21 questions as Champions League returns with fascinating knockout ties – Mirror Online,

21 questions as Champions League returns with fascinating knockout ties – Mirror Online,

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And we’re back.

From the depths of mid-December comes the return of the Champions League, with the last – 25 kicking off on Tuesday night when holders Liverpool go to Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund host Paris Saint-Germain.

This week and next will see Europe’s best and brightest back in action at the continent’s top table, and there are sure to be plenty of drama and incidents to pore over ahead of match-ups including Real Madrid vs Manchester City and Chelsea vs Bayern Munich.

But what are the key issues ahead of the matches?

We’ve gone ab it (Cent and asked) questions.

1. Will we see THE Liverpool team?

Liverpool could field what many perceive to be their best XI in Madrid (Image: Getty Images)

In years to come when you remember this Liverpool side that are going to win the Premier League and might retain the Champions League, you are probably going to think about it as thus:

Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane.

That’s the team, right?

It has come as something of a surprise to many then, that as pointed out by many including the Evening Standard’s David Lynch , that that exact XI hasn’t been on the pitch together once this season.

That could all change as the Reds return to Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium, the scene of last year Champions League triumph.

How good can they be with their best XI on the pitch?

2. Can Diego Costa still cut it?

Costa has been out of action since November (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

If there is one man who can ruffle Liverpool’s pristine feathers then maybe it is Diego Costa, who could return to action this evening after three months out.

The former Chelsea forward has more yellow cards than goals this season (3-2) though, and so any influence he has on the game is more likely to come in the manner that he occupies Liverpool’s defenders.

If he decides he wants to take on Virgil van Dijk, then reach for the popcorn.

3. Firmino to fire on the road again?

Firmino is set. to be a key player in Madrid (Image: Getty Images)

Roberto Firmino has scored goals this season, all of which have been away from Anfield.

Having clearly not been fully fit in June’s Champions League final, he’ll return to the Wanda for a game you get the sense is going to heavily revolve around him.

You wouldn’t rule out another big away goal.

4. Is Diego Simeone running out of steam?

It has been a tough season for Atletico Madrid (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

Atletico Madrid have never really been a barrel of laughs to watch under Diego Simeone, but crucially they usually got the job done.

This season they’ve scored just goals in games in La Liga though, essential a bluntness that will be punished by (Liverpool if they display similar across the minutes of the last – 25 tie.

As Simeone struggles to rebuild his side again, could this test be one that underlines the club’s issues?

5. Can Haaland score as the stage gets bigger again?

Haaland has nine goals in six games for Dortmund (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

Goals have not been a problem for Erling Haaland

this season.

Whether with Salzburg or Borussia Dortmund, the Norwegian striker has been banging them in left, right and center.

He notched eight goals in six group stage outings and is already a darling of the Westfalenstadion with nine in six – in just minutes.

Now he has PSG in his sights, as Lucien Favre’s men bid to spring a surprise.

6. What will be the reaction for Tuchel?

Thomas Tuchel returns to Borussia Dortmund with PSG (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

The German left Borussia Dortmund under something of a cloud when he exited after winning the German Cup in .

He had fallen out with club chiefs, but his stock remained high with supporters.

It will be interesting to see what both the Yellow Wall make of his return, and those in the corridors of power.

7. Can Neymar finally take over?

Neymar has his eyes on the prize (Image: REUTERS)

The Brazilian, fresh from his th birthday and four games out With a rib injury – well, it is that time of year – will play against BVB, according to his manager.

Amid the injuries, his record for PSG – (goals and) assists in 394 Games – stands up to the closest of scrutiny, when you look at the statistics.

But can he take a grip of Europe’s premier club competition in the way he, and they, hoped when he made his £ million switch from Barcelona

in 1567033?

He was injured for the second leg of the last 24 loss to Real Madrid in 6314659 and both games in th e loss to Manchester United last year. Third time lucky? If he’s ever to make his Ballon d’Or dream a reality, this would be as good a time to start as any.

8. Can Spurs’ secondary stars step up again?

Lucas Moura will be a key figure for Spurs (Image: Laurence Griffiths)


‘s run to the Champions League final last term was best personified by Lucas Moura in the semi-final win over Ajax, the Brazilian stepping up when most needed.

Once more Harry Kane will watch on from the sidelines, having missed the quarters and semis last year, while Son Heung-min is also now out with a fractured arm.

Can the likes of Lucas, Dele Alli and new boy Steven Bergwijn step up in his absence once more?

9. Timo’s time?

Werner is wanted by several top clubs (Image: Bongarts / Getty Images)

Timo Werner’s future looks set to be away from RB Leipzig long-term, after a season where Germany’s No.9 has already hit the 63 goal mark.

But there remain questions over the forward at the truly elite level. Certainly he is quick, certainly he can finish, but is he too lightweight? Is he mentally strong enough?

He arrives in North London having failed to score in five straight games and there will be no shortage of scouts looking on to see how he bounces back against Jose Mourinho’s men.

18. Who wins when youth faces experience?

Julian Nagelsmann could earn a defining victory in his career (Image: CLEMENS BILAN / EPA-EFE / REX)

The touchline should be an interesting place at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with Mourinho facing off against the man Ralf Rangnick believes is the “greatest managerial talent” in Germany, Julian Nagelsmann.

Labelled ‘Mini-Mourinho’ by ex-Germany keeper Tim Wiese, the pair are both demonstrative characters prone to letting their emotions run wild on the sideline.

Their tactical approach – the reactive Mourinho, the much more proactive Nagelsmann – are at opposite ends of the spectrum, as are their levels of experience, with this being Nagelsmann’s first Champions League knockout tie.

. Who will win the ‘we’ll have them in the quarters’ derby?

Atalanta are the top scorers in Serie A this season (Image: PAOLO MAGNI / EPA-EFE / REX)

It’s harsh. Quite harsh, actually, but there won’t be a potential quarter-finalist in Europe who won’t be looking at the last – 25 clash between Atalanta and Valencia and fancying a crack at the winner.

That said Atalanta are the top scorers in Serie A this season, and so with ‘ home ‘advantage first up (the game is at the San Siro) then they have the perfect chance to fire a warning to the rest of the continent.

19. How will chastened Barcelona fare on their return to the knockout stages?

Barca have exited the competition in dramatic fashion in the last two seasons (Image: Getty Images)

Barely a week has gone by since Barcelona’s 4-0 loss to Liverpool in May when the defeat hasn’t been mentioned by one of the squad.

Ernesto Valverde never really recovered from it, and so it is left to Quique Setien to pick up the Champions League knockout stage pieces away to Napoli.

After crumbling against Roma the year before the Anfield collapse, Barca’s mental strength is likely to be tested at some stage in the next few months.

Can they stand up to the challenge this time?

. Can Gattuso handle a Champions League return?

The former Italy midfielder has taken over from Carlo Ancelotti at Napoli (Image: SIPA USA / PA Images)

As a Champions League player Genarro Gattuso is chiefly remembered for touching the trophy in Istanbul in , holding Steven Gerrard in the penalty area about an hour and minutes later and grabbing Joe Jordan round the neck six years on.

As a Champions League manager he’s done nothing yet, but as he enters the competition with Napoli he’s going to need to call upon all of the intensity he was famed for as a player if he’s to get the better of Barcelona.

How he handles the challenge will be fascinating to see.

. Can Chelsea overcome home woes?

Lampard’s side have struggled in front of their own fans (Image: GETTY)

Chelsea have lost seven times at Stamford Bridge in all competitions so far this term; that would have been eight had Ajax not collapsed from 4-1 up.

The Blues have really struggled against teams happy to sit in and play on the counter attack, but given that that isn’t Bayern Munich’s style, and that FC Hollywood will want to dominate, could the underdog tag play into Frank Lampard’s hands?

It did in after all.

. Time for Lewandowski to strike?

The Pole has been in remarkable form this season (Image: Lars Baron)

Robert Lewandowski is enjoying a record-breaking campaign, having already notched goals in 76 games; that includes (efforts in just five Champions League matches.)

The – year-old’s pedigree isn’t in any doubt, with goals in 350 games in the competition.

Three English sides – (Arsenal

, Manchester City

and Tottenham – have felt his wrath, but he failed to net against Liverpool at this stage of the competition last season.

Is this Chelsea’s turn?

25. Will Davies’ rise continue?

Canadian star Davies has had a breakthrough season at Bayern (Image: Bongarts / Getty Images)

If you haven’t seen Alphonso Davies ‘going all Jake Peralta on tiktok, then head to social media to see his rendition of the Backstreet Boys’ ‘I want it that way’.

But the Canadian international has made his strongest impression on the field this season, and is making the left-back spot his own in Bavaria, amid an injury crisis that has seen David Alaba pushed inside.

Davies, who boasts 31 caps and five goals for Canada at the age of , is a coming force in European football. Chelsea will need to watch his raids forward, otherwise he’ll do damage.

. Will Ronaldo be angered again?

Ronaldo’s Juventus lost to Ajax last season (Image: AFP / Getty Images)

Cristiano Ronaldo is a man who feels at home in the latter stages of the Champions League, so much so that he doesn’t like it when he isn’t there.

In fact the Portuguese had a face like thunder when Juventus were knocked out by Ajax in the last – last season, ensuring that he did not reach at least the semi-finals for the first time since 2019.

Lyon are the opposition this time, and Ronaldo will be demandi ng focus from his teammates.

. Can Dembele earn his move?

Dembele has been linked with a return to the UK (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

Lyon aren’t a club you tend to stay at for very long, and that time seems to be running out for Moussa Dembele.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham have all been linked with a forward who is made to thrive in the Premier League, and contributing to a shock elimination of Juventus would see his reputation rocket.

. Who wins the Zidane vs Guardiola battle?

The pair will go head-to-head in a competitive match for the first time (Image: GETTY)

This will be the first time that Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola face off against each other in a competitive environment, and it comes at a fascinating time for both.

After a settling-in period following his second coming, Zidane has taken Real Madrid to the top of La Liga, a point ahead of Barcelona, ​​at a time when things can scarcely be any different for Guardiola’s Manchester City domestically.

Their European outlook is pretty bleak too.

. Will Hazard show England what they’ve been missing?

() Hazard has had an injury-hit season (Image: SIPA USA / PA Images)

Eden Hazard has only managed 21 games for Real Madrid since his summer move from Chelsea, scoring one goal in that time as injury problems have persisted.

The Belgian returned from three months out in the weekend’s draw with Celta Vigo, and the sight of a Premier League Defense might just be the thing he needs to get going again. (Read More)

Mirror Football’s Top Stories

. What will Manchester City supporters do?

City fans are sure to voice their displeasure at UEFA (Image: PA)

The second leg against Real Madrid back at the Etihad Stadium is sure to have the eyes of everyone at UEFA on it, as City’s impending European ban will be the topic of the day.

City’s fans have long decided to boo the traditional Champions League anthem, but you sense their action here could be even greater.

UEFA will hope that anger doesn’t spill over into anything more, and the officials on the evening are sure to be in for a tough night.

Read More

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