Five things to look out for in the Champions League

The Champions League returns tonight after a 10-week long absence and with Manchester City hosting Barcelona and Arsenal welcoming reigning champions Bayern Munich tomorrow night, the first leg of the round of 16 could be one to remember.

Here’s five things to look out for over the next two nights of Champions League football.

1) Goals

Starting with tonight’s clash at the Etihad, the next two days see four of the Champions League’s best five attacking units onto the pitch, with the second and fifh best attacking record in the competition – Manchester City and Barcelona – going head to head, while PSG – fourth best offensive record – travel to Leverkusen.

Arsenal, meanwhile, will have their work cut out tomorrow as they face the third best offensive team left in the competition, while Atletico Madrid take their incredible goalscoring record off set pieces – the Colchoneros have scored six of their 15 goals from a dead ball situation – to the San Siro.

2) A bit of Zlataness

For a player often accusing of bottling it on the biggest stage, Zlatan has done rather well since swapping Serie A for Ligue 1, scoring 11 goals in 14 Champions League appearances since joining PSG.

The Swede has scored in his last four Champions League games, and considering that Bayer Leverkusen have managed to concede five at home against this season’s dismal version of Manchester United, you wouldn’t bet against him extending his record.

Of the teams left in the competition, only AC Milan and Zenit St Petersburg have conceded mores shots per game – 17 – than Leverkusen, who will not relish facing Zlatan tonight.

3) Some sort of sanctimonious comment

English clubs, claimed today’s Daily Mail, know how to stop Lionel Messi, because the Argentine striker has never scored on a Premier League ground, despite having twice netted in a Champions League final against an English side – on English soil, in one of those occasion.

With Manchester City and Arsenal facing the two best European teams of the last five-six years, we’re almost guaranteed a reference to a) Barcelona’s empire crumbling, b) Pep Guardiola’s masterminding a German version of tiki-taka, c) Arsenal’s drought set to extend or d) a reference to the opponent Manchester City faced 15 years ago.

One can only hope we don’t get treated to a clean sweep of cliches by the ever obliging football pundits that threatened to ruin Champions League nights.

4) Clarence Seedorf’s big test

As a player, Clarence Seedorf is the only man to have lifted the Champions League with three different clubs, having won it with Ajax and Real Madrid before clinching two more triumphs with AC Milan.

As manager, however, Seedorf’s experience in European football is still extremely limited, given the Dutchman has so far only taken charge of six games since replacing Massimiliano Allegri in the San Siro dugout.

Since his return to Milan, Seedorf has won three and lost two of his first six games in charge and his managerial debut in European football couldn’t be more complicated as his Milan side host Atletico Madrid – ironically managed by former Inter Milan midfielder Diego Simeone, who played alongside Seedorf for the Nerazzurri.

AC Milan fans must hope that Seedorf’s feeling with the Champions League hasn’t changed since he hung up his boots.

5) A Lionel Messi goal

Manchester City, according to Jose Mourinho, face “the worst Barcelona side of the last five years”, but they’ll still need to stop Lionel Messi tonight.

The Argentine superstar loves nothing more than to score in the first phase of the knockout stage of the Champions League, as he’s abundantly demonstrated in the last five years.

In the 2009-10 season, Messi netted twice in the second leg as Barcelona thrashed Stuttgart 4-0, before netting twice the following season as Arsenal fell 3-1 at the Camp Nou, having beaten the Catalans 2-1 at home.

In 2011-12 Messi scored six goals over two legs against Bayer Leverkusen – five in the second leg! – while 12 months ago the Argentine scored twice in the second leg against Milan as Barca overturned a 2-0 deficit.

In short, Messi loves scoring at this stage of the competition.

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