Champions League Last 16 Preview (Part 2) – Playnbrag
Sean Canning continues his preview of the knockout phase of Europe’s premier cup competition.
After a highly successful week for the Premier League clubs which saw Man City and Liverpool record impressive wins and Spurs come back from 2 goals down to share the spoils against Juventus, this week it’s the turn of Chelsea and Man United to make a bow in the last 16 of this year’s UEFA Champions League.
Sevilla vs Man United
The big story emanating from the United camp in recent weeks is the seemingly deteriorating relationship between boss Jose Mourinho and record signing Paul Pogba. The former Juventus midfielder was absent from the United squad that overcame Huddersfield in the FA Cup at the weekend with Mourinho bizarrely claiming the player was “ill” and he “didn’t care” if the problem was serious. Pogba’s appearance at training the next morning however suggests there may be more to this story. However, United will need the French international to be at his most influential as his Champions League experience will be invaluable as the competition enters the knockout stages.
Sevilla finished as runners up to Liverpool in the group stages and have a proven European pedigree triumphing in three consecutive Europa Leagues between 2014 and 2016. Former Blackburn and Stoke midfielder Stephen N’Zonzi has caught the eye of several European giants with his displays this season and up front the Spanish side will be looking to former Manchester City players Nolito and Jêsus Navas to provide the firepower against their former rivals.
Chelsea vs Barcelona
It’s been a tough second season for Antonio Conte at the Chelsea helm, as like some of his predecessors, he has struggled to scale the heights of last season’s title-winning form. Results have improved in recent weeks with comfortable wins over West Brom and Hull in the League and FA Cup respectively, but Barcelona are a very, very different proposition.
Ernesto Valverde’s side have been in scintillating form both domestically and in Europe, the club have gone 24 games unbeaten in La Liga and topped a tough CL group that included last year’s runners up Juventus. Barca’s frontline of Dembele, Suarez and of course the mercurial Messi have been grabbing the headlines but they have also been watertight at the back, conceding only 11 goals in the league.
These clubs have a chequered history in recent years in this tournament with the Spanish giants still smarting from Chelsea’s win at the Nou Camp in 2012 en route to winning their first ever Champions League. There are always fireworks in this fixture and one would expect tonight’s encounter to be no different.
Bayern Munich vs Besiktas
The return of coach Jupp Heynckes for his fourth spell at the Allianz Arena has steadied the ship at Bayern after a tricky start to the season, with the team winning 21 out of 22 games since his return to the hotseat. The visitors meanwhile, have been the surprise package of this season’s Champions League, coming out of a group that included Porto, Monaco and Leipzig and reaching the knockout stages for the first time in the club’s history
The evergreen Arjen Robben has been in terrific form of late for the home side and may just keep his place ahead of Thomas Mueller, James Rodriguez and the free-scoring Thomas Lewandowski are expected to return for the German champions.
Besiktas will miss Cenk Tosun after his switch to Everton in the January transfer window so they will look to old warhorse Ricardo Queresma along with former Liverpool attacker Ryan Babel for leadership. On paper the home side should have too much for their Turkish counterparts but the ambitious side from the banks of the Bosphorous will be hopeful of springing another surprise in this season’s competition.
Shakhtar Donetsk vs Roma
Both these sides came through extremely difficult groups to get to this stage of the competition, Roma pipped Chelsea to top-spot in their group while Shakhtar finished runners up in to Man City ahead of the much-fancied Napoli in Group F. Roma are on a decent run at the minute winning their last three games on the bounce, thanks in no-small part to the impressive Turkish forward Cengiz Under finding his scoring touch in recent works. The hosts, meanwhile under the tutelage of Paulo Fonseca, top their domestic league and are on an impressive run themselves, winning four of their last five outings. Their Brazilian midfielder Fred has been receiving most of the plaudits this season and has drawn attention from several admirers including Chelsea and Man United and he has been ably assisted throughout the European campaign by Argentinian striker Facundo Ferreyra who has found the net in 15 out of 20 games this season. Shakhtar are notoriously hard to beat at home and if the slightly suspect Roma defence is breached early in the game it could be a long night for the Italian visitors.
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