Champions League talking points.
Will Man Utd target Bardghji stun City?
Copenhagen vs Man City – 8pm, Tuesday February 13
Everton managed just five touches in Manchester City’s penalty box at the weekend, the fewest by any team in the Premier League this season – but Pep Guardiola’s side can expect a far more challenging evening in Copenhagen on Tuesday night.
Roony Bardghji is the Swedish teenage sensation who slayed Manchester United and is now wanted by Erik ten Hag, Chelsea and Real Madrid. The 18-year-old was born in Kuwait to a Syrian family, and moved to Sweden at a young age.
His father is a United fan, hence the name. Bardghji is the youngest starter in Copenhagen’s history, the youngest ever scorer in the Superliga, and now the youngest to score a Champions League goal for the Danish giants. The records have tumbled.
The precocious talent seems destined to follow in his namesake’s footsteps by becoming one of the biggest stars in world football. Still without a senior cap, it was his goal against United which launched him onto the global stage. At 17 years and 359 days, his 87th-minute strike secured a famous 4-3 win.
He now has City in his sights. It would seem we are only at the start of this Cinderella story. Copenhagen earned a spirited 0-0 draw at home to City last season but they haven’t played a competitive fixture since their last group game against Galatasaray two months ago.
Copenhagen’s European record at home is formidable, however, losing just twice in 18 Champions League games at Parken Stadium. With a name like Roony, Manchester City fans won’t be forgetting him easily if he puts a severe dent in their title defence.
Openda is Leipzig’s man to stop Madrid
RB Leipzig vs Real Madrid – 8pm, Tuesday February 13
If Leipzig are to shock Europe and eliminate Real Madrid, expect Lois Openda to be the man to make it happen. The Belgium forward has scored in each of his last four appearances and has developed a reputation for delivering against the best opponents.
Openda has made five Bundesliga appearances against the current top three in the table – Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and VFB Stuttgart – and has scored in all three of those matches. He even scored home and away against Manchester City in the group stage.
As a Lens player, he scored against Paris Saint-Germain. At Vitesse, he scored three goals against both Ajax and Feyenoord. But he has made a step forward since joining Leipzig in the summer. Only Harry Kane has been involved in more Bundesliga goals this season.
Speaking to Openda last month, he explained how head coach Marco Rose is bringing the best out in him. “We have a system where we can enjoy the football and show our quality,” he said. “The coach is really intelligent and knows where to put the players.”
Real Madrid, the 14-time champions of Europe, represent the ultimate test. But with Jude Bellingham injured, there is a chance. And Openda’s history in the biggest games, particularly when space opens up on the counter-attack, makes him the one to watch.
Kane must deliver or face trophy drought
Lazio vs Bayern Munich – 8pm, Wednesday February 14
Bayern Munich’s trophy hopes took a big blow as they were beaten by Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday. Now five points adrift of Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, Bayern’s run of 11 consecutive titles looks as if it may come to an end. Awful timing for Harry Kane.
The England captain left Tottenham in search of silverware but having already been knocked out of the cup by third-tier Saarbrucken, the prospect is growing of Kane winning nothing in his first season since Bayern broke the Bundesliga transfer record to sign him.
The chance to win the Champions League is still in their hands, however, and the expectation will be that they can find a way past Lazio despite their stuttering form. Kane was all-but anonymous in Leverkusen. Bayern will demand a response in Rome.
There are echoes of another former Tottenham favourite, Teddy Sheringham, who was mocked for winning no major trophies in his first season with Manchester United.
Of course, Sheringham had the last laugh by winning the treble next time around. Kane might not yet have to wait that long if Bayern can get their act together in Europe.
Mbappe’s final Champions League charge with PSG begins
PSG v Real Sociedad – 8pm, Wednesday February 14
Getting to this point has been fraught with frustration and heartache. From the defeat in the final in 2020 to the dramatic exits in the seasons around it, the desperation of Paris St-Germain and Kylian Mbappe for Champions League glory has only been matched by the force of the fates conspiring against them in the competition.
This looks like it will be the last shot for Parisian Mbappe to lift Europe’s premier trophy with his hometown club. A summer transfer seems an inevitability. So what chance of him signing off in style?
The Frenchman is as sharp as ever, with 30 goals in 29 appearances for PSG this season. His team are out of sight in the league and favourites for the French Cup. Their Champions League last-16 opponents Real Sociedad are seventh in Spain and a world away from the glitz and glamour of PSG…
The opportunity is there again. And it would be some tale if Mbappe’s season, which started with him frozen out of the first-team, ended with him finally inspiring his side to the big prize. But after squeezing through the group stage on the head-to-head rule and with their track record in Europe a burden for PSG, it feels like the 25-year-old is going to have to do something very special over the coming months. As ever, it’s all eyes on Mbappe…
Champions League key dates
Once the round of 16 has been concluded, the draws for the Champions League quarter-finals and semi-finals will be done together on Friday, March 15.
The quarter-finals will take place on April 9/10 and April 16/17, with the semi-finals being played on April 30/May 1 and May 7/8.
The final of this season’s competition takes place at Wembley on Saturday, June 1.
When are the first and second legs?
February 13: FC Copenhagen vs Man City, RB Leipzig vs Real Madrid
February 14: PSG vs Real Sociedad, Lazio vs Bayern Munich
February 20: Inter Milan vs Atletico Madrid, PSV Eindhoven vs Borussia Dortmund
February 21: FC Porto vs Arsenal, Napoli vs Barcelona
March 5: Real Sociedad vs PSG, Bayern Munich vs Lazio
March 6: Man City vs FC Copenhagen, Real Madrid vs RB Leipzig
March 12: Arsenal vs FC Porto, Barcelona vs Napoli
March 13: Atletico Madrid vs Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund vs PSV Eindhoven
Champions League last-16 draw
Porto vs Arsenal
Napoli vs Barcelona
Paris Saint-Germain vs Real Sociedad
Inter Milan vs Atletico Madrid
PSV Eindhoven vs Borussia Dortmund
Lazio vs Bayern Munich
FC Copenhagen vs Manchester City
RB Leipzig vs Real Madrid
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