FTW has few enough reasons to get up in the morning. That nice girl at the bar, the thought of beer and of course the prospect of outliving Sepp Blatter. Anyway, after the night of wild esctasy that was El Clasico FTW has been hiding away in a cave of despair waiting for the only football that will compete with that. The Champions League knock-out stages:
Roma Vs. Shakhtar: Real battle of the big boys is this one. Roma have hardly been setting Serie A alight and while Shakhtar did manage to win their group, it was full of the minnows of Europe; Partizan, Braga and Arsenal. After running Inter very close to the title last year Roma have fallen off somewhat this time around and find themselves in 6th place, ten points behind AC. Shakhtar meanwhile are runaway leaders in Ukraine. Assuming they maintain close to the 12 point gap they’ve established at the top of the table prior to the knockout clashes this should provide a slight boost as they will be able to rest players whereas Roma look set for a long struggle to try and retain Champions League football may be forced to play their strongest XI. Overall, this is a fairly balanced tie but hardly the mouthwatering clash of the round.
Prediction: Shakhtar to progress
AC Milan Vs. Tottenham: Very definitely the clash of the round. Spurs have been the most exciting team to watch by a long distance this year in the competition and will at least fancy their chances against Milan. Although the front line of Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Pato is fairly intimidating, Allegri will not relish the thought of Bale and Lennon charging down the wing. ‘Arry’s side have conceded fair too many in this tournament and will need to be more defensively savvy in the knock-out stages. That being said, going forward they have been unstoppable at times and they have great resilience. Not a team to be discounted even if the first leg in Italy doesn’t go their way. A lot will depend on the injury situation of both clubs between now and then. Spurs have a horrific injury list currently which will hopefully easy up before February while Milan should wrap Zlatan in cotton wool for the later stages.
Prediction: Amazingly enough, Tottenham to progress
Valencia Vs. Schalke: Two teams with very strange seasons. After last season Schalke were expected to push on under Magath and make a serious bid for the title. Instead they find themselves mid-table having stuttered and fluffed their way through the first half of the season. Meanwhile Valencia, having sold off Silva and Villa were expected to struggle but flew out of the traps and enjoyed a superb start to the season. Since then they have slowed down and the results have been mixed at best. Last week they went 3-1 up against Osasuna only to finish 3-3, conceding late goals. Their season in a microcosm. Very difficult to predict which way this one will go and it doesn’t look to be a thrilling tie.
Prediction: Valencia to reach the QF’s
Inter Vs. Bayern: What a difference six months makes. Last seasons finalists meet in the last 16 and both look pale shadows of last year. The all-conquering Inter of Mourinho has been replaced by the ineffective and injury-ravaged Inter of Benitez. Slumping down into 7th place in Serie A Benitez looks to be the first coach since Calciopoli to lose the title with Inter. Sneijder and company look jaded and in need of a rest. While the Dutchman claimed he would “walk into hell” for Jose his relationship with Rafa seems far less close and his form reflects that. Bayern on the other hand also have their problems. Mario Gomez is having a very good season for the Bavarians but Ribery looks out of sorts, Robben has been plagued by injuries and the club is nearly 20 points of the top of the Bundesliga.
Prediction: In the battle of the two clubs in crisis expect the Germans to show more grit and win
Lyon Vs. Real Madrid: After spending nearly £240m on players last summer the sight of Real losing to Lyon was possibly the sweetest imaginable. The joke doing the rounds was “It looks like Ferguson did sell them a virus after all.” This Real are a different proposition. With additional quality in the form of Di Maria and Ozil along with the only Galactico coach in the world they should easily see off Lyon. The French outfit have neither the ability nor the character to compete with the nine-times champions. After this Real’s season really begins.
Prediction: Real to batter Lyon as revenge for last season
Arsenal Vs. Barcelona: It had to happen. It was inevitable. Barcelona were going to draw Arsenal and Messi is going to do his party trick again. This won’t be much of a contest although it must be said that Guardiola probably least wanted Arsenal of all the teams they could draw. Not a great deal to say about this one. On paper Arsenal should give Barcelona a good game, in reality it will be a thumping.
Prediction: Messi will decide how many he wants to score before the game. And then he’ll go out and do it
Marseille Vs. Manchester United: United should feel fairly confident about progressing but they’ve hardly set the world alight this year. Most likely they will secure qualification by the skin of their teeth while somehow trying to pretend that they are trying to conserve energy for the later rounds. Unbeaten and top of the league, conceding only one goal in the whole group stage United should look more comfortable than they have in games but this is not the swashbuckling United of ’99 or the Ronaldo inspired version of ’08. This is a United built on solidarity rather than flair. Possibly the dullest tie of the round.
Prediction: United to qualify without actually playing well
Copenhagen Vs. Chelsea: In theory Chelsea have drawn the weakest team left in the competition but if Drogba is fit Chelsea would choose to play Arsenal every week and Copenhagen should not be underestimated. While coming from a weaker league and only managing a point against Barcelona in the group stages they deserved more from those encounters. A fairly tough side Copenhagen can at least expect to compete with Chelsea on a physical basis if not a technical one. Chelsea will expect to progress easily and they should still do so but the Danes should not be written off just yet.
Prediction: Chelsea to win but be surprised by the quality of the Danes