These are the Champions…

Guess what is back!!!! The Champions League returns this week!! After the long winter break, the greatest competition in the world returns.  The knockout stage begins this week.  This is the business end of the competition, and where legends are formed and enhanced.  The Round of 16 begins on Tuesday.  The matches will be played on Tuesdays and Wednesdays over the next two weeks.  They start off this week with a bang when Chelsea travels to Paris Saint-Germain.  The champions of France will host the best team in England.  The second leg will be the second week in March at the Stamford Bridge.  This will be a huge match in Paris and probably the matchup of the week.  The other match on Tuesday has the champions of Germany facing the champions of Ukraine when Shakhtar Donetsk hosts Bayern Munich.  On Wednesday this week Porto travel to Switzerland to face Basel.  In the other matchup on Wednesday, the holders of the title, Real Madrid travel to Schalke 04.  This should be an interesting matchup as Real Madrid has had trouble in Germany in the past.

Weekend Review

In Serie A, the teams at the top struggled this weekend.  Roma drew with Parma 0-0, Juventus drew with Cesena 2-2, and Napoli lost 3-1 at Palermo.  Fiorentina took advantage of this with their 3-1 win over Sassuolo.  La Viola now sits 4 points behind Napoli.  Lazio also won this weekend to keep them in the race for third place.  Despite getting a draw with Roma, Parma looks certain to go down as they sit 13 points from safety.  Cesena also is in trouble as they sit 7 points from safety.

In Ligue 1, Marseille started the weekend out drawing 2-2.  Then came the more shocking result in France as PSG drew 2-2 at home to Caen.  This set the table for Lyon but they were also held 1-1 at Lorient.  The top 3 all stayed the same this weekend, as no one was able to get more than 1 point.  The race at the bottom is getting better as well, as the difference from 18th to 13this just 4 points.  Lens and Metz sit at the bottom on 22 and 21 points respectively.  Evian sits in 18th with 26 points.  Caen, Lorient, and Toulouse all have 28 points.  Bastia and Stade Reims both have 30 points.  It should be a good run in for the bottom 3 points.

The Bundesliga had some remarkable results.  The weekend started with Dortmund winning 4-2 over Mainz.  In this bottom half of the table clash, Dortmund finally is out of the bottom 3.  They now sit 1 point clear of the bottom 3.  On Saturday, Bayern Munich destroyed Hamburg, 8-0.  Munich has now outscored Hamburg 44-5 in the last 5 years.  There were some amazing goals in the game.  The other crazy result was that Wolfsburg beat Bayer 5 to 4, behind 4 goals from Bas Dost, including one that was with the last kick of the game.  Heung-Min Son scored a hat trick in the game as Leverkusen’s comeback failed.

In Spain, the leader won 2-0 over Deportivo, but the crowd was not on their side.  The fans at the Bernabeu booed during the match, as they were not fans of the way the team played.  Real Madrid won, but did not play well and did not look very interested in the match.  Barcelona came out on Sunday and put 5 past Levante, including a hat-trick from Leo Messi.  Atletico Madrid lost 2-0 to Celta Vigo.  They were not able to continue their form following the victory over Real Madrid.  Valencia and Sevilla both won in their race for fourth.  The race at the bottom is starting to get tight, as the difference from 20th to 12th is just 6 points.  This should be a good one to watch, as a spots in the top division is on the line.

The FA Cup Round 5 took place this weekend.  West Brom beat West Ham 4-0 in a big statement win and something that could give them momentum going forward.  Blackburn Rovers upset Stoke City 4-1 in a shocking display from the Potters.  Reading won 2-1 at Derby County.  Liverpool needed a comeback and a Mario Ballotelli appearance to advance with a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace.  Aston Villa beat Leicester 2-1 in what was the first match without Paul Lambert.  The new Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood watched from the stands.  Bradford City continued their giant killing run when they beat Sunderland 2-0.  It was a rather comfortable win for them.  Arsenal won 2-0 over Middlesborough.  Olivier Giroud scored two goals within 135 seconds.  Preston North End will host Manchester United today.

Midweek Preview

While the main stage is the Champions League this week, the Europa League resumes this weekend.  The Round of 32 begins this week.  The first leg will be this Thursday and the second leg will be next week.  There are some big names in this round of the competition such as Sevilla (the defending champions), Ajax, Roma, Liverpool, Tottenham, Everton, Napoli, and Inter.  It will be interesting to see who can advance, and if any of the smaller clubs can pull off the upsets.

Don’t forget to follow me on twitter for blog updates and more information and videos at @SoccerPond

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