What to watch out for in this week's first legs
Monday, February 20, 2017
The UEFA Champions League round of 16 first legs conclude this week with Leverkusen v Atlético, Manchester City v Monaco, Porto v Juventus and Sevilla v Leicester.
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Tuesday: Leverkusen v Atlético
Two years ago these sides met at this stage and an absorbing contest went all the way to penalties, one of only nine ties (excluding finals) to be decided that way in the UEFA Champions League era. Atlético triumphed 3-2 in the shoot-out, with as many misses as conversions.
Diego Simeone's team will be favourites to win again though their stuttering recent form (three victories in eight) suggests it might not be so straightforward. Leverkusen, a lowly eighth in the Bundesliga, have been similarly inconsistent (three wins in seven) so this one is hard to call.
Did you know?Leverkusen are ten matches unbeaten at home in European competition.
Fantasy tips: Atleti defenders do not come cheap and for good reason. The Rojiblancos had the best defence in three of the past four Liga seasons, and Filipe Luís (€6.1m) was a key part of a back line that kept four clean sheets in the group stage.
Tuesday: Manchester City v Monaco
Monaco are enjoying their best campaign in nearly 20 years. The Ligue 1 leaders are scoring at a rate of around three goals per game and are 12 matches unbeaten. In Radamel Falcao, once of Manchester United, they possess one of Europe's in-form strikers.
City are hardly short of attacking talent themselves, and after a stop-start couple of months they appear to be rediscovering the form that launched their season with ten successive victories (though they were held 0-0 by second-tier Huddersfield in the FA Cup at the weekend). They are also nine unbeaten at home in the UEFA Champions League (W6 D3).
Did you know? Josep Guardiola has a 100% record in seven previous round of 16 ties as a coach with Barcelona and Bayern München.
Fantasy tips: Raheem Sterling (€7.5m) wasn't at his best in the group phase but seems to be approaching peak performance levels now, contributing two goals and three assists in his last five outings.
Wednesday: Porto v Juventus
Two goalkeeping greats renew their rivalry as Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon go head to head for a 17th time. The Spaniard has just about had the better of those encounters but Buffon has the edge in the UEFA Champions League knockouts and Juventus, on a seven-match winning streak, are narrow favourites to prevail over the two legs.
Porto are in decent shape too, their sequence of six victories helping cut Benfica's lead at the Portuguese summit from five points to one. Francisco Soares, dubbed the 'new Hulk', has made an immediate impact in attack after arriving in January; at the other end, however, the Dragons have been leaking goals.
Did you know? Alex Sandro played for Porto between 2011 and 2015, twice winning the Portuguese Liga.
Fantasy tips: It's hard to look beyond Buffon (€6.6m). The 39-year-old was beaten just twice in six group games and doesn't appear to have developed a generous streak during the winter: he has conceded just once in his last six games.
Wednesday: Sevilla v Leicester
Sevilla haven't made the last eight of the European Cup since 1958 but are well fancied here. Their 2-1 success against Madrid last month underlined the form that has taken them third in the Liga, and Stevan Jovetić, no stranger to English football following his time at Man. City, looks a shrewd loan signing.
The outlook for Leicester is bleaker, with the Foxes in danger of becoming only the second reigning English champions ever to be relegated. Yet we all know better by now than to rule out the UEFA Champions League debutants.
Did you know? Leicester have won just one two-legged European tie – 7-2 against Northern Irish outfit Glenavon in 1961.
Fantasy tips: Defenders Mariano Ferreira (€6m) and Sergio Escudero (€6m) both scored highly in the group stage. Given Leicester's attacking problems, Sevilla will be confident of a shut-out.