Cristiano Ronaldo fitness and Man City quadruple charge among Champions League talking points

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The first legs of the Champions League quarter-finals take place this week. Here, Press Association Sport looks at some talking points ahead of the games.

UNITED’S BARCA CHALLENGE

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United pulled off a shock to beat Paris Saint-Germain in the last round and it was probably that result that clinched the manager’s job full time for the Norwegian.

Performances since have tailed off slightly and the challenge ahead of them as they face Barcelona and, of course, Lionel Messi, is huge.

Barca are closing in on an eighth La Liga title in 11 years and will be keen to make the most of Real Madrid’s elimination from the Champions League.

CITY’S QUADRUPLE PUSH

pep guardiola

Manchester City are the favourites for the Champions League and with good reason given their sustained excellence in four competitions this season.

Manager Pep Guardiola described the quadruple as “almost impossible” at the weekend but it is actually far from inconceivable.

The Champions League has been the one hurdle they have consistently failed to clear, however. Guardiola has often referred to a lack of experience on the European stage for that, although that may not be relevant in this round as they face a Premier League rival in Tottenham.

ALL-ENGLISH CLASH

City’s tie with Spurs is an enticing one, starting with the first leg at the London club’s new stadium on Tuesday. City’s superiority is evident in the 16-point gap between the two sides – from second to third – in the Premier League but a big domestic advantage counted for nothing when they faced Liverpool at the same stage last year.

Then City lost 3-0 in the first leg at a fevered Anfield. Spurs will hope the atmosphere at their new stadium will work in their favour, although Kevin De Bruyne has dismissed it. “I don’t care about the stadium,” he said.

LIVERPOOL EYEING LAST FOUR AGAIN

Last year’s beaten finalists Liverpool may fancy their chances of reaching the last four again after being drawn against Porto, a side they beat 5-0 in the first leg of their last-16 tie last season.

The Reds’ priority may be the Premier League but defeat here would represent a big missed opportunity. Porto are also without veteran defender Pepe for Tuesday’s first leg at Anfield through suspension.

RONALDO FITNESS

Ronaldo

Five-time world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo has been out for the past two weeks with a thigh injury but is expected to return for Juventus’ clash with Ajax.

Manager Massimiliano Allegri took no risks against AC Milan at the weekend, holding the Portuguese back in a bid to ensure his fitness for Wednesday in Amsterdam. Ronaldo, who has won this competition five times, relishes such occasions.

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New dreams at Tottenham Hotspur face barometer check against rampant Man City

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A first leg strewn with symbolism awaits when Tottenham Hotspur’s bold new era and Manchester City’s relentless quest for historic success collide.

The state-of-the-art, 62,062-capacity Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will, belatedly, play host to Champions League football for the first time on Tuesday night. Much-delayed and over budget, yet this all-English quarter-final clash featuring an array of the game’s modern greats provides a fitting forum.

Spurs’ ambitions for the future are laid bare by an avant-garde setting. City, however, live in the present.

A berth in the FA Cup’s showpiece was secured on Saturday at their imminent opponents’ temporary home of Wembley. With the League Cup already secured and the destiny of the Premier League’s title under their control, attention now centres on continental aspirations.

NEW HOME, NEW GOALS?

An electrified atmosphere is guaranteed under 324 LED floodlights when the combatants emerge.

For the cohort clad in white, this moment symbolises the realisation of a dream sold to the likes of manager Mauricio Pochettino and superstar striker Harry Kane.

Until Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu and Barcelona’s Camp Nou are extensively renovated, they will be stepping out at a hyper-modern ground without compare. With the creation of a ‘wall of sound’ also built into the architects Populous’ innovative design, partisan support will urge them on.

Sparkling stadia does not usually equate to an instant improvement of results. BBC Sport research showed that of the four Premier League teams to move since 2000, only north London rivals Arsenal had a better points total than the season before.

In Europe, Atletico Madrid lost 2-1 to Chelsea in September 2017 for the Wanda Metropolitano’s Champions League inauguration. This same stands, however, would witness a 3-0 Europa League final triumph against Marseille by the hosts come the following May.

Spurs’ only run-out, to date, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was an expected 2-0 win against Crystal Palace. Pochettino’s inspired troops, however, pumped in 26 attempts and a commanding 66-per-cent possession.

Spurs are nearly 20 points off the searing top-flight pace set by City and Liverpool.

They have only ever made one European Cup semi-final – and that was in 1961/62. Their last run to the quarters in 2010/11 ended in a 5-0 aggregate shellacking by Real Madrid.

The potential to take giant strides is there for all to see. Now, it requires actualisation.

There would be no grander way to start than derailing omnipotent City.

WILL WE SEE A BATTLE OF THE STRIKERS?

A familiar face has been witnessed at an unfamiliar setting.

Sergio Aguero has trained with team-mates at Charlton Athletic’s stadium, The Valley, after he missed the last two games because of injury.

His likely return to the XI should provide head coach Pep Guardiola with a welcome problem. The Argentina international’s 10 goals in 13 previous meetings will also send shivers down spines in the Spurs defence.

By reputation, the Blues’ rearguard should feel the same way about Kane. But with only two goals in seven fixtures against them, French centre-back Aymeric Laporte and company may feel quietly confident.

SEND OUT A MESSAGE

Barbs to attack City with rarely hold weight.

When you are recasting expectations, while performing at a rarefied level, jealousy is a predictable by-product.

Slights have been sent their way because of perceived easy cup runs this term. A point that should be rendered mute by Premier League form, but one that requires addressing nevertheless.

In Europe, the recovery from a 2-1 opening loss to Lyon has been staggering. The 10-2, round-of-16 humiliation of – admitted Bundesliga stragglers – Schalke was the second-widest winning margin in the competition’s knockout history.

A catalyst is now required to entrench the view that City – whose only semi appearance came in 2014/15 under Manuel Pellegrini – are coming of age in the UCL. Seeing off Spurs will send out a firm message to the likes of Juventus and Barcelona.

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History against Man United in Champions League quarter-final with Barcelona

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Manchester United may live to regret the two legs of their Champions League quarter-final with Barcelona being reversed if the history books are anything to go by.

United were drawn against the five-times winners in the last eight and were originally supposed to play the second leg at Old Trafford after visiting the Camp Nou first.

But as Manchester City, who have a higher UEFA ranking, were also drawn at home second against Tottenham, United’s tie was switched and they must now host Barcelona first.

And that could be a problem for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side as it has been shown to be an advantage to play the second leg on your own ground.

Since the Champions League adopted its current format in 2003/04, 62 per cent of teams advancing from the quarter-finals were at home in the second leg.

United have taken advantage of the Old Trafford factor on three out of the four occasions they have played the second leg of last-eight ties there.

Barcelona beat United in the 2011 Champions League final.

Barcelona beat United in the 2011 Champions League final.

In 2006/07 they overturned a first-leg deficit against Roma by thumping the Italians 7-1, while the following season they were able to get the job done against the same opponents after bringing back a slender lead.

In 2010/11, they protected a 1-0 first-leg win at Chelsea with a 2-1 success at Old Trafford.

The only time they have been at home second in this round and not qualified was in the 2009/10 season when they lost on away goals to Bayern Munich, despite winning in front of their home fans.

Solskjaer’s men will be channelling the last round, when they beat Paris Saint-Germain despite a first-leg defeat at home, and also the 2008/09 season when they advanced past Porto despite having to play there in the second match.

To make matters worse, Barca have a formidable record in quarter-finals when they play the second leg at the Camp Nou.

They have progressed six out of seven times, with the defeat to Juventus in 2016/17 their only blemish.

United’s potential suffering is City’s gain, though they have progressed in just one of their previous two quarter-finals, against PSG in 2016/17.

Tottenham will be hoping their brilliant new stadium will help give them a significant first-leg advantage to take to City as they try to buck the trend.

Their only previous quarter-final ended in a comprehensive defeat to Real Madrid, having had to play the second leg at the Bernabeu.

Liverpool are also away in their second leg against Porto, but they will fancy their chances of going against the grain.

Both in 2005 and 2018 on their way to the Champions League final they progressed through the quarter-finals despite playing their first leg at home.

Paul Scholes scored the only goal when the two sides met in the last eight of the 2008 tournament.

Paul Scholes scored the only goal when the two sides met in the last four of the 2008 tournament.

They got the better of Juventus after a 2-1 win at Anfield in the first game while a 3-0 hammering of Manchester City was enough to see them through last season.

The overall record in all knockout rounds – the round of 16, the quarter-finals and the semi-finals – strengthens the theory that it is an advantage to be at home in the second leg, with 63 per cent of the winners having had that luxury.

That is, of course, weighted by the fact that in the round of 16, teams who top the group are ensured a second leg at home against a second-placed opponent from another group.

Therefore, in theory, stronger teams play at home last and would be expected to advance – and more than 70 per cent have done so.

The semi-finals provide an interesting exception to the overall trend, with only 37 per cent of teams with a second leg at home progressing.

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