07/08 Champions League 2nd Round Predictions

The draw for the UEFA Champions League round of 16 has been made, and as expected, there are several sexy ties among the eight matchups.

Who drew the toughest assignment? Who may as well start making ticket arrangements for the quarterfinals? My analysis is below, along with teams and players to watch, and some tasty predictions as well.

Round of 16 Draw

Arsenal vs. AC Milan
Liverpool vs. Inter Milan
Lyon vs. Manchester United
Celtic vs. Barcelona
Schalke vs. Porto
AS Roma vs. Real Madrid
Olympiakos vs. Chelsea
Fenerbahce vs. Sevilla

Toughest Ties

There aren’t any easy ties at this juncture, but there are a few matches that stand out as being the toughest of the draw for the group winners/favorites.

AC Milan are going to have to show that same away form that’s been keeping them afloat in Serie A when they make the trip to the Emirates for the first leg of their tie with Arsenal. That times 25 will be required to break through a side that rarely gives anything away at home, especially in Europe, where they haven’t lost since a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in the second leg of their CL quarterfinal in 2005.

The reigning European champions could find themselves staring at an exit, because if Arsene Wenger’s side go into the second leg with an advantage, it’ll be their time to become the king of the 0-0/1-0 snooze fest, a crown that AC Milan so proudly holds right now.

But, considering the possibilities facing each team heading into the draw, Manchester United may have gotten the toughest draw, going up against a dangerous and unpredictable Lyon side.

Lyon’s wonderkid Karim Benzema and his comrades in attack will put a lot of pressure on the United backline, and the onus will be on the two-time European champions to be a brick wall in both legs, and also to stay out of each other’s way.

Easiest Ties

Porto were handed a pretty favorable draw, with Schalke 04 being their round of 16 opponent. Schalke posted an excellent defensive record in the group phase, allowing only four goals, so they’re capable of holding Porto in the first leg and giving themselves a chance going into the away leg. However, Porto are nearly unbeatable at home, and if they can pierce Schalke’s defenses in the first leg, should have no problems progressing.

Barcelona’s trip to the quarterfinals might be easier than any of the La Liga sides in the round of 16. It’s not about discounting Celtic as a threat, but for Gordon Strachan’s side to have a real chance, it’ll require not getting themselves in a hole in the home leg, because that would take away the one slight advantage they may have. While Barcelona are thoroughly dominant at the Camp Nou (now watch them go and get beaten by Real Madrid this weekend, just because I said that), Celtic struggle mightily away from home (three group matches, three defeats this season, and I’ll spare them by not mentioning the last few years).

Olympiakos could give Chelsea a hard time, and shouldn’t be out of it heading into the second leg, but to pull off the shock of the round, the Greek side will have to play like they did in this year’s group phase, when they won away to both Werder Bremen and Lazio and hung tough with Real Madrid, and not like they had historically done before this season. But, it’s Chelsea’s to lose, even if there’s a one-legged John Terry at the back, and there very well may be, considering both his affinity for getting hurt and for coming back when many others would lie in bed and weep into their pillows.

Most Entertaining Tie

Arsenal-AC Milan, Roma-Real Madrid, and Lyon-Manchester United are all very eye-catching, but my pick of the bunch for most entertaining is Liverpool-Inter.

Considering how big of a fan I am of attacking football, I like the prospects of seeing a goalfest at Anfield in the first leg. Inter have scored two goals or more on 17 occasions this season (and 9 of their last 11 matches), while Liverpool have done so on 14 occasions.

Unfortunately, in a situation where results, and not heart-pounding, end-to-end action for 90 minutes, is the objective, the second leg may not be as enthralling all the way through, if one side has to play for the necessary result and nothing else and the other has to play for their lives, in which case, watch the first 30 minutes, set your alarm, nap for a little while, and then watch the final 15 to 30 minutes.

Team to Watch: Fenerbahce

Just as Arsenal are the France B side, and Manchester United are slowly turning into the Portugual B side, Fenerbahce are the Brazilian B side, currently boasting a half-dozen Brazilians in their ranks, along with a seventh who became a naturalized Turkish citizen.

That number could very well increase by one, and it would be the most notable yet, as Fener are reportedly looking to sign the currently-injured Ronaldo from AC Milan in the January transfer window. If they can get him, he’ll be reunited with former Real Madrid teammate Roberto Carlos and attacking midfielder Alex, formerly the captain of the Brazilian national side. Most importantly for Fenerbahce, he won’t be cup-tied, so if he’s healthy, he could prove to be a big-time acquisition.

Ronaldo on board or not, they’re another side who benefits by having the home leg first, given their strength at home (11 wins, 2 draws this term, including wins in all three group matches), but the reigning Turkish champions handled themselves quite well in their away matches in the group stage, holding both CSKA Moscow and PSV, and keeping Inter goalless at the San Siro until the home side ran riot in the final 30+ minutes.

Players to Watch

Luis Fabiano, Sevilla: Fabiano leads the competition with seven goals (three in two qualifiers, four in the group phase), and already has 17 goals in La Liga and Europe combined. So, he’s a good bet to find the back of the net in at least one of the two legs, if not both. And if he does, it bodes well for Sevilla, who have won all six of the European matches that he’s scored in.

Benzema, Lyon: His name sounds like some sort of moisturizer, but there’s nothing soothing about this 20-year old hotshot if you’re an opposing keeper. He has 12 goals in Ligue 1 and three in the Champions League, including two late daggers to kill off Rangers at Ibrox last week. If he keeps it up, he’ll be the next in an ever-growing line of talents that Lyon will have to futilely attempt to turn down a big-money offer for, though hopefully he won’t moan as much as Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, or Eric Abidal did.

Club With the Most to Prove

If there’s anyone in the round of 16, it’s Real Madrid. The nine-time champions haven’t sniffed the trophy in recent years, getting dumped out of the competition in the round of 16 each of the last three years by Bayern Munich, Arsenal, and Juventus.

Predictions (predicted winners in bold)

Arsenal vs. AC Milan
vs. Inter Milan
Lyon vs. Manchester United
Celtic vs. Barcelona
AS Roma vs. Real Madrid
Schalke vs. FC Porto
Olympiakos vs. Chelsea
Fenerbahce vs. Sevilla

Now that we know who our favorite sides are playing, we can start counting down the days to the matchups. They’ll be here before you know it, and the other thing that you should know is that Soccerlens will have in-depth coverage of the round of 16 and the rest of the Champions League, along with the UEFA Cup as well.

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  1. Paul 22 December, 2007
  2. grognard 23 December, 2007
  3. European football blog 23 December, 2007
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