Three top Valentine's Day Champions League matches

Denzil Pinto 14/02/2018
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It might well be Valentine’s Day on Wednesday but for football fans love will be in the air when the Champions League last-16 round continues with two key ties.

Whether you’re a neutral or a fan of Paris-Saint Germain or Real Madrid, it will be hard to not keep tabs on the Spanish capital as Neymar and Co aim to inflict more misery on the two-time defending champions on their home turf at the Bernabeu.

Meanwhile, a couple of hundred miles away FC Porto will welcome Liverpool with the Portuguese side unbeaten at home in their domestic league.

Wednesday will be the fourth time in Champions League history that matches have been played on Valentine’s day. We look at some of the matches which made it a day to remember or saw fans’ hearts sunk:

2017: PSG 4-0 Barcelona, last-16, first-leg

Paris Saint-Germain v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg

The Spaniards came into the match by breezing through their group with five wins out of six but in Paris they simply fell apart in extraordinary fashion. Spectators inside Parc des Princes and indeed around the world could not believe their eyes at what was unfolding in the French capital as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar looked anonymous with Angel Di Maria’s brace, Julian Draxler and Edinson Cavani sealing a famous 4-0 win to shatter the hearts of Barcelona fans.

2012: Bayer Leverkusen 1-3 Barcelona, last-16, first-leg

Two good: Alexis Sanchez

Two good: Alexis Sanchez

It was night when Alexis Sanchez struck his first Champions League goals in what was a dominant display at the BayArena. The Catalans were simply in a league of their own, enjoying 72 per cent of possession as they ran out comfortable winners. Sanchez slotted home in the first half before Michael Kadlec equalised for the Bundesliga side. Sanchez doubled his tally with a tap-in with Lionel Messi completing the 3-1 victory with a fine volley.

2001: AC Milan 1-1 Paris St-Germain, second group stage

Equaliser: Nicolas Anelka

Equaliser: Nicolas Anelka

By no means a classic but the stalemate at least ensured both sets of fans went home with a share of the spoils. For PSG fans, it was their first point of the second group stage although it was a game they really should have won considering AC Milan went down to 10 men after just 42 minutes when Roque Junior was dismissed.

Leonardo had put the home side in front at the San Siro before Nicolas Anelka fired in the equaliser soon after. Andriy Shevchenko could have won it for Milan but PSG held on for a point.

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European masters Zinedine Zidane and Unai Emery must pull off another feat in Champions League

Chris Bailey 14/02/2018
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Zinedine Zidane was humming to the tune of The Winner Takes It All last year. As he prepares to pit his wits against a sympathetic Unai Emery, it’s now the winner that saves his job.

It is quite remarkable that Zidane needs to do what no coach has done before and win the Champions League three times in a row, after doing what no coach has done before and winning it back-to-back last year. That’s just how badly Real Madrid’s season has gone.

Staring up at Barcelona in La Liga from 17 points behind, losing to little old Leganes over two legs in the Copa del Rey and qualifying from the Champions League group stages behind Tottenham. It’s not a good look for any big club, let alone arguably the biggest of them all.

They are a team in dire need of competition of a freshening up – but no-one was accusing Real of complacency in the transfer market this summer.

The narrative was that no matter what anyone else did, they had the best players in the world in virtually every position and some of the finest young talent around in Marco Asensio and Dani Ceballos.

Least of all whom were questioning Florentino Perez’s inactivity was Zidane himself. He has staunchly defended his players and, refreshingly, has not made any excuses for their downfall. Nor has he come up with any answers.

Consequently, for the best part of two months, Real have existed for this moment and this moment alone – the Champions League’s return. It’s a feeling that Emery knows all too well.

Many like to believe that the tea lady could guide PSG to the Ligue 1 title but it’s not that simple as Monaco, Marseille and Lyon are all fine sides that could compete in any top-flight league in Europe.

But Ligue 1 simply does not have the prestige to save Emery, a man who was brought to the French capital in the first place because he won three Europa League titles in a row with Sevilla and was a good bet to conquer the grandest stage of them all with an all-star team.

As delighted as he may have been to watch Neymar and Kylian Mbappe walk through the doors of the Parc Des Princes it has left him with no wriggle room to fail.

So the two coaches who have won five of the last eight European trophies between them must again head to the continent – not only in search of success, but succour.

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Kevin de Bruyne the assist king, Tottenham come of age in Turin: Seven Deadly Stats from Tuesday's Champions League games

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Kevin de Bruyne racked up another assist, but this was Tottenham's night.

The first matchday of the Champions League knockout stages has left two Premier League sides in the ascendancy heading into the second leg of their ties.

Manchester City steamrollered Basel for a 4-0 away win, but the result of the night was Tottenham getting a 2-2 draw at Juventus, coming back from 2-0 down at the home of last year’s runners up. That tie could still go either way, but Spurs are in the driver’s seat thanks to their two away goals.

Here are Seven Deadly Stats from Tuesday night’s games.

HIGUAIN’S SURPRISE SALVO

Gonzalo Higuain has been much maligned, unfairly, for failing to turn up in the big games. But he went some way to restoring his reputation during last year’s Champions League semi-final, scoring two goals in the first leg, and then he took to the pitch on Tuesday and played like a man possessed in staking Juventus to a two-goal lead.

He and Juventus may end up rueing his missed penalty, as well as one other glorious chance he missed when the home side were still 2-0 up, but his opening salvo was a reminder of his quality.

KANE EQUALS ENGLAND RECORD

Steven Gerrard scored seven goals in the 2008-09 Champions League campaign for Liverpool. Nine years later, and someone else has finally managed to equal that mark, as Harry Kane scored his seventh for this campaign on Tuesday night.

His next one could be vital. If he were to hit his eighth in the second leg of this tie, it would go a long way to ensuring Tottenham can complete their win over Juventus.

BETTER THAN THE BEST?

Not only did he equal Gerrard’s scoring record, Kane also put himself in exalted company with his goal. 

Actually, to be more accurate, he put himself above an esteemed list of players – no player in Champions League history can match Kane’s goal tally after nine matches. 

SPURS ATTACK PASSES JUVENTUS TEST

Spurs being drawn against Juventus had shades of last year’s Champions League semi-final, which pit Juventus against Monaco. Back then, the Serie A champions handed a youthful, thrilling attacking side a lesson, giving Monaco’s youngsters a dose of reality as the French side’s vaunted attack was left looking rather toothless.

This Spurs side is a little more grizzled than last year’s Monaco, but the similarities are there, and many predicted Tottenham would have similar struggles against Juventus. So coming back from 2-0 down at the home of the Italian giants is a truly special feat.

YOU’RE A WIZARD, KEVIN

It’s only February, and Kevin de Bruyne is now one assist away from 20 across all competitions. He’s already gunning for the Premier League record – incidentally, also 20; De Bruyne is on 14 – but his brilliance is being put on display wherever the Belgian graces the pitch. 

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A SEASON MAKES

Everyone knew Manchester City underperformed last season, but just how stark is the difference? Having gotten used to his surroundings, Pep Guardiola has galvanised his side, and they look completely different to the erratic, disorganised team that took to the pitch last year.

The results are there for all to see.

KYLE DRIBBLER

Crucial to City’s success this season has been the play of their full-backs, especially Kyle Walker. Guardiola has taken a player who was already known for his speed and attacking talent and maximised those abilities, without compromising City’s defence. 

On nights like Tuesday, when Walker doesn’t have to defend much as City dominated an overmatched opponent, the right-back gets to have some fun. 

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