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UEFA Champions League Round of 16 preview

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It’s been two long months without UEFA Champions League football, and this week we finally get to see who makes strides toward May 28’s final at the San Siro.

Who’s headed to Milan? We’ve got 16 candidates, most of them who fit neatly into the “usual suspects” folder. Not a single side remaining in the tournament came via the playoff round; All joined at the group stage.

[ MORE: Man Utd renames stand after club legend Charlton ]

Who doesn’t fit that bill? Well, Gent for one, and Dynamo Kyiv for another. The former is a Belgian side gunning for its first quarterfinal since 1992, while the latter is in its first UCL Round of 16 in 17 years.

A doozy gets us kicked off on Tuesday, with the first legs completed a week from Wednesday. Here’s what we’ll be watching:

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Chelsea
Tuesday in Paris; March 9 in London

We’ve got a rematch on our hands, down to the round. Last year, it was PSG that advanced past Chelsea via the away goals rule after a 1-1 draw at the Parc des Princes and a 2-2 stalemate at Stamford Bridge. While Chelsea has been playing very well, their form is nothing compared to a Parisien side that hasn’t lost yet in Ligue 1 (22W-4D). With Eden Hazard openly flirting with PSG and John Terry’s absence forcing Chelsea into a tricky back line, we have all the looks of a multi-faceted beauty here.

[ MORE: Aurier suspended by PSG

Benfica vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Tuesday in Lisbon; Match 9 in Russia

The Round of 16 has become a regular thing for Zenitchiki, and the Russians are in a good spot. Leading scorer Hulk has 3 goals and 4 assists in the UCL this season, and Zenit won five of its six Group H matches. Benfica is out of the group stage for the first time since 2011-12.

Gent vs. Wolfsburg
Wednesday in Belgium; March 8 in Germany

Neither side made the UCL in 2014-15, now one will make the quarterfinals. Wolfsburg will be favored after navigating a tricky Group B with PSV, Man Utd, and CSKA Moscow, while Gent finished second to Zenit.

[ MORE: 5 takeaways from a huge Premier League weekend ]

Roma vs. Real Madrid
Wednesday in Italy; March 8 in Spain

After dealing with Barcelona in Group E, Roma is rewarded with another Spanish giant in the next round. Whether the Serie A side can topple Zinedine Zidane’s unit seems like a big ask, but at some point i Lupi’s investments in the future should manifest in the present.

Juventus vs. Bayern Munich
Feb. 23 in Turin; March 16 in Germany

The Old Lady hopes to make its second-straight final, but has to get by Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich as the manager makes his last Bundesliga ride before scooting over to Manchester City next season. Juventus has battered opponents after a slow start to the Serie A season, reclaiming the top spot this weekend with a win over Napoli. Will that momentum help them past a Bayern side starting to find its form?

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 08: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona (L) duels for the ball against Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between Barcelona and Arsenal at the Camp Nou stadium on March 8, 2011 in Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona won 3-1. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Arsenal vs. Barcelona
Feb. 23 in London; March 16 in Spain

What does Arsenal get for managing a great escape from a poor group stage start? Just the best team in the world, now with an in-form and healthy Lionel Messi. This is one of the reasons Arsene Wenger found the big bucks for Petr Cech. He’ll be a big part of any upset bid from the Gunners.

[ WATCH: Barca score cheeky penalty ]

PSV Eindhoven vs. Atletico Madrid
Feb. 24 in the Netherlands; March 15 in Spain

On paper, this one shouldn’t be a big challenge for Diego Simeone’s troops, and Atleti only allowed a trio of goals in group play. Could underrated Mexico star Andres Guardado’s familiarity with La Liga help here?

Dynamo Kyiv vs. Manchester City
Feb. 24 in Ukraine; March 15 in England

On name alone, many will pencil Man City into the next round, but its Ukranian opponents did well in passing Porto and giving Chelsea a scare in the Group G title race. Serhiy Rebrov’s stingy side has attacking danger in the form of 26-year-old Andriy Yarmolenko, and City will face a challenge here.

USMNT’s Arriola likely will miss MLS season, six World Cup qualifiers

Paul Arriola
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WASHINGTON (AP) D.C. United midfielder Paul Arriola had major knee surgery Monday and likely will miss the entire Major League Soccer season and the United States’ first six qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup

The operation was to reconstruct his right anterior cruciate ligament. The team said there was no additional cartilage damage.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 25-year-old midfielder injured his knee Feb. 15 during D.C. United’s preseason match against Orlando in Tampa, Florida.

Arriola has been a regular starter for the U.S. national team under coach Gregg Berhalter. Arriola has five goals in 33 international appearances.

After failing to reach the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. starts qualifying for the 2022 tournament this year. The Americans have two matches each in September, October and November, then complete qualifying with two games apiece in March and September 2021.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

State of play in CONCACAF Champions League

CONCACAF Champions League
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Four of five Major League Soccer clubs alive in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 are in fine shape to reach the quarterfinals after one leg.

The fifth has a tall hill to climb.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

LAFC trails Club Leon by two and did not collect an away goal in Mexico during first leg play last week.

“It’s 2-0, but we’re going to work hard,” said LAFC attacker Latif Blessing. “We’re going to prepare ourselves to win the next game. … We did good, but we want to win. It couldn’t happen that way but we’re going to prepare next game to win this game. We need to win.”

The second leg in L.A. is one of the last two matches of the round, kicking off at 10 p.m. ET Thursday just as Seattle Sounders square off with Olimpia.

The Honduran side managed a controversial comeback in the 2-2 draw with Jordan Morris-fueled Seattle last week, but the Sounders will be happy to have those two away goals and home field.

Montreal Impact has the same situation for Deportivo Saprissa’s visit at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, while Atlanta United scored an away goal in a draw with Motagua and hosts the visitors from Honduras’ capital at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday.

That leaves us with NYCFC, who got a Heber hat trick amongst five away goals at Costa Rican side San Carlos in a 5-3 win. The second leg begins at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday at Red Bull Arena (yes, you read that correctly).

Elsewhere, Liga MX sides don’t have it much better. Cruz Azul leads Portmore 2-1 heading back to Mexico, while Club America scored an away goal in a draw with Comunicaciones.

Finally, Tigres UANL trails 2-1 after one leg with Alianza in El Salvador.

CCL second leg schedule
all times ET

Atlanta United v. Motagua (1-1) — 8 p.m. Tuesday
Cruz Azul v. Portmore United (2-1) — 10 p.m. Tuesday
NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Eleven to go: Ranking obstacles on Liverpool’s unbeaten path

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Liverpool has won all five of its matches since the last time we evaluated its path to an unbeaten Premier League season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Those matches were ranked 14th, 12th, 11th, 10th, and 4th on our first rankings of obstacles to immortality, so very little of the heavy lifting has been conducted.

Let’s get something out of the way: If Liverpool is unable to overturn their first leg deficit against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, you can probably etch that zero in the league loss column into stone.

That said, many expect the Reds to overcome that 1-0 disadvantage from Madrid, so here’s where we slot the difficulties moving forward.

Unranked — Crystal Palace at home (March 21) and Brighton away (April 18) — Both of these dates are very easy on the eyes, but will be moved if Liverpool is alive in the FA Cup.

9. Newcastle away, time TBD May 17 — We’re now calling this the easiest date left. Klopp’s men aren’t going to lose an unbeaten season at the altar just because Steve Bruce bunkers down. St. James’ Park is a hassle, but

8. Watford away, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday Klopp probably feels like he’s already playing with house money in the FA Cup, so there’s no reason to think he’ll hand any priority at all to the following FA Cup meeting with Chelsea.

7. Bournemouth home, 7:30 a.m. ET March 7 Situated between Chelsea in the FA Cup and the home UCL second leg versus Atleti, it’s not easy…  but the Cherries have given us less reason to believe they’ll threaten the Reds than any other team besides Newcastle.

6. Aston Villa home, 11:30 a.m. ET April 12Dean Smith‘s desperate Villans will have Villa Park rocking before Liverpool’s possible UCL quarterfinals 2nd leg days later.

5. Burnley home, 7:30 a.m. ET April 25 — Taking place just before a possible UCL quarterfinal first leg, Burnley will try to trouble the Reds in a similar manner to West Ham.

4. Chelsea home, time TBD May 9 — Both the Blues and Reds could be coming off UCL semifinal second legs. Don’t forget that Chelsea took the Reds to the wire in the UEFA Super Cup despite it being very early in Frank Lampard‘s tenure.

3. Arsenal away, time TBD May 2 — Both sides may be days away from needing a result to qualify for the UCL or UEL final.

2. Everton away, 4 p.m. ET March 16 — This may as well be the only match left on the Toffees’ docket that matters more than another, as Carlo Ancelotti and his men know the message they could send regarding the building up of Everton.

Not only that, but Everton has nothing else left to circle, no other competitions, nothing.

1. Man City away, 11:30 a.m. ET April 5 — Taking place 3-4 days before the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals and on the heels of an international break, it’s the lone date on the calendar that Liverpool won’t be heavy favorites to win.

Champions League: Chelsea, Napoli aim to slow Lewandowski, Messi

UEFA Champions League preview
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Four of the most dangerous attacks in Europe begin their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

For Chelsea that means trying to find a way to limit the damage of away goals when Bayern Munich visits Stamford Bridge.

Of course, that means trying to slow lethal Robert Lewandowski. The 31-year-old Polish striker has scored 38 times in 32 appearances this season.

Here’s Frank Lampard, via Football.London:

Form of his life means something special with Lewandowski because of how well he’s been consistently in Europe for the last, how many years, I don’t know,” Lampard said. “Everything about him, from a distance, from afar, is just top class. Having the opportunity to watch a lot of Bayern in build-up to this game, that shines through. Of course, he’s going to be a huge threat. He’s not the only threat but he is a spearhead.”

Lampard points to the Blues work without the ball and away from it that will determine whether they can limit Lewandowski and Bayern.

“We traveled to Ajax and had a fantastic game off the ball,” he said. “We’ve had games like that this year in the league as well. But the levels have to go up.”

The Blues won’t have Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and N’Golo Kante, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek is finally available after a long injury absence. Pedro may play.

[ MORE: JPW’s score predictions ]

Tuesday’s other first leg sees Napoli hosting Barcelona, which means Gennaro Gattuso trying to find a way to cool down Lionel Messi.

The world’s top player scored four goals at the weekend and had six assists in his three previous La Liga outings.

Another player who’s helped Barcelona reclaim the league lead will be critical to controlling the midfield against Napoli, and that’s Frenkie de Jong.

The 22-year-old has had fits and starts at Barca, especially this month. He admits that he’s had an odd time adjusting to Messi, the teammate, though it hasn’t been part of the problem. From FCBarcelona.com:

“When I began training with him it was strange, because when I was 12, still in secondary school, I used to watch a lot of football. He was already the best in the world. He won the Ballon d’Or back then, so I was a fan, or whatever you want to call it.”

Napoli boss Gattuso was a bit more effusive when addressing Messi, via Football.Espana:

“I have read whether to make a cage or not, but we need the collective game to combat someone like him, and it is not just him,” Gattuso said. “He is the best in the world, for how he has lived his entire career. He is always perfect, never a misplaced word, he is an example for everyone. He does things that I only see on the PlayStation. He has an incredible quality and for years he has been the best of all-time.”

Both matches kick off at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday.