The Champions League round of 16 is back with another set of first-leg ties this week, as Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United lead the elites' charge into battle once more.
Zenit Saint Petersburg and Olympiacos are the clubs who are looking to cause a major upset, but do either side have a realistic chance of doing so? Let's predict and preview Tuesday's upcoming games.
|Champions League Round of 16 First-Leg Ties, Feb. 25|
|Zenit Saint Petersburg||vs.||Borussia Dortmund||5 p.m. GMT/ 12 p.m. ET||1-2|
|Olympiacos||vs.||Manchester United||7.45 p.m. GMT/ 2.45 p.m. ET||1-1|
Predictions and Preview for Tuesday's Crucial Games
Zenit Saint Petersburg vs. Borussia Dortmund
Dortmund's disappointing season, one that has been defined by long-term injuries to key players, was underlined when Sven Bender was recently ruled out for up to 10 weeks with a groin problem, reported by Stefan Coerts of Goal.com.
Jurgen Klopp's men were walloped 3-0 away at Hamburg during their last match, ending a run of four consecutive victories, once again unnerving a side that has teetered with disaster this campaign. While Dortmund have done well to overcome the three straight losses of November, this is not the same force that headed all the way to last year's Champions League final.
A trip to Russia is never welcome, but Zenit head into this one without having played a competitive match since Dec. 11.
The Russian winter break doesn't end until March 9, as reported by UEFA, so Luciano Spalletti's men will need to quickly rediscover the form that put them top of the domestic division on goal difference prior to Christmas.
Although the Petrovsky stadium is usually filled with a hostile atmosphere, Zenit will also have to overcome rustiness in front of a less-than-stellar crowd.
UEFA ordered sections of support to be closed after violent clashes in previous matches. Maxim Mitrofanov, the club's director, is fully behind the decision—as reported by Anna Lidster of Aljazeera:
Such behaviour has nothing to do with football. Petrovsky stadium in St Petersburg is now partially disqualified; four fan enclosures will be closed. For regular supporters it will not be easy to enter the stadium. We should respect UEFA’s orders. I just hope that our fans in the end will cheer for the club but not against it.
The dwindling atmosphere, combined with Zenit's lack of football across the last two months, provides Dortmund with a real edge. Expect the pace of Marco Reus to trouble defenders who will need to quickly hit top form.
Although Dortmund aren't enjoying the best of times, expect them to grab a narrow win in the first leg.
Prediction: Zenit 1-2 Dortmund
Olympiacos vs. Manchester United
It's very much a tale of two different seasons for Olympiacos and Manchester United. Both teams are used to dominating their domestic divisions, but only the Greeks have managed such success this term.
In fact, they are unbeaten in 26 Super League games, as reported by WhoScored.com. Michel's side have dropped just four points all campaign with draws away at Panaitolikos and Atromitos, but they remain perfect at home.
Even in the Champions League, only the mega riches of Paris Saint-Germain have overcome Olympiacos at the Karaiskakis Stadium. Benfica and Anderlecht both suffered defeats, so there's no reason why United should be outlined as overwhelming favourites—especially when you consider how poor David Moyes' team have been throughout the year.
The Red Devils' 2-0 win over Crystal Palace showed an improvement, but the trip to Athens will throw up a much sterner task.
Juan Mata, who linked passes together neatly against the Eagles, is cup-tied. This is a major blow, albeit one United knew about when they signed him from Chelsea, as the Spaniard has settled nicely into a versatile midfield role.
Antonio Valencia is likely to replace the £37.1 million man on the right wing, but it's United's central midfielders who will deal with most pressure throughout the night.
Players such as Giannis Maniatis and Andreas Samaris have been in combative form for Olympiacos this season and will look to stop Michael Carrick exerting the influence he showed against Palace, per OptaJoe:
Javier Saviola is the Greek side's biggest threat in front of goal. The former Barcelona striker could cause the aging legs of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand real problems with his pace, but he may miss the match through injury, per Danny Griffiths of Metro. United will also be glad Kostas Mitroglou is no longer at the club after he joined Fulham.
The 25-year-old had scored three European goals in five appearances before moving to Craven Cottage, suggesting this is a less lethal Olympiacos team than the pre-Christmas outfit.
Even so, we can expect a tight encounter in which neither team wishes to give away an inch. United need to score away from Old Trafford and will look to hit the hosts on the break, but as ever, expect Moyes' men to get pegged back against well-drilled opposition.
Prediction: Olympiacos 1-1 Man Utd
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