Champions League's hot and not list

Martin Rogers

The weekend's European action provided the calm before the storm, with attention set to focus intensely upon the Champions League this week.

Two months have passed since the round of 16 draw for the world's finest club competition set up a superb list of matches to be played Tuesday and Wednesday.

Back when group play ended, Barcelona was the team to beat. The La Liga leader was in the midst of a scintillating streak of brilliance both at home and in Europe, but now, that counts for little heading into the knockout stage.

We take a look at who's hot and who's not as hostilities recommence among Europe's best.

Hot: Manchester United. The defending champion is sizzling and looks to have another English Premier League title in the bag.

Not: Arsenal. Arsene Wenger's team has fallen well off the EPL pace and is in grave danger of missing out on next season's Champions League.

Hot: Inter Milan. Three straight wins, including a morale-boosting Milan derby triumph, has Jose Mourinho's team cruising along nicely.

Not: Barcelona. The Catalans are still a class act but are struggling to recapture their early season dominance. Last weekend's derby defeat to Espanyol was a bitter blow.

Hot: Real Madrid. A 6-1 demolition of Real Betis made it nine wins in a row for a team that was totally written off just before Christmas.

Not: Atletico Madrid. Only one win in 10 for Atletico has sent the team plummeting down the La Liga table. One of the weaker teams left in the competition.

Hot: Chelsea. How can a team that suffered such recent turmoil possibly be hot? Well, Guus Hiddink's arrival has injected confidence, and last Saturday's victory at in-form Aston Villa was a hugely positive step.

Not: Liverpool. The EPL challenge has slipped away since the turn of the year, with Rafa Benitez's refusal to take risks leading to far too many unnecessary draws.

Weekend First XI

1. Get him an Advil

Former Major League Soccer deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis has walked into a tough situation at Arsenal. Gazidis was brought in to work alongside Arsene Wenger and help sign players, and his expertise could be tested to the full this summer, with Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor both likely to leave, especially if the club misses out on the Champions League.

2. Get him a beer

David Beckham seems to be staying remarkably relaxed as the drawn-out saga of his potential move to AC Milan from the Los Angeles Galaxy rumbles on. Beckham insists he is "confident" that a permanent move can be arranged, but he will be disappointed unless Milan is prepared to stump up a price of close to $10 million.

3. Get him some earplugs

Not so much this week, but Jose Mourinho will be on the receiving end of some verbal abuse from the Old Trafford crowd when Inter Milan takes on Manchester United in the second leg of their Champions League clash. Mourinho, a controversial figure at the best of times, stirred things up further by boasting that it was the motivation of beating his Chelsea team that inspired the current United squad to achieve greatness.

4. Four corners

• He's finally getting some love, but is Xavi Hernandez still one of the world's most underrated players?

• How did this radio DJ keep a straight face while talking to Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon?

• Global recession? Who cares? Get your credit card out.

• How many more strikers can Everton possibly lose to injury?

5. Catch a flight to …

Milan. Inter and Manchester United might be the two best teams on the planet just now, and their round-of-16 first-leg clash on Tuesday is one of several sensational Champions League matchups.

6. A round of applause for …

Suwon Bluewings. The Korean champions beat the Los Angeles Galaxy 4-2 on penalty kicks to win the Pan-Pacific Championship at the Home Depot Center on Saturday night.

7. Get them a Kleenex

Miami soccer fans. Economic factors have caused Barcelona to rethink its attempt to launch an MLS franchise in Miami along with Bolivian businessman Marcelo Claure. Barca general director Joan Oliver admitted FCB Miami is now considerably less likely than when it was first mentioned toward the end of last year.

8. Get ready to say hello to …

Albert Celades. The former Real Madrid and Barcelona defender is in training with the New York Red Bulls and hopes to secure a contract.

9. Get ready to say goodbye to …

Terry Cooke. The English winger has been with the Colorado Rapids since 2005, but despite being 32, he is being closely watched by Leicester City of England's third-tier League One.

10. Get excited about …

Champions League. What else? Take a couple of sick days and park yourself in front of the television. Enjoy.

11. Why it's good to be a soccer player

Take a look at Paolo Maldini's gorgeous wife, Adriana.