The Champions League is back, and three weeks after the round-of-16 first legs, action resumes in Europe's elite competition. This time around there is very little to separate the sides, as three of the four ties this week start on a level playing field.
Here is what to look out for this week:
Tuesday, March 10
Real Madrid (2) vs. Schalke (0)
The crisis is swirling around Madrid after the reigning European champion lost 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday to relinquish the top spot in La Liga for the first time since early November. This team's record-breaking run of 22 consecutive wins, which ended in January, feels a long time ago now. The team has suffered without two of its three first-choice midfielders–Luka Modric (back in the squad) and James Rodriguez–while the Benzema-Bale-Cristiano forward line is not working at the moment.
"There is no connection," said coach Carlo Ancelotti. "There is too much individual play. It's strange to say Madrid have a problem up front when we have scored so many goals but I think it's the truth."
There is also the Ronaldo factor: with only two goals in his last eight games, AS newspaper says that: "Cristiano faces the biggest challenge of his career." Perhaps it's a good thing that Real Madrid has a home tie against Schalke, whose first-leg tactic seemed nothing short of damage limitation. The tension caused by last week's 3-0 derby loss to Borussia Dortmund eased with a weekend win over Paderborn, moving it up to fourth in the Bundesliga (despite a banner from unhappy fans proclaiming: "Failure!").
Coach Roberto di Matteo dropped Kevin-Prince Boateng, with suggestions that the club wants to sell the midfielder in the summer, while rising star Leon Goretzka returned after seven months out through injury. This game might come too soon for Goretzka, but if fans see continued improvement from young talents like Max Meyer and Kaan Ayhan, even elimination will be bearable.
FC Porto (1) vs FC Basel (1)
The Swiss champion encountered a major surprise this week when club captain Marco Streller, 34, announced he would be retiring at the end of the season. The scorer of Basel's winning goal against Liverpool in the group stage, he added another to his season tally in the weekend's 3-0 win over Thun to help Basel maintain its seven-point lead in the league table.
Would his announcement undermine the team's chances against Porto this week? He was asked just that at a press conference. Quite the opposite, was the response.
"I wanted it out in the open so there is nothing to hide, and we can focus and prepare in the normal way," he said.
With Fabian Frei a future captain-in-waiting and Breel-Donald Embolo, 18, set for more chances in the side next season, FC Basel's succession policy is safe. For this week though, it is the slight underdog after Porto's away goal in Switzerland ended the first leg at 1-1. Champions League participants in Portugal often play on Friday nights to give them extra recovery time before European matches, an example of the national federation working together with the domestic league (it would never happen in England), but this time it backfired on Porto.
Yes, it beat Braga 1-0 to keep in touch with Benfica at the top of the table, but top scorer Jackson Martinez limped off with a thigh injury and will miss the second leg vs. Basel. While Vincent Aboubakar is likely to step in, Porto's hopes will rest with in-form winger Cristian Tello, who scored the winner against Braga one week after a hat trick against Sporting Lisbon.
Porto, along with Real Madrid and Chelsea, has yet to lose in the competition this season and if any team is to follow Dortmund and Atletico as a surprise dark horse, it could be Julen Lopetegui's side.
Wednesday, March 11
Chelsea (1) vs Paris Saint-Germain (1)
It¹s been a busy few weeks for Jose Mourinho since Chelsea's away draw in Paris last month. There was the row over Nemanja Matic's sending-off, the League Cup final win over Spurs and a crucial away win over West Ham.
Kurt Zouma has become a viable option to Matic (back for this one) in midfield, and Mourinho believes winning a trophy gives his players a boost as the season approaches crunch time.
For PSG, the memory of last year, when sub Demba Ba's late goal knocked the French champion out on away goals, will surely impact Laurent Blanc, who has too often paid the price for a cautious approach.
PSG missed the chance to go top of Ligue 1 after drawing with Monaco, and there have been suggestions that midfielder Blaise Matuidi will be looking to move to England in the summer.
"PSG don't want to sell him and for the moment, Blaise has not asked to leave," his agent, Mino Raiola, said unconvincingly. For the likes of Matuidi and striker Edinson Cavani, this is just the type of fixture that can add a few numbers to a transfer fee or salary package. Chelsea has shown it can win ugly in the past, but PSG might just give it a fright this time.
Bayern Munich (0) vs Shakhtar Donetsk (0)
Here's a question about Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu: Why is he never mentioned as a possible successor when the big jobs come available or even when they don't? Last week, Manchester City's Manuel Pellegrini was under pressure and the two names under consideration were reported to be Diego Simeone and Carlo Ancelotti. Really? How did the braintrust at the Etihad come up with those unknowns?
Lucescu has experience, an attacking vision of the game, and a dry sense of humor, which has helped him cope at a club currently without a home.
His side did well to hold Bayern in the first leg, too, and managed to wind up the opposition: Xabi Alonso was sent off and is suspended for the second leg, while Franck Ribery was lucky to avoid the same fate.
This week, Bild newspaper suggested Pep Guardiola have a word with Ribery and tell him to calm down: he still reacts to provocation. He was sent off in the 2010 Champions League semifinal (and missed the final vs. Inter Milan) and could have been dismissed for a flying elbow in the 2013 final. The same happened in midweek against Braunschweig. Bayern also had Mehdi Benatia dismissed in the 3-2 loss at Manchester City. Keep 11 men on the pitch, and Bayern, still the favorite, should progress.
GALLERY: Tifos around the world
Best soccer tifos from around the world
Galatasaray fans display a sensational "Rocky" tifo ahead of their clash against rival Fenerbahce. It didn't inspire a victory, though. The Turkish rivals played to a 0-0 draw.
Borussia Dortmund fans channel their 1963 cup triumph over Benfica ahead of the teams' second leg in the Champions League round of 16 at Signal Iduna Park.
Hapoel Be'er Sheva fans turn to Moses for tifo inspiration, with his splitting the Red Sea illustrating how "impossible is nothing" in their Europa League series against Besiktas.
Fans of Tunisia's Club Africain display this pointed tifo at a friendly against PSG, whose Qatari owners have pumped millions and millions into the club.
U.S. fans in Columbus, Ohio, make a "One Nation, One Team" statement ahead of the USMNT's World Cup qualifying match against Mexico on November 11, 2016.
Germany fans display their heart for the team colors ahead of a World Cup qualifier against Czech Republic in October 2016.
Italy fans spell out their support for the Azzurri ahead of a massive World Cup qualifier vs. Spain in October 2018.
Iceland fans keep up their world-famous passion for the national team during a World Cup qualifier against Turkey in October 2016.
Fans in the United Arab Emirates set their sights on reaching the 2018 World Cup in Russia during a qualifying match vs. Australia in September 2016.
Colombia fans send a massive jersey around the stadium during a World Cup qualifier vs. Venezuela in September 2016.
Seattle Sounders fans turn to Game Of Thrones for inspiration in a game against the Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps in September 2016.
Djurgardens fans go all out in Sweden for a match against AIK in September 2016.
Zulte Waregem fans prepare Kortrijk for the absolute worst in this Belgian top-flight match in September 2016.
Seattle Sounders fans turn their pop culture reference to Poltergeist in March 2016 ahead of the season home opener against Sporting Kansas City.
The Timbers Army doubles down on their Eastbound and Down theme, adding another wrinkle during the club's MLS Western Conference final first leg vs. FC Dallas on November 22, 2015 at Providence Park.
Fans make a French flag tifo at Wembley Stadium during the singing of Le Marseillaise ahead of England's friendly vs. France, which took place days after the terrorist attacks in Paris.
The Timbers Army referenced Eastbound & Down's Kenny Powers with their "Cup Bound and Down" tifo for the Portland Timbers' MLS playoff elimination game against Sporting Kansas City on October 29, 2015.
Brondby IF fans display a gladiator holding up a lion's head during the team's Danish Alka Superliga match against FC Copenhagen, whose logo is a lion's head, on September 27, 2015.
New England Revolution fans equate Jermaine Jones to Indiana Jones on their quest to capture the 2015 MLS Cup on September 26, 2015.
New England Revolution fans display a Lion King theme in honor of Orlando City FC's first visit to Gillette Stadium on September 5, 2015.
Red Bulls fans take a shot at NYCFC's two summer arrivals, 37-year-old Frank Lampard and 36-year-old Andrea Pirlo, ahead of their third MLS meeting of 2015.
Germany fans in Cologne salute their World Cup champions ahead of a friendly against the United States in June, 2015.
Real Madrid fans went all out prior to the second leg of the 2014-15 Champions League semifinal vs. Juventus.
Lazio fans display a stunning eagle tifo ahead of the Rome derby against AS Roma in their penultimate Serie A match of the 2014-15 season.
Barcelona fans bid farewell to veteran midfielder Xavi with this banner at his last league game at Camp Nou before he departs for Qatari club Al Sadd.
Fans at Anfield pay tribute to Steven Gerrard in his final home match as a Liverpool player in May 2015.
Juventus fans state their case to beat Real Madrid in the 2014-15 Champions League semifinals and reach the final in Berlin.
Fans at Benfica's Estadio da Luz remind rival Porto who the Primeira Liga reigning champion is during an April 2015 match in Portugal.
New York Red Bulls fans send a pointed message to their NYCFC counterparts prior to the teams' first MLS meeting in May, 2015.
Inter Milan's Curva Nord announces its presence ahead of the April 2015 Derby della Madonnina–the annual clashes between city rivals Inter and AC Milan.
Bayern Munich fans implore their club to (translated) "Never give up" in the Champions League quarterfinal second leg vs. Porto. Bayern then turned a 3-1 first-leg deficit into a 7-4 aggregate win and a place in the semifinals.
Dortmund fans commemorate their 1997 Champions League trophy in the club's clash vs. Juventus–the opponent on the wrong side of that title bout.
Portland Timbers fans speak out against homophobia with this tifo in a 2013 match against Chivas USA
Atletico's supporters display a banner reading "Atleti crushes" before the Spanish league match between Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid,
Borussia Dortmund fans put on a remarkable display ahead of a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg match.
Brondby IF fans unveil a tifo ahead of a match in Denmark against Randers FC.
FC Barcelona fans display a huge banner in memory of former head coach Tito Vilanova.
Galatasaray fans support their team during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Borussia Dortmund and Galatasaray at the Turk Telekom Arena in Istanbul.
The American Outlaws unveil a huge tifo ahead of a 2014 World Cup send-off match between the USA and Turkey at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
Marseille's supporters use paper sheets to create an "OM" (Olympique de Marseille) tifo at the beginning of the French L1 football match between Marseille and Genoble.
Seattle Sounders fans display their tifo that shows coach Sigi Schmid playing cards and holding a Royal Flush before a match against the Portland Timbers.
Panathinaikos Athens fans display a banner during the UEFA Europa League match against Dynamo Moscow.
Fans of the Saudi Al-Hilal team celebrate after the scoring of a goal against Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor.
Seattle Sounders fans unveil a tifo inspired from the “Build a Bonfire” chant, featuring Sounder players holding torches on horseback ahead of a game against the Portland Timbers.
Fans of Hertha BSC before the Bundesliga match between Hertha BSC and Werder Bremen in Berlin.
Sporting Kansas City fans channel their inner Mario ahead of the 2013 MLS Cup final vs. Real Salt Lake.
Brondby IF fans.
Thousands of Barcelona fans hold up cards to spell out "Barca! Orgull," which translates to "Barcelona pride" ahead of a Champions League clash with Bayern Munich at Camp Nou.
Fans raise a tifo celebrating “Community, Club and Country” ahead of a CONCACAF Gold Cup match between the USA and Belize in Portland, Oregon.
Vitesse fans unfurl a massive Eagle banner at the Dutch Eredivisie match against Ajax at the GelreDome.
Valencia fans drape a banner featuring a king for a Copa del Rey ("The King's Cup) match against Atletico Madrid.
Juventus fans make a statement in Turin in a match vs. Inter Milan.
Dortmund fans put on another strong display at a Bundesliga match against Mainz 05.
German fans boast the newest star earned by the national team, symbolizing its 2014 World Cup triumph, at a Euro 2016 qualifying match in Dortmund.
Real Madrid fans make a point to display the club's 10 European championships ahead of the October 2014 clash against rival Barcelona at the Bernabeu.
San Jose Earthquakes fans unleash a massive tifo to mark the opening of Avaya Stadium, MLS's newest soccer-specific venue, in March 2015.
Barcelona fans show all who the real 12th man is ahead of the March 2015 Clásico vs. Real Madrid.
Ahead of a clash with Mexican foe Monterrey, Tigres players are treated by this message by its fervent supporters.
Standard Liege fans have a pointed message for Steven Defour, who departed the club for Belgian rival Anderlecht.
Orlando City fans mark their club's inaugural MLS game vs. fellow expansion side New York City FC with a statement that the Lions' "reign begins now."
Real Madrid fans salute Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo after he captured the most prestigious individual prize in world soccer again.
Vitesse fans pay homage to Operation Market Garden ahead of an Eredivisie match against SC Heerenveen.
Sevilla's fans deploy a giant banner in the stands before the UEFA Europa league final match between Benfica and Sevilla.
Fans in Liverpool’s Kop End at Anfield commemorate those lost in the Hillsborough disaster.
Lyon fans during a game against Saint Etienne.