Champions League kicking off: Weakened Chelsea & unstoppable PSG

© Robert Pratta
Europe's best teams are preparing for the start of the Champions League knockout rounds this week, with Chelsea to take on French champions-elect PSG, Zenit to travel to Portugal to play Benfica, and Spanish giants Real Madrid to host Serie A side Roma.

The UEFA Champions League starts again this week, with both Chelsea and Zenit St Petersburg involved in the first round of games on Tuesday. The latter, Russian football's representative in European soccer's elite competition, will fancy their chances against Portuguese giants Benfica. English side Chelsea will be wary of PSG because Laurent Blanc's side is still unbeaten in the French top flight, with this a repeat of last season's first knockout round clash, in which PSG triumphed at Stamford Bridge on the away goals rule.

PSG has swept aside all comers in Ligue 1 this season, with their 0-0 draw against Lille at the weekend the 35th consecutive unbeaten match in a streak stretching back to August last year. And while Chelsea extended its own unbeaten run to eleven games in the 5-1 win over Newcastle on Saturday, PSG were able to rest Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Thiago Motta and Maxwell for the midweek clash due to the club now being 20 points clear in the league.

Chelsea captain John Terry is an injury doubt for the first leg in Paris after coming off during the 5-1 win over Newcastle on Saturday. With Kurt Zouma out for the season, interim manager Guus Hiddink certainly has concerns with his defense.

Zenit, meanwhile, comes into their knockout round first leg against Benfica on Tuesday on the back of four consecutive wins, all friendlies during the three-month winter break in Russia. Andre Villas-Boas' side convincingly topped their Champions League group at the end of last year, winning five and losing just once, and will be confident of reaching the quarter finals for the first time in their history.

Zenit St. Petersburg training - Champions League - Luz, Lisbon, Portugal. © Rafael Marchante

Zenit has been inconsistent in the league and finds itself in sixth place, although only two points behind third placed Lokomotiv Moscow. Zenit will be eager to return to European action against a side it beat twice in last season's group stage.

Benfica lost its first match in 2016 against Porto at the weekend, but is also in top form, winning twelve of its last fourteen games. Currently second in the Portuguese top flight, Benfica qualified for the last 16 with Atletico Madrid in Group B, finishing second.

By avoiding European heavyweights PSG, Juventus and Arsenal, Zenit has been handed an excellent chance of progression.

Real Madrid will travel to Italy to take on Roma on Wednesday in the third midweek fixture, with Zinedine Zidane preparing for his first ever Champions League match as a manager. The Spanish giants are unbeaten under their new boss, winning five, drawing once and scoring an impressive 23 times. Their opponents Roma have recently emerged from a dreadful run, winning their last four.

The final game of the week will see Belgian champions Gent take on Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg on Wednesday, with both sides competing in the Round of 16 for the very first time.

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