Champions League Team of the Round: Ronaldo & Ibrahimovic star alongside debutant Campbell

Two of Olympiakos’ heroes make our selection along with a number of Barcelona and Bayern Munich stars

After taking the Champions League group stage by storm, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo make an immediate return to the line-up in our team of the last-16 first legs – along with one or two fresh faces.

In goal, Thibaut Courtois gets the nod ahead of Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer thanks to his heroics at San Siro that set Atletico Madrid on their way to a valuable 1-0 win over AC Milan.

Dani Alves was at his very best in Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Manchester City, marshalling his flank and scoring a priceless second goal despite Manuel Pellegrini deploying two left-backs to contain him. At the heart of our defence, Konstantinos Manolas was exemplary in keeping an abject Manchester United well away from the Olympiakos goal, while Barca’s Javier Mascherano performed expertly against City’s Alvaro Negredo and late substitute Edin Dzeko. At left-back, Galatasaray’s Alex Telles had Petr Cech and Chelsea worried whilst keeping Eden Hazard and Andre Schurrle quiet.

In midfield, the double-pivot is lifted straight from Bayern Munich: Toni Kroos put in a masterful display against Arsenal, setting up the penalty that led to Wojciech Szczesny’s red card and rifling in a stunning goal in a surpreme performance. Philipp Lahm, meanwhile, once more underlined his versatility, putting in a fine showing at full-back before pushing up into midfield in the second half, where he teed up Thomas Muller for his side’s second.

Joel Campbell teased Man Utd’s Patrice Evra constantly and scored a sublime second goal for Olympiakos to earn a place in our selection for the first time, while Gareth Bale‘s two goals and one assist for Madrid sees him line up alongside the Arsenal loanee. Cristiano Ronalo destroyed Schalke in tandem with Bale and Karim Benzema, with his two expertly taken goals enough to earn him another place in our XI.

In the striker’s role, Zlatan Ibrahimovic fends off competition from Benzema and Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski thanks to his inspiring display in Paris Saint-Germain’s thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen – a performance that included a sensational left-footed strike as well as a converted penalty.

Betting Special: Real Madrid the force to be reckoned with as English clubs falter

After the first leg matches in the Champions League last 16, we have seen a couple of sides make huge claims for the trophy, with the Spainish Giants from Madrid standing out

After the first round of matches in the last 16, we have seen a number of teams facing huge battles to stay in the competition, with an English presence in the competition resting on Chelsea’s shoulders.
With Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United all losing their first legs 2-0, only David Moyes’ side are being given a realistic chance of staying in the competition.

Barcelona breezed past a Sergio Aguero-less Manchester City side, with Bayern Munich also easing to victory against Arsenal. United were on the end of a shock loss against Olympiakos, but have a home leg to come and try and resurrect the tie. It’s worth avoiding these three English clubs, who all have mountains to climb to progress. United are now 35/1 (36.00) to win the trophy, Manchester City are 66/1 (67.00) and Arsenal 125/1 (126.00).

Despite a strong start against Galatasaray, Chelsea fizzled out and ended up drawing the first leg 1-1. Jose Mourinho is somewhat of a Champions League specialist, but with the Blues lacking a prolific striker, they may not be able to challenge the top teams. Paddy Power price them at 12/1 (13.00) to win the Champions League outright.

The holders Bayern Munich have been sensational this season in all competitions, and it’s no surprise they are favourites to retain their trophy. Pep Guardiola’s side are in a comfortable position against Arsenal and look set to progress to the next round. Paddy Power price them at 2/1 (3.00) for outright glory.

Barcelona are joint second favourties behind Munich with Paddy Power pricing them at 7/2 (4.50) and they, like the Germans, looked very impressive against their English opposition. Messi and Co. take a two goal advantage back to Camp Nou, and they too should comfortably find themselves in the quarter finals.

The stand out performance of the last 16 first legs though came in Germany, where Carlo Ancelotti’s men destroyed Schalke 6-1. Real Madrid were ruthless against the Germans, with Ronaldo, Benzema and Gareth Bale all netting to leave the opposition needing a miracle.

Madrid have been sensational this season and certainly have their eye on this competition, with the trophy not being won by Los Blancos since 2002. Ronaldo has made it clear that he wants to win this tournament, and with the current Ballon d’Or holder scoring for fun, it’s tough to see any defence stopping him.

If stopping Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t enough, with the likes of Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema also finding their scoring boots, Madrid’s front line is the most deadly strike force in Europe. Paddy Power price them at 7/2 (4.50) to win the Champions League.

With seven matches played and 26 goals scored, Madrid are the form team and the ones every other team will want to avoid. Ancelotti’s side had to come through a tough group and although their last 16 opponents aren’t the strongest, they have been the side who have impressed this season.

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Classy Kroos essential for Germany, says Low

The national team coach has insisted that there is no doubt about the midfielder’s importance to his country, despite an seemingly uncertain future with Bayern

Germany coach Joachim Low insists Toni Kroos has an essential part to play for his country at this year’s World Cup.

The Bayern Munich midfielder has struggled to retain his place in Pep Guardiola’s first team at club level, with the Allianz Arena outfit and the 24-year-old seemingly reaching an impasse over contract talks.

Kroos’ deal with the Bavarians expires in the summer of 2015 but despite doubts over the player’s future, Low firmly believes he has a crucial role to play for Germany.

“In our midfield we will have players at the World Cup who are technically excellent,” he told Bild. “Toni Kroos is for me a very important building block.

“He is a classy footballer with technique and game intelligence.”

Low also stressed his confidence that Bastian Schweinsteiger will be back to his very best in the coming months for club and country after returning from an ankle injury.

The 54-year-old added: “He will be back in enough time and he will also find his former strength.”

Germany play host to Chile on Wednesday, March 5 in their next friendly.

Pizarro: Guardiola has made Bayern players relax

The Peruvian believes the treble winners are less nervous heading into encounters under Jupp Heynckes’ successor and is hoping for a clean sweep of titles again

Bayern Munich’s Claudio Pizarro feels the German champions are more relaxed this season than in the club’s treble-winning campaign.

Under Jupp Heynckes, Bayern clinched the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and the Champions League in 2012-13, with Pep Guardiola on course to win all three again in his debut season at the Allianz Arena.

While striker Pizarro, who has three goals from nine league appearances this term, insists there remains a hunger to win silverware, he also feels the squad are more relaxed.

“Maybe we are a bit looser before the games. We go with less nervousness into the games,” he told the club’s official website.

“But if we are on the pitch, we are just as concentrated as in the previous season.

“We want to win everything again. This is the most important thing.”

Bayern are 19 points clear in the German top flight and remain in the latter stages of the DFB-Pokal and Champions League.

Pizarro believes everything is set up for Bayern to enjoy more success on all fronts, but warned of the threat that Arsenal – who trail 2-0 – will pose in the second leg of their last-16 Champions League tie next month.

“Everything is there. In the Bundesliga, it looks naturally good. In the cup also. And in the Champions League we have the confidence to be back in the final,” he continued.

“But first we must survive the second leg against Arsenal. For me it is important to win titles. And we can at Bayern.”

Schweinsteiger will be fit for World Cup, says Sammer

The Germany star has struggled for fitness all season but the Bayern Munich sporting director says his injury problems will be behind him by June

Bastian Schweinsteiger will be fit in time for the 2014 World Cup, according to Bayern Munich sporting director Matthias Sammer.

The Germany international has struggled with injuries all season but recently returned to action following ankle surgery back in November.

However, the 46-year-old insists that there will be no question as to whether the midfielder will be fit and firing for the Brazil tournament.

“For God’s sake, he will be fine for then!” he told Bild.

“He’s a leader, regardless of his fitness. He is the leader along with Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer. I count Dante among them too.

“Bastian directs the group. He needs to be properly fit, use each training session and every minute to come back. This may take a week, it may take four.”