If anyone has complaints about this particular round of the Champions League, that somehow Inter Milan have gotten an easy draw or that the French are being forced into sending only one team into the semis, please deposit those comments in the bucket labeled “idiot thoughts” and be on your way. Conversations with several people I know have immediately gone to the Lyon/Bordeaux and Inter/CSKA contests as being set up to eliminate smaller squads from the competition in order to leave only four big squads standing in the semis (namely, Inter & Lyon in these contests).
I’m not entirely sure how to say this, but, if you can’t get past the draw and into the actual contests, please, just shut up.
All four draws are filled with interesting plots as the eight clubs are four matches away from the finals. That said, a match or two might have a little more attention being paid for it. That’s okay, considering it’s not often two of the best attacking teams in world football get to meet twice over two weeks. It’s not often that two French sides, both wrestling at the top of Ligue 1, will peak their intense rivalry. It’s not often that the two giants of England and Germany square off. It’s not often a Russian side shows up to crash the party, or that Inter is the last Italian side standing.
Enjoy these contests. Let yourself be embraced by them and let them pull you into them.
Olympique Lyonnais v. Girondins de Bordeaux
2:45 PM EST @ Stade de Gerland
Where to begin? Let’s start with the obvious: the two French giants are the last two Ligue 1 champs France has had for a while. Since the 1998-1999 campaign, only four French clubs have lifted the title, twice by Bordeaux, once by AS Monaco, once by FC Nantes and the rest by Lyon. There hasn’t been this much parity in Ligue 1 since the abrupt halt of Marseilles’ late 80’s-early 90’s dominance due to the l’affaire VA-OM prior to the Champions League final win in 1993. Considering that Bordeaux just lost the Coupe de France to Marseille Sunday, there is now more pressure on the holders to repeat and knock out Lyon. Lyon, meanwhile, would like to get to the semis for the first time, seeing as it is quite easily possible that they may not even get into the Champions League next year. The French giants sit 5th, but Marseille, a point behind, also have two games in hand. The pressure on both sides is immense to drop the other, creating a carnival-like atmosphere within France.
What to watch for: As Bordeaux are short Alou Diarra through suspension, there will be a large gap in the center of the Bordeaux lineup. Whomever fills the void will be under the spotlight to link the back four to the attacking quartet. Miralem Pjanic will be under pressure to replicate his feats against Real Madrid, though certainly Lisandro López could stand to get on the scoresheet after his horror-miss against the Spanish outfit.
Prediction: Lyon 1 – 1 Bordeaux. The away side have the stingiest defense in the competition, having only allowed three goals so far. It will take some impressive counter-attacking from Lyon to get a goal while Bordeaux are a set piece machine.
FC Bayern München v. Manchester United
2:45 PM EST @ Allianz Arena
A rematch of the 1999-2000 Champions League final, the Germans would love nothing better than to go back to previous form against United, namely, the winning kind. They got the better of United the following campaign, but the taste of the defeat at the turn of the century hasn’t ever left the tongues of the Germans. The problem between now and then is this Wayne Rooney fellow. He’s pretty good at scoring and the German giants have been pretty good lately at folding in the competition…right at this stage. While the winging combo of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are pretty feisty in their own right, they are taking on a side who have seen some of the best teams in the world in the last four seasons and will not be as awed by the set-up as others might be.
What to watch for: The health of Arjen Robben may make the difference on how much the Germans challenge United in the first leg. If Roonchester can key on Ribery alone, they could take out the playmaking ability of Munich and limit their attack. Oh, yes, and this Wayne Rooney fellow is playing. He might be worth a look or two.
Prediction: Assuming that Robben plays, Munich 1 – 2 United. If not, Munich 0 – 2 United. Roonchester United just get it done right now and if the San Siro does not intimidate them, Allianz Arena will probably not get the job done either, no matter how many wacky patterns they can put on the shell of the stadium.
Internazionale Milan v. PFC CSKA Moskva
2:45 PM EST @ San Siro
This match got a lot of complaints until I reminded several people of something very critical: the group stage. Inter will not be able to take CSKA lightly, considering that Dynamo Kiev and Rubin Kazan nearly sent them and Barcelona into the Europa League. The two giants advanced but did so knowing that the Eastern European outfits were no slouches (consider that Kazan took 4 points off Barca, for a second) and deserve respect. Now that the Russian League is back up and running, CSKA will not be an easy out, regardless of the fact that Inter have not last at home all season, though they have been draw-happy at the San Siro.
What to watch for: Mark Gonzalez has had a hit-or-miss campaign in the Champions League for the Russians. He needs to be competent in the attack like he did when he was involved in the setup for the first goal in the second leg against Sevilla, rather than the crazy booking he received later in the match. Inter would love for Maicon to become more involved in the attack, rather than hitting every defender in the stadium with his crosses. His involvement makes Inter far more dangerous than usual.
Prediction: Inter 2 – 1 CSKA. The Moscow boys have good away form, but may be setting themselves up to try and do what Chelsea could not, a task that may be too much for them.
Arsenal v. FC Barcelona
2:45 PM EST @ Emirates Stadium
Perhaps you’ve heard that Arsenal and Barcelona were playing in this round. Many questions have been asked: what will Thierry Henry do back at his old stomping grounds? How much will Cesc Fabregas be badgered into coming back home to Barcelona? How much of a fool will Manuel Almunia make of himself this time? With the appropriate amount of healthy bodies, this will provide the stiffest possible test to both sides’ Champions League credentials, as both play in a similar style. Barcelona will quickly realize that pressure may not be the best remedy against a team that can pass every bit as well as they can, while Arsenal will have to remain patient when the ball is not at their feet.
What to watch for: Messi goes without saying at this point. The man under the gun will be Sol Campbell, who is going to be driven to the hilt by the attacking force of the Catalan outfit. Hopefully, Almunia can get through the whole match unlike his predecessor (as if that memory needed to be brought up again or anything).
Prediction: Arsenal 2 – 2 Barcelona. Lots of shooting, lots of goals. Should be an absolutely classic two-legged affair.
Tags: Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Champions League, Inter Milan, Lyon, Manchester United, Soccer