Feb 18, 2008

Fearless Forecast, Revisited: UEFA Champions League Round Of 16

When the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 pairings were drawn, this site offered a preliminary forecast, with a promise to revisit the matter closer to kick off. That time is now. Our main guide is still the Top 25 ranking of the world's soccer clubs, (the number in parentheses is the team's corresponding ranking this week; the first leg's home teams are listed first):

Liverpool (unranked) vs. Inter Milan (1)
Tuesday, 2:30pm EST (ESPN2)
Most audiences in the U.S. will get this one tomorrow. A shame, because it's sure to be a blowout. Inter have better players at virtually every position, with Fernando Torres really the only Red capable of starting for the Milan side. To make matters worse, Reds just suffered a new low this weekend, when they lost at home to Barnsley in the FA Cup. Roberto Mancini's side have not lost to anybody since Sept. 19. Only the most delusional Scouser would give Reds any realistic chance of winning this one. And yet, many apparently still do. Pity the fools...

Roma (7) vs. Real Madrid (4)
Tuesday, 2:45pm EST (ESPN Digital, 360)
Without a question the most enticing match-up of the Round of 16. This one could have been the final. Alas, the two teams face each other now, with their European seasons on the brink. Real are the better side, though not by much. In Roma's favor is the fact that the Spaniards have hit a run of poor form: losses in two of their last three and four of their last eight games. Of course Roma has lost two of their last three as well. Expect Real to take it.

Schalke (unranked) vs. Porto (6)
Tuesday, 2:45pm EST (Setanta Premium)
Porto are having a solid season but will be without Portuguese international defender Jose Bosingwa, who picked up an injury in the recent friendly with Italy. The Dragons have dominated the bwinLIGA nearly at will and are likely to win it again this year, with a 10 point lead over second-placed Benfica. Their 4-1 loss at Anfield earlier this season is a greater cause for concern, though if memory serves it was a pretty even game and Reds scored most of their goals in the final minutes after Porto had thrown everybody forward into the attack. And Schalke? Fifth in the Bundesliga, they have nevertheless booked impressive wins recently over arch rivals Dortmund and VfB Stuttgart and also tied Bayern Munich on the road (but that was early in the season). Other than that their claim to fame is that they managed scoreless ties, at home, to Chelsea and Valencia in the group stage. So I'd be surprised to see the Germans take this one. Porto's the call.

Olympiakos (12) vs. Chelsea (9)
Tuesday, 2:45pm EST (Setanta Sports)
Judging by their positions in the Top 25, this one stands to be close. Olympiakos have been very solid and came out of a tough group with Lazio, Werder Bremen and Real Madrid. So they'll give the Blues a run for their money. But that's all. With John Terry and Didier Drogba expected back for this one, a resurgent Michael Ballack and Nicolas Anelka even eligible, the Greeks will be overwhelmed with the firepower. Chelsea to take it.

Arsenal (3) vs. AC Milan (11)
Wednesday, 2:30pm EST (ESPN2)
Arsene Wenger's side have undoubtedly had a better season than the rossoneri, and are higher placed in the Top 25, but I expect a few variables will lead to their downfall: 1) Jens Lehmann, whose best days are clearly behind him, 2) Kaka, the best player in the world at present, 3) Pato, who is healthy and who has made the bulwark defenses of Serie A look like the New York Red Bulls back line last season (okay maybe not that bad, but you catch my drift) and 4) Experience, which Milan has not least of which thanks to their world club cup title from December. Also, with the first game at Emirates, Milan can sit back and let Gunners come at them, which is not an optimal situation of Wenger. It also plays into Milan's strengths. On second thought, this one may not even be close.

Lyon (16) vs. Man. Utd (2)
Wednesday, 2:45pm EST (Setanta Sports)
The French side have had a mediocre season by their high standards, struggling to take first place in Ligue Un (which they now hold by a single point) and to advance out of the group stage of the Champions League. Man U. have lost some games they shouldn't have, which has cost them their lead in the Premiership, but have showed their class against top competition. I think you know where I'm going with this: Au revoir, Lyon.

Celtic (25) vs. Barcelona (5)
Wednesday, 2:45pm EST (ESPN Digital, 360)
Celtic are a nice team with several things to recommend of themselves, but Barca are world class. Yes they've had their issues this season, but are still second in the Spanish league and within shouting distance of their hated rivals from the capital city. A loss here would be nothing short of a calamity for the Catalans, and the worst thing to happen to Barcelona since Sept. 11--Sept. 11, 1714. I exaggerate a bit, but the point is, they won't let it happen. Barca to advance.

Fenerbahce (10) vs. Seville (unranked)
Wednesday, 2:45pm EST (no legal TV broadcast in the U.S.)
This one could throw off my whole ranking system. Fener enjoy their current spot by virtue of qualifying out of a highly decent Champions League group (Inter, PSV Eindhoven and CSKA Moscow), by being the only team in the world to beat Inter this season (it happened Sept. 19 on a goal by Deivid, one of several Brazilians with the Istanbul side--not including its coach, quite possibly the most famous Brazilian not named Pele or Lula) and by hanging tough in the Turkcell Liga, where they trail Galatasaray by a single point. Also, Fenerbahce are unbeaten at home this season and have in fact only dropped points twice at the Sukru Saracoglu; Sept. 1 in a 1-1 tie with Caykur Rizespor and Jan. 13 in a 2-2 draw with Istanbul BB. So they're perfect in European competition. Sevilla on the other hand have had a traumatic season, with the Antonio Puerta tragedy and Juande Ramos' defection to White Hart Lane, but have recently rediscovered their form, tieing Barca three times in recent weeks (twice in Copa del Rey play). Still, I think Fener are better and will justify their high ranking by advancing.

Photo taken from football.co.uk without permission

1 comment:

  1. For those of you interested in legal broadband broadcasts of the games, the Chelsea, Porto, Manchester United and Sevilla games will all be broadcast PPV (free for annual subscribers) on Setanta Broadband. The other games will be broadcast on ESPN 360.