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Champions League: Chelsea must-win and Barcelona back to the top?

The Champions League is back.

Ladies and gents, I bid you good evening. For this evening is a special one. A Chelsea and Bayern Munich showdown at Stamford Bridge, accompanied by a feisty affair at the Stadio San Paolo. What more can you ask for? It’s the Champions League.

Champions League – Chelsea v Bayern Munich

With the resonance of the 2012 final at the Allianz Arena barely present in the rearview mirror, we start with Bayern. Since a 5-2 defeat to Nurnberg in early January, Die Roten have been on a bit of a rampage. Four goals past Hertha Berlin, five past Schalke and another four past Hoffenheim, it has mainly been the prolific goalscoring of perennial Pole Robert Lewandowski.

The 31-year-old has 25 goals in 23 Bundesliga games this season (49 in 47, all comps), glueing Bayern to their regular top spot, in spite of aggressive resistance from Leipzig, Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Formation wise, Hans-Dieter Flick had maintained a relatively simple 4-2-3-1 formation since arriving in Munich; however, their previous game against Paderborn saw a rejig. Utilising a 3-4-2-1, Serge Gnabry and Philippe Coutinho are used as narrow forwards in-behind Lewandowski. This could be compared to Carlo Ancelotti’s ‘tree-formation’ he used whilst at Chelsea and proves to be deadly in possession. It will be interesting to see if Flick goes for it again, but you could see that as being used in the second leg with the home advantage. Something to watch.

Kante out and a must win

As for Chelsea, they will be without N’Golo Kanté, a key asset in their inevitable press. Olivier Giroud will also lead the line. Giroud has shown in previous encounters that he can trouble Bayern’s back line, getting the best of Manuel Neuer on a couple of occasions whilst at Arsenal.

Despite this, the matter of the fact remains: Chelsea must take something to the Allianz Arena. As one of the most daunting places in world football and somewhere Bayern often dominate 70%+ of the ball, Frank Lampard must be desperate to grab onto anything he can. Even a one goal lead sets the second-leg in an entirely different stead. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lampard tried to keep the same eleven as Saturday, their win against Tottenham Hotspur.

Prediction

With Bayern on typically dominant form and Chelsea overcoming Spurs at the weekend, this game is the highlight of the night. I think it could be 2-1 Chelsea, personally. Though Bayern are not shy of a powerful away performance This would open up the second leg completely. One thing is for sure: it’ll be a cracker.

Napoli v Barcelona: A rowdy San Paolo

‘Highlight of the night’

Me – Less than ten words ago.

For most spectators this would be true. A replay of the 2012 Champions League final and a clash of absolute titans. But switch over and you will see something entirely different, something perhaps fresher to the eye.

It’s Napoli against Barcelona at the Stadio San Paolo. My procrastination has meant that the teams have been announced, so here we go!

The Insigne-Mertens-Callejon trio is back and better than ever. How we have missed this peculiar front three from the main stage. Born and bred in Naples, Lorenzo Insigne is the captain and main man on the left interior of the dynamic three. As expected, Koulibaly misses out through injury, but Maksimovic and Manolas are not a bad pair.

Though they may struggle against Antoine Griezmann. De Jong, Busquets and Rakitic make up the central midfield and represent a serious statement being made by Quique Setien: We shall not lay down. It’s typical Barcelona fashion, to be fair, but a statement none the less. They go there to dominate the game and give themself and easy second leg at the Camp Nou. Hard to say if it will work, especially considering Setien’s inconsistent start at the helm. Add on the increasing pressure of no Champions League in five years, the Barcelona faithful are desperate to get their hands on the trophy. They do have Lionel Messi though. That will help.

Prediction

There could be a ‘shock’ here. Score-wise, I’ll go 3-1 Napoli. I expect goals, as both attacks, I think, will have too much for the comparative defences. It’s a risky shout on my end, but Napoli have the entirety of the San Paolo behind them. That could be too much.

This is my personal pick of the games. A vibrant Napoli side coming up against a misshaped and misguided Barcelona. It’s the one on my television. Here’s to a fantastic night of Champions League football.

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