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Previews: All you need to know about tonight's Champions League last 16 ties

It’s February 14, which can mean only one thing – it’s back. Barcelona travel to Germany while knockout stage virgins Apoel Nicosia visit Lyon’s Stade de Gerland.

Barcelona midfielder Xavi will come back into the side tonight.
Barcelona midfielder Xavi will come back into the side tonight.
Image: MANU FERNANDEZ/AP/Press Association Images

IT’S BEEN TWO long months since we last got to savour European football’s elite competition but thankfully the Champions League returns to our screens this evening.

Bayer Leverkusen v Barcelona, 7.45pm, TV3 & Sky Sports 2

Barcelona trail rivals Real Madrid by ten points in La Liga after ending an 18-game unbeaten run with defeat to Osasuna at the weekend and a fourth consecutive league title may now be beyond them.

Reclaiming the Champions League is Pep Guardiola’s No1 priority and a win at the BayArena tonight would pretty much assure their place in the quarter-finals.

Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas were all left on the bench on Sunday evening and should return to the starting XI, while Sergio Busquets has travelled with the 22-man squad but is likely to miss out.

Leverkusen finished ahead of Valencia and a point behind Chelsea in Group E back in November but come into this tie on the back of a 1-0 defeat to Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund.

That means they have only one win in seven games and have to do without midfielders Michael Ballack and Sydney Sam as well as striker Eren Derdiyok because of injuries.

And manager Robin Dutt isn’t giving his team much of a chance if quotes from the pre-match press conference are anything to go by.

It would be a miracle if we could beat Barcelona over two legs,” he said. “Barca are better than the Spain national team.

“We will have to pay equal attention to every Barca player – even their substitutes are at international level.”

Bayer Levekusen 15/2  Draw 7/2 Barcelona 2/5

Lyon v Apoel Nicosia, 7.45pm, Setanta Ireland

Apoel Nicosia made history by becoming the first Cypriot club to progress from the group stages of the Champions League, having pipped Ajax to a runner-up spot.

They sit a point off top spot of the Cypriot league but are no doubt the surprise package of the round and at odds of 6/1 to win in France tonight, aren’t fancied to overcome Lyon.

Recent history doesn’t bode well for the Ligue Un side though, as they have failed to win a knockout match in this competition on the past five time occasions. They are fourth in a title race and 11 points behind leaders Paris Saint-Germain so a poor result tonight would add more pressure to the shoulders of manager Remi Garde.

The former Arsenal defender insists that this fixture won’t be a walk in the park, however.

“APOEL have had a wonderful group stage, they deserve a lot of respect, like any team that has reached the knockout stages,” he said on UEFA.com.

My players are aware of their strengths and especially their ability to counterattack, as they have watched several videos of them.”

They are without the injured Dejan Lovren and Anthony Lopes but loan signing  Hamdan Al Kamali has been included in the squad after joining from Al Wahda on a six-month deal.

Apoel should bring Brazilian defender Kaka in for compatriot Marcelo Oliveira. Paraguayan striker Aldo Adorno is doubtful due to a calf strain and Nuni Morais could move into midfield because of William Boaventura’s return.

Lyon 1/2 Draw 3/1 Apoel Nicosia 6/1

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Ben Blake

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