Champions League Arsenal Kai Havertz
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Champions League: Four talking points ahead of the midweek action

Champions League: Four talking points ahead of this week’s last-16 action, with Arsenal and Barcelona among the clubs looking to reach the quarter-finals.

Will Arsenal turn the tie around and end last-16 curse?

Arsenal’s sole blemish on a perfect record this calendar year was a disappointing night in Portugal three weeks ago, when Galeno’s goal deep into stoppage time earned Porto a 1-0 win at The Estádio do Dragão.

Mikel Arteta’s team were stifled in the contest and failed to record a single shot on target, a huge contrast to their free-scoring form shown in the Premier League in recent weeks. Porto are likely to set up to hold on to their narrow advantage in the return and Arsenal must crack the code of a deep-lying defence to progress.

History is not on Arsenal’s side when it comes to progressing in the Champions League from first-leg deficits, having exited the competition in nine of the previous 10 occasions the club trailed after the first encounter. The positive, however, is that occasion did come against this week’s opposition, when Arsenal thrashed Porto 5-0 in north London after losing 2-1 in Portugal in 2009/10.

That was also the last time Arsenal reached the quarter-finals as the club look to end a run of seven straight last-16 eliminations.

Xavi hopes for a ‘magical night’ as champions of Spain and Italy collide

Xavi could hardly contain his disappointment after Barcelona’s 1-1 draw with Napoli in the first leg of their last-16 tie, with the Spanish side the better team for much of the contest in Naples.

Victor Osimhen’s equaliser has left the tie perfectly poised ahead of the return and Xavi has called the return the leg ‘the most important game’ of Barcelona’s challenging campaign.

“It’s the most important game of the season so far,” Xavi said in his pre-game news conference. “We are really up for it. It has been a while since we reached the quarterfinals, so it’s a huge opportunity.

“There is a desire to do well and to compete against a great opponent. [Napoli] have not been in best form [this season] but the base is the same as the side that made them Italian champions last year. I hope it will be a magical night.”

That magical night could include a goal from Lamine Yamal, who has enhanced his reputation as one of world football’s brightest talents this season. The teenager became the youngest player to appear in a Champions League knockout game in the first meeting and has four goals and three assists in La Liga this season. Should he score, he will become the first 16-year-old to do so in the Champions League.

Malen to make the most of his former club’s soft centre?

Borussia Dortmund forward Donyell Malen marked his return to PSV Eindhoven with a goal in the 1-1 first-leg draw between the teams, and the Dutch forward will be the danger man for the Eredivisie outfit to watch once again in the return.

Malen is in the midst of his best-ever season in a Dortmund shirt and has 11 goals in 18 league starts this season.

The 25-year-old has scored seven times in his last seven games across all competitions, form which has taken him ahead of Niclas Füllkrug as the German side’s leading scorer this season.

He will be hoping to get one over his old employers and book BVB’s place in the Champions League quarter-finals, with PSV having been somewhat accommodating since returning from the winter break. Despite remaining unbeaten in the league, the runaway Eredivisie leaders have just two clean sheets in their last 11 games in all competitions.

Inter Milan shaping as a team to avoid

Inter Milan exceeded expectations to reach last season’s Champions League final, though the club’s form this season suggests that run might not have been a one-off. Simeone Inzaghi’s side are cantering towards the Serie A title and will start as strong favourites to beat Atletico Madrid and reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League this week.

Marko Arnautovic’s goal gave Inter a 1-0 lead from the first leg in Italy, though the scoreline failed to tell the tale of the contest as Inter racked up 19 efforts on goal and Atletico failed to register a single shot on target.

The narrow lead means Atletico remain in the tie, though the form favours Inter who have been in imperious mood of late. The Nerazzurri have won 13 consecutive games in all competitions and have nine clean sheets from their last 11 fixtures. Atletico, meanwhile, have not scored in five of their last eight.

Inter are brilliantly organised under Inzaghi, conceding just 13 goals in the league this season, and a team whose sum is greater than its individual parts. Their ability to shut out teams, alongside the attacking threat of Lautaro Martinez and Marcus Thuram, make the Serie A side a team to avoid.

Read – The Premier League teams to open a calendar year with eight consecutive wins

See more – Premier League weekend: Five things we learned

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