The Champions League returns this afternoon with the first set of first legs of the quarterfinals. I’ll preview the other matches tomorrow. But for now:
FC Porto @ Manchester United
United have not been playing anywhere near the level they were playing when they last played in the Champions League. Over the past few weeks they have lost twice and given up a bevy of goals. They are still atop the English table but there are some weaknesses that are finally being exposed. Additionally, Rio Ferdinand is not expected to be match fit which greatly diminishes the United defense.
On the other side, Porto have been on a fantastic run domestically. They’ve won almost all of their past twenty matches and are playing in high form. While they slipped into this round compliments of a nil-nil home draw against Atlético Madrid at the Estadio do Dragão, Porto are a side that is very dangerous for Man United. Yet it is still very difficult to win at Old Trafford, especially for European foes.
Prediction: United 2 – Porto 1
Arsenal @ Villarreal
This match will be at the Estadio El Madrigal, a tough place for visitors to play. The Spanish side had a lesser opponent in the first knock out round against Panathinaikos and so their relative strength remains to be seen. Domestically, Villarreal have won just nine home matches this season (and just thirteen overall), good for a distant fourth place in La Liga.
Arsenal have been playing much better in England than they were when the Champions League last took place. They barely made it by Roma, winning on penalties in Rome four weeks ago. Since then the Gunners have made their case as a serious club in England, pushing solidly into a Champions League qualification spot for next year. But starting this round away could prove difficult for Arsenal, even as they have improved greatly in England.
Prediction: Villarreal 2 – Arsenal 2