After a three-month gap to allow for the World Cup to be played and domestic seasons to resume, the Champions League resumes next week, with the start of the round of 16 matches.
The two-legged ties will be staggered over the next month, with four games a week for the next four weeks.
It follows the culmination of the group stages, which were shoehorned into the September to November timeframe, to accommodate the World Cup, and which saw the top two, from the eight groups of four teams, progress.
Some of the obvious candidates to win the tournament are struggling right now, so, at this stage, the field remains wide open.
Next week’s games
In next week’s games, Club Brugge will entertain Benfica, AC Milan face Tottenham Hotspur, Borussia Dortmund take on Chelsea, and, in an eagerly anticipated clash, PSG will be at home to Bayern Munich.
The following week, Manchester City will visit RB Leipzig, Real Madrid take on Liverpool, Napoli face Eintracht Frankfurt, and Porto play Inter Milan.
PSG vs Bayern Munich
The match between PSG and Bayern Munich is a repeat of the 2020 final in Lisbon, which Bayern won by a single goal.
Drawing the two heavyweights together at this stage means at least one will be knocked out before the quarter-final stage.
PSG have never won the Champions League and their prospects in this tie have been damaged that Kylian Mbappé will be out of action for three weeks after injuring his hamstring in their win over Montpellier.
As usual, PSG continue to dominate the French league – they are eight points clear of second-placed Marseille – although they recently suffered a defeat to Rennes and dropped points at home to Reims, which suggest they are by no means invincible.
Bayern, though, have had their own struggles in the Bundesliga recently, although their win away at Wolfsburg on the weekend has enabled them to top the table ahead of the surprise package this season which is Union Berlin.
Julien Nagelsmann, though, has yet to convince all the Bayern faithful that he is the right man to lead this side, and even if they get through the tie, the German side do not look strong enough to go on and win it.
Borussia Dortmund vs Chelsea
Given how much money Chelsea spent in the January transfer window, there will inevitably be a focus on what they do on the pitch, although UEFA rules means that they have only been able to register three of their new signings – Joāo Felix, Mykhailo Mudryk and Enzo Fernandez – for the latter stages of the Champions League.
Given that, if they want to be involved in the competition next season, based on current league form, they may have to actually win it, this is a very important match for the West London club. However, the lack of goals in the team, for all the money spent, remains a concern.
Borussia Dortmund practice a different business model based on identifying young talent and giving them an early chance. English midfielder Jude Bellingham will be keen to impress, regarding this as another opportunity to put himself in the shop window again.
He could be sold in the summer for a fee that will rival any spent by Chelsea recently.
AC Milan vs Tottenham Hotspur
AC Milan are the reigning Serie A champions, but the defence of their title is faltering.
They are only sixth in the table, 18 points behind leaders Napoli, and having been thrashed at home by Sassuolo last weekend, lost the Milan derby to hated local rivals Inter.
Tottenham have endured their own struggles this season, with supporters not happy about the style of play under manager Antonio Conte. However, they have just enjoyed a morale-boosting win over Manchester City in front of their home fans, and they have a man in form in front of goal in Harry Kane.
The England captain’s winner against City was not only his 200th Premier League goal, but broke the 53-year-old record of Jimmy Greaves for goals in a Spurs shirt.
Club Brugge vs Benfica
The Belgian champions were one of the surprises of the group stages, finishing second behind Porto in a group that also included Bayer Leverkusen and Atlético Madrid.
However, their domestic form suggests that they may struggle to progress beyond this round – they are currently fourth in their league, 21 points worse off than the leaders Genk. Benfica, by contrast, sit top of the Primeira Liga, with traditional rivals Porto in their wake. They have lost Enzo Fernandez, sold to Chelsea on deadline day for a fee in excess of £100 million, but they will still be confident of advancing.
VISIT OUR BLOG TO GET YOUR FIX FOR ALL OF THE MOST CURRENT FOOTBALL NEWS STORIES & FEATURES