MANCHESTER, England (AP) – The kings of the Champions League take on Liverpool on Tuesday when defending champions Real Madrid visit Anfield.
The two giants of European football meet in a repeat of last year’s final and the outstanding match of the round of 16.
While Liverpool and Real Madrid share 20 Champions League titles, Manchester City continue their quest to win their first title and Napoli have emerged as surprise contenders after a stellar start to the season.
LIVERPOOL’S REVENGE MISSION
Liverpool have a chance to avenge a 1-0 defeat by Real in the final in Paris last May and go into the first leg in much better form after back-to-back wins over Everton and Newcastle in the Premier League.
It’s been a season of struggle for a team struggling for an unprecedented quadrupling of trophies last year. So much so that until last week, winning the Champions League looked like the best chance of qualifying for next season’s competition.
But there were encouraging signs in those morale-boosting victories that leave Jurgen Klopp’s side just six points adrift of the top four and a place in Champions League qualification.
Real are aiming to be crowned record-breaking European champions for a 15th time and won the Club World Cup earlier this month.
But they face a battle to retain their Spanish league title, with Barcelona leading the way at the top of the standings.
THE YEAR OF MAN CITY?
The Champions League is the only major trophy City have not won since being taken over by the Abu Dhabi ruling family in 2008.
While the arrival of Erling Haaland last summer looked like a potential game changer in Europe, question marks hang over Pep Guardiola’s side in the Premier League.
A 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest on Saturday saw Arsenal City pass at the top of the table and reveal weaknesses that were apparent throughout much of the season.
But City have looked strong in the Champions League, cruised through the group stage and are the overwhelming favorites to win when they travel to RB Leipzig on Wednesday.
But Guardiola’s tenure at City has been punctuated by surprise departures in Europe so the potential for an upset is real.
The City manager is still waiting to win his first Champions League title with a team other than Barcelona with Lionel Messi after winning it twice with the Catalan club in 2009 and 2011.
THE SURPRISE PACKAGE
Napoli were the most impressive team of the group stage, tearing away at the top of the Italian league by 15 points. After a winning streak of five games, they meet Eintracht Frankfurt away on Tuesday.
Striker Victor Osimhen seems unstoppable in front of goal, with 19 this season and nine in his last nine games.
His performances have linked him with a summer move to Manchester United and he may further improve his reputation on his Champions League return.
Based on the form, Napoli looks like one of the leading contenders to lift the trophy and will catch some breaks if they can hold it.
LUKAKU IS BACK
Inter Milan, Napoli’s closest challengers in Italy, are also in action in the Champions League this week when they host Porto on Wednesday.
If he wants to go far in the competition, much could depend on Romelu Lukaku staying fit and regaining his goalscoring form.
So it was encouraging to see him score for the first time since October in Inter’s 3-1 win over Udinese on Saturday – albeit from the penalty spot.
World champion Lautaro Martinez has been deadly in front of goal since returning from Argentina’s success in Qatar, scoring eight goals in his last 10 games.
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