Sunday, December 20, 2009

Champions League, Round of 16

A fascinating round of 16 draw for the Champions League was made on Friday, Dec 18:

Lyon vs Real Madrid
AC Milan vs Manchester United
FC Porto vs Arsenal
Bayern Munich vs Fiorentina
VfB Stuttgart vs FC Barcelona
Olympiacos vs Bordeaux
Inter Milan vs Chelsea
CSKA Moscow vs Sevilla

The words emotional rivalry come to mind regarding the Inter vs Chelsea match-up. Jose Mourinho was a favourite of the Chelsea players and fans and it was because of Jose that Chelsea finally won the league title after a gap of 50 years. So his return to Stamford Bridge will certainly be an interesting event and another fascinating element to this tie is that Jose's opponent will be Carlo Ancelotti, the once successful player and manager of AC Milan, Inter's bitter rivals.

Milan lock horns with Man Utd again and it will be interesting to see if David Beckham will lineup against Man Utd. If everyone at Man Utd is fit, then they should progress against Milan but if Milan spend wisely in the January transfer window, then they might provide Man Utd a challenge.

It seems no Champions League season would be complete if Porto didn't face either Chelsea or Arsenal. This time since Porto already met Chelsea in the group stages, it is appropriate that they face Arsenal in the two legged affair. Arsenal will struggle as usual in their away trip to Portugal similar to their last two visits to Porto (a 2-0 loss and a 0-0 tie). However, Arsenal's last two home results against Porto were 4-0 and 2-0 wins. Given Arsenal's injury problems, it is hard to know what shape the Arsenal team will be in February. If Arsenal are to progress, then they will need an away goal in Portugal and have to keep a clean sheet at home. For Porto, a 1-0 win at home will be more than enough as they are capable of grinding out a 0-0 or 1-1 result in London.

What to make of Lyon vs Madrid? Once upon a time, Lyon thrashed Madrid 3-0 and 2-0 in back to back seasons (2006, 2007) and managed 1-1, 2-2 ties in their away results. Ofcourse, those were seasons that Lyon should have won the Champions League but for one reason or another, Lyon always struggled in the knock out round. Along with Arsenal, Lyon are the other European team that has had enough talent to merit a Champions League title but the European Cup is not won on the strength of a squad on a piece of paper. Lyon's best years in the Champions League appear to be a distant memory and it is hard to see this squad avoid getting brushed aside by Madrid.

Barca should be able to see off Stuttgart comfortably while the CSKA Moscow vs Sevilla game should be an open tie that sees two former UEFA Cup Champions lock horns. Bayern should progress against Fiorentina but sometimes with the German side it is better to flip a coin instead as it is hard to know which team will show up. Also, it is uncertain if Luca Toni will get to face his former team. Olympiacos vs Bordeaux gives the French Champions an excellent chance to progress while Zico's team have to win their home leg in Greece if they are to have any chance of upsetting Bordeaux.

The two big game changing variables between now and February would be if any of the 16 teams strengthen their squads in January and whether any of the team's African stars come back injured from the African Cup of Nations.

Still, some mouth-watering ties await.

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