Tuesday 14 March
Wednesday 15 March
Crucial matches headline the fixtures as the Round of 16 of the UEFA champions league is in its last lap.
Will it be a mission improbable for Liverpool? For Victor Osimhen’s Napoli, the club is in pursuit of a maiden last-eight berth on Wednesday.
This Tuesday, German side, RB Leipzig will be hoping for an upset at Manchester City’s fortress, the Ethihad Stadiu. In the first leg, both teams played 1-1 draw.
Leipzig coach Marco Rose spoke in glowing terms about his team’s second-half performance in that encounter.
But will they regret not converting more of their opportunities after half-time? Not since Lyon’s 2-1 victory in September 2018 have City been beaten on home soil in the Champions League, winning 21 of their 23 matches during that spell.
Among those victories was a remarkable 6-3 triumph over Jesse Marsch’s Leipzig in September 2021 – a game in which Christopher Nkunku scored a hat-trick for the visitors.
The Frenchman is the club’s joint-top scorer in Europe this season but has been ruled out of the second leg due to injury, complicating the task as the Bundesliga side plot a route to the last eight.
In the other big match of the day, Inter Milan are away to Portugal’s FC Porto.
As was the case against the Giallorossi four years ago, the Dragons will have to come from behind to eliminate Inter and clinch a quarter-final spot for the third time in five seasons after a 1-0 defeat at Stadio San Siro.
The Nerazzurri overcame Porto in the round of 16 in 2004/05 but were beaten on their last visit to the Estádio do Dragão seven months later, when an own goal from Marco Materazzi and a Benni McCarthy effort earned the Portuguese side a 2-0 group-stage victory.
Part of the Inter side that reached the semi-finals in 2002/03, Sérgio Conceição will be determined to end his former employers’ journey in the competition this term.
On Wednesday, Liverpool will be on Mission Improbable. Stunned as he reflected on Liverpool’s worst-ever European home defeat, a 5-2 loss to Real Madrid in the first leg, Jürgen Klopp reflected:
“I think Carlo [Ancelotti] thinks the tie is over. I think so as well at the moment.” The prospects are certainly not good: no side has ever retrieved a three-goal deficit from the home leg of a Champions League knockout tie (with Manchester United the only team to have come back from a two-goal home defeat).
Ancelotti, however, is not thinking of the quarter-finals just yet. “Unfortunately, this tie isn’t finished,” Madrid’s Italian coach said. “No way.” His side are unbeaten in seven games against Liverpool (W6 D1), but he must also contend with this season’s top Champions League scorer (eight-goal Mohamed Salah). Meanwhile, some members of the current squad will remember the 2018/19 round of 16 tie against Ajax when the Amsterdam side – trailing 2-1 from the home leg – won 4-1 at the Santiago Bernabéu to eliminate the holders.
Napoli close to quarter-final first
UEFA Cup winners in 1989, the year before they won their second (and most recent) league title, Napoli’s exceptional season looks set to get slightly better. The runaway Serie A leaders they go into the home leg of their tie against UEFA Europa League winners Frankfurt with a two-goal lead, and with their opponents’ star striker Randal Kolo Muani serving a suspension following a red card in the first leg in Germany.
Having finished top of their Champions League group for only the second time, they need only avoid calamity in the return to reach the last eight of Europe’s top club competition for the first time in their history, having been thwarted in the round of 16 on three previous occasions.
After the first leg, Corriere dello Sport said Napoli were out of this world (their headline: ‘Galattici!’), but coach Luciano Spalletti is eager to keep their feet on terra firma for now. “We need to stay calm, very calm,” he warned. “Our biggest enemy is to think it’s done.”