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Intriguing clashes on the cards

LONDON: Wherever you look this week in the Champions League, be it Madrid, Milan or London, intrigue, personality clashes and rarity value abound as the 16 survivors in the continent’s elite competition set their sights on Rome.

A rare fixture takes place in Milan’s San Siro 24 hours on Tuesday when holder Manchester United faces Serie A leader Inter Milan in the first leg of a tie that has been eagerly awaited since the draw was made.

The presence of Jose Mourinho, the latest in the hot-seat, means a rivalry that once illuminated English football is set to be rekindled.

Dangerous opponent

Mourinho, in trademark style, has already played down the significance of the game, but Ferguson knows all too well that the Portuguese will possibly prove his most dangerous adversary in attempting to retain the title.

United has injury worries for the tie, particularly in defence where it is without suspended Nemanja Vidic, Gary Neville and Wes Brown and possibly Jonny Evans.

Arsenal’s home tie against Roma adds to the Anglo-Italian theme of the week as Arsene Wenger tries to remedy his side’s goal famine that has resulted in three consecutive 0-0 draws in the league.

On Wednesday, Real Madrid hosts Liverpool in the Spanish capital in the first competitive meeting of two of Europe’s powerhouse clubs since the 1981 final.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez will be crossing his fingers that midfield general Steven Gerrard, rated as 50-50 on Sunday, will have recovered from a hamstring injury in time to face a side which warmed up with a 6-1 thrashing of Real Betis on Saturday.

Claudio Ranieri, the man who was axed to make way for Mourinho’s glittering reign at Stamford Bridge, gets the chance to remind Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich of his qualities when Juventus travels to London for what surprisingly is the first ever meeting between the clubs.

Favourite Barcelona, which suffered a rare blip at the weekend in Spain when it lost to Espanyol, travels to French leader Lyon, which has reached the last 16 for the fifth successive season.

Champions League last 16, first leg fixtures:

On Tuesday: Arsenal vs. AS Roma, Atletico Madrid vs. Porto, Inter Milan vs. Manchester United, Olympique Lyon vs. Barcelona.

On Wednesday: Chelsea vs. Juventus, Real Madrid vs. Liverpool, Sporting Lisbon vs. Bayern Munich, Villarreal v Panathinaikos. — Agencies

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