With the remaining first leg matches of the last 16 of the Champions League having been played last week, Cillian Dunn assesses where each side stands – and their chances of progressing to the quarter-finals
Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Borussia Dortmund
Zenit St. Petersburg
Where they stand: Things aren’t looking too rosy for Russia’s sole remaining side. Having lost the home leg by two clear goals, they face an uphill battle in Germany.
The good news: Zenit may have looked woeful at the Petrovsky Stadium, but they not played a competitive fixture since 11 December due to the mid-season Russian break, and with more match practice between now and the second leg, their side should, theoretically, be a lot sharper.
The bad news: Even if their away performance is much improved, they require something truly special to progress – victory by a three goal margin (down to ‘only’ a two goal one if they score five goals or more) – a tough order against any side, not least against last year’s runners up.
The key man: Hulk. With 10 goals in just 15 starts for Zenit this season, the Brazilian is a goal-threat whether he starts up front or out wide. He ended a run of three successive penalty misses against Dortmund, and Zenit fans will be hoping his finishing is similarly lethal in the return fixture.
Where they stand: Dortmund’s Bundesliga form this season may be, by their high standards, poor, but this has seemingly had no impact on their European performances, having progressed into the knockout stage via tricky group containing Premier League title chasers Arsenal, big-spending Italian side Napoli and French runners-up Marseille. With a two goal advantage from the first leg, last year’s finalists are showing no signs of slowing down.
The good news: With a comfortable lead from the first leg, and plenty of experience from the previous season’s run to the final, it is very difficult to envisage the German side failing to progress – especially in front of their own fans.
The bad news: Injuries. They remain the firm favourites, but with the likes of Sven Bender and Ilkay Gündogan currently sidelined, Dortmund do not look as strong a side as last season. Whether Zenit can exploit this is another matter.
The key man: Robert Lewandowski – the prolific Pole was at his unstoppable best in the first leg, scoring twice, and if he is on similar form in Germany, there really is no way back for Zenit.
Both sides are stronger in attack than defence, making goals for both sides likely, but Dortmund’s already commanding lead should ensure an ultimately comfortable victory for the Germans on aggregate.
Olympiakos vs. Manchester United
Where they stand: Manchester United have been in appalling form all season, but for the Greeks to be travelling to Old Trafford two goals to the good is surely more than even their most optimistic supporters could have hoped for.
The good news: They don’t even need to score (which these days, let’s face it, isn’t that difficult against United), merely restrict their opposition to a single goal – a feat already achieved this season by the likes of West Brom, Stoke and Sunderland.
The bad news: Surely, there has to be some kind of backlash? The Champions League is United’s last chance of a trophy this season, and to go out of the competition with such a whimper would be a new low even for David Moyes.
The key man: Goalkeeper Roberto was hardly troubled in Greece, but the former Spain U21 international is sure to be tested more in the second leg. If he can keep out Rooney and Van Persie, then his side stand an excellent chance of progressing.
Where they stand: A 2-0 defeat in the first leg is not what Moyes would have been hoping for, and, for United supporters, brings back unhappy memories of their infamous elimination from the competition by Galatasaray in 1993.
The good news: The Red Devils are at home, and, in spite of their struggles this season, still possess a vastly superior side. Surely, this has to be the point at which they recover from their slump – then again, how many times have pundits thought that this season?
The bad news: Their form is dreadful. Their forwards are misfiring, their defence looks suspect and Tom Cleverly, a player so terrible that a petition proposing that he be banned from the England squad garnered over 4,000 signatures within 24 hours, is still a regular in their midfield.
The key man: Wayne Rooney. United need goals, and with his new £300,000 a week contract, Rooney has to be the man to provide them.
The Result: Probably, as it stands, the hardest tie to call. I’ll be brave and say 4-1 to United. A brace apiece for Rooney and Van Persie, as they finally prove they can work as a partnership. The man of the match award will go to Cleverly, after he marshals the United midfield in a manner reminiscent of Paul Scholes in his prime. It is possible…
Galatasaray vs. Chelsea
Where they stand: It could be worse. Gala avoided defeat in the first leg courtesy of a second half equaliser from Aurelien Chedjou, but know that repeating this feat in London will be even more difficult.
The good news: The manager. Roberto Mancini loves a 1-0 win, and one of those would do nicely for his side.
The bad news: Galatasaray have never won an away tie against English opposition in eight attempts, and Stamford Bridge would seem an unlikely venue for this record to be broken.
The key man: Didier Drogba is arguably Chelsea’s greatest ever striker. It would be a cruel blow/a hilarious example of irony at its most beautiful (depending on whether you are a Blues fan or not), were he to break the hearts of the supporters who once idolised him by knocking his former club out of the competition he so recently helped them win.
Where they stand: Chelsea will be frustrated at letting their goal advantage slip, but still feel confident they can finish the job at Stamford Bridge.
The good news: A 1-1 draw at Galatasaray normally wouldn’t be much to boast about, but Chelsea will be looking at their fellow English clubs and thinking that things could be a lot worse.
The bad news: Whether they’ll admit it or not, the thought of a last minute screamer from Didier Drogba is one that has raced through the mind of every Chelsea fan at some stage.
The key man: Eden Hazard has been superb for Chelsea in recent weeks, leading Jose Mourinho to describe him as the best young player in the world. If he is at his best against the Turkish side in the second leg, Chelsea should create the opportunities necessary to win.
The Result: It would still be a shock were Chelsea not to progress, but Mancini’s sides are notoriously hard to beat and it is unlikely to be a comfortable night for the Blues. A narrow Chelsea win, probably after Drogba gives them a scare by putting Galatasaray in front.
Schalke vs. Real Madrid
Where they stand: Personally, I’m only backing two of the three remaining German sides to go through, but that’s just my opinion.
The good news: Schalke fans planning on travelling to the Bernabéu can save themselves the money.
The bad news: There is the potential here for Schalke to set a new record. Currently, Sporting Lisbon hold the record for the biggest two-legged defeat in the Champions League era, having lost 12–1 (5–0, 7–1) to Bayern Munich in the round of 16 in 2008–09. Madrid need only score a single goal more than they managed in the away leg for the German side to outdo this feat.
The key man: The phrase ‘key man’ usually refers to a player capable of turning the game for his side. For Schalke, at this stage, there is no such man.
Where they stand: You don’t want to tempt fate with these sort of things. But, seriously, they’re in the quarter finals.
The good news: They could lose 5-0 and still go through.
The bad news: I suppose there is a danger of complacency. But it would have to be an impressive display of complacency to damage their chances.
The key man: Pick from any of their front three; Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Each scored twice in the first leg, and between them, they have decided the tie already.
The Result: Schalke will be looking to regain some pride, but preventing the aggregate score from reaching double figures is probably the best they can hope for.bookmark me