Champions League – Round of 16 2nd Leg Previews – Part I

by Ger McCarthy

The second legs of the Champions League Round of 16 resume on Tuesday evening with the mouth-watering clash of Barcelona versus Arsenal topping the bill and a Roma side under new management looking to overturn a first leg defeat at the hands of Shaktar Donetsk writes Back Page Football contributor Ger McCarthy.

Round of 16, Second leg
Camp Nou, Barcelona
Barcelona vs. Arsenal (1-2 from first leg)

Arsenal came from a goal down to record a magnificent 2-1 win over Barcelona at the Emirates Stadium on February 16th in the first leg of one of the most keenly anticipated Champions League clashes of this season’s tournament. David Villa opened the scoring for Barca after 26 minutes but second half strikes from Robin Van Persie and Andrei Arshavin capped a memorable comeback and night for the Gunners. You can read a full Back Page Football review of the first leg by clicking on this link.

Arsene Wenger’s side heads to the Camp Nou on Tuesday evening for the second leg without the services of some key personnel on the back of a disappointing domestic run. Birmingham City captured the Carling League Cup at the expense of the Gunners at Wembley before last Saturday’s disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Sunderland scuppered hopes of closing the gap on Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table. Long term absentee Thomas Vermalaen has been joined on the treatment table by Robin Van Persie (who may yet make a dramatic and unexpected return), Alex Song and Cesc Fabregas. It looks like Arsenal are going to be without at least two regular first-team starters for the visit to Catalonia making an already difficult task even more daunting.

Barcelona will also be without some key players as the Catalan side look to overturn a 2-1 deficit from the opening leg. The regular centre-back pairing of Carlos Puyol (knee injury) and Gerard Pique (suspended) will not be part of Tuesday night’s starting line-up. Barcelona consolidated their position at the summit of La Liga following a narrow 1-0 win at home to Real Zaragoza during the week. Seydou Keita’s second league strike of the campaign proved enough to see off a dogged Zaragoza in a perfect workout for the arrival of Arsenal.

Last Word
There is little doubt that despite starting the second leg 2-1 down the fact Barcelona managed to score at the Emirates Stadium makes the Catalans slight favourites to progress to the quarter finals of the Champions League. Allowing for the fact the home side will be without both Puyol and Pique, the absence of Van Persie (unconfirmed at the time of writing), Walcott and possibly Fabregas are bigger absentees for Tuesday night’s visitors.

Arsene Wenger will instead turn to Samir Nasri and Jack Wilshere in the absence of two of his most influential central midfield players (Fabregas and usual incumbent Song) to anchor a midfield that is likely to see little in the way of possession. Nasri and Wilshere will also be tasked with the job of protecting a back four that has looked nervous in previous matches. Yet it is worth noting that the Gunners’ domestic defensive record is only bettered by Chelsea and Manchester City in the Premier League.

The North Londoners have insisted they will attack rather than drop deep in an effort to maintain their slender lead and this may well be the only tactic open to them with Barcelona certain to flood forward form the opening whistle. The influence of Xavi and particularly Lionel Messi will be important as Barcelona look to maintain a high tempo early on.

Barcelona played superbly in the opening half hour of the first leg in London and on another evening Messi could well have scored a couple of goals before David Villa eventually found the net. The Catalan side will also be wary of the threat posed by Arsenal’s pace on the counter attack with Arshavin, Nasri and Wilshere capable of breaking at lightening pace.

If Arsenal can grab a goal on the counter-attack and gain enough possession to worry a make-shift Barcelona centre-back pairing then the Premier League side are in with a fighting chance of causing an upset. The onus is on Barcelona to attack and score early to add to Villa’s first-leg effort before eventually killing off the tie with their patented quick passing style once Arsenal are forced to push forward in search of an away goal.

Bottom Line
Barcelona to progress but it may take extra time to break the stubborn resistance of an Arsenal side whose injuries will eventually tip the result in the Catalan side’s favour.

Round of 16, Second leg
Donbass Arena, Donetsk
Shaktar Donetsk vs. AS Roma (3-2 from first leg)

Ukrainian side Shaktar Donetsk are 90 minutes away from a first ever appearance in the quarter finals of the Champions League following a terrific 3-2 first leg win away to AS Roma. Perotta opened the scoring for Roma to cap a bright start from the hosts but Jasdon levelled within a minute with the aid of a couple of deflections. Roma went into defensive meltdown following the concession of that equaliser and Douglas Costa finished off a flowing Donetsk move to hand the visitors a 2-1 lead.

Disaster struck the Italians for a third time shortly before the interval when Luiz Adriano netted to seal a famous win. Jeremy Menez pulled one back for the home side midway through the second half but it finished 3-2 to Shaktar and the Ukrainians are clear favourites to make it through to the last eight with three away goals in the bank. You can read a full Back Page Football review of the first leg by clicking on this link.

AS Roma travel to the Ukraine with recently instated manager Vincenzo Montella having taken over from Claudio Ranieri on February 21st. The Giallorossi’s domestic form suffered badly in the final weeks of Ranieri’s tenure but a 2-1 victory over Lecce this past weekend helped Roma maintain sixth spot in Serie A. Mirko Vucinic opened the scoring for Roma and a converted injury time penalty from David Pizzaro cancelled out relegation threatened Lecce’s equaliser from Guillermo Giacomazzi.

With ten rounds of fixtures left in the Ukrainian Premier League, current Champions Shaktar Donetsk enjoys a 12 point lead over nearest challengers Dynamo Kiev. Coach Mircea Lucescu has overseen a superb Champions League campaign which has seen his side top Group H ahead of Arsenal before slamming three goals past AS Roma in the first leg of their Round of 16 encounter.

Last Word
The pace and ability of Shaktar’s foreign contingent that includes Jadson, Douglas Costa and Luiz Adriano makes the Donetsk based club favourites to make it through to the quarter finals of the Champions League for the first time. Three away goals no withstanding it is Shaktar’s formidable home record of 11 consecutive wins in European competition that is likely to push a Ukrainian side high on confidence into the last eight.

AS Roma have nothing to lose as they head out to the Donbass Arena with even their most ardent fans admitting the Italians face a huge task in attempting to overturn a 3-2 first leg loss. Montella has restored pride in the Roma jersey and an early goal might make the home side jittery but even so it is Shaktar Donetsk who will progress to the Champions League quarter finals.

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