Chelsea & PSG battle, off-colour Madrid and Lewandowski off?
The last-16 in the Champions League resumes this week with plenty of talking points ahead of the action. It's time for Paris Saint-Germain to finally make their mark in Europe, questions hang over Carlo Ancelotti, Porto have a new hero, and a Bayern Munich star's future is in doubt.
Opportunity knocks for PSG
There comes a moment in the development of any ambitious sporting project that an announcement of intent needs to be declared. Paris Saint-Germain get another opportunity to make their presence felt in Europe's premier competition when they travel to Chelsea on Wednesday, having underwhelmed in the Champions League for too long.
PSG have come close in recent seasons. In the last eight last season, they lost to Chelsea on away goals after Demba Ba's 87th-minute strike made it 2-0 for Chelsea on the night and 3-3 on aggregate. The year before that, PSG again drew 3-3 on aggregate, this time against Barcelona, but were dumped out again on away goals.
A year on from their Stamford Bridge woe, PSG return to London with the tie poised at 1-1, rather than the 3-1 it was in their favour last time. Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois' heroics in the first leg mean there's no French advantage from the outset. Draw a blank and under-pressure manager Laurent Blanc is out.
"Of course we believe we can go through," the Frenchman said. "We have a disadvantage because they scored that goal away from home, and now it's up to us to do the same thing."
Manager Jose Mourinho's relentless ability to win high-intensity cup games suggests Chelsea hold all the aces on home soil. Defeat plus more below-par Ligue 1 performances could spell the end for Blanc.
Real Madrid need a performance vs. Schalke
The problems afflicting Real Madrid at the moment were present last season. They tossed away chances to win the Spanish title and then papered over the cracks with domestic and European cup triumphs, so this current mini-slump is nothing new.
Gareth Bale has been jeered for being greedy, manager Carlo Ancelotti's tactics have been questioned, and Cristiano Ronaldo has failed to keep up with his ludicrously high scoring form from earlier in the season.
Real's 1-0 defeat against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday was the latest dent in the aura of a team that is struggling to blend its sumptuous attacking firepower in the right manner, with Ancelotti among those struggling to find an answer to his side's inconsistencies.
"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," he said Saturday. "There is too much individual play. We need to attack as a team. It's quite confusing what we are doing when we are attacking at the moment."
Bale, Ronaldo and Karim Benzema received the most criticism following Real Madrid's latest setback, but Ancelotti will know that he will become the focus of attention if he does not find a solution to his side's fluidity in the final third.
Despite their concerns, all is far from lost. With 12 games left to play in the Spanish title race, Madrid find themselves a point behind Barcelona and should build on their 2-0 first leg against Schalke and progress to the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Ancelotti may be wise to adopt a back-to-basics approach with his team of superstars and offer them a reminder that this sport cannot be mastered without a mentality that promotes solid collective effort.
The latest wanted man at Porto
Porto have a long-standing tradition of polishing youthful footballers and selling them for vast profits, and their latest success story is Algerian international Yacine Brahimi.
With a reported release clause of 33 million pounds in his contract, big-spending Manchester City are among the clubs that have been linked with the 25-year-old, whose four goals in this season's Champions League have highlighted his status as a rising star.
A PSG graduate, Brahimi suffered with injuries earlier in his career, but he has flourished since moving from Granada to Porto last summer. His goals and invention help him catch the eye on a regular basis.
Brahimi will hope to use the second leg of Porto's last-16 clash against Basel to make a statement to his potential suitors once more, with the Portuguese side favourites to progress after a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Switzerland.
Where next for Lewandowski?
Bayern Munich and Robert Lewandowski waited a year before their marriage was confirmed last summer, but speculation over the future of the Polish marksman is on the agenda once again.
Competition for places in Pep Guardiola's Bayern lineup has seen Lewandowski nominated as the odd man out at times over recent months, and even though he has scored his share of goals this season, the rumours have continued to flow suggesting he could be a high-profile target for Europe's top clubs.
After signing him on a free transfer from Borussia Dortmund, Bayern could make a huge profit on the sale of Lewandowski, but such a scenario seems improbable as this is a striker who boasts a proven record in the Bundesliga and the Champions League.
In fact, few of his admirers would be surprised if Lewandowski emerges as the Bayern hero as they look to convert the 1-1 first-leg draw against Shakhtar Donetsk into a quarterfinal place; the second leg of the tie is in Munich on Wednesday.
Kevin Palmer is a sports writer. You can follow him on Twitter: @RealKevinPalmer.