The UEFA Champions League returns with some cracking fixtures and plenty of value on offer. All eyes will be on Guus Hiddink’s Chelsea when they travel to France to take on Paris Saint-Germain. The Blues knew it wouldn’t be easy in the competition despite topping their group and in the process, they’ve drawn the hardest possible team that finished in second place.
Zenit boss Andre Villas-Boas will return to Portugal to take on his former rivals Benfica. Last 16 debutants Gent and Wolfsburg will go toe-to-toe which will see one of them advancing to the next round for the first time. Luciano Spalletti returns to Roma just in time to save their season after a poor run of form domestically. It won’t be easy for Roma who have to stop the competitions leading goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo when they host Real Madrid.
Tuesday 16 February
Benfica will welcome the return of Andre Villas-Boas back to Portugal when they host Zenit St. Petersburg in the last 16. Having beaten Benfica on a number of occasions coaching FC Porto, Villas-Boas will hope to extend his excellent run against the Eagles. Positively for Rui Vitoria’s men, these sides last met at the same stage of the competition in 2012, with Benfica going through 4-3 on aggregate. Nicolas Gaitan has been by far the Eagles’ best performer so far in the campaign. The Argentine playmaker has netted three times already in the Champions League group stage and will look to add to that tally.
Benfica seem to be too reliant on Gaitan at times though and not much service has gone to Jonas and Kostas Mitroglou when he is marked out the game. It could be the best time for Benfica to take on the Russian giants who come back from their winter break for this match. Zenit though, were most impressive of the two sides in the group stage – winning five of their six games scoring 13 goals and conceding just six times. The Sky Blues will look to the combination of Hulk and Artyom Dzyuba to get amongst the goals and grab the headlines for Zenit who look to advance to the last eight for the first time in their history. Apart from the duo of Dzyuba and Hulk, there’s a new boy in town in Aleksandr Kokorin. The Russian international joined Zenit for an undisclosed fee along with experienced left back Yuri Zhirkov. You can definitely expect a fast-paced attacking encounter between these two sides. Despite this being their first game back from their winter break, I just cannot see Zenit losing this one. Take them on the Win/Draw Double Chance at 7/10.
Paris Saint-Germain 7/10
Chelsea 42/10 (21:45)
Click here for full preview.
Wednesday 17 February
It’s amazing how this competition works, knowing that one of these sides will go through to the next round for the first time in their history. Speaking of history, this is the first time these teams have made it to the last 16 as well. Gent went on an impressive winning streak in their final three games of the group stage to ensure qualification. The Buffalos were probably most likely thought to be knocked out of the group stage, but instead, they proved to be a massive upset, finishing above Lyon and Valencia. They've been rewarded with a draw against Wolfsburg, a team that's certainly favoured to beat them, but arguably the weakest team that they could have drawn. However, Wolfsburg will prove to be no pushover.
The Wolves topped their standings on the final day of the group stage after an impressive victory over Manchester United – which saw the Red Devils exit the competition. Wolfsburg will look to their Brazilian centre back pairing in Dante and Naldo to keep things tidy in defence. Further up the field causing mayhem will be German playmaker Julian Draxler. Brought in as a replacement for Kevin De Bruyne – Draxler has proved to settle in well at his new club. Andre Schurrle and Vieirinha will occupy the wings, linking up with Draxler to cause havoc for the Belgian defence. With that being said, my money is on Wolfsburg here available at 12/10.
Real Madrid 17/20
After scraping through the group stages, advancing on the head-to-head rule, Roma face Real Madrid at the worst possible time. As if being hit for six by Barcelona in the group stage wasn’t enough, Los Blancos along with Barca, are the only teams undefeated so far in the competition. If Madrid are to keep up their Champions League form then we could be in for a massacre here. Madrid concluded their group stage with an 8-0 victory against Malmo – with Cristiano Ronaldo netting four times that match.
Ronaldo has been arguably the competitions best player this season and is the highest goalscorer with 11 goals to his name. The Portuguese superstar also went on to smash the UEFA Champions League record set by Raul for most goals scored. On the plus side for Roma, these sides last met in this leg of the competition in 2008, with Spalletti’s men winning both fixtures 2-1. It was a much more solid team in defence for Roma though, who have now conceded 16 goals in six Champions League matches this season. That sort of record will have Zinedine Zidane’s men licking their lips. Los Blancos are very strong contenders to go all the way and they are tipped to prove that once more against Roma. I’m expecting Real Madrid to win this one comfortably so take them to Win + Over 2.5 Goals at 29/20.