The 2011/12 UEFA Champions League round of 16 continues with the first four second legs this week. UEFA.com's team of reporters and correspondents from across Europe will bring you all the press conference news ahead of tomorrow's games and all the build-up to this evening's ties.
All times CET.
Tuesday 19.45, UEFA.com newsdesk
Follow Tuesday's games in the MatchCentre, where our reporters in Lisbon and London will provide regular updates throughout. The blog is now closed for today but be sure to visit UEFA.com on Wednesday morning for reaction to tonight's fixtures and the best build-up to the week's second instalment of last-16 action.
Tuesday 19.30, Chris Burke at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica
One concern for Benfica tonight will be ensuring a supply line for ever-reliable Paraguay forward Óscar Cardozo, who has plundered 14 goals in his last 14 appearances. Regular playmaker Pablo Aimar is suspended and the team do not possess another creator in the same mould as the experienced No10, even if Nicolás Gaitán leads the competition in assists this term with five. Aimar's fellow Argentinian could be charged with taking the primary responsibility for eking out openings against Zenit, with Spanish forward Rodrigo potentially in line to support Cardozo up front as well.
Tuesday 17.48, Richard Aikman at Arsenal Stadium
It has been a seamless trip over to Arsenal, where gaggles of supporters are slowly beginning to appear, wandering around the Holloway Road in the vain hope of finding somewhere half-decent to eat. The visiting supporters will be particularly disappointed with the 'pizzas' on offer, but most are happy enough having their photos taken by the statues of Thierry Henry and Tony Adams and the large cannon opposite the club shop, The Armoury.
Inside the ground, it is the water cannons that are at work, Arsène Wenger having issued instructions to the groundsmen for the pitch to be even slicker and smoother than is the norm. With 25 league and four UEFA Champions League goals to his name now, Robin van Persie has certainly not been keeping his powder dry, but the Arsenal captain is sanguine about this evening's exercise. "We're up against one of the top four or five teams in Europe so we have to be realistic," he says in the match programme. "All we can do tonight is give it a real go, play with our hearts and see what happens."
Tuesday 18.38, UEFA.com newsdesk
For a wealth of statistics and historical background relating to tonight's matches in Lisbon and London download a press kit here.
Tuesday 17.30, Lucy Turner at the Camp Nou
The Camp Nou press room is pretty much full. Midfielder Sergio Busquets will be talking to the media first while Leverkusen finish their training session out on the pitch. Josep Guardiola never trusts any opponent and despite the favourable 3-1 result in the first leg, Barcelona do not want to be caught off guard by the German side.
Tuesday 17.08, Jamie Reid at Arsenal Stadium
I have arrived at Arsenal Stadium on a cold spring afternoon in the capital. A small gathering of Milan fans have done likewise and are making themselves heard outside the ground, clearly in relaxed mood. Indeed, the task facing the Gunners in a mammoth one, but manager Arsène Wenger is refusing to give up hope. In his programme notes he calls on the home crowd to act as a 12th man and inspire the team, as he looks to create history by making Arsenal the first side to recover a four-goal first-leg deficit in the UEFA Champions League era.
"You, the fans, will count for a lot ... I would ask you to get behind the team again tonight, as you have been doing, and let's see what we can achieve together," he says. "We want to have a real go at getting through to the next round; we want to make it possible. We want to stay in this competition so we'll give it our best shot."
Tuesday 16.50, Chris Burke en route to Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica
Bright sunshine here in Portugal, where Zenit return after claiming a 0-0 draw with FC Porto on matchday six that clinched their passage to the knockout round at the Dragons' expense. The Russian champions were also here for a training camp last month as they geared up for the resumption of the Premier-Liga at the weekend, and it will be interesting to see how they cope with playing another huge game so soon after returning from the winter break with Saturday's 2-2 draw at PFC CSKA Moskva.
That result kept Luciano Spalletti's men six points clear of the capital club at the top of the standings, in stark contrast to Benfica's recent Liga woes. The 3-2 reverse in St Petersburg kicked off a run of three defeats and a draw in four matches for the Eagles, culminating in their morale-sapping 3-2 home loss against Porto on Friday. Five points clear of Porto ahead of the first leg against Zenit, Jorge Jesus’s side now trail their nothern rivals by three points, and another disappointment tonight would further blacken the mood around the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica.
Tuesday 16:43, Richard Aikman en route to Arsenal Stadium
In some respects, this is a nice position for Arsenal fans to find themselves in, in as much as their expectation levels are virtually non-existent. The home supporters making their way to the game tonight will do so looking forward to seeing two fine teams in action but free of the tension that can make such occasions difficult to bear. It is almost certainly their last European hurrah of the season and Arsenal have nothing to lose, so an attractive, stress-free match is in prospect, unless of course the Premier League side manage to grab a couple of early goals, in which case Gooners and Milanisti alike will start biting their nails.
Tuesday 16.19, Lucy Turner in Barcelona
Team-mates Michal Kadlec and Manuel Friedrich got into trouble during the first leg, as they competed to swap shirts with Barcelona's Lionel Messi. Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Völler said afterwards: "I can guarantee that Kadlec and Friedrich will be auctioning off their Messi shirts for charity." That has dissuaded Stefan Kiessling from getting a swap at Camp Nou, though he joked: "I think I'll phone Leo Messi and ask him to send me one of his shirts.
"We're very excited about playing at the Camp Nou against Barcelona and it's great to have 4,000 fans here just to see us," added the 28-year-old. "That's important for us and we have to put on a good performance for the sake of those travelling fans." Asked how he was enjoying playing as a lone striker, Kiessling said: "I'm a player and I follow orders, but it works with just me up front or with several strikers. You should ask me what I prefer in a few years' time when I'm a coach."
Monday 16.00, Richard Aikman in London
Though Arsenal's injury problems are as bad as Milan's, their fans can take comfort from the fact they have scored 12 goals in their last two home matches. The Gunners have also demonstrated great resolve of late, coming from behind to win in each of their last two fixtures.
Having scored two more goals at this stage of the campaign than they had in their "Invincible" season of 2003/04, we can almost certainly expect them to score tonight. The main problem, however, with such an attack-minded side, will be keeping them out at the other end. Just one away goal will almost certainly finish off the hosts.
Tuesday 15.30, Lucy Turner in Barcelona
"There are lots of things that worry me about facing Barcelona," continued Dutt. "I have watched hundreds of Barcelona games and they always have very high ball possession. What can we do with the little time they let us have the ball? That's the question."
Stefan Kiessling added: "I think we have good players and a good team and it is free to dream, but we have to be careful with our dreams and what we say. If we don't win but play well, then that would be good too, but we're here to do our best and we have to be careful with what we say. We know what team we're facing and we know we want to avoid losing possession because we want to make the most of all our chances."
Tuesday 15.20, Lucy Turner in Barcelona
The Leverkusen press conference is ongoing and Robin Dutt is adamant that his team are not ready to throw in the towel. "On paper it looks favourable for Barcelona because we should have been more offensive in the first leg," he said. "The important thing is to play a good match for the 4,000 Bayer fans travelling here. This is the round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League so we can't afford to field a 'B' team. Tomorrow is a match for the best players we have."
Tuesday 15.10, Lucy Turner in Barcelona
We're all set for the Leverkusen press conference here at the team's hotel. Robin Dutt and Stefan Kiessling, rather than Gonzalo Castro, are the men taking to the stage to discuss Wednesday's round of 16 second leg. Bayer will later head to the Camp Nou, about five minutes away from their hotel, for training. It is a pleasant afternoon in Barcelona, sunny with a slightly chilly wind for locals but probably comfortably warm for the 4,000 Leverkusen fans expected to be at the stadium tomorrow evening.
Tuesday 15.00, Pedro Gonçalves in Lisbon
"I feel the pressure" is the headline from O Jogo, which carries the words of Benfica coach Jorge Jesus, whose team head into their meeting with Zenit on the back of three defeats and a draw in their last four fixtures in all competitions. "They are very strong tactically, and so are we," said the coach. "We are 3-2 down but that result gives us confidence to go through."
Tuesday 14.45, Christian Châtelet, UEFA.com French newsdesk
Speaking to newspaper Le Progrès, which asked him what he would do if he was an APOEL player on Wednesday evening, Lyon's Kim Källström said: "I would attack. They have nothing to lose. In the first leg they clearly came to defend, but here they will have to risk more." APOEL's home support has been a crucial factor to their success so far, but Källström insists he and his team-mates are ready for what is expected to be a partisan atmosphere. He added: "Everyone wants to see it but it will not frighten us."
Tuesday 14.25, Dmitri Rogovitski, UEFA.com Russian newsdesk
Sport den za dnem newspaper paints a relaxed picture among the Zenit squad since their arrival in Lisbon, with most of the travelling party taking a walk round the Portuguese capital last night. "Aleksandr Anyukov, Vladimir Bystrov, Igor Denisov and Aleksandr Kerzhakov even had a ride on a vintage tram," says the newspaper. "They are unlikely to be in for such an easy ride tonight, however.
Tuesday 14.00, Paul Bryan, UEFA.com Spanish newsdesk
Daniel Alves, Javier Mascherano, Sergio Busquets, Pedro Rodríguez and Lionel Messi enjoyed a night out to see Cirque du Soleil several weeks ago and all concerned were delighted when the cast of the world famous acrobatic theatre group turned up at the club's training ground on Monday. There were smiles all around as photos were taken and signed Barça shirts offered. The serious business of preparing for the second leg of their round of 16 tie against Leverkusen begins later, however, with the locals taking to the Camp Nou pitch for a workout at 18.45.
Tuesday 13.40, Richard Aikman in London
Given that no team has overturned a four-goal deficit in UEFA Champions League history, and that Arsenal must do so against one of the best teams in Europe, it is hardly surprising Arsène Wenger rates his side's chances as only 5%. The Rossoneri, boosted by Serie A's leading goalscorer Zlatan Ibrahimović, have become a force to be reckoned with again. They are top of the Italian top flight and playing with a swagger.
But the Rossoneri are beset by injuries. The loss of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Clarence Seedorf will deprive the visitors of crucial dynamism and big-match experience respectively. Who knows? An early goal may just cause doubts in the minds of a side who hold the record for having had the biggest UEFA Champions League first-leg victory overturned. They lost 4-0 to RC Deportivo La Coruña in the 2003/04 quarter-finals after winning 4-1 at home – a game that Wenger watched live on television.
Tuesday 13.25, Pedro Gonçalves in Lisbon
"No one gives up" reads the front page of today's A Bola, with Benfica skipper Luisão asking for the supporters' help to beat Zenit at home. A crowd of more than 50,000 is expected to turn out to help the Lisbon outfit. "Millions against crisis" is the headline from Record, which continues: "All to win and nothing to lose; this can be Benfica's motto for today's match against Zenit … Against the team that imposed the first defeat in this period of struggle for Benfica, the Reds can now start to recover."
Tuesday 13.10, Fabio Balaudo, UEFA.com Italian newsdesk
On the eve of tonight's match in north London, Milan president Silvio Berlusconi spoke about the Rossoneri's ambitions and praised Zlatan Ibrahimović's recent form. "We want a leading role both in Italy and Europe," he said. "Our squad has been built with a clear target in mind: to be the number one.
"The European games are the most important in terms of the Ballon d'Or. So I hope [Ibrahimović] shines again in the Champions League as his form is improving and he has even improved his skills, especially creatively. In my opinion he deserves that award."
The former Italian Prime Minister also underlined his regard for Stephan El Shaarawy, Milan's 'Little Pharaoh'. "He is young and talented, I love his way of playing," added Berlusconi. "I only suggested him to change his hairstyle, but considering his performances I think I should take that back!"
Tuesday 12.55, John Leonidou in Nicosia
APOEL's Cypriot international Nektarios Alexandrou has referred to his side's game against Lyon on Wednesday as "the most important" in the club's history. "The moment that we have all been waiting for has arrived," said the versatile 28-year-old, who has featured in defence, midfield and attack during his time in Nicosia. "This is the most important game in the history of our club and we need to be ready and give absolutely everything.
"The players and fans need to put in their best performance if we want to go into the next round. All that remains is for us to prepare ourselves both mentally and physically to the demands of this game."
Tuesday 12.40, Richard Aikman in London
The Daily Telegraph suggests Arsenal may adopt a gung-ho formation including four strikers. "A combination of an injury crisis in central midfield and the situation in the tie means that Wenger will select a particularly attacking team. He will urge his players to draw on the experience of their 5-2 win against Tottenham Hotspur only nine days ago, when Arsenal recovered from 2-0 down and scored five goals in 25 minutes.
"Wenger intends to start with Robin van Persie and is then likely to surround his captain with the creative talents of Gervinho, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a formation that will be even more attacking than the usual 4-3-3 system. He will also consider a switch to 4-4-2, with Walcott or Marouane Chamakh potentially playing in a central striker's role alongside Van Persie."
Tuesday 12.25, UEFA.com newsdesk
UEFA.com already has a raft of content looking forward to tonight's games, including in-depth previews looking at both Benfica v Zenit and Arsenal v Milan. You can also read our focus piece with Gunners defender Kieran Gibbs, exclusive interviews with Luisão and Axel Witsel and a warning against complacency from Rossoneri goalkeeper Christian Abbiati. There is also a video interview with Zenit striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov.
Tuesday 12.15, Paolo Menicucci in Milan
Gazzetta dello Sport describe Milan's game at Arsenal as a "maturity test" but also as "a great chance for [Stephen] El Shaarawy", with the pink newspaper predicting a first UEFA Champions League start for the 19-year-old forward. There is also a lengthy interview with Manchester City FC striker Mario Balotelli. "I hope Milan will win the Champions League, " the former FC Internazionale Milano player said. "I would like to see Zlatan Ibrahimović lifting that trophy, he would deserve it. In England there is no player as strong as Ibra."
Tuesday 12.00, Chris Burke en route to Lisbon
Just starting off on my way to Lisbon for the return meeting between Benfica and Zenit, and I have to say I'm really looking forward to this one. The tie is beautifully poised after Zenit won the first leg 3-2, and even Benfica coach Jorge Jesus is predicting goals from both teams. His own side gave a good account of themselves despite freezing conditions in Russia three weeks ago and will be better able to lay down their typically fluid passing game this time around.
There ought to be plenty of fascinating subplots too, with former FC Porto defender Bruno Alves back on home soil, Benfica desperate to cope better with Roman Shirokov – scorer of two goals in their last meeting – and prolific forwards Óscar Cardozo and Aleksandr Kerzhakov poised to go head to head. The same firm of architects designed the remarkably similar venues of both tonight's matches - the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica and Arsenal Stadium - but the ties themselves rest on vastly different first-leg foundations.
Tuesday 11.45, Sven Ewald, UEFA.com German newsdesk
Though it would be somewhat of a miracle, Leverkusen still have hope that they can eliminate Barcelona and reach the quarter-finals. "We have to see what we can do," said coach Robin Dutt. Forward Stefan Kiessling added: "We want to torment Barça a little bit." The fact is, though, that Leverkusen need to score three goals at Camp Nou – no mean feat.
For Gonzalo Castro, the game against Barcelona will be a special one. The defender has Spanish roots and will be supported by "half a hundred relatives" according to Leverkusen.
Tuesday 11.30, John Leonidou in Nicosia
Goal newspaper in Cyprus has dedicated an entire page to APOEL's Portuguese midfielder Hélio Pinto, who will miss Wednesday's clash in Nicosia through suspension. The 27-year-old has been one of Ivan Jovanović's mainstays this season, with winter signing Hélder Sousa expected to slot into his holding midfield position alongside Nuno Morais.
Referring to Hélio Pinto as the 'Little Engine' due to his unrelenting energy, the article reads: "There are some players whose absence cannot go unnoticed. Some players have the ability to put on consistent performances no matter who the opposition and Hélio Pinto is one such player. From the day that he moved from Limassol to Nicosia [in 2006], the Portuguese player has amassed 152 appearances. For him to be missing, he needs to be either injured or suspended."
Tuesday 11.15, Richard Aikman in London
As London wakes up to another chilly March morning, the sporting press are warming to the task facing Arsenal this evening. They face a four-goal deficit against seven-time European Cup winners Milan and this is how The Guardian assesses the challenge facing their manager:
"It is gamble time for Arsène Wenger. The Arsenal manager has a choice. Does he back his rank outsider or does he quit while he can and call it a day without suffering any more damage? It seems Wenger's mind is already made up. He may value his team's chances at only 5% but that 5% is tantalising. All logic points to being protective of his best players, those who need a rest and have been feeling knocks. So it makes sense to be cautious, does it not?
"Surely the risk of losing his most influential performers for the Premier League run-in is too great with the scoreline so weighted against them? Not this time. Not when Wenger envisages the most overwhelming comeback in the history of the Champions League. It requires a turnaround that has no precedent in Europe's elite competition, yet the competitor in him cannot help but cling to the remote possibility that it can be done."
Tuesday 10.55, Lucy Turner in Barcelona
Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt is likely to be joined by defender Gonzalo Castro in this afternoon's press conference, though that is subject to change. Meanwhile, Josep Guardiola and midfielder Sergio Busquets will take centre stage at the Camp Nou at around 17.45.
Tuesday 10.40, Denis Novitsky, UEFA.com Russian newsdesk
Ahead of this evening's match against Benfica, Zenit midfielder Roman Shirokov told Sport-Express that this situation is not dissimilar to the one Luciano Spalletti's side faced prior to matchday six, when a goalless draw against FC Porto secured their passage through to the last 16.
"If the game in Lisbon ends with the same result as the one in Porto, I will not complain," he said. "We have to go through. The first round of the knockout phase was our minimum goal, but now we have to go further. The result of the first match [a 3-2 home win] was a pretty good one in that respect. It's a very good chance to play in the semi-finals."
Tuesday 10.25, Tom Kell in London
Under the headline 'Wenger convinced his team's finest hour (and a half) awaits', British daily The Times suggests the Arsenal manager may "break with his analytical approach and attempt to inspire his players with a rousing speech before they take to the field against the Italian champions ... judging from his rhetoric one day before the game, he is obviously in Churchillian mode".
Tuesday's edition of the newspaper continues: "They are a very different team to that who travelled to Milan on Valentine's Day. Victories over Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in the Premier League have restored confidence, recaptured fourth place and mended broken hearts. That renaissance, according to Wenger, stems directly from the fury that he unleashed on his players after that humiliating first-leg defeat."
Tuesday 10.10, Carlos Machado in Lisbon
Benfica defender Jardel is keen to play up the potential influence of tonight's home crowd after his side lost 3-2 in tricky conditions in Russia three weeks ago. "We know it will be a different match here because our fans will be with us and they have been so important up to now," he said. "The first match in Russia was very hard for us; the pitch was bad, also the weather [-10C], but here things will be different and we feel that we can play our game and win."
Tuesday 10.00, UEFA.com newsdesk
Before the day's business gets under way, a gentle reminder that there are a number of ways to win great prizes with UEFA.com, including Predictor, Player Rater, and Classics. The first of today's press conferences will see Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt address the media at around 15.00. We will have plenty before then, though.
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