Since General Winter seems content to mess up my regular comments on Football (and create an inevitable fixture nightmare) lets take a look at the Champions League draw.
Roma vs Shaktar Donetsk
Roma have had a difficult time so far. Back to back defeats against Swiss side Basel have only just been covered up by a late comeback win against Munich and results against Cluj. Struggling to really effect things in Italy. They concede way too many goals (the only qualifier with a negative GD), though they did just beat AC Milan away. Boreillo and Totti remain crucial.
With the exception of a spectacularly poor night away at Arsenal, Shaktar have been a surprise package this year. Five wins from six left them sitting pretty at the top of Group H and they looked good doing it. They are currently 12 points clear at the top of the UPL. They have an excellent mix of foreign talent and look like the best Ukrainian team since the height of Kiev’s days.
Gotta go with the Ukrainians, by at least two aggregate goals.
AC Milan vs Tottenham Hotspurs
Milan had an up and down group stage, losing away to Real and being denied a home victory against the Galacticos by an injury time equalizer. Combined with just a point out of a possible six against Ajax, Milan were only rescued by home and away wins against a very mediocre Auxerre outfit. Doing better at home (perhaps that’s just where the focus is this year), AC lead the Serie A by 3 points. They are heavily reliant on Ibrahimovich for goals.
Spurs are a surprise. Widely tipped to struggle in the group stage, they not only won it, but they humbled the holders at White Hart Lane. They have a good squad, with quality players like Defoe, Bale and Pavelychnko. They’re problem is that they only really turn it on at home, and struggle to challenge for maximum points away. They have a nasty habit of throwing away leads. Currently fifth in the EPL, and have demonstrated their capacity to challenge anyone in that league.
Everything will bank on how well Spurs can play in the San Siro. They beat Inter, so no reason why they can’t get past AC. But I just can’t see it. AC to go through, probably needing goal difference.
Valencia Vs Shalke
The Spanish outfit had a fairly easy time of it in the Group stage, cruising by Bursaspor and Rangers in second gear, and were denied more points against United only by a lucky Hernandez strike late on in the first game and Anderson’s goal in the second. Have not really been tested to the utmost yet. Fourth in La Liga, well of the pace, 15 points behind Barcelona. They leak goals when they really shouldn’t and don’t seem capable of getting past the really good sides.
Shalke got off to an awful start, losing to Lyon, but have been unbeaten since. Two good games against Benfica and Tel Aviv saw them qualify without too much nerves. Huntellar and Raul have been in top form. This is contrast to the Bundesliga, where Shalke are mired in mid-table, 20 points from the top, having garnered 6 wins from 17 games. Not the sort of form CPL participants should be showing.
If Valencia can rise to the challenge – and that is a big “if” – they’ll take them. Other than that, Shalke could pull a Liverpool, and pour everything into Europe to the detriment of their league chances. That’s a risky game to play. Valencia by one goal.
Inter Milan Vs Bayern Munich
Inter had an unexpectedly rough time in their group, edging by Spurs at home before being mauled away, thrashing Bremen at home before being thrashed away, drawing away to Twente and sneaking a win at home. Other results favored them and they got through, largely thanks to the goals provided by Eto’o. This mirrors their home form, where they lie seventh in Serie A, though they did just win the World Club Cup. Rumblings continue about their manager and they’d want to get all that sorted soon.
With the exception of that surprise loss against Roma, Bayern Munich were flawless in the group stages. Convincing wins against Basel and Cluj showcased their talent, especially Gomez. It hasn’t carried on to the Bundesliga though, where the traditional German powerhouse lies fifth, 14 points from leaders Dortmund. Perhaps the group didn’t test them enough.
It’s remarkable how fortunes have changed for these two clubs since last years final. Provided that Munich stay on (CPL) form, they can handle this lacklustre Inter team. The Germans by two.
Lyon Vs Real Madrid
Lyon stormed through the first half of the group stages, with impressive wins against Shalke, Tel Aviv and Benfica. But they could only get a point from their remaining three games and were lucky no other team was able to take advantage. Signs of complacency. Fourth in the French League, but only a point off the leaders (the FL1 being finely balanced this year).
Madrid must be desperate for any kind of silverware at this stage, having spent so much on the current squad. Madrid didn’t have too hard a time in the group stages, with the best record of all qualifiers, only dropping points away to Milan. Ronaldo, Benzema and co., all seem on top form though they remain second to Barca in La Liga, but only by two points. A quality outfit, but they do seem to bottle it when it really counts.
If their current form remains consistent, Madrid shouldn’t have too many problems. Lyon, like so many French teams have shown in the past few years, just don’t seem good enough for this stage. The Galacticos by 3.
Arsenal Vs Barcelona
The Gunners racked up 18 goals in the group stages, but somehow still managed to just get in to the knock-out stages. Bad losses away to Shaktar and Braga undermined their other fine displays of attacking football. It’s becoming a cliché of Arsenal that they always, inevitably, mess it up in Europe. Their away form, minus a win against Belgrade, appears to confirm that. Second in the EPL by two points.
Barca have to be the favourites, not only here, but to win the whole thing. Barring unfortunate draws to Kazin (rapidly becoming somewhat of a bogey team for Barca) and Copenhagen, they eased through Group D. Top of La Liga, and showcasing some amazing football in the last while, Barca even managed to make Madrid look ordinary. Messi, Xavi and Villa just make mincemeat out of opposition.
Arsenal couldn’t do it last year. I don’t think anything has changed, other than Barca actually getting better. The Catalonians by 3.
Marseille Vs Manchester United
The French outfit had a very poor start, with two straight losses, but bounced back to win all of their remaining games, including an impressive mauling of Slovakian team Zilina, away to Spartak Moscow and a hard-fought win over Chelsea (who, admittedly, were already qualified at that stage). Some good players in the squad like Gignac and Brandao. Currently Fifth in the French League, though as stated, it’s so tight they could be on top with just a win.
United had a slightly more difficult time in getting through than many thought. A disappointing home draw against Rangers was followed by an extremely fortunate away win to Valencia. Back to back wins against a hapless Bursaspor and a late away win against Rangers secured qualification, with an almost friendly game against Valencia seeing them claim top spot. United, of course, have lots of talent in the squad but the trouble is getting them all on form, especially the like of Rooney, Berbatov, Nani and Ferdinand. Currently leading the EPL, having undertaken an impressive unbeaten run through the season so far.
I’m biased of course, but I hope no one will hold it against me when I predict a United victory. Marseille only really impressed against poor opposition or opposition for which the game was meaningless. United are currently hitting their stride and tend to keep doing so in February and March. The Red Devils by 2.
FC Copenhagen Vs Chelsea
The Danish Champs ground out the results they needed to get through Group D, including a vital draw at home to Barca. An away loss to Rubin made it touch and go, but back-to-back wins against Panathanikos gave them what they needed. Suprising depth in the team, such as Cisse and Vingaard. Currently coasting on top of the Danish League, clear by 19 points.
Chelsea, with the exception of that last matchday loss against Marseilles, went through with a perfect record, though they only really “turned it on” away to Zilina and twice against Spartak. Some impressive play against that decent Russian outfit and Anelka and Drogba, when on form, are unplayable. Currently undergoing a bit of a dip in form, probably due to some internal issues within the club, Chelsea are fourth in the EPL, but only off the pace by three points.
It has to be Chelsea, unless the Danes can pull of a shock on home soil. They’d want to play the English Champs today to have a better chance, but the Blues should be over the current blip by February. Chelsea by 2.
We’ll see how my predictions went in March.