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Destination Budapest: Champions League fixtures forced into unprecedented changes by pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on worldwide journey and whereas elite athletes had beforehand been exempt from restrictions in sure international locations, that’s not the case.

The venue adjustments largely concern groups from the UK and Germany, with each nations lately introducing laws that prohibit worldwide journey from international locations deemed to be excessive danger.

Germany has included Britain on its excessive danger record because of the new UK variant and worldwide journey into the nation is banned till February 17.

This implies the primary leg of Liverpool’s spherical of 16 Champions League tie in opposition to RB Leipzig on February 16, which was set to be performed in Germany, has now been moved to the Puskas Enviornment in Budapest, as has the second leg of Manchester Metropolis’s conflict in opposition to Borussia Monchengladbach on February 24.

The second leg of Arsenal’s Europa League tie in opposition to Portuguese facet Benfica will now be performed in Athens as a substitute of London.

Portugal is one among 33 international locations on the UK authorities’s “pink record,” which suggests folks touring to the UK from these international locations should self-isolate for 10 days upon arrival. No exemptions have been made for elite athletes.

The primary leg of the tie has already been moved from Lisbon to Rome in consequence as results of Portugal’s journey restrictions aimed toward stopping the unfold of Covid-19 variants.

The primary leg of all Champions League spherical of 16 matches might be performed this week and the return leg performed the week of March 9.

The Europe League spherical of 32 matches start this week with the second leg performed the week of February 25.

Liverpool in disaster?

Whereas the rearranging of fixtures has given golf equipment a logistical headache, some have issues with points on the pitch.

Reigning Premier League champion Liverpool goes into Tuesday’s tie in opposition to Leipzig with extra issues than most, coming off the again of three consecutive defeats which have seen its home title protection implode.

Jurgen Klopp reacts during Liverpool's defeat at Leicester on Saturday.

On Monday, captain Jordan Henderson laughed off rumors that there had been a bust up within the altering room following Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Leicester and supervisor Jurgen Klopp swatted away any suggestion that he was in peril of shedding his job.

Leipzig might be a stern take a look at for a Liverpool facet that has regarded stagnant in assault and porous defensively. The German facet, managed by one among Europe’s most extremely regarded coaches in Julian Nagelsmann, performs a fast-paced and high-pressing model of soccer that’s ok to beat Europe’s largest golf equipment.

With Liverpool stumbling, this fixture gives Nagelsmann a superb opportunity to additional improve his burgeoning status.

Arguably one of the best tie of the final 16 pits Barcelona in opposition to Paris Saint-Germain, each of which have endured their justifiable share of ups and downs this season.

Nevertheless, followers might be denied to alternative to see PSG star Neymar return to Barcelona, the membership he left acrimoniously in 2017 for a document $263 million switch payment. The Brazilian ahead is anticipated to be sidelined for at the least a month with a groin damage suffered in Wednesday’s French Cup conflict in opposition to Caen.

Accidents have plagued Neymar’s time in Paris and have pressured him to overlook 1 / 4 of PSG’s Champions League matches since he joined the membership. The most recent damage robs followers of essentially the most intriguing subplot on this spherical of fixtures.

Neymar writhes in pain after suffering an injury during a French Cup match against Cean last week.

Barcelona return to profitable methods

Opponents Barcelona seem to have turned a nook in current weeks, profitable its final seven La Liga matches to climb to 3rd within the desk and relieve among the stress on head coach Ronald Koeman.

The Dutchman joined Barcelona firstly of the season, however a stuttering begin put his place below intense scrutiny simply weeks into the job. It actually did not assist that Lionel Messi, the best participant in Barcelona’s star-studded historical past, make public his want to depart the membership earlier than the season had even began.

Messi has not received the Champions League since 2015 — when Neymar was taking part in alongside him — and lots of imagine Barcelona has wasted six of the Argentine’s peak years.

There was a tetchy backwards and forwards between PSG and Barcelona within the lead-up to the fixture, with rumors swirling that Messi may be a part of fellow Argentine Mauricio Pochettino, PSG’s newly appointed head coach, in Paris on the finish of the season.

These two sides served up one of many biggest Champions League ties in historical past again in 2017, when PSG crumbled and threw away a 4-0 first-leg advantage by shedding to Barcelona 6-1 within the second leg. If the 2021 rematch gives even a fraction of the drama, it might be the sport of the season thus far.

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