Barcelona eye another treble as Champions League resumes
LONDON: Barcelona will turn their gaze from domestic honours to Europe in their quest for a second straight treble when the holders return to Champions League duties against Arsenal in the last 16, which starts this week.
Coach Luis Enrique, who led Barca to victory in last season's final with a 3-1 win over Juventus in Berlin, has already seen his men secure a place in the King's Cup final as well as chasing a second successive La Liga crown.
They return to action in the continent's elite competition next week when they travel to London to face Arsenal on February 23 having never lost to them in European competition.
Barcelona face a busy time and, having thrashed Celta Vigo 6-1 helped by a Luis Suarez hat-trick on Sunday, they next face Sporting Gijon on Wednesday in their Liga match in hand left over from a trip to the Club World Cup in December.
"I'm very pleased with how we're preparing and competing in each match. This is the line we must follow each week and if we have this busy calendar it's because we've earned it," said Luis Enrique as the European season moves to its most exciting phase.
Barcelona, Real Madrid, who face AS Roma, and Atletico Madrid, who meet PSV Eindhoven, have all reached the Champions League final in the last two seasons with Real defeating Atletico 4-1 after extra time in Lisbon in 2014.
Real, bidding for an unprecedented 11th European Cup triumph, have not met Roma since the 2007-08 season when the Italians beat them home and away.
But Real, who travel to Roma on Wednesday, have injury worries with Pepe (foot problem) Gareth Bale (calf) and Marcelo (shoulder) all doubtful.
The match will be Zinedine Zidane's first in the competition he graced as a player since becoming Real's manager in January.
England, like Spain, have three teams in the last 16 and while Arsenal face the toughest task against Barcelona, both Chelsea and Manchester City face imposing obstacles.
Chelsea, whose season is showing signs of revival after the chaos of Jose Mourinho's last months in charge, have improved under interim Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, even if the English champions remain in the bottom half of the Premier League.
They face runaway French league leaders Paris St Germain, who were too good for a much better Chelsea team last season, knocking them out at the same stage on away goals.
Chelsea, who beat Newcastle United 5-1 on Saturday, visit Paris on Tuesday amid increased security in the capital after some of their fans racially abused a passenger on the Metro last year.
Manchester City face Dynamo Kiev on February 24 at the start of a hugely significant period before manager Manuel Pellegrini makes way for Pep Guardiola next season.
City's Premier League title hopes are hanging by a thread after successive home defeats by rivals Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur. Their only previous battle with Dynamo ended in a 2-1 aggregate defeat in the Europa League in 2010-11.
Guardiola, who is in his last few months with Bayern Munich, has been taken on for next season by City who see him as the man to lead them to Champions League glory.
Bayern face last season's beaten finalists Juventus on February 23 and the irony not lost on anyone is that Guardiola's side could face City if both get through this round.
Bayern have injury doubts over their central defenders, with Javi Martinez, Jerome Boateng and Medhi Benatia all sidelined, while Holger Badstuber broke his ankle in training on Saturday and will be sidelined for three months.
The Bavarians signed German defender Serdar Tasci on loan from Spartak Moscow before Badstuber's injury, leaving him and inexperienced Joshua Kimmich as the only options in the heart of the defence.