Barcelona and Chelsea Prevail

April 9, 2009

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With two draws on the first day, yesterday’s matches were surprisingly, even shockingly one-sided. Starting at the Camp Nou, Barcelona thrashed Bayern Munich 4-0. Amazingly, that was the half-time score. Lionel Messi scored twice and assisted on Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry’s goals. Messi almost had his hat trick but a fantastic save by Bayern keeper Hans-Jörg Butt kept the fifth goal off the scoreboard.

So what does this all mean? Well for starters it completely confirms my thoughts going into the match that recent domestic success (or failure) has a big impact on how a club plays in Europe. With a full month in between matches, this Bayern side was simply not the only that clubbed Sporting Lisbon over the head. Barcelona have the most explosive offensive output in this tournament. Bayern are not as good as some of the English clubs but I think we have to consider Barcelona the favorite going forward.

Meanwhile, at Anfield Chelsea came back from an early deficit to rout their English rivals in Liverpool, 3-1. Fernando Torres scored in the sixth minute for the Reds, but that was all they would muster against the more competent Blues. Branislav Ivanovic earned goals on headers six minutes before half and again twenty-five minutes later. In the 67th minute, Didier Drogba put Liverpool out of their misery with a third away goal and a comprehensive victory. Really, only Torres played well for the Reds. Everyone else on the pitch found himself outmatched by his Chelsea counterpart. Particularly strong for Chelsea was Michael Essien.

So I ask again, what does this mean? Liverpool have a huge uphill battle if they want to reach the semi-finals. Trailing by two goals on aggregate and having given up three away goals is no way to make a strong case. It is possible though, to win at Stamford Bridge, especially as the Blues will be without skipper John Terry whose accumulated yellow cards will keep him out of the return leg. But interestingly the idea I put out yesterday that the first home side have been at a disadvantage in recent Champions League meetings between Liverpool and Chelsea has held true, at least so far.


Champions League Quarterfinals First Leg Day Two

April 8, 2009

After yesterday’s draws, two more Champions League matches grace us with their presence this afternoon.

Chelsea @ Liverpool
We’ll start in England where Chelsea will travel to Liverpool in an all-England clash at Anfield Road. Both clubs have been playing well lately and are currently third and second place in England. This is the fifth consecutive year that these two clubs will meet in a knock-out round of the Champions League. Last season of course Chelsea won in the semi-finals and advanced to Moscow where they would lose to Manchester United. Liverpool had won previously in semi-finals including 2005 when they defeated AC Milan in Istanbul.

So what of this match? In each of the past two years the home side in the first leg has been at a disadvantage, allowing away goals and eventually losing on aggregate in the second leg. So can Chelsea get on the scoreboard more than once at Anfield, even if they don’t win the match? Odds are yes. Liverpool are a strong side but they won’t be able to give the home fans a clean sheet and thus put themselves in jeopardy for the second leg.

Prediction: Liverpool 2 – Chelsea 2

Bayern Munich @ Barcelona
The other quarterfinal today is an odd case. Bayern unmercifully thrashed Sporting Lisbon in the last round and were hailed as favorites to win the cup. But a very poor run of form lately in Germany have seen Bayern fall off the pace near the top of the Bundelisga, including a 5-1 destruction at the hands of Wolfsburg just last weekend. Barça have been playing very well and are in firm control of La Liga, having withstood a strong, late challenge from Real Madrid.

With today’s match at the Camp Nou, expect the fireworks to be on display from Barça. Bayern are a strong club for sure but they can’t possibly play as well as they did in the round of sixteen. And however much Liverpool apologists would like to claim, current domestic play does make a big difference in mid-week Champions League matches.

Prediction: Barça 3 – Bayern 1


Porto!

April 7, 2009
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Mariano's Equalizer for Porto, a Stunning Result

Is this the spirit of 2004? Mariano’s 89th minute equalizer gave the Portuguese side a 2-2 draw at previously impenetrable Old Trafford against Manchester United. Cristian Rodríguez and Wayne Rooney traded goals in the first fifteen minutes, setting up a long spell of 1-1 football. Late substitute Carlos Tevez scored what appeared to be the match-winner in the 85th minute. But somehow Mariano appeared unmarked in the waning moments, knocking in the tying goal.

While Porto could easily lose at the Estadio do Dragão in the return leg, this draw does set them up very nicely. The two away goals especially will give them a lot of ground to work with in the return. But for United, what happened. Did they just expect a victory at their hallowed ground? Did they fall asleep after the Tevez affair appeared to send them to glory?

Meanwhile, in a simultaneous match at El Madrigal, Arsenal used Emmanuel Adebayor’s incredible volley to draw 1-1 with Villarreal in Spain. Though star Marcos Senna had given the Yellow Submarine an early lead on ten minutes, the Gunners’ response via Adebayor gives the English side great hope in the return leg. Not only did they acquire the much-needed away goal but the quality of the strike that did it should be inspiring going forward.

Tomrrow’s matches feature Barcelona at the Camp Nou against a very much out of form Bayern Munich as well as the vastly intriguing Chelsea-Liverpool front leg from Anfield Road. So far no side has emerged as favorite so we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow.


Champions League Quarterfinals

April 7, 2009

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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


Champions League Moving to FOX

March 31, 2009

fscAfter this season is completed, the Champions League will be moving to the FOX Soccer Channel for the foreseeable future.

It’s not that ESPN has done a bad job. In fact I’ve been happy that ESPN has started covering more than one Champions League match per week (one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday) and always shows the final. For five years now I’ve watched as many of the matches as are available here in the States. And I even really enjoy the back-and-forth with Derek Rae and Tommy Smythe from the ESPN studios where the remotely call the games. That will be missed. And ESPN has in a way pioneered soccer on tv here in the States having held the rights to the Champions League (and its earlier equivalent) since the 1994-95 season.

But I’m happy any time ESPN loses out on even a tiny piece of the monopoly they’re trying to build across all sports. With Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, NBA, Monday Night Football and damn near every major conference’s college sporting events, not to mention the World Cup, early round Masters and myriad other events, ESPN has more than enough to get by. The FOX Soccer Channel does an excellent job of covering many different international leagues, including the English Premier League. Their matches are well-covered, the analysis is nice and unlike ESPN, available. FOX has pre-game, half-time and post-game shows where fans, especially casual ones, can learn a lot about the teams playing and the league in which the play. ESPN does none of that in this country.

One downside to this move is the availability of FSC is nowhere near that of ESPN or ESPN2. FSC appearing in around 35 million homes while ESPN reaches about 100 million (again, just in the US). But pure numbers of households does not automatically translate to viewership. In the 27 Champions League matches during last season, ESPN averaged about 255,000 households (I’m assuming that includes bars). The final in Moscow between Chelsea and Manchester United drew in about 800,000 households (and just over a million individual viewers). Of course any final between two English teams is going to be more highly viewed in this country. I’d love to see the numbers for the 2004 final between Porto and Monaco.

If FOX can get even 1% of its total households in the US to view Champions League matches each week, it will average almost 100,000 more viewers than ESPN ever had. The truth is that millions of people get ESPN but almost none care about soccer. That is evident in the numbers. 0.0026% of ESPN receivers actually tune in for the average Champions League match (which almost always includes at least one English club). People who get FSC are much more likely to watch it because there is no chance of seeing anything other than soccer on the network. In other words, you can’t be flipping through the channels and stumble on the FOX Soccer Channel and expect anything less.

I’ll be interested to see how the new coverage comes out. I’m happy that ESPN has carried the torch thus far. Let’s all hope that FOX can do an even better job of bringing us the world’s game.


Champions League Quarterfinal Draw

March 20, 2009

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In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s how the draw for the quarterfinals of the Champions League turned out:

Villarreal v. Arsenal
Manchester United v. Porto
Liverpool v. Chelsea
Barcelona v. Bayern Munich

All interesting match-ups that I’ll detail further before the first legs but needless to say, Man United lucked out by drawing Porto. Perhaps the stars really are lining up for United to accomplish the record five trophies this year. Or perhaps not, but at least they have a slightly easier draw than they could’ve been given.


Who Will Win the Champions League?

March 12, 2009

The Champions League final is not for another two months but now that we’re into the quarterfinals we have a much clearer idea of who is capable of what. It’s always a big mystery as to who will reemerge after the long winter break and catch fire in the knockout rounds. Now that the Round of 16 is past, what do you think?


Two More From England in the Quarters

March 11, 2009

arsenalWhen Max Tonetto’s penalty sailed over the crossbar, Arsenal were sent into the Champions League quarterfinals, 7-6 on penalties. Juan’s 9th minute goal at the Stadio Olimpico was enough to balance Arsenal’s 1-0 triumph at the Emirates two weeks ago and send the match to extra time. The two tired clubs plodded through the extra 30 minutes forcing penalties. The Gunners were immediately on the brink when Eduardo’s penalty, the team’s first, was saved. But Mirko Vucinic’s kick was saved and Arsenal stayed alive. Tonetto’s errant boot was not unlike Roberto Baggio’s heartbreaking miss in the 1994 World Cup, and kept Roma from advancing toward a possible home date in the final.

At Old Trafford, Nemanja Vidic and Cristiano Ronaldo assured Sir Alex Ferguson of a rare victory over his nemesis José Mourinho. Manchester United played exceptionally well in defending their home turf after a nil-nil draw at the San Siro a fortnight ago. Mourinho’s Internazionale side were strong and played very well but simply could not muster the all-important first goal. Zlatan Ibramhimovic did strike the crossbar on one occasion and several other shots just missed for unlike Inter. In the end though, the better side triumphed. United move a step closer to the magical five-trophy season and will benefit greatly from having knocked off such a quality opponent, both on the field and in the coaching box.

In a bizarre match at the Camp Nou, Barcelona defeated Lyon 5-2 to win on aggregate 6-3 over the French leaders. Thierry Henry placed two more goals in the net in his return to glory and Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto’o each pounded in goals before halftime. Jean Makoun did manage a goal just before half for a 4-1 deficit for the French side. Juninho scored almost immediately after the break to reduce Barça’s lead to 4-2 and really put the fear of God in the hearts of the Catalan club. But the Barça defense responded and held Lyon for the rest of the match. Juninho was served his second yellow card in injury time and shortly thereafter, Seydou Keita added the final piece to Barcelona’s triumph.

Finally, in a spirited match at the Estadio do Dragão (aka, Stadium of the Dragon) in Portugal, Porto fended off Atlético Madrid in a nil-nil stalemate. With Porto’s two away goals two weeks ago, the Portuguese side will advance to the quarterfinals despite not scoring at home. This result has to be especially disheartening for Atlético after their strong domestic form of late and especially after their spectacular run through the group stages of this competition. Porto will certainly not be favored to win the Champions League but if they can earn a strong showing away, there are very few places more difficult for opponents than the Dragão.


Return Legs Day Two

March 11, 2009

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With the favorites all advancing yesterday (at least according to scores going in) perhaps there will be an upset or two today. Or perhaps not. Either way, the second half of the Round of 16 will take place this afternoon.

Inter Milan @ Manchester United
United and Milan drew nil-nil at the San Siro two weeks ago. That result was both a blessing and a curse for United. By holding Inter scoreless they can simply win the match at Old Trafford today and advance. But, but not scoring either, and therefore not producing an away goal, if Inter score, United will have to go at least one better to move on. That said, United will have to ratchet up their defensive pressure once again to slow the outstanding pair of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Adriano. But United have been about the best club in the world in 2009 so Inter will certainly have their work cut out for them, regardless of what José Mourinho says.

United 2 – Inter 1

Atlético Madrid @ Porto
The Portuguese side really shook things up in coming back to earn a 2-2 draw at the Vicente Calderon. Atlético will need to do some scoring, else crash out of a tournament they entered with so much promise. But Atlético are on a bit of a roll of late, having drawn Real and defeated Barcelona in their past two matches in La Liga. Lisandro has been a force for Porto and is tied as the leading scorer in the Champions League with six goals from seven matches. If Atlético can take him and Hulk out of the game, or at least contain them, expect a reversal of fortunes in Portugal.

Atlético 1 – Porto 1

Arsenal @ Roma
Facing a rash of injuries and already trailing 1-0 with an away goal to boot, Roma will have a really tough time overcoming an improving Arsenal side. Francesco Totti will likely play but several other key starters for the Roman side will be missing. Arsenal, on the other hand, have welcomed Eduardo back and he has responded with style, scoring three goals in the two Premier League matches he’s played. With the match at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal should be able to finish of Roma without too much trouble.

Arsenal 3 – Roma 0

Olympique Lyon @ Barcelona
Barça enter today’s return at the Camp Nou with an away goal advantage over the French champions. Also in the favor of the Catalan club is the questionable status of Lyon’s star forward Karim Benzema who has been bothered by an injured hip of late. If Benzema does not play, Lyon will be in trouble. On the other side, Carles Puyol will not play after an injury he sustained in a match with Athletic Bilbao. But with Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry the Spanish leaders will have more than enough fire power to overrun a solid Lyon side.

Barça 3 – Lyon 2


Routs Dominate Return Leg

March 10, 2009

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Two of the return legs of the Champions League today ended in complete and utter routs. Starting with Bayern München who added an additional seven goals to the tally of five they took from the first match, winning today 7-1 and 12-1 on aggregate, a Champions League record, over Sporting Lisbon. I don’t know what happened to Sporting (or Bayern for that matter) but this was a thrashing for the ages. Lukas Podolski scored twice to get things going before an own-goal and then four more Bavarian strikes found the net. Joao Moutinho’s 42nd minute goal for the visitors was the only parting gift the Portuguese take away from the Allianz Arena.

Likewise, Liverpool destroyed sorry Real Madrid at Anfield Road, 4-0 to take the round 5-0 on aggregate. Fernando Torres scored first, followed by a penalty and then another goal from Steven Gerrard before Andrea Dossena buried Real late in the match. The Reds, always strong Champions League performers, pulled this one out of nowhere as they suffered injuries coming into the match. Of course playing at Anfield helped and Real seem to have just given up after the Gerrard penalty made it 2-0 and 3-0 on aggregate. The rest was just a breeze for the Reds who will enter the round of eight as probably the second-highest rated club, behind Bayern of course.

In Turin, Didier Drogba eked Chelsea through to the round of eight with his 83rd minute goal in a 2-2 draw with Juventus. Vincenzo Iaquinta and Michael Essien traded first half goals, leaving Chelsea ahead 2-1 on aggregate. But Alessandro Del Piero’s 74th minute penalty briefly gave Juventus hope, even after Giorgio Chiellini’s second yellow card put the Italian giants a man down. Drogba closed the door on Juve though, scoring his game-tying and aggregate-winning goal late in the match.

Finally, in Greece Evangelos Mantzios scored in the 55th minute to draw even in score and aggregate for Panathinaikos. But it was not to be as Llorente tallied a 70th minute goal for a 2-1 Villarreal victory and 3-2 aggregate advancement into the round of eight.


Champions League Return Matches – Round of 16

March 10, 2009

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Amazingly it’s already been two weeks since the Champions League last graced us with its presence. The return legs will have the second set of games from last time playing today. You’ll remember in the first leg, Liverpool won 1-0 at the

Real Madrid @ Liverpool
You’ll remember in the first leg, Liverpool won 1-0 at the Bernabéu on Yossi Benayoun’s late header. In order to advance, Real will need either to win 1-0 today and then score in overtime or penalties, win 2-0 or win 3-1. In other words, Liverpool are in great shape, provided they play tough in the back. In fact, don’t be surprised if they play for the draw (that would be the nil-nil or 1-1 draw). Real have been playing well in Spain while Liverpool have sputtered a bit of late. The Reds also will have some injury issues as Benayoun will not play and it’s unlikely that Fernando Torres will make his return. Advancing under these circumstances would be a truly fantastic result for the Reds.

Liverpool 1 – Real 1 (Liverpool advance 2-1 ag)

Chelsea @ Juventus
Unlike Liverpool’s situation, Chelsea won their first leg match at home, 1-0 on Didier Drogba’s early goal. In keeping powerful Juve from scoring an away goal, the Blues have a strong advantage going to Turin today. But Juventus rested their star strikers and will try to force the issue with Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet at the Stadio Mussolini. Sorry, it’s not still called that, now it’s the Olimpico di Torino, where Juve play until the Stadio delle Alpi, Juve’s regular home, is finished being refurbished. Anyway, look for Juve to really push their strikers forward in the hopes of knocking in an early goal or two. They’ll need to score three goals if they allow one, so this could end up being a high-scoring match.

Juventus 2 – Chelsea 1 (Chelsea advance 2-2 on away goals)

Sporting Lisbon @ Bayern München
Two weeks ago, Bayern humiliated Sporting 5-0 in Lisbon to earn a trip to the round of eight. There isn’t much to report here as Bayern will be resting their stars at the Allianz Arena and hoping to not give up more than a few goals to Sporting in the process. Because of the away goal advantage, Sporting would have to win 5-0 themselves just to force overtime, or they could win 6-0 and win flat out. Since neither of those will happen, we can end the discussion here.

Bayern 2 – Sporting 2 (Bayern advance 7-2 ag)

Villarreal @ Παναθηναϊκός
This is the match that really has people scratching their heads. Giuseppe Rossi drew Villarreal even at El Madrigal for a 1-1 home draw a fortnight ago. But with an away goal in hand, can Panathinaikos deliver at the OACA Spyro Louis (aka, Olympic Stadium)? A nil-nil draw can send the Greeks through to the round of 8.

Παναθηναϊκός 1 – Villarreal 1 (Παναθηναϊκός advance 2-1 ag)


Bayern Advance

February 25, 2009

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Franck Ribery and Luca Toni (above) both scored twice and Miroslav Klose added to his exceptional Champions League campaign as Bayern Munich destroyed and humiliated Sporting Lisbon 5-0 at the Jose Alvalde Stadium. The five away goals will certainly be more than enough to send the Bavarian club through to the final eight, barring a catastrophic disaster in Munich two weeks from now.

At Stamford Bridge Chelsea regained their home form in a solid 1-0 victory over Juventus. Didier Drogba scored in the 12th minute to send the Blues to an important home victory. Perhaps most important was the fact that the Blues kept Juve from scoring an away goal. Now Chelsea will can do well in Turin in a fortnight if they can simply score a goal away from home.

Yossi Benayoun stole a Liverpool victory at the Bernabéu with his 82nd minute header. The away goal and clean sheet were a fantastic result for the Reds as Real have been playing extremely well of late domestically. Now Liverpool will take that away goal and one-goal lead back to England in a shocking result.

Finally, at El Madrigal Giuseppe Rossi’s penalty in the 67th minute saved a draw against upstart Panathinaikos. Giorgos Karagounis opened the scoring for the Greek side in the 59th minute. The away goal will do Panathinaikos well in returning home in two weeks time.


The Rest of the First Legs

February 25, 2009

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After three draws and a surprising Arsenal victory yesterday we’ve got four more Champions League ties today.

Juventus @ Chelsea
Both clubs are very near the top of their respective domestic leagues yet are probably out of it in terms of catching the leaders. Chelsea have barely scored in this competition so far, to the point where John Terry is their leading scorer with just two goals. Juve have been led by the old man himself, Alessandro Del Piero. Usually Chelsea are unbeatable at Stamford Bridge but have lost several times there this season. Still, the advantage lies with the Blues and their stingy defense.

Prediction – Chelsea 1 – Juventus 1

Liverpool @ Real Madrid
The great unknown at the time of writing is whether or not Steven Gerrard will be fit for the match at the Bernabéu. Gerrard did not play against Man City on the weekend for the Reds and would be sorely missed in this tie. He is their leading scorer in the Champions League with five goals and is obviously the team leader. Real on the other hand have been fantastic of late in La Liga. Even with Gerrard, Liverpool face quite a test against the surging Whites. Juande Ramos has pushed Real to a strong record including a 6-1 thrashing of Real Betis over the weekend. And the rich only get richer as Real add Rafael van der Vaart to their lineup.

Prediction – Real 3 – Liverpool 2

Panathinaikos @ Villareal
The Greeks had a very nice run through the group stages back in the fall, winning Group B over Inter Milan. While I can’t claim to know much about Panathinaikos apart from the support of a buddy from high school, I do have a good feeling about them in this tournament. Villareal are in fourth place in La Liga but are quite distant behind the front-runners. The Spaniards are in no way dominant at El Madrigal where today’s match will be played.

Prediction – Panathinaikos 2 – Villareal 1

Bayern Munich @ Sporting Lisbon
The Bavarian club won Group F on a tiebreaker with Lyon but they sit just fourth in the Bundesliga. Of course that must be tempered with the fact that they are just four points behind the leaders at this point. Miroslav Klose has been quite good in the Champions League thus far and will again be counted on for scoring. But a weak performance in this round could possibly see Jürgen Klinsmann off as the Bayern boss. Sporting for their part are running third in the SuperLiga in Portugal. They have not been a particularly high scoring club in the Champions League and were routed by Barcelona in both of their group play matches.

Prediction – Bayern 1 – Sporting 1

We also have Philip Oliver’s thoughts on this, the second day of first leg matches:

Chelsea 2 – 0 Juventus
Real Madrid 1 – 1 Liverpool
Villarreal 2 – 0 Panathinaikos
Sporting 2 – 1 Bayern Munich


Arsenal Are Big Winners

February 24, 2009

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On a day where three of the four Champions League matches finished in draws, Robin Van Persie’s 37th minute penalty sent Arsenal to an important and 1-0 home victory over AS Roma at the Emirates Stadium. Entering the match Arsenal had to have felt some embarrassment after having drawn Sunderland nil-nil at home over the weekend and in fact failed to score in three consecutive Premier League matches. So Van Persie’s goal from the spot was a huge boost to the sagging English giants. Importantly, the Gunners did not allow Roma to score meaning there is no away goal advantage for the Roman club. They will have to defeat Arsenal by a 2-0 or 3-1 margin to guarantee survival to the round of eight.

At the Vicente Calderon, a Lisandro brace puts Porto in a fine position against Atlético Madrid in a 2-2 draw. Maxi Rodríguez and Diego Forlán scored in the first half for the home side. With Lisandro’s equalizer in the 72nd minute, Porto give themselves plenty of room to work with having scored twice away.

On the opposite hand, Manchester United did themselves a disservice by not scoring at the San Siro against Internazionale. The nil-nil draw between Inter and Man U is a somewhat surprising result. Between the high-powered Inter attack and the injury and suspension riddled defense, it was supposed that some scoring might take place. Instead the teams will travel to Manchester to renew their battle with a draw including scoring giving Inter advancement. Of course United can simply win the match at Old Trafford to advance, which is the huge benefit of having taken a clean sheet from Milan.

Finally, Barcelona gave itself a nice chance to advance by pulling out a draw in Lyon. Juninho led things off for the home side with a fantastic goal in the 7th mintue but Thierry Henry pulled one back for the Catalan club in the 67th minute. With Barca so devastating at home, it is a good chance to see them advance though Lyon have to be given credit for their strong performance today.


The Champions League Returns

February 23, 2009

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Four matches tomorrow and four more Wednesday mark the long-awaited return of the best European soccer has to offer in the form of the Champions League. We’re now in the knock-out rounds so the home-and-home series for each club is all there is between a date in the next round or crashing out of Europe.

Roma @ Arsenal
Both clubs are in similar situations domestically. Neither is in the title hunt and both cling desperately to automatic qualification into the UEFA Cup for next season. Neither can really be considered a serious contender for this year’s Champions League title but the match should be interesting nonetheless. Arsenal just drew Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium on the weekend so expect the Gunners to be out to prove they’re much better than that recent result.

Prediction – Arsenal 2 – Roma 1

Porto @ Atlético Madrid
Two clubs with very different seasons this year as Porto is the leader of the Portuguese Superliga while Atlético have found wins much harder to come by in La Liga, currently sitting seventh. I really don’t know much about these two clubs though Atlético was fantastic in the gropu stage.

Prediction – Atlético 2 – Porto 2

Man United @ Inter Milan
Inter have been by far the best club in Italy all year, currently holding a nine-point lead atop Serie A. Of course, as well documented on this site, Manchester United have gotten better and better as the season has continued, and now hold a seven-point lead atop the Premiership. United have had some injuries of late, particularly on defense, but have still given up just a single goal in the EPL over the past few months. Inter have a very strong offense led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and have not lost at home this season.

Prediction – Inter 1 – United 1

Barcelona @ Lyon
Lyon and Barca are both domestic leaders in their respective countries with solid leads atop the Liga and Ligue 1 tables. Olympique have also not lost at home this season but have managed just seven wins compared with five draws. Barca have the incomparable Samuel Eto’o who has already scored 23 goals in La Liga this season. Barca have an astounding +51 goal differential this season.

Prediction – Barca 3 – Lyon 1