The Champions League gets down to business next week, as the 16 remaining sides face each other as the knockout rounds begin. Six games now stand between Europe's elite and the final in May at Lisbon's Estádio da Luz.
Let's take a look at some of the players likely to make an impact in this week's round of fixtures and predict how we think the results will pan out.
|Champions League second round, first leg fixtures and predictions|
|Manchester City vs. Barcelona||Tuesday, Feb. 18||7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET||2-1|
|Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich||Wednesday, Feb. 19||7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET||1-2|
|Bayer Leverkusen vs. Paris St Germain||Tuesday, Feb. 18||7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET||0-2|
|AC Milan vs Atletico Madrid||Wednesday, Feb. 19||7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET||1-0|
|Olympiacos vs. Manchester United||Tuesday, Feb. 25||7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET||1-0|
|Galatasaray vs. Chelsea||Wednesday, Feb. 26||7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET||0-2|
|Zenit St Petersburg vs. Borussia Dortmund||Tuesday, Feb. 25||5:00 p.m. GMT/12:00 p.m. ET||0-1|
|Schalke 04 vs. Real Madrid||Wednesday, Feb. 26||7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET||0-3|
Mario Balotelli, AC Milan
Balotelli may seem an unusual pick, given his AC Milan side, 10th in Serie A, face an Atletico Madrid who sit in second in La Liga on the same points as Barcelona. Add to the mix Diego Costa, the Brazilian striker who has bagged 26 goals in 35 games for Los Colchoneros, and it's difficult to see any hope for Milan.
But Balotelli is a difficult man to dismiss.
The Italian striker has a habit of producing outrageous moments, whether on the field or off it. Yesterday, Balotelli sent Milan to a 1-0 victory over Bologna with a bullet of a shot from the touch line. But it is not just individual moments of brilliance that define the former-Manchester City star.
Balotelli has been a reliable source of goals this season, if not a prolific one, notching 15 in 29 appearances, as per goal.com.
Like great players such as Eric Cantona, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Zinedine Zidane, Balotelli has a canny knack of producing his best when the spotlight is on him.
There's arguably no greater spotlight in world football than the Champions League. Expect Super Mario to indulge in his moment against Atletico Madrid next week.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Borussia Dortmund
Let's not beat around the bush: Last season's finalists, Dortmund, are likely to ease past Zenit St. Petersburg.
And presuming they do so, it is likely that either Robert Lewandowski or Aubameyang will provide the goals. It has been a fantastic start to his Dortmund career for Aubameyang. The Gabonese front man has hit 16 goals in his 19 games since his move from Saint-Etienne, leaving him third in the Bundesliga scoring charts, as per sports.yahoo.com.
Aubameyang's pace is likely to cause problems from Zenit's defence, and with tremendous finishing prowess, it only needs one momentary lapse of concentration for him to snatch a goal. Experience tells us that one goal may be all it takes to send a team into the quarterfinals.
Vincent Kompany, Manchester City
During the football awards season, there is often a tendency to overlook the efforts of defensive-minded players. Fabio Cannavaro, seven years ago, was the last defender to win the World Player of the Year Award, as per the Daily Mail.
But if Manchester City are to progress past Barcelona in the last 16, they will rely on their captain, Vincent Kompany.
Kompany has been an ever-present in City's march to the top of the English game, and the Belgian international now stands as one of world football's finest central defenders. If City are to progress, they will rely on Kompany to stand firm against the waves of Catalan pressure.
Kompany exemplifies the Premier League better than any English player today. He boasts pace, bravery and the ability to snatch the odd goal. Kompany is the glue that knits the creative forces of Manchester City together.
Bet on him to stand firm against Messi et al at the Etihad.
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