Round of Sixteen Roundup
Tomorrow starts an exciting 48 hours of football. There’s a lot left to play for in these knockout ties with the notable exception of Bayern Munich’s match against Sporting Lisbon. The first leg was an ebarassing affair for Sporting and they will be happy to hear the whistle end their European adventure tomorrow night. Munich put another five goals on the board in their league match this weekend. They may well pose a threat to the rest of the field before it’s all said and done. But other than that tie, everything else is up for grabs this week.
Ironically, the two tournament favorites are both at risk in their respective ties. Barcelona will be feeling a lot better that they stole a 1-1 draw in Lyon. They were under the cosh for much of the match and should consider themselves lucky not to have conceded another goal or two. Henry’s away goal could prove priceless, but lately Barcelona have been leaky defensively and if they were to concede early it would make for a very nervy night. Pujol is likely out of action. He has been under fire lately from the pundits, but his passion and leadership are an indispensable part of Barcelona’s stability at the back. With Victor Valdes’ apparent lack of confidence in goal, Pujol’s absence could be even more troubling. While it’s difficult to pick against Barcelona, Lyon are going to make a run in the Champions League one of these seasons, and there’s no reason why it can’t be right now.
Manchester United dominated at the San Siro but they failed to get the away goal that their play so richly deserved. I heard a telling statistic that United fans may want to consider: the last time that United managed a nil-nil away result in the knockout round of the Champions League, they were eliminated from the tournament in the return leg. I believe that happened against Porto and they went on to win the trophy. I probably don’t need to point out that Jose Mourinho was the manager of that Porto side. I’m sure he’s reminded his current squad every day since the first leg. The media seem to believe that this will be a walkover for United. No one is giving Inter any chance based on their lifeless performance at home. But I have a feeling that Mourinho has United right where he wants them. With Ibrahimovic on the pitch, Inter could grab a goal out of nothing and make life very difficult for the Red Devils. If Inter can keep United at bay for 45 minutes, the pressure will mount on the home side. And let’s not make them out to be invincible. As imposing as they looked against Fulham, they were equally mediocre against Newcastle last week. Van Der Sar has had a few wobbles lately and if he makes a mistake on Wednesday, it could see United crash out of the tournament.
Liverpool have the advantage over Real Madrid heading back to Anfield and I have a feeling that they’ll need it. Yossi Benayoun has been a real spark for Liverpool lately and he will be conspicuously absent against Madrid. That leaves the possibility of some unproven players in the midfield for Liverpool. Torres sounds like he’s ready to go, but who knows how long he will last. Real Madrid are a proud club with loads of talent and experience and I just don’t seem them being held scoreless for a second consecutive match. While Liverpool have the defensive quality to keep them out, it certainly won’t be easy. Madrid could be dominant in midfield forcing Liverpool to put more men behind the ball and defend deep in their territory. That would be a bad sign for the Anfield faithful. Away goals can hit you like a sucker punch. One minute you’re breezing through to the next round, the next minute you’re out of the tournament. (See, Alex’s header for PSV against Arsenal.) The pressure on Benitez in this match will be immense. Not only could it determine his future at Liverpool, but it may impact his future at Madrid. If Madrid can steal a goal, the advantage and momentum will swing to them.
Those are the three ties that most interest me beyond our own. As for the rest, let’s start at the Stadio Delle Alpi. I think Chelsea will comfortably see off Juventus in Turin. Drogba is returning to his dominant best and now there’s news that Essien could start for Chelsea. I’d have to see it to believe it, but even his presence in the squad will lift the play of their midfield. It’s hard to see Juventus overturning their deficit.
Athletico Madrid should have an interesting matchup against our group winners, Porto. Porto hold the edge with two away goals, but either team could win this game outright.
Panathinaikos and Villareal drew 1-1 in Greece, but that tie is still up in the air. I really think Villareal should go through, but who knows with these teams.
That about sums up the round. Arsenal play too, in case you were wondering. We’ll be without Adebayor and I have my opinions about his availability, but I’ll save them for tomorrow’s match preview.
It should be an exciting, dramatic and, hopefully, joyous two days of football. I can’t wait to watch.