The Champions League last-16 draw pits Europe's top teams against each other. The first leg games are scheduled for 17/18 and 24/25 February, with the second legs on 10/11 and 17/18 March.
Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) vs Chelsea (ENG)
Last meeting: Quarter-finals, Champions League 2013-14 (Chelsea 3-3 PSG – Chelsea won on away goals)
How they stand: Chelsea go into this last-16 tie against PSG having qualified from their group as winners, with the Blues’ current domestic form scintillating – they have tasted defeat only once in their first 16 games. PSG finished second in their group, their sole defeat coming against Barcelona, and currently sit second in Ligue 1.
Key Battle: DIEGO COSTA vs DAVID LUIZ
Spain striker Costa is currently top scorer in the Premier League and is one of the most potent strikers on the continent. He comes up against David Luiz, who played for three trophy-laden seasons at Stamford Bridge before departing for Paris in the summer. Expect a physical battle between the pair.
Manchester City (ENG) vs Barcelona (ESP)
Last meeting: Last 16, Champions League 2003-14 (Manchester City 1-4 Barcelona)
How they stand: Four-time European champions Barcelona progressed from Group F as winners and they face a Man City side brimming with ambition in Europe’s top club competition. Both teams sit second in their respective domestic leagues and have been suffering from inconsistent starts to the season.
Key battle: LIONEL MESSI vs VINCENT KOMPANY
The top scorer in Champions League history will face off against City’s most valuable defender. It’ll prove a tough task to marshal one of the best footballers ever to grace the game but if anyone can bring hope of stopping the Argentine, it's City's captain.
Bayer Leverkusen (GER) vs Atletico Madrid (ESP)
Last meeting: It’s Bayer and Atletico’s first meeting in the Champions League, but the side’s met four years ago in the group stages of the Europa League with both legs finishing in 1-1 draws. Leverkusen qualified that year with Atletico finishing third in the group.
How they stand: Both teams are third in their respective leagues, so it should be an evenly matched affair. Diego Simeone’s men aren’t the same cohesive force as the team that finished the Champions League final in May but will be favourites for this one.
Key battle: LARS BENDER vs KOKE
Koke has assisted the most goals (4) in the Champions League this season and he’s also covered the most metres out of any player in the group stages (nearly 45 miles in six games). The man tasked with curtailing his impact is Bayer vice captain Lars Bender, who will need to be at his combative best.
Juventus (ITA) vs Borussia Dortmund (GER)
Last meeting: Final, Champions League 1996/1997 (Borrussia Dortmund 3-1 Juve)
How they stand: In what has been an unpleasant season domestically, Dortmund will look for yet more relief in Europe against a Juventus side that heads Serie A with only one defeat from 15 games. Dortmund, surprisingly, finished as group winners ahead of Arsenal, while Juventus finished second behind Atletico.
Key battle: CARLOS TEVEZ vs MATS HUMMELS
Tevez has registered three goals for Juventus in the Champions League so far this season, while Matt Hummels is the rock in a usually strong Dortmund defensive line and will look to restrict the Argentine’s influence.
Schalke (GER) vs Real Madrid (ESP)
Last meeting: Round of 16, Champions League 2013/2014 (Real Madrid 9-2 Schalke)
How they stand: Current champions Real Madrid moved into the last-16 stage of the competition without breaking a sweat. If their domestic form is anything to go by then it will take a team full of pace and confidence to prevent them from delivering another champions league title.
Key battle: ROMAN NEUSTADTER vs TONI KROOS
Away from the central players who could define the contest, such as Cristiano Ronaldo and the prolific former Real man Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, these two players are among the most accurate passers in the competition – with 95% and 96% completed respectively. Either’s influence could dictate the tempo of the tie.
Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR) vs Bayern Munich (GER)
Last meeting: N/A
How they stand: Shakhtar advanced from Group H behind Porto, and will be firmly up against it when facing 2013 European champions Bayern, who’ve only lost one game in 21 this season under Pep Guardiola.
Key Battle: LUIZ ADRIANO vs MANUEL NEUER
Brazilian Luiz Adriano is the main reason behind Shakhtar’s dominance over the last two months. He’s the top scorer in the Champions League this season with nine goals and has also contributed one assist. The man looking to contain Adriano’s threat is Manuel Neuer, Ballon d’Or nominee, and the nailed-on FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year.
Arsenal (ENG) vs Monaco (FRA)
Last meeting: No competitive games but a pre-season clash in the Emirates Cup ahead of this campaign saw Monaco win 1-0 thanks to a Falcao goal.
How they stand: Arsenal will be the happier side after drawing Arsene Wenger's former club Monaco, the exact opponent their manager said in advance that he wanted. Despite coming under criticism recently, Wenger’s men have looked threatening in the run up to Christmas. Monaco, who finished second in Ligue 1 last season, finished top of Group B and will be looking to book their place in the quarter-final.
Key battle: AARON RAMSEY vs JOAO MOUTINHO
Welshman Ramsey has been a revelation this season, scoring two goals against Galatasaray in the final group game. For Monaco, Moutinho has stepped up to be one of their key figures since the departures of talented triumvirate James Rodriguez, Emmanuel Rivière and Radamel Falcao.
Basel (SUI) vs Porto (POR)
Last meeting: N/A
How they stand: Porto reached the knockout stages comfortably, avoiding defeat as they topped their group. They face a Basel team, who will be looking to qualify for the quarter-finals of the tournament for the first time since 1974.
Key Battle: FABIAN FREI vs YACINE BRAHIMI
Basel midfielder Frei looked in emphatic form during the group stages, boasting a remarkable passing accuracy of nearly 90%, as well as contributing a goal and two assists. Brahimi, who was recently named Arab Player of the Year, meanwhile, is just as influential for his Porto side, with four goals and two assists in the 2013-14 competition so far.
The final for Europe's elite club competition will take place in Berlin's Olympic stadium next May.
After opening their £200 million (Dhs1.1 billion) Etihad Campus academy on Monday, we look at Manchester City's top 5 academy youth products to date.
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Started at City as a 15-year-old and developed into a classy midfielder. The Irishman was the club’s Player of the Year in 2009, but following the arrival of big-money signings, he left for Aston Villa in 2010 for £8m. Now at Stoke.
Despite being out on loan at Fiorentina, the full-back, 26, is currently the club’s longest-serving player having been with them since 2001. A powerful defender who gained England honours too.
Widely regarded as the one who got away as City were unable to keep the striker when his contract ran out in 2009 having come through the youth ranks. After being frustrated at not being a first-team regular at Chelsea, the 25-year-old has now become the attacking spearhead for Liverpool and England.
Spent a decade at City as he graduated from the academy into the first team. But the combative midfielder’s early career was blighted by indiscipline and off-field problems. He left for Newcastle in 2007 and is now starring for QPR.
I was at the Basque derby in Anoeta, late on a rainy Sunday night in San Sebastian. After all the bad publicity there has been regarding supporters and the seemingly endless list of mutual antipathies that exist in Spain among rival groups, it was pleasant to attend a game where the police presence was conspicuous by its absence. In fact, for this derby which pits Real Sociedad with Athletic Bilbao (its 134th edition), the police usually take the day off. The visiting supporters traditionally arrive in the late morning, and head to the bars of the Old Town where they drink and banter with the locals, and all is generally tickety-boo.
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There has rarely been any trouble on these occasions, and although there is a healthy rivalry between the two clubs, and the cities of Bilbao and San Sebastián are very different, this derby affords one of the rarest sights in Europe now – with local and visiting supporters sitting side-by-side. Without wishing to sound too sentimental, or convert football into something anodyne, this is surely the example to follow. There are many local derbies in Spain where hostility remains the byword. David Moyes, Real Sociedad’s new manager, knows all about intra-city rivalry in England, but here was experiencing something slightly different.
Neither side was coming into the game on a particularly healthy note, however. David Moyes had experienced his first La Liga defeat last week at Villarreal (4-0), and Athletic had surprisingly lost at home to bottom club Cordoba. Ernesto Valverde, Athletic’s manager and ex-player, had never won at Anoeta, either dressed in shorts or suit. In fact this 134th derby was unique in the fact that it was the first time that the two premier Basque sides had met in the league with neighbours Eibar positioned above them. Eibar’s excellent 0-0 draw at Sevilla, two hours before the derby, guaranteed that this fact would stick.
Moyes has enjoyed a reasonable start to life in La Liga, has started Spanish classes and seems to be enjoying the new challenge, although there are features of the Spanish game which clearly baffle him. Two weeks ago, he informed the local press that he wanted to see his team ‘get stuck in’ (my translation but that was more or less his message). When his team did just that, they were constantly pulled up by the referee. Moyes complained afterwards that there was hardly any physical contact permitted – but he should really have known that before he packed his suitcases. Getting stuck in, in Spanish terms, requires all manner of subterfuge and a particular way of tackling – not the British ‘up-and-at’em’ way. Neither is it necessarily the best way to prosper here, although it can help to build up intensity – which is what Moyes wants. And all this in a week when Real Madrid’s Pepe has been ‘outed’ as the cleanest centre-back in the entire league, with only five fouls to his name all season and not a single yellow card. It’s a mad mad world when the stereotypes start to fail us.
Sociedad got off to a rather good start, scoring after three minutes from a header by Carlos Vela, and it was looking rosy for the home side. Athletic were struggling in midfield and couldn’t keep hold of Vela, whose tail was up. The Icelandic forward Alfred Finnbogasson should have scored a second, blowing his chance to open his account with the club, but Vela continued to slalom through the visiting defence at will.
Vela is a curious case. Brought over from Mexico as a teenager to Arsenal, he never quite fitted in, possibly more for personal reasons than for his quality as a footballer, but after a series of failed loans (to Celta, Salamance, Osasuna and West Brom) he arrived at Real Sociedad in 2011, in a final attempt by Arsenal to make a player of him. Something clicked, Vela scored 12 goals in 35 games and generally endeared himself to the club, for whom he has now signed a permanent deal – Arsenal finally waiving their right to re-claim him in the summer. It was clear that Arsene Wenger had realised that his prodigal son had come of age, but Vela’s own reluctance to return to London swung the deal in Sociedad’s favour.
Vela is a slightly strange fish, happy in the beautiful city of San Sebastian and up to recently, uninterested in the calls from the Mexican national team for him to return, after being suspended from the national squad for six months after allegedly organising a party for the Mexican players after a game against Colombia in 2010. He even decided against playing in the last World Cup – every player’s dream, but apparently not a big deal for Vela. And yet beyond the squads of the big three, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético, there is surely no better player in La Liga. You wonder when one of the big sides will finally come in for him, but even if they do, there is no guarantee that he will want to leave San Sebastian, a place where he feels happy and cared for, after so much fruitless wandering.
He’s a fascinating player – an Arsenal type in terms of his footballing intelligence, small, stocky and apparently without a great deal of pace, but able to suddenly accelerate from zero and turn on a euro, fiendishly able to change direction at will and almost impossible to knock off the ball. He hangs around in the space behind the striker, dropping off to either wing and generally creates havoc whenever he has the ball in space. He was the second most-fouled player in La Liga last season, and his ability to earn opposing players yellow cards is legendary. There are some supporters at Real Sociedad who insist that he is the best player they’ve seen in the colours, which is praise indeed, but to bring him back down to earth, Athletic coped better with him in the second half, and cut off the supply lines. De Marcos scored an excellent equaliser, and after Aymeric Laporte was sent off, Athletic settled for the draw. Both sides will be looking for wins next week, in order to rest happily over the Christmas break.
Elsewhere, Real Madrid scored four again, this time on Friday night in Almería, the eighth time they have scored four or more in the league this season (they managed eight at Deportivo in September, just to ensure the average) and have flown to Morocco to play in the FIFA Club World Cup this week with 20 consecutive wins under the belts, in all competitions. They may well extend the run, it would seem. Barcelona, meanwhile, stumbled at Getafe and drew 0-0, leaving their white rivals with a potential four-point lead for Christmas.
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Santa Claus has come early for Carlo Ancelotti and company, because Atlético also got the wobbles, losing 0-1 at home to in-form Villarreal, beaten by a goal from the rising Argentinean star Luciano Vietto, a player ironically handed his debut by Atlético manager Diego Simeone when he was boss at Racing de Avellaneda. As the Spanish say, Simeone’s face was a ‘poem’ in the 86th minute, when Vietto struck. Atlético shouldn’t be too worried, since they met Villarreal at the wrong time – a team high on confidence, and playing some of the best football in the category. They could even lift themselves into a Champions League spot, if they win next week at home to Deportivo. It’s all warming up nicely for the short winter break.