It feels like an eternity has passed since we have had a taste of European football action, but this week it returns with some mega ties as we reach the knockout stages. We have picked out two fixtures from the Champions League and stuck to our roots with one fantastic looking tie from the Championship.
Manchester City v Barcelona
Manchester City make their debut in the Champions League knockout stages and what a match they have lined up for it. Spanish giants Barcelona make the visit to the Etihad for the first leg with the second side of the fixture being at the Nou Camp in March. Both sides come into the game with confidence after their weekend games, Manchester City knocked out Chelsea in the FA Cup and Barca thrashed Rayo Vallecano in La Liga, 6-0.
The Sky Blues are missing Sergio Aguero and when these big ties come together you want the best players playing but it may well suit the Citizens to look to have that additional man in midfield to over power the key players from the Spanish outfit. Going forward you can always expect Barcelona to score goals, with creativity in abundance, the goals are always going to rack up. However at the back the Catalans are always susceptible to a mistake with Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano the likely partnership. City have players to take advantage of these lapses such as Silva, Alvaro Negredo and Yaya Toure, and I can see City scoring a goal or two on Tuesday.
As already mentioned Barcelona have plenty of attacking threat to score goals, just as they managed to do so at the weekend by scoring six. Manager Tata Martino also rested Xavi so expect the Spanish legend to start with Cesc Fabregas to occupying a more forward role. Iniesta who is on top form at present will be alongside Xavi and even before i have even mentioned Lionel Messi you can a see a few goals being scored here.
Arsenal v Bayern Munich
Here we have the Wednesday tie to look forward to as Arsenal play hosts to the holders, Bayern Munich. Last March when these two met at the Allianz Arena, Arsenal pulled off a shock 2-0 victory however it wasn’t enough to progress after Bayern dismantled the Gunners 3-1 at the Emirates in the first leg. Both sides will very much have these past two ties in the forefront of their minds and should leave us with an intriguing clash over these two legs.
Arsenal come in to the tie on the back of an FA Cup victory over rivals Liverpool on Saturday afternoon, a much needed 2-1 win was achieved which helped soften the bad memories of the heavy 5-1 defeat they suffered at Anfield earlier in the month. During the Group stages Arsenal finished second having won four of their six ties and finished behind another German side, Dortmund. Despite their famous win in Munich almost twelve months ago, Wenger and his Arsenal team will be relying on a result at home rather than away if they are to qualify and scoring at least one goal will be necessary.
For another season Bayern look like the best team in the world. In the Bundesliga, they have won 19 of their 21 matches and have drawn the other two. The league has pretty much already been wrapped and all their concentration is on the Champions League. There is very little i have to do to persuade anyone that Bayern will score on Wednesday other than drag out the little fact that the German side have scored in every single game in every competition this season and the last time they failed to score two goals or more was against Vittoria Plzen way back in the Group games.
Nottingham Forest v Leicester City
The Championship is our final destination on our coupon and this may well be the highlight of all of the midweek ties. With all of the European action distracting our attentions we may well have missed this fixture which would be an awful shame as it has all the makings of a cracker. Top of the league Leicester City make the trip to the City Ground to take on the in form Nottingham Forest.
Forest lost at the weekend to League One Sheffield United in the FA Cup which ended a 16 game unbeaten streak in all competitions and despite this slip up the Tricky Trees are still very much feared due to their recent form and rightly so. Forest have won all of their previous five home league games and can boast the best form in the division, the Reds are really pushing on now and an automatic promotion spot is in their sights. A victory here really would make a big statement.
Leicester are the league leaders and are seven points clear of closest rivals Burnley, a return to the Premier League is looking good but the away game here may be the toughest fixture yet for the Foxes. Nigel Pearson’s outfit have however won all of their last five games away from home and to call the outcome of this tie seems impossible. With both sides on such good form and full of confidence I can see both scoring goals and I am predicting a 2-2 draw.