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Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Andrew Matthews Zlatan Ibrahimovic received a red card when Chelsea met PSG last season.
# last 16
The Champions League is back and here are 4 things to look out for in the knockout stages this week
Europe’s elite club competition returns with Chelsea in Paris, while Zinedine Zidane takes charge in the competition for the first time on Wedneday.

1. Defensive absentees for trip to Paris

CHELSEA HEAD TO France to face Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League knockout stages tonight without captain John Terry, who is out with a hamstring injury.

The veteran Chelsea leader will be sorely missed in the last 16, first leg at the Parc des Princes and has not even travelled to Paris with the squad.

Kurt Zouma is also out injured leaving Gary Cahill the only fit central defender in the Chelsea Champions League squad and the England international is having a poor season by his standards.

Full-back Branislva Ivanovic is likely to deputise for Terry, who limped off injured towards the end of the first half of Saturday’s 5-1 Premier League win over Newcastle.

PSG are in the midst of a record-breaking run of 35 games unbeaten in France’s top flight and have not been beaten domestically since March last year.

Their only defeats in that time have come against Barcelona in last season’s Champions League quarter-finals and away to Real Madrid in this season’s group stage, which shows they still have progress to make to become a genuine contender for European glory.

The sides meet in the Champions League for the third successive season and PSG originally appeared the undisputed favourites.

But while Chelsea remain in the bottom half of the Premier League, they have now gone 12 games unbeaten in a steady recovery under new coach Guus Hiddink.

- AFP 2016

2. Villas-Boas returns to his homeland

Zenit St Petersburg return from a two-month winter break aiming to continue their recent dominance of Portuguese opponents when they travel to Benfica in the first leg tonight.

Russian champions Zenit cruised into the knockout phase, qualifying with two matches to spare as winners of Group H, with a final day defeat at Gent — their last competitive match before Russia’s long winter break — spoiling an otherwise perfect campaign.

And Andre Villas-Boas’ side, who are aiming to reach the quarter-finals for the first time, return to their coach’s homeland in search of a fourth successive victory on Portuguese soil.

Zenit are well off the pace domestically, seven points behind leaders CSKA Moscow with their next league fixture not until early March, but they have become well acclimatised to Portugal, winning the Atlantic Cup friendly competition on the Algarve last week.

Benfica, who also succumbed 1-0 in Saint Petersburg last term, dropped three points behind Primeira Liga leaders Sporting this past weekend.

Friday’s loss snapped an 11-game winning run for Rui Vitoria’s side and also ended a run of 13 matches without defeat since a 2-1 reverse at home to Atletico Madrid in their final game in Group C.

- AFP 2016

3. Zidane the manager makes Champions League bow

Spain Soccer La Liga AP / Press Association Images Zizou: Looks good in a suit. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Zinedine Zidane’s storied history in the Champions League will feature a new chapter when his Real Madrid side travel to Roma for the first leg of their last-16 tie.

The World Cup-winning Frenchman scored a spectacular winning goal against Bayer Leverkusen as Madrid lifted the famous trophy in 2002 and was later Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant in the club’s historic 10th Champions League success during the 2013-14 campaign.

Zidane has enjoyed a strong start to management at the Santiago Bernabeu since replacing Rafael Benitez last month – dropping only two points in six La Liga games.

But Madrid’s expulsion from the Copa del Rey and their four-point gap to in-form leaders Barcelona both heighten the need for a strong European finish.

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Roma have not reached the last eight since then and scraped into this season’s knockout stage after winning just one group game under Rudi Garcia.

However, they are much improved following Luciano Spalletti’s return to the dugout in January – only tasting to defeat to in-form champions and leaders Juventus since the Italian was confirmed as Garcia’s successor.

4. Newcomers clash for the first time

Both Gent and Wolfsburg will play in the Champions League knockout stages for the first time in their history on Wednesday.

The Belgian champions finished ahead of Valencia and Lyon to claim second behind Zenit and progress from Group H, while the Germans claimed a 3-2 win over Manchester United on the final matchday to top Group B.

This will also be the first competitive encounter between the clubs. The Belgian side have never beaten a German team on home soil in European competition, while they have also failed to score in their last three home games against German opposition.

However, Gent have won their last three Champions League games – all by one goal – after failing to win any of their previous three and they were one of only six teams to score in every single group-stage game this season.

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