19 February 2007

Champions League Knockout Round

Feels like there have been a lot of prediction posts lately. Pity they’re frequently so off…

All games kick off at 2:45 pm eastern.

PSV Eindhoven v Arsenal, espn2 - PSV’s recently found themselves in an actual fight for the Eredivisie. They’ve won the last two league titles, and looked to be going away with this one, but have only won one out of their last four matches. Drawn into the same group as Liverpool, PSV never looked likely to turn over the Reds, despite holding them to a 0-0 draw (during one of the many bad away spells) at the Phillips Stadion.

Once again, it’s going to come down to whether or not Arsenal can put away their opportunities. Because they should get the opportunities. If Arsenal can get over their frequent wastefulness, which was on full display against Blackburn, they should be able to cement the tie before it moves back to England. PSV’s strikers, Farfan and Kone, are dangerous on the counter-attack; Kone had the best chance during the Liverpool match on the break but failed to score. But Arsenal should be able to contain them. Arsenal 2-0

Real Madrid v Bayern Munich, ESPN Deportes – When the draw was made, I promoted Bayern as a sleeper team. Yet more proof I have little idea what I’m talking about, as Bayern are having one of their worst Bundesliga campaigns in recent memory. Not that Real Madrid are world-beaters at the moment mind you (last 5 matches: WLLWD), but I’ve come to expect underperformance from them. Bayern always dominates the German league. What’s worse is their weakness has been their away form, which bodes poorly for them here.

If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll have another David Beckham sighting. So much for Capello refusing to play him ever again. It’s greatly amusing to see the focus once again on Golden Balls; he couldn’t get out of the spotlight if he tried (which he isn’t). Capello will probably see the ax before the season’s out given Madrid’s position, but taking into account Bayern’s away form, they should take this match. Although I imagine it will end close enough to give Bayern a glimmer of hope going back to Germany. Real 2-1

Lille v Manchester United, 2:45pm Setenta - Here’s hoping for a repeat of last season, when Lille beat United at home and drew at Old Trafford and were the main reasons Manchester failed to qualify for the knockout stages. Given Lille’s run again this year, and that they sit 2nd in Ligue 1, deja vu could be on the cards, but as I’ve ending up writing far too often, United look very hard to beat.

I imagine they’ll be little parking the bus in front of the goal and hoping to bring the tie back to Old Trafford for United. Don’t mind the draw against Reading at the weekend given all the players they rested. They have the ability to cement the tie in Lille, and Ferguson will probably have they all riled up with revenge too. United 3-1

Celtic v AC Milan – Milan’s put their 8 point deduction pretty much behind them, but still only sit in 6th in Serie A. With the addition of Ronaldo, who scored a hat-trick his last time out, they have starting replacing the goals that were lacking following the sale of Shevchenko.

Gordon Strachan’s worked wonders with a Celtic side that’s been running away with the SPL since September and has qualified for the CL knockout stage for the first time since the change in format. But I don’t know if they’ll have enough to beat Milan. It will come down to whether or not Celtic can take advantage of an aging and under-par (by Milan’s standards) defense. As Milan will be allowed to host their leg at the San Siro (whether or not at full capacity remains to be seen), Celtic will need to get goals and hold Milan to have a chance to advance. Milan 2-1

Porto v Chelsea, espn2 - Well, at least there’s the storyline of Mourinho returning to his old team, because honestly, this match-up doesn’t hold much interest for me. Porto’s currently leading the Portuguese league, but unlike the team that won the UEFA Cup and CL, they’re without any big name players. English fans will remember Helder Postiga (as Spurs fans shudder), but other than that, not many most will be familiar with.

And with Chelsea back on a winning track, John Terry healthy (although still light in defense with another injury to Bouhlarouz), Carvalho and Ferreira boosted by returning to Porto, and Drogba’s all-around brilliance this year, it’s hard to see anything other than a Chelsea victory in both legs. Chelsea 2-0

Roma v Lyon - Houllier’s Lyon were doing all in their might to throw away a seemingly unassailable gap in Ligue 1 (granted, still with a 13 point lead), winning 2 of their last 7. However, a win away at 2nd place Lille over the weekend has probably sealed another domestic title. But before this slide, Lyon were a hot pick to win the Champions League. Roma never wowed in the group stage, but this game looks a lot more competitive than when the draw came out.

Knowing Houllier, I’d imagine Lyon would certainly settle for a draw, and will probably play for a 0-0 one at that. Roma’s only lost once at home this season, in all competitions, to Inter Milan in September. Remembering Liverpool’s tactics games like that, Lyon will probably set up shop in their own half and rely on Fred on the counter-attack. But if Lyon can bring this tie back to France on level terms, with any away goals an added bonus, they’ll be confident of progression. But I think Roma can undo them at least once. Roma 1-0

Inter Milan v Valencia - Another interesting match-up between two in-form teams. Valencia’s still in the La Liga hunt, 4 points behind joint leaders Barcelona and Sevilla, and having just won over Barca yesterday. Meanwhile, Inter is absolutely running away with Serie A, 14 points ahead of 2nd place Empoli, unbeaten in Serie A, and without a loss since Bayern in the CL in September.

Given Inter’s dominance this season, I can’t see Valencia turning them over in this leg. The key will be damage control, and if they can get an away goal, all the better. You can’t discount Morientes, who has remembered how to score goals now that he’s back in sunny Spain, but how can I predict against a team who hasn’t lost since September when they’re at home. Inter 3-1

Even if the game you want to watch isn’t televised, it’s online on pay-per-view through ESPNsoccernet at $10 a pop. I’m always skeptical of these things, so if it’s actually worth it, do tell.

Barca v Liverpool (Wednesday, ESPN Deportes AND Setanta!) preview Tuesday.

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