After what seems like a three year lay off, the UEFA Champions League is set to resume activities with the Knockout Round commencing later today. On the docket for this week includes three jaw dropping contests and one that could be a spoiler or a stinker. Let us dig into these massive tilts before anyone hurts themselves figuring out the breakdown of the aforementioned statement.
Olympique Lyonnais v. Real Madrid
2:45 PM Est @ Stade de Gerland
The obvious story line resides in the Karim Benzema transfer from the hosts to the visitors, which, surprisingly, not been beaten to death so far. Then again, the other story of note we have going here is the fact that this is the jumping off point for both sides in the last few years. Lyon have been notorious for qualifying well then falling flat at this stage. The last time OL moved on in the quarterfinals was back in the 2005-06 campaign, when they brushed away PSV. Madrid, meanwhile, got dusted by Liverpool last term (5-0 agg) while being nipped the four previous terms before that.
What to watch for: Madrid were handed a La Liga lifeline with Barcelona losing for the first time this season. With Ronaldo back in the side and Benzema waiting to play his old lads, the madristas have confidence going into Lyon. Lyon, of course, will need ‘keeper Hugo Lloris to be at his utmost talent, for it is quite likely he will spend much of the match facing a Madrid firing squad.
Match Prediction: Both sides are not used to winning at this stage of the competition, so there is a bit of guess work that needs to be looked at here. Lyon are struggling just to stay in the Champions League places domestically but have had mixed success of late. Madrid nips this one 0-1 and sets up a got return leg at the Bernabeu.
A.C. Milan v. Manchester United
2:45 PM Est @ San Siro
What’s one good player v. former team story without another? David Beckham finally faces off with former employers United a mere seven years after his move to Madrid. (This story has been beaten to death, in case you missed it somehow) Milan will be trying to right the wrong of last season further, as the rossoneri didn’t even make the Champions League last term. United, meanwhile, will look to reach their third consecutive final after winning two years ago against Chelsea and losing last years final against Barcelona. The last two times the sides have met in the Knockout stages, Milan has won both contests, so expect the mental games to be flying the closer it comes to match time.
What to watch for: The United defense is something worth keeping an eye on. Vidic did not travel with the squad, and Ferdinand is not exactly 100%, though it would be difficult to envision him not starting. With Giggs crocked, look for Park Ji-Sung to get a run out. Milan look settled in, with Marco Borriello the only notable Milan casualty. Whether Beckham plays or not is Leonardo’s call.
Match Prediction: The San Siro is not nice to United, and I don’t foresee that stopping today. Milan squeak out a 2-1 victory, though it does give United a lifeline in the return leg.
F.C. Porto v. Arsenal
2:45 Est @ Estadio do Dragao
The Portuguese footballing landscape is a very different place than it used to be. Benfica and Braga lead the table, Porto is well behind and Sporting are no where to be found. That does not bode well with Arsenal coming in on the heels of a crucial win against Liverpool at the Emirates. That said, home form was the key to both last term, as they were pitted in the same group, with Porto wining 2-0 at home and the Gunners cruising 4-0 in comfier surroundings. Of course, tomorrow will have to see new goal scorers, as only Bruno Alves remains from the four scorers (RvP, Adebayor, Lopez).
What to watch for: Arshavin and Song are both unavailable for the Wednesday tilt, which, at least as far as Arsenal is concerned, will mean someone has to step up in the attack. Who that is, mind you, is yet to be seen. Porto need something to go right this term and knocking off Arsenal would seem to be a good thing, with Hulk needing to play up to his superhero nickname.
Match Prediction: 1-1 sounds fair here. Arsenal need someone like Bendtner to step up and take command of the forward spot, while Porto can probably sneak a goal in somewhere.
Bayern Munchen v. Fiorentina
2:45 PM Est @ Allianz Arena
This whole “Knockout Round” thing is kind of new to Fiorentina. In fact, the Champions League itself is relatively uncharted territory for the viola. Munich, meanwhile, would like a repeat performance of last seasons Knockout Round (the 12-1 sandblasting of Sporting) to move onward in the competition.
What to watch for: Fiorentina have been hit or miss for much of this campaign, mostly misfiring since the second Mutu doping deal broke. Gilardino and Zanetti must step up in this competition. Munich are rolling right now and any number of players could be match winners tomorrow.
Match Prediction: Bayern will roll the Purple People 3-0. At the minimum.
Tags: Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Champions League, Lyon, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Soccer