THE first week of UEFA Champions League last 16 fixtures produced some big results, and not all of them expected.
Real Madrid came from a goal down to deal with Napoli at the Bernabeu, while Benfica snatched a 1-0 lead against a wasteful Borussia Dortmund.
Bayern Munich continued their dominance over Arsenal, hitting four unanswered goals after the break to win 5-1.
But the biggest winners of all were Paris Saint-Germain, who will take a 4-0 lead to Camp Nou after stunning Barcelona on Tuesday night.
What’s in store for the remaining first-leg fixtures?
Manchester City vs. AS Monaco
7:45pm local time – Tuesday, February 21, 2017 – Etihad Stadium
Man City – -172.41 at CrownBet
Draw – +320 at Bet365
Monaco – +500 at Bet365
Two of Europe’s nouveaux riche face off in a tie that could not possibly have occurred 10 years ago.
Man City limped into the knockout rounds, failing to beat either Borussia Monchengladbach or Celtic after conquering Barcelona.
There is little to fault on the domestic front, as a shock 4-0 defeat to Everton in January remains their only defeat in all competitions in 2017.
Gabriel Jesus has made a big impact since joining City in the winter transfer window, but the Brazilian prodigy will miss Monaco’s visit after sustaining a metatarsal fracture.
Several years of heavy investment appear to be paying dividends at last for les Monegasques.
They are top of the Ligue Un table – an honour reserved almost exclusively for PSG over the past five seasons.
Radamel Falcao is back to something resembling his best with 19 goals from only 18 starts in all competitions this season, while the likes of Guido Carrillo and Valere Germain have also delivered the goods on a regular basis.
So too has Gabriel Boschilia, but the 20-year-old attacker is now facing several months on the sidelines with ruptured knee ligaments.
Although Monaco are underdogs, they have had considerably more joy than City in the Champions League.
That includes a run to the final in 2004, where they were beaten by Jose Mourinho’s impressive Porto side.
Do not rule out an upset overall, but backing Monaco to win outright in Manchester might be a bridge too far.
Top tip: Draw half-time/Man City full-time (+350 at CrownBet)
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Atletico Madrid
8:45pm local time – Tuesday, February 21, 2017 – BayArena
Leverkusen – +250 at Bet365
Draw – +230 at Bet365
Atletico – +120 at Sportsbet
Bayer will have to pull one out of the box if they wish to reach the Champions League quarterfinals.
They are wallowing in the middle marches of the German Bundesliga table, some 22 points adrift of the leaders.
Not helping Leverkusen’s cause is the absence of midfield star Hakan Calhanoglu, who is serving a four-month ban imposed by FIFA and the CAS over a long-running dispute with Turkish club Trabzonspor.
Defender Jonathan Tah is touch and go with a muscular injury, but otherwise the 04 have a full squad at their disposal.
The same cannot be said for their opponents.
Superstar goalkeeper Jan Oblak has missed since December with a shoulder injury and, although now back in training, is not expected to return to action any time soon.
Saul Niguez went down with muscular pain last weekend and remains a doubt for the club’s next few fixtures.
Defenders Diego Godin (groin), Jose Gimenez (muscle infection) and Juanfran (hamstring) are battling for fitness as well, while Tiago (knee) has not been sighted this year.
Even with those issues, Atletico’s depth of attacking talent – Yannick Carrasco and Antoine Griezmann in particular – make them a solid bet to get something from their trip to North Rhine-Westphalia.
Top tip: Correct score 1-0 Atletico (+550 at Sportsbet)
FC Porto vs. Juventus
7:45pm local time – Wednesday, February 22, 2017 – Estadio do Dragao
Porto – +260 at Bet365
Draw – +210 at Sportsbet
Juventus – +125 at Sportsbet
Porto have torn it up since the start of December, winning 10 of 11 games in all competitions.
That run includes a 5-0 mauling of Leicester City – undefeated until then – in the final round of the Champions League group stage.
They could be without goalkeeper Joao Costa, who is likely to miss a few games with a meniscus injury.
Also in doubt is Danilo Pereira, although there is some hope he could recover from a foot problem in time to face Juventus.
The Old Lady could be without two of her favourite sons for the first leg.
Star centre-halves Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini are both nursing thigh problems sustained only last week.
Barzagli is ruled out until March, but the severity of his defensive partner’s injury is yet to be determined.
If Chiellini does not pass fit, Medhi Benatia should pair up with Leonardo Bonucci in the heart of defence.
It will be interesting to see if coach Massimiliano Allegri sticks with the quadruple-forward formation that has worked so well since the turn of the year.
Either way, the firepower of Juan Cuadrado, Paolo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and Mario Mandzukic should be more than enough to get Juve over the line.
Top tip: Juventus/under 2.5 goals (+275 at CrownBet)
Sevilla vs. Leicester City
8:45pm local time – Wednesday, February 22, 2017 – Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium
Sevilla – -227.27 at William Hill
Draw – +375 at Bet365
Leicester – +750 at Bet365
Sevilla were without doubt the big winners of the Champions League knockout draw.
They could hardly have asked for a better chance to bring their solid domestic form to the continental stage.
Los Blanquirrojos are third in La Liga, well within shooting distance of league leaders Real Madrid.
The question is whether they can maintain their high-intensity game style as we enter the business end of the season.
Week-to-week starters such as Samir Nasri and Steven N’Zonzi have begun to show signs of fatigue, which could open the door for a Leicester side in dire need of a result.
The Foxes are in free-fall in the Premier League and seem to have accepted that things will get much, much worse before they get any better.
They started their Champions League campaign so impressively, conceding only one goal in five games before capitulating in a meaningless bout with Porto.
Without N’Golo Kante, who is now starring in Chelsea’s midfield, Leicester have neither the system nor the quality required to replicate their EPL heroics of 2015-16.
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