The Champions League knockouts begin this week and life’s about to get interesting for those craving inter-continental action. There are a couple of heavyweight bouts and others carrying niggles associated with sentiment.
For the big match, look no further than the tie where Manchester City host Barcelona, with both teams having experienced wobbles recently. Manchester City are still competing on four fronts. Their attack, so often a stifling ogre of terrifying beauty for the opposition, has rarely been rendered expressionless this season.
Despite the blips early in February, City came good in their last march, against Chelsea, to quell some questions surrounding their form heading into Tuesday’s match.
Their opponents seem to have found their groove after a turbulent December and January on and off the pitch. Barcelona have come through a period when they had to contend with Messi and Neymar out due to injury, the club’s President forced out under a cloud over transfer dealings and questions being raised abut their playing style. Barceona have since managed to turn their form around and stay on top of La Liga with some resounding wins and their best players easing themselves back into form.
The other grand tie has the champions Bayern Munich visiting Arsenal at a time when the former have shown few weaknesses while the Gunners are coping with a month that threatens to unravel their season once again. Pep Guardiola’s team shows no signs of slowing down, hammering opponents in the Bundesliga into submission while showing a ruthlessness not seen in their treble-winning campaign last year.
Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, keep harping on last year’s almost-fightback that sparked their improbable charge for the last Champions’ League spot when all had written them off. Further, Wenger does have a stronger defence this term but then again, Bayern have defied expectations to grow stronger.
Bayern are expected to beat Arsenal — only their complacency can do them in. As for the other match, it remains too close to call.
Hormazd is a senior sub-editor based in New Delhi