The Champions League returns this week and Bayern Munich are hoping to have Luca Toni back for their clash at Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday. The Italian striker is recovering from a heel injury.
Bayern's attack has missed Luca Toni's physical presence in recent games
Bayern have lost three of their last four league games -- including an embarrassing 2-1 reverse at home to Bundesliga strugglers Cologne on Saturday -- and need Toni back for their trip to Lisbon's Jose Alvalade stadium.
Toni limped off during the first-half of Bayern's 2-1 defeat at Hertha Berlin 10 days ago with an Achilles tendon injury, but Bayern coach Juergen Klinsmann is optimistic the striker, top-scorer in the German league last season, will start.
"I am confident he will play," said Klinsmann. "Toni has looked good in training and we are hoping he will play."
In his absence, Lukas Podolski and US international Landon Donovan played a half each against Cologne, but Klinsmann said he was far from happy with the result.
Lukas Podolski was ineffective up front against Cologne
"You could clearly see that his presence was missing against Cologne," said Klinsmann of Toni. "He always takes up two markers which gives more space for our other striker Miroslav Klose."
Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said the German giants need to improve their play if they are to have any chance of reaching the Champions League quarter-finals.
"We've lost two in a row in the league, and we need to get out of this rut very quickly, starting with Wednesday's game in Lisbon," said the Bayern boss.
Although Toni could have played against Cologne, Klinsmann opted to keep him and Brazilian defender Lucio back in reserve for the Lisbon game.
Bayern look to put league form behind them
Recent results means Bayern are fourth in the Bundesliga while Sporting are third in the Portuguese league.
They enjoyed a 3-2 win over Benfica on Saturday with two goals from Brazil-born forward Liedson, who has expressed an interest in playing for Portugal.
Bayern beat Sporting 1-0 when they met in 2006
But despite Bayern's poor recent run, history is against Sporting, who are aiming to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time.
Sporting have yet to register a victory after 14 games against German opponents.
Moreover, Bayern's record in European club competition against teams from Portugal is equally daunting: in 20 games the Bundesliga champions have only tasted defeat on one occasion -- and that came in the 1987 European Champion Clubs' Cup final.
European titans clash in knock-out phase
Elsewhere, in one of the top clashes of the knock-out round of 16, it's Italy versus England and a good deal more.
United are hoping to keep the trophy at Old Trafford
Title-holders Manchester United travel to Italian champion Inter Milan on Tuesday in one of three highly anticipated duels between English and Italian clubs.
On the same night Arsenal host Roma, while Wednesday sees last season's runners-up Chelsea up against Juventus.
The heavyweight ties continue Wednesday when nine-time European champions Real Madrid take on five-time European champions Liverpool.
Those pairings tend to put some of the others in the shade, although Spanish league leaders Barcelona face a tough task at French perennial champions Olympique Lyon on Tuesday while Spanish pair Atletico Madrid and Villareal have home ties against Porto Tuesday and Panathinaikos on Wednesday respectively.
It's Fergie vs. Jose -- again
The focus will be on Milan Tuesday when Jose Mourinho meets his old sparring partner Sir Alex Ferguson as Serie A leaders Inter take on Premier League leaders United.
United's Ferguson and Inter coach Mourinho crossed swords when the Portuguese was in charge at Chelsea, while memories linger at Old Trafford of United's exit to Mourinho's Porto at the same stage of the competition in 2003/04.
The Special One has brought his magic to Milan
Inter, seeking Europe's premier club title for the first time since 1965, will miss Argentina mainstay Walter Samuel, which gives a chance either to Romania's Cristian Chivu or veteran Marco Materazzi to play alongside Colombian Ramiro Cordoba in the central defense.
United, who are without the suspended Nemanja Vidic, have more serious defensive problems. Gary Neville and Wes Brown are injured while John O'Shea has a heel problem and youngster Jonny Evans is also a doubt after he limped off against Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.
"A very difficult match awaits us," Ferguson was quoted as saying. "One of the keys will be our ability to control them. If we go through, we can go far."
Milan's Argentina captain Javier Zanetti said: "We are aware that we'll tackle a great team, certainly one of the best in the world. Inter though have the ability to do well."
Familiar faces return seeking revenge
Ranieri hopes to beat Chelsea on the way to a different trophy
Juventus meanwhile can rely on an almost complete line-up against Chelsea in a match which sees Juve coach Claudio Ranieri return to Stamford Bridge for the first time since he was sacked in 2004.
Chelsea are in a better frame of mind after getting off to a win at the weekend at Aston Villa under Dutch coach Guus Hiddink.
"It was a big lift ahead of Juventus," Blues midfielder Frank Lampard said. "We will need to keep the ball and move it quickly as Italian teams can get men behind the ball and make things very frustrating."
Liverpool's Spanish contingent take aim at Madrid
Former Atletico star Torres is gunning for rivals Real
On-form Spanish giants Madrid come up Wednesday against Rafael Benitez's Liverpool, who are struggling to maintain United's pace in the Premier League but could be boosted by the return of skipper Steven Gerrard who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Real have not got further than the round of 16 since 2004, but confidence is high after winning their last nine Liga matches.
Liverpool hope their Spanish connections will prevail: Benitez was a youth team coach at Real, while striker Fernando Torres -- who joined the Reds from Real's rival Atletico -- will be fired up.
"Torres is one of the best strikers in Europe, and the duel between him, me and Pepe will be one of the key factors of the match," Real defender Fabio Cannavaro told El Mundo Deportivo.
Author: Nick Amies (dpa/afp)
Editor: Sean Sinico