The UEFA Champions League is back on our screens once again, and somehow, just about every other thing relegates itself to the background. And if the first leg of these matches felt bland, numb, and slow, the implication is a finely poised second-leg affair with everything on the line.
Nothing is clearly decided yet. At least not with the away goal rule scrapped. Every goal counts for the same. The only difference in both legs is the number of fans that will be cheering for the home team.
Chelsea are back in London. They trail Borussia Dortmund by just a goal. Graham Potter’s men seem to have forgotten how to play, managing just one win all year. Yet, can the Blues reactivate their season with a big performance in front of their crowd?
For Benfica, things look a lot brighter. And except for some bizarre drama, the Portuguese side look sure to book their spot in the last eight.
PSG have their work cut out for them. Kylian Mbappe is back, and the smiles are beginning to reappear amongst the Ultras. Bayern Munich will be waiting at the Allianz Arena.
Tottenham have a tricky job against Milan, who they trail by a goal. Antonio Conte’s team, like their neighbours, needs a complete performance to stand a chance.
This week’s action looks tasty, with plenty of drama to come.
Chelsea vs Borussia Dortmund
Potter’s job at Chelsea is hanging by a thread. But if he hopes to buy himself time to mould this team into his own, the English manager must win this game.
Still, the Premier League side can argue that they were the better team in the first leg and were only unlucky to lose. The woodwork plus some Emre Can goal-line clearance helped Dortmund hold a crucial advantage.
Chelsea will look to get off the blocks in search of an early goal, which should unsettle the Bundesliga side. The London side have had no issues in defence, keeping four clean sheets in their last six matches at Stamford Bridge. Yet, even with the huge investments in January, they have struggled for goals, managing just one in four.
With Raheem Sterling back from injury, he should partner Kai Havertz and Joao Felix in a front three. Indeed, most of their attacking play will come through the middle, where Enzo Fernandez will hope to create chances from deep, looking for the diagonal runs of the offensive players.
The excellent deliveries and overlapping movements of Reece James and Ben Chilwell will prove crucial to what Chelsea do offensively.
Dortmund already have a goal to defend. And while it might be tempting to sit on it, the sensible thing is to try and dominate the ball and the spaces. Edin Terzic will count on Jude Bellingham and Can to be aggressive in retrieving possession and finding Julian Brandt and Marco Reus.
Based on form, Dortmund are the favourites to win this encounter. The Germans have won every match they have played in 2023. Hence, they will be brimming with confidence.
Benfica vs Club Brugge
Benfica have been one of the most impressive teams in this season’s Champions League. The Primeira Liga side finished ahead of PSG and now have a foot firmly in the quarterfinals for the second consecutive season.
Roger Schmidt will aim for a calm performance, avoiding risks. The task feels straightforward; limit the opponent, yet be direct on the break as Club Brugge will look to commit men in attack.
Goncalo Ramos will be licking his lips, hoping to take advantage of the light defence of the Belgian side. The Portuguese international has already scored 15 Liga goals this season.
David Neres, who scored in the first leg, will hope to isolate Abakar Sylla on the flanks. Joao Mario will get the job of gaining control in midfield.
Scott Parker, at this point, has very little to lose. The former Bournemouth boss will be keen to take risks in offense. An early goal might yet begin some sort of revival. Ferran Jutgla and Noa Lang, who were disappointing, will need to be direct and clinical.
With Raphael Onyedika back in midfield, Club Brugge should have a bit more stability. Hans Vanaken will need to wear his creative hat in finding the front three. The midfielder has also shown his knack for scoring. He will need to get closer to the opponent’s box.
Benfica seem to have this tie wrapped up. Everything points to another comfortable victory.
Prediction: Benfica win
Bayern Munich vs PSG
Bayern Munich, without being overwhelmingly better in Paris, hold a crucial goal advantage coming back to Germany.
Julian Naglesmann can expect a fight from the French side, who are desperate to add a Champions League trophy to their cabinet. Indeed, with Kylian Mbappe set to start, the Bayern defence will be a lot busier.
The German manager will once again be keen to have his team control the midfield. This will surely be a direct battle between Joshua Kimmich and Marco Verratti.
Yet, their biggest advantage is on the wings, where Leroy Sane and Kingsley Coman will hope to run at Nuno Mendez and Achraf Hakimi, respectively. The tricky Jamal Musiala, along with Thomas Muller, will look to create chances.
Christopher Galtier has struggled to carve out a solid defence. Even worse, Gianluigi Donnarumma has remained suspect since the start of the year.
However, now it is safer to give more attention to the forwards. With Neymar set to be out for the rest of the season, Mbappe and Lionel Messi have the huge burden of lifting this side into the quarterfinals.
If the first leg lacked goals aplenty, this match has the makings of a goals fest.
Predictions: over 2.5 goals
Tottenham vs AC Milan
Tottenham will look to overturn a 1-0 deficit when AC Milan visit. However, their recent awful form, which has seen them lose two of their last three league matches, should be a cause for concern.
Still, their home form, where they have managed to avoid losing to Manchester City, West Ham, and Chelsea, could inspire a bit of confidence.
No manager knows this opponent more than Antonio Conte after his years at Juventus. And now, he must find a way to breach the Serie A team’s defence.
With Rodrigo Bentacur out for the season, Tottenham have laboured in midfield. Emile Hoijberg will need to expect a tough evening against Rade Krunic and Sandro Tonali.
Harry Kane’s partnership with Heung-Min Son will need to work for the English team to stand a chance of qualifying. Yet, the craft of Dejan Kulusevski could prove pivotal.
Rafael Leao will be the man to make the difference for AC Milan. His combination of pace and trickery will trouble Emerson at right-back. And if the Portugal international can get his delivery right, the predatory Olivier Giroud can always pounce. Yet, even his hold-up play as the Italians transition from defence to offense will be important.
A cagey affair seems on the cards in London.
Prediction: under 3.5 goals