Champions League Round of 16 Preview: Part 4

Porto vs. Malaga

James RodriguezLikewise to the Valencia-PSG tie, this fixture seems to be outshone by the other dazzling fixtures ahead, but with an array of talent on display, it would be rude not to watch.

Porto have been going neck and neck with Benfica for many years now, and yet again we see the two Portuguese toe to toe. Only the goal difference separates the two. With this in mind, will Porto give a high importance towards Europe?

Malaga on the other hand have been the surprise package in Spain, others tipped them to fail what with their financial trouble, but I’m going to tip them as the team to watch in this tournament. Most definitely the dark horse this year.

Key Players

Throughout the years, Porto have lost and found world class strikers, such as Falcao and Hulk, but they have also managed to replace these quality attackers with players such as Martinez and Rodriguez. A Columbian theme certainly runs through this club. That’s why I believe the key players for Porto will be none other than Jackson Martinez and James Rodriguez.

Malaga’s threat will be well known throughout the football world. That threat is 2012 Tuttosport’s Golden Boy Isco. The Spanish playmaker has been the catalyst of Malaga’s threat so far this season, having scored two goals in the Champions League  already. I feel that if Isco steps up to the occasion, Malaga will advance.

Prediction

Malaga are the team to watch in this competition. Yes, they may be cash strapped at the moment but I believe they have enough quality to advance to next round. I’m going for a Porto win in the first leg and a Malaga win in the second which will see them advance on goal difference.

1st Leg: Porto 1-0 Malaga
2nd Leg: Malaga 2-0 Porto

Real Madrid vs. Manchester United

Robin van PersieI have saved the best for last. Arguably the most mouth-watering of ties in the round of 16. It’s Ferguson vs. Mourinho, Rooney vs. Ronaldo, Los Galatictico’s vs. The Red Devils. A true clash of the titans.

I can see Mourinho putting his all into this game. His side sit 3rd in La Liga with no hope of catching the rampant Barcelona. The Champions League is perhaps Mourinho’s only chance of keeping his job in the Bernabeu hot seat.

Madrid and United have some history against each other, the most recent being the thriller of a Champions League quarter final 2003 in which Real Madrid advanced 6-5 on aggregate. This game is must watch, no doubt about it.

Key Players

Real Madrid have a whole host of threats that could hurt Manchester United, their main one coming from a player who is well known to United: none other than Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo is one of the best players in the world at the moment, having tallied up an impressive 24 goals in 22 starting appearances. He may have Sir Alex Ferguson ruing the day he once let him go.

£24 million pounds? Injury prone? Past his day at 29? All these questions where thrown about the day Manchester United got their man Robin Van Persie. It was a gamble but my God did it pay off! Having already scored 18 goals in 22 games in his debut season, RVP  has been seen as the man to guide United to their 20th title. He will certainly have a say in both legs.

Prediction

Being a Manchester United fan, I’m finding it hard to predict this one. My heart says United, but my head says Real. If the Reds can manage a score draw or even a 2-1 loss in the first leg, they will have a big chance of advancement. I really couldn’t call this game, but what I will say is that if Real Madrid advance to the next round, they will go on to win the Champions League. You heard it here first.

1st Leg: Real Madrid ?-? Manchester United
2nd Leg: Manchester United ?-? Real Madrid

Hope you enjoyed the fourth part of my Champions League preview featured on FutbolPulse! You can view my blog at thefootballsupplement.wordpress.com and follow me on twitter @TFSupplement.

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Champions League Round of 16 Preview: Part 3

I hope you all enjoyed parts one and two of my Champions League previews. As promised, here’s part 3:

AC Milan vs. Barcelona

Lionel Messi and Jordi AlbaMilan have not been enjoying domestic football this year, only racking up 37 points in 22 games as they currently lie at a disappointing fifth place. Barcelona on the other hand seem to be running away with the league, with an impressive 58 points (15 adrift of Real Madrid) and a scary goal difference of 47. The La Liga title looks set to be heading to Catalonia.

This is not the first time these clubs have met in Europe. In fact, they will be very familiar with one other having played against each other on five separate occasions in only two years. Milan failed to beat Barcelona in all five games, managing only two draws. Will this statistic prove to motivate AC Milan, or will it create a sense of nervousness? But only time can answer that question.

Key players

I see Stephan El Shaarawy, or better  known to his fans as Il Faraone (The Pharoah), as AC Milan’s key player.  El Shaarawy has made a name for himself in Italy. In this current season, he has been a part of 18 goals, having scored 15 and assisting 3. El Shaarawy will be a relatively unknown threat to Barca due to his young age. If  he can turn up for Milan in such a vital game, I believe he will be a handful for the Barcelona defense.

But does Barcelona’s key man really need an introduction? Lionel Messi has continued to stun spectators with his talent and abilities. Breaking many records year after year, he still continues to amaze. Having scored 33 goals already in La Liga, surely no player can stop him (and lets not forget Barca have Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas and co. Unlucky Milan).

Prediction

Barcelona will advance, no doubt about it. Perhaps a nervy game leading to a draw at the San Siro will occur, but Barca are just too good to not advance in to the quarter finals. AC Milan will be praying to the football Gods (as did Chelsea!).

1st Leg: AC Milan 1-2 Barcelona
2nd Leg: Barcelona 3-1 AC Milan

Valencia vs. Paris Saint-Germain

Zlatan IbrahimovicArguably the quietest of ties. Yes, perhaps the other more extravagant fixtures have over shadowed this tie, but do not be mistaken, this game has the makings to be one of the most exciting.

Valencia have not been enjoying the best of years in La Liga. With only 33 points in 21 games, the Valencia of today seem a far distance from the consecutive Champions League runners up  in the 1999/00 and 2000/01 seasons.

PSG on the other hand have been enjoying their best run of form since 1994! The affluent Parisian club have asserted their financial dominance in Europe with the mega money signings of Ibrahimovic and Lucas Moura. They certainly have the quality to go far in this tournament.

Key Players

Ibrahimovic, the man, the myth, the verb? (Yes, ‘To Zlatan’ is a recognized verb in Sweden). Ibra has been relishing his time in France, having scored 19 goals in 19 games! He hasn’t lost his eye for a goal has he? Valencia will most certainly have to nullify the threat Zlatan imposes.

Meanwhile, Valencia have an attacking threat of their own. Roberto Soldado has been the key man for Valencia, stacking up 11 goals already this season. For Valencia to have any chance of progressing, Soldado has to rise to the occasion.

Prediction

PSG are too hot to handle at the minute, and the pace, skill, and power they posses are far too much for Valencia to handle. I’m going to predict a win in both legs for Paris Saint-Germain.

1st Leg: Valencia 0-1 Paris Saint-Germain
2nd Leg: Paris Saint-Germain 3-1 Valencia

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Champions League Round of 16 Preview: Part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Champions League Round of 16 will be filled with 8 dramatic and exciting fixtures that I can’t wait to watch. Here is part 2 of my Champions League previews;

Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich

Jack WilshereBayern Munich sorely lost out on the Champions League trophy last year. Conceding late goals in a cup final can never be pleasing, especially if it’s happened twice already! Bayern will obviously go out with the intent to brush Arsenal out of the way and advance to the next round. This point will be even more reinforced as it will be Bayern boss, Jupp Heynckes’, last year in charge of the four-time European Champions. He will most definitely be looking to go out with a bang.

With this in mind, will Arsenal be able to hold off the likes of Schweinsteiger, Ribery, and Mario Mandzukic?

Arsenal has quality, yes, but does the team possess the winning mentality it once had in the past. Arsenal can beat Bayern, but their top players will have to perform. If the likes of Wilshere, Walcott and Podolski (playing against a previous club) can lead by example, they can do it.

Key players

This may come as a surprise to you, but I see Bayern’s main threat coming from Phillip Lahm. Lahm has excellent composure and can take players on with ease down the flanks. He will certainly be attacking, the main threat being his deadly balls into the box. Mandzukic will have a field day in the air if Lahm isn’t stopped.

Arsenal’s main threat has to be Jack Wilshere, no doubt about it. Even at such an adolescent age, Wilshere is already showing signs that he can be a leader and carry his team through the storms of hard battled games. If Wilshere can maintain focus, Arsenal will have a big chance of advancing to the next round.

Prediction

I’m going for an Arsenal win at home and a Bayern win at the Allainz. I can see this tie going to extra time, but I’m afraid Bayern Munich will come out on top. Sorry Arsenal.

1st Leg: Arsenal 3-1 Bayern Munich
2nd Leg: Bayern Munich* 3-1 Arsenal (4-1 AET)

Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Borussia Dortmund

Marco Reus and Mario GotzeBorussia Dortmund’s league form has dramatically dropped since last year. With losses to rivals Schalke and Bayern, and with a 12 point gap separating the two German Giants, it seems the title is slowly slipping away. Therefore I believe the ‘group of death’ champions will be looking for a positive cup run to soften the hurt of the long-gone title race.

In contrast to Dortmund, Shakhtar have been enjoying their time in the Ukraine Premier League. With a 13 point gap with second-placed Dnipro, Shakhtar Donetsk look set to win their eighth title in the Ukraine.

Key players

Dortmund’s attacking approach to the Champions League has often gained them praise. I mean, why wouldn’t they attack with the forwards they have? That’s why I believe Dortmund’s main threat will come from the Reus, Gotze and Lewandowski trio. Having scored 25 goals in Germany between the three already, I see them as the main threat to Shakhtar’s chances of advancement.

This man needs no introduction to the threat he imposes. With interest from many top teams such as Tottenham and Arsenal, he will most definitely become a big deal in world football. That player is none other than Willian Borges Da Silva, or Willian to many.

With two goals against European champions Chelsea, the threat he poses to Dortmund will be duly noted by their coach, Jurgen Klopp.

Prediction

I believe Dortmund have far too much attacking quality for Shakhtar to withstand. That’s why I am going for a Dortmund win in both ties.

1st Leg: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Borussia Dortmund
2nd Leg: Borussia Dortmund 2-0 Shakhtar Donetsk

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Champions League Round of 16 Preview: Part 1

February, the month of Valentines Day. For many, it is. But not for football fans. For football fans, the month of February is a month of football. The month of the Champions League. And what a month we have waiting.

December 20th in Nyon, Switzerland saw a whole host of mesmerizing fixtures being pulled out of the hat. Such fixtures included Arsenal vs. Bayern, Milan vs. Barca, and of course, Manchester United vs. Real Madrid. Here’s a preview of what’s to come;

Galatasaray vs. Schalke 04

Klaas Jan HuntelaarSchalke will be looking to maintain their impressive away form in the Cup, having won at Arsenal and Olympiacos before Christmas, which ultimately kept them on course to win Group B. Having said that, away form goes out of the window when playing at Turkish giants Galatasaray.

Jens Keller (Schalke coach having replaced Huub Stevens in December) will be looking for a positive result in his Champions League debut. If Schalke do manage to get an away goal and perhaps scrape a draw or narrow win, I’d predict them to win comfortably at the reverse fixture in Gelsenkirchen on March 12th.

Key players

Obviously, everybody knows the danger that Dutch international, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, poses to any team he plays. Having scored an impressive 47 goals in 52 appearances last year, he is a noticeable threat in the box. Galatasaray coach Fatih Terim will be looking how to nullify such a strong force.

However, Galatasaray have an attacking threat of their own. Turkish international Burak Yilmaz achieved an impressive scoring record of his own whilst playing for his former club, Trabzonspor, scoring 55 goals in only 74 games. Not bad considering Galatasaray only paid €5 million.

Prediction

I believe that Schalke have the quality to advance into the next round. I predict a draw in the first leg and a Schalke win in the second.

1st Leg: Galatasaray 1-1 Schalke 04
2nd Leg: Schalke 04 2-0 Galatasaray

Celtic vs. Juventus

Andrea PirloThe last time these two clubs met was in a Champions League group game in 2001/02, which featured Celtic manager, Neil Lennon, on the pitch. Neil Lennon played in both matches, with Celtic losing by 3 goals to 2 in Turin after a controversial penalty was awarded in the dying minutes. The return leg featured a wonder goal from Celtic striker, Chris Sutton, but it also (sadly for the Celtic fans) featured a finishing master class from the one and only, David Trezeguet. Celtic won the game 4-3, meaning Juventus would progress into the next round, leaving Celtic behind.

Juventus have been unstoppable so far this season, racking up 48 points in 21 games, with an impressive goal difference of 31. Celtic have been equally impressive, accumulating 49 points in just 23 games with similar goal difference of 32. Both sides match each other on paper, but will Celtic be able to upset the odds and surpass the Italian giants?

Key players

Celtic have been known for their physicality within the midfield, and have been able to bully opponents in the center of the park. That’s why I see Victor Wanyama as the key player for Celtic in this fixture. Wanyama has the brute strength and tackling brain to stop the heart beat of Juventus. That heart beat being none other than Andrea Pirlo. If Wanyama can stop the circulation, the Juventus infrastructure may collapse.

Juventus also have a brute in the midfield, who, if played in the correct position, can intercept Wanyama’s attempt to ‘bully’ Andrea Pirlo. That player is the Chilean International, Arturo Vidal. He has strength and speed equal to those of Wanyama’s, if not better. I expect a thrilling battle in the middle of the park in both ties.

Prediction

I predict that Juventus will advance, with wins in both matches. However, they will not be comfortable wins, as we all know of Celtic’s resilience in the face of giants.

1st Leg: Celtic 1-2 Juventus
2nd Leg: Juventus 3-1 Celtic

I hope you enjoyed my article on FutbolPulse! Check out my football blog futboltotalTF and follow me on twitter @futboltotalTF.