The Champions League last 16
December 18, 2010 1 Comment
The Champions League is the biggest club competition in the World. If given the choice, many Managers and owners of the big European sides will often prefer to succeed in the Champions League as opposed to winning their respective league. In the past English teams have been a dominant force, but over the last couple of years they’ve taken a backseat, with no English team making the semi-final last year.
This years’ Champions League has past the group stage, with all four English teams qualifying from their group. Yesterdays 1st knockout round draw has set up a lot of interesting ties, with the biggest being between favourites Barcelona and 2006 runners-up Arsenal, who have paid the price for finishing second in their group.
The two sides met last year at the Quarter-Finals stage, with Arsenal managing to gain a creditable draw at the Emirates after being 2-0 down and outplayed for much of the 90 minutes. The second leg at the Camp Nou was a footballing masterclass however, with Barca cutting Arsenals backline open at will and Messi scoring all four goals to give his side a 6-3 aggregate win.
Barcelona are the form side of club football, recently beating bitter-rivals Real Madrid 5-0 and playing the kind of football that fans dream of watching. Arsenal have struggled this season, with defeats at home to promoted sides Newcastle and West Brom showing they have obvious deficiencies in their back line and in-goal. Barcelona superstars Iniesta, Xavi and Messi can pick apart the best of rear guards, and I fear for Arsenal, who will rue not winning their respective group and facing easier competition. A similar score-line to when the two teams met last year would be no real surprise.
New boys Tottenham Hotspur are experiencing the Champions League for the first time, and they qualified expertly, topping what looked to be a tough group ahead of current holders Inter Milan. Gareth Bale has been a revelation for Spurs, scoring a hat-trick in the 4-3 defeat to Inter at the San Siro and in the corresponding fixture giving Maicon, who is widely regarded as the best right-back in the world, all sorts of problems and inspiring his side to a 3-1 win.
In the knockout round they face Inters huge rival AC Milan, who have won the competition no less than 7 times, with the last time coming in 2007. AC Milan finished behind Real Madrid in Group G, looking largely unimpressive and not like the side they once used to be. Tottenham are a young side with pace on the wings and creativity in the centre, and I can see that pace giving Milan real problems, who have an ageing squad. In Peter Crouch Tottenham also have a player whose aerial ability can produce something from nothing, with knock-downs to the likes of Rafael Van Der Vaart and Luka Modric regularly creating goal-scoring opportunities.
This one could go either way, and in the likes of Pato and Pirlo, Milan still have the ability to worry anyone. Spurs, however, have adapted very quickly to Champions League football, and I think they will have too much going forward, progressing in a close-encounter.
Manchester United face French champions Marseille, who finished runners-up in Group F behind Chelsea. United haven’t looked like their usual selves this season, who only topped their group thanks to an Anderson equaliser in the final game of the group stage at home to Valencia.
Many may think Manchester United will simply have too much for Didier Deschamps’ Marseille, but the French side has some good players of its own, with the likes of French internationals Andre-Pierre Gignac and Steve Mandanda, as well as former United player Gabriel Heinze. Personally I believe Manchester United will progress, but I predict Marseille will be much tougher opposition than many people expect, with only a goal the difference between the two sides.
The other English side in the Champions League are Chelsea, who face Danish Champions F.C. Copenhagen. Chelsea have stuttered this season, but with the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien now fit again, I think Chelsea will get back on track and should comfortably beat Copenhagen, who will be happy just to have qualified from the group stage.
The other most notable fixture is a repeat of last years’ final, Inter Milan vs Bayern Munich. It was Jose Mourinho’s Inter who triumphed that day. The Portuguese has since moved on to Real Madrid, with successor Rafa Benitez having a tough start. Bayern qualified with ease, amassing 15 points and scoring 16 goals. This one will be a very close affair, with both sides having world-class personnel and the potential to go far in the competition.
Inter won the battle between the two last season, but they haven’t looked the same side this season. The second leg is at Bayern’s Allianz Arena, which could be a big advantage.
Another interesting tie is Real Madrid vs Lyon. Lyon made it to the semi-finals of the competition last season, and could give Spanish giants Real Madrid real problems. The two sides met in the round of 16 last season, with Lyon the victors then. Real Madrid will go in favourites, who have started this campaign well under Jose Mourinho, with the 5-0 away defeat to Barcelona their only defeat, but Lyon have the ability to give most sides problems.
The other ties are Roma vs Shakhtar Donetsk and Roma vs Schalke, with all four teams dangerous on their day.
The four English sides still left in the competition will be looking to improve on the failures in the competition last season, and I believe Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham will make it to the last eight and hopefully will be able to go further in the competition. It’s hard to look past Barcelona for the winners of the whole competition, not just in the tie vs Arsenal.
Have a read of Rafael Van der Vaart: the Big Fish Little Pond Effect