Sparks have always flown when two of the biggest names in the continent, Real Madrid and Manchester United, clashed with each other. From Matt Busby’s team coming back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 in front of 100,000 spectators in Madrid in 1968 to Fernando Redondo’s incredible one man show in 2000 to Ronaldo’s memorable hat-trick in 2002-03 season – these two have played out some classics of European football. This match will also be an emotional occasion for Cristiano Ronaldo, who returns to the club which he helped to a Champions League crown few seasons back.
The two teams find themselves in sharply contrasting situations – Real Madrid have steadily fallen behind Barcelona and right now it looks improbable that they will be able to defend their league title this season. Manchester United, on the other hand have built up a comfortable lead on top of Premier League table after their comfortable victory over Everton on Sunday.
Jose Mourinho has a pretty good record against Sir Alex Ferguson and they have had some of the most bitter war of words in past. Despite his good record Mourinho’s Inter was knocked out by Manchester United in 2008-09 Champions League second round and the Portuguese will be looking to set the record straight. Failure to progress in Champions League may also end his Real Madrid career given that he has almost lost the league title now. This is undoubtedly the marquee encounter of this round and fans will be hoping for a repeat of the excitement that has come in past with this match.
Juventus seemed to have got past their disastrous form of January when they registered a dominant 2-0 victory over bitter rivals Fiorentina over the weekend. Incidentally, the match in Celtic Park will be Antonio Conte’s first ever match in Europe as Juventus coach as he was serving a touchline ban. Juventus will still be missing the inspirational Giorgio Chiellini while Kwadwo Asamoah is unlikely to start after being busy with AFCON matches till Saturday. The two time champions will however have their first choice central midfield of Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio at their disposal. The ‘MVP’ midfield was one of the main reasons why Juventus capped off UCL group stages by topping their group.
Alessandro Matri has been enjoying a rich vein of form right now and should make an appearance though he may not start. Mirko Vucinic limped off with an injury against Fiorentina but is likely to recover and make his way back into starting XI.
Neil Lennon was part of a Celtic team that defeated Marcelo Lippi’s Juventus more than a decade ago. The Celtic manager is yet to lose a game in Glasgow in Europe. Celtic usually play a 4-4-2 or 4-3-1-2 but Lennon may change his formation to mirror Juve’s. The Hopps are sweating over the fitness of Emilio Izaguirre and Georgios Samaras but have rest of the squad available. Celtic has been especially strong at the Parkhead and picked up a famous win over Barcelona in group stages. Giorgio Chiellini’s absence is likely to provide a significant advantage to the Scots as he is Juventus’ strongest defender aerially. Celtic, the first British team to become European champions know that they need to get a positive result to have any chance of progression.
Few teams were more impressive than Jurgen Klopp’s brilliant Borussia Dortmund side in the group stages. The former champions topped the group of death without losing a single match. Borussia were particularly impressive in their away matches sweeping aside Ajax and failing to win in Manchester and Madrid after letting in late equalizers.
It is quite clear that they will not be able to retain their Bundesliga title as Bayern Munich have built a massive 15-point cushion at top of the table and are likely to focus their energy fully on Champions League. Borussia crashed to an embarrassing 4-1 home loss against Hamburg SV in mid-week but will be looking to bounce back from that result and maintain their record of never losing to a club from Ukraine.
Shakhtar Donetsk were possibly the most entertaining side in their group and would have topped their group if they had not slumped to a somewhat unexpected loss against Juventus in their last group game. The Miners would be further weakened after losing Willian, who joined Anzhi after a mega money move during winter. They are also likely to be weary of the fact that Dortmund are the only German team to have ever won a match in Donetsk. However one thing that is likely to be in their favour is superior experience in Champions League knock-out rounds. This match will also see the clash of two of the most dynamic wings in European football right now.
Paris St. Germain and Valencia face off in a clash which is being dubbed as the battle between “haves and have-nots”. Two time finalists Valencia have fallen from their glory days of early 2000’s thanks to a never ending financial crisis at the club. Los Che have been forced to sell their best players in the past few seasons and their biggest achievement in this period has been to finish an often distant third in La Liga. PSG on the other hand, have broken new grounds thanks to Qatari investors and boast of one of most star studded squads in Europe right now.