Porto v Málaga, Tuesday 19 February
Málaga have enjoyed an incredible start to their first Champions League campaign, going unbeaten through Group C to finish ahead of Milan, big-spending Zenit St Petersburg and Anderlecht. Málaga, of course, were big spenders themselves recently but the Qatari owners soon lost interest, leading to, among other things, Santi Cazorla being sold to Arsenal and the club being banned from European competitions in 2013-14 because of unpaid bills (a ruling they have appealed against). In January, they sold another played to Arsenal, the left-back Nacho Monreal, but as long as there is Isco, there is hope. The brilliant 20-year-old has gone from making his La Liga debut in November 2011 to being picked for Spain in two and a half years, making his La Roja debut against Uruguay this month. Isco has taken over the playmaking role from Cazorla and will be the key to unlocking Porto, supplying Joaquín Sánchez and Javier Saviola with killer passes or, as he did against Zenit in the group stage, scoring a couple of goals himself.
Málaga have replaced Monreal with the Portuguese international defender Antunes, while Lucas Piazón (on loan from Chelsea until the end of the season), Diego Lugano and Pedro Morales were also added to the squad, although the last is ineligible for the Champions League. "We have had an incredible campaign in Europe so far but on Tuesday we are going somewhere where it will be difficult to impose our game upon them," the Málaga midfielder Ignacio Camacho said on Monday.
Porto are unbeaten in nine games since they lost to Paris St-Germain in their final Champions League group game in December. On Friday night they beat Beira Mar 2-0 despite having Eliaquim Mangala "ridiculously" sent off, according to the manager Vítor Pereira.
There was good news, however, as the forward James Rodríguez – who is persistently being touted for move to Manchester United, with A Bola claiming only this week that Nani could be involved in any deal – played his first game after missing seven matches with a thigh injury. They were also boosted by the Ghana winger Christian Atsu scoring upon his return from the Africa Cup of Nations. Rodríguez will probably be on the bench on Tuesday with the main threat to Málaga likely to come from his fellow Colombian striker, Jackson Martínez, nicknamed "Cha Cha Cha" for his dance-like moves on the pitch. He has scored an impressive 25 goals in 28 games this season.
Arsenal v Bayern Munich, Tuesday 19 February
Bayern have been rampant this season and even Arsenal's Lukas Podolski (a former Bayern player) admitted at the weekend that the Bavarians are strong favourites for this last 16-tie. He did add that if "everything goes Arsenal's way we have a chance" but it is easy to see why the Germany international is pessimistic.
Bayern lead the Bundesliga by 15 points and have won 10 out of 11 away games in the league, conceding a single goal in 990 minutes. And, for a team with the nickname FC Hollywood, they seem incredibly united in their aim to make up for the disappointment they suffered in the final against Chelsea last season.
Arjen Robben, as he does, has been muttering about not being happy on the bench but said before boarding the plane to London that "of course I want to play but this is about Arsenal v Bayern, not about me playing or not." The Dutch winger picked out Cazorla and Theo Walcott as the Gunners' danger men: "If one of them has a top day then it will be very difficult for us".
Bayern's starting XI looks impressive, from Manuel Neuer in goal to Mario Gomez or Mario Mandzukic up front. Philipp Lahm, David Alaba and the Brazilian international Dante are the key components in defence while ahead of them Bastian Schweinsteiger and the €40m summer addition Javi Martínez will do everything in their powers to stop Arsenal's attacking midfielders. In addition, on the attack Franck Ribéry and Thomas Müller have been in the form of their lives.
Arsenal have been frustratingly inconsistent, especially in defence. Ribéry, in particular, will lick his lips in anticipation at attacking an unprotected Bacary Sagna. The Frenchman has, by his own admission, had a poor season but he has not received much defensive help from the players in front of him.
Ever since Theo Walcott's brief exodus from the team – culminating in a run through the middle and a new contract – he has, when playing out wide, tended to drift infield to form a mis-shaped front two with Olivier Giroud, leaving Sagna sorely exposed. This predilection of Walcott's was clear on Saturday in the loss against Blackburn when at one point the centre-back Laurent Koscielny took it upon himself to march up the right wing ahead of Francis Coquelin at right-back in order to provide an outlet where Walcott should have been positioned.
Monreal is ineligible so Thomas Vermaelen is likely to fill in at left-back, but Jack Wilshere showed two years ago against Barcelona's Xavi and Andrés Iniesta that he can influence games against the best in Europe. Bayern did concede seven goals in six Champions League group games this season, and they lost to BATE Borisov before securing their place in the last 16.
Galatasaray v Schalke, Wednesday 20 February
Where on earth did it all go wrong for Schalke? At the start of November they had beaten Olympiakos and Arsenal away from home in the Champions League, lost only once in the Bundesliga and progressed to the third round of the German Cup. Three months later, they are preparing for their last-16 tie against Galatasaray on a run of one win in 12 league games. They have dispensed with one manager, Huub Stevens, and replaced him with an unheralded Under-23 coach, Jens Keller, a man with a history of dodgy jumpers.
They have sold the influential Lewis Holtby to Tottenham, bringing the deal forward to January for a small amount and they have opened a, er, club cemetery. Most of all, however, they have been rubbish. "The team showed that they are alive," said the sporting director, Horst Heldt, rather worryingly, after the weekend's 2-2 draw at Mainz. To make matters worse, the main danger man, the striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, has ruptured a blood vessel in his left eye and is unlikely to play. Ibrahim Affelay and Atsuto Uchida are also injured. About the only good news for S04 is that Holtby's replacement, Michel Bastos from Lyon, has played well, scoring both goals at Mainz on Saturday. The Brazilian Raffael has also arrived – on loan from Dynamo Kyiv – to boost Keller's midfield options.
The mood at Galatasaray could hardly be more of a contrast. They are top of the league, six points ahead of Fenerbahce, and managed two marquee signings in January, Wesley Sneijder from Internazionale as well as Didier Drogba, who had his contract with Shanghai Shenhua terminated. "Big clubs can only reach their goals by signing high-profile players," the club president, Unal Aysal, said proudly while Milan Baros realised how much playing time he would get this spring and joined Banik Ostrava.
But there is more to Cimbom than just Sneijder and Drogba. Burak Yilmaz scored six out of the team's seven goals in the group stage with Selcuk Inan, one of the best passers in the Turkish league, running the midfield. It will be an emotional tie for Galatasaray's Hamit Altintop, who was born in Gelsenkirchen and started his career at Schalke.
Galatasaray beat Manchester United at home in the group stage and it is difficult to see Schalke, on current form, getting a result at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium despite the home team having won only two out of 11 games against Bundesliga opposition at their own ground.
Milan v Barcelona, Wednesday 20 February
As if the Milan coach, Massimiliano Allegri, did not have enough to worry about, Silvio Berlusconi was at it again this week (no, not like that… he was offering tactical advice). The club owner kindly took time out from his election campaign to tell Allegri that Milan should play two up front at San Siro (Giampaolo Pazzini and Stephan El Shaarawy, since you ask) and that they should man-mark Lionel Messi. Clever stuff. Surely no one has tried that before…
Allegri does not have an easy job, and he was missing seven players because of injury in the 2-1 win over Parma on Friday night. He hopes Philippe Mexés and El Shaarawy will be fit for this match but will not be able to count on Mario Balotelli, who is ineligible for the Champions League having played for Manchester City in the competition. Balotelli has scored four out of Milan's five goals since making his debut on 3 February with the fifth an own goal by Parma's Gabriel Paletta, the former Liverpool player.
Milan are not having a bad season despite all the injuries and the fact they sold arguably their two best players, Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to Paris St-Germain in August. They are unbeaten in seven league games and third in Serie A.
That is unlikely to worry Barcelona, however, who have lost only once in 24 league games this season, scoring 80 goals in the process. The only small note of hope for Milan is that Barça have kept only one clean sheet in their past 11 league games. True, they have won some of those games 5-1 and 6-1 but the back four does not appear watertight. Xavi has been missing in midfield and is unlikely to be fit enough to start this match, but he has been included in the travelling party. David Villa has been in hospital for treatment of kidney stones and missed the 2-1 win over Granada on Saturday.