over London rivals Arsenal and will hope for a good performance in Italy.
Wednesday’s action sees two heavyweights square off at the Santiago Bernabeu as Real Madrid hosts PSG. Unai Emery’s side are winners of their last three league fixtures, positing clean sheets in each of them. Edinson Cavani leads the Parisians with six goals in the UCL so far. Real Madrid have struggled for consistency in La Liga this season, but are hoping to claim their 13th UCL crown. Cristiano Ronaldo has 20 goals this season, with nine coming in European play.
Elsewhere, EPL leaders Manchester City travel to Swiss outfit FC Basel on Tuesday while FC Porto hosts Liverpool a day later.
Here’s a closer look at all four Champions League fixtures this week:
JUVENTUS VS. TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (Tuesday, 2:45 p.m., ESPN Deportes, Fox Sports 1)
Injuries of Note: Tottenham will be without star defender Toby Alderweireld who is nursing a hamstring injury he suffered in November. Juan Foyth and Kyle Walker-Peters are also expected to miss for Spurs. Paulo Dybala, Juan Cuadrado, Andrea Barzagli, and Blaise Matuidi will all miss out for the Serie A giants.
Key to the Game: Both teams are strong defensively, and have star strikers at their disposal. Expect this match to be very low scoring, so chances must be taken to the fullest offensively. Spurs will try to let Harry Kane have multiple chances at goal, while Juve will look to spread the ball around. Tuesday’s first leg in Turin is the first competitive meeting between the two teams.
Player to Watch: Kane leads Spurs with six goals in the UCL this season, and 32 in all competitions. He has been a joy to watch this season, and can beat teams in a variety of ways.
Quote: “We know their strengths and we know that we will have to suffer for some parts of the game because Tottenham have four players with great quality in attack,” Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “We have achieved very good results in Europe. Only Real Madrid have done better in my opinion in recent years.”
FC BASEL VS. MANCHESTER CITY (Tuesday, 2:45 p.m., Fox Soccer Match Pass, ESPN3)
Injuries of Note: Playmaking winger Leroy Sane could return for the Citizens ahead of their trip to Switzerland, while David Silva and Fabian Delph are also returning. Benjamin Mendy and Gabriel Jesus are long-term absentees for City. Defender Eder Balanta and midfielder Luca Zuffi will be tested before kick off, but goalkeeper Germano Vailati is out for Basel.
Key to the Game: Manchester City must be dominant from the opening whistle to claim a win at Basel. The Swiss side could very well pull off an upset in front of their home crowd, and have only lost six times this season in both domestic and European competitions. Defensively, the hosts will need to be strong in order to keep City off the scoreboard
Player to Watch: Raheem Sterling has had his best statistical campaign so far in 2017-18, scoring 20 goals and adding seven assists in all competitions. The 23-year-old winger is a nuisance for opposing wingbacks, and has been able to set up his teammates in numerous ways.
Quote: “If there is a year, a time, a moment when the club is ready to feel at home in the competition then it’s now,” Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany said. “I’m not going to say it’s a matter of time because some clubs never win it. But, if every year we can go in with this kind of confidence, then if not this year, or next year, eventually we’ll get there. I’m sure of it.”
REAL MADRID VS. PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN (Wednesday, 2:45 p.m., Fox Sports 1, ESPN3)
Injuries of Note: Brazilian playmaker Neymar is expected to play through the pain for PSG at Real Madrid on Wednesday. Italian midfielder Thiago Motta will miss due to fitness while Los Blancos come into this first leg very healthy.
Key to the Game: Both teams have several match-winners at their disposal which could mean a shootout at the Bernabeu. PSG will need to control possession and keep Madrid away from goal. With the home crowd behind them, Real will need to keep the ball in PSG’s half and away from the deadly trio of Edinson Cavani, Kylian Mbappe, and Neymar.
Player to Watch: Playing through pain the last few weeks, Neymar has added another weapon to PSG’s arsenal. The 26-year-old has 24 goals and 14 assists with the Ligue 1 leaders, including six and three respectively in the Champions League. I feel if Neymar is on form then PSG could very well return home in good position to advance.
Quote: “I think we’re ready for Real Madrid, it’s a very important game, very important for the season,” PSG midfielder Marco Verratti said. “It’s huge for us, for the players for the supporters, we’ll be up against a great team in a great stadium. We need to focus.
FC PORTO VS. LIVERPOOL (Wednesday, 2:45 p.m., Fox Soccer Match Pass, ESPN3)
Injuries of Note: Nathaniel Clyne remains a long-term absentee for Liverpool, while Joe Gomez is also out. Emre Can cannot play due to suspension for the Reds. Porto come into this match with a healthy squad following a 4-0 league win last Sunday.
Key to the Game: Porto come into this match on better form, unbeaten in 16 matches in league play. Defensively, they will need to shut down Liverpool playmaker Mohamed Salah who has been very instrumental for Jurgen Klopp’s team this season. Offensively, Liverpool will have to find other options to take over the match if Salah is limited.
Player to Watch: With Mo Salah taking the spotlight, a pair of strikers will also be poised for strong performances. Vincent Aboubakar has 20 goals this season with Porto, 14 more than his total a year ago in Turkish football. He is strong and willing to do the dirty work if needed. Roberto Firmino is level with the Cameroon international this season, with 20 tallies himself. He is physical and clinical in front of goal.
Quote: “I said in beginning, I always try to help the team. When you score of course you help the team,” Mohamed Salah said following his team’s 2-0 win at Southampton on Sunday. “So I’m not surprised, but we need to forget about the past and keep looking forward. We have more league games and the Champions League.”