Dec 19, 2008

Fearless Forecast: Champions League Round of 16

Seeing how well we did with our predictions last year, we figured we owed it to our loyal readership to take another stab at it this season. We will follow the same, simple formula that worked so well for us in the past (p.s. if you haven't noticed by now, these are sarcastic comments): the team's standing in our Top 25 ranking of the world's best soccer clubs!

Speaking of fearless forecasts, might as well get this bit of "we told you so" out of the way: yesterday we told you to expect same vast dichotomies in the Round of 16 match ups. Well, we were right. Ok, now on to the crux of the matter. The predictions:

Barcelona (Top 25 rank at time of this writing: 1) vs. Olympique Lyonnais (17)
Obviously, Barcelona should win this easily. Lyon are having a pretty rough time of it this season (by their own high standards at least). Where in past seasons the French club might have cakewalked their way to the domestic championship, this year they appear to have a battle on their hands. In their only tests with a top 10 club, they managed one point from two encounters with Bayern Munich. Barca, meanwhile, are playing inspired ball; the only blemishes on the club's 2008 season to date were a loss on opening day of the Spanish liga and one in a meaningless game with Shakthar Donetsk on the last day of the CL group stage. Barca's the pick.

Inter Milan (2) vs. Man United (7)
This looks to be the most anticipated of the eight match ups. Inter Milan are off to the races in Serie A again, leading the league by a solid six point margin over Juventus. Their European campaign has been a little more suspect (losing at home to Panathinaikos) which is why they ended up in second place in the group, thus enabling this match up to take place. But Man United have not impressed on the European stage either. Their Champions League group turned out to be one of the weakest of the bunch, yet Man U. still couldn't beat Villareal, who finished second in the group. In fact, Red Devils' record against top competition in general has been suspect. They lost to Liverpool and Arsenal while managing a draw at Chelsea. Their only victory against anybody who's ever been in the Top 25 came against Celtic (who, it turns out, probably didn't have any business being in the Top 25 to begin with). This one could go either way but we expect Man United to step up for the challenge. So we're going to go against our own infinite wisdom here (as encapsulated in the Top 25) and pick Red Devils to prevail. It will be close though.

Liverpool (3) vs. Real Madrid (13)
The Spanish champions have struggled this year, which is why they find themselves in the second half of the Top 25. Liverpool, meanwhile, have shined, nowhere more so than in the Oct. 26 victory at Stamford Bridge. Real could make it interesting, but expect Reds to prevail. Liverpool it is.

Juventus (4) versus Chelsea (6)

Another match up between top 10 teams that is sure to get tons of ink. And another one that is very tough to pick. Juventus have done well, particularly in Italy where they are second. They also beat Real Madrid twice in their CL group. Chelsea, meanwhile, have not impressed. They have a terrible record against top competition, losing all games against Top 25s (Liverpool, Man U and Arsenal. They also got beat by Roma but not when they were Top 25). We're going with the Italian side here. Inter's the pick.

Bayern Munich (5) vs. Sporting Lisbon (15)
This one should be easy for Bayern, who are surely glad they won their group now (as opposed to how they'd feel if they had drawn the likes of Inter Milan). Sporting have done very little to impress anybody, ourselves included. They probably don't deserve to be in the Top 25. And once they lose this match up, they won't be. Bayern will take this, probably with ease.

AS Roma (8) versus Arsenal (10)
This match-up could make or break the season of either club, both of whom have struggled domestically. Roma were at one point relegation fodder but have since rebounded to break into mid-table. Arse have been knocked out of the "Big Four" but has somehow impressed against top competition (victories over Man United and Chelsea). Arsene Wenger's kids (average age is what, 22?) meet their maker here. AS Roma to take it.

Atletico Madrid (11) vs. Porto (unranked)

If this were a college football (American football) match-up it would be the Toilet Bowl. Atletico came into the season with so much promise but have barely managed to hang around the European spots in La Liga. They have not beaten any quality competition. And no, that won't change when they put Porto to the sword. The Portuguese champions are a shadow of their former selves, hanging around in sixth place in Liga Sagres. Atletico will win this. What they do from there depends on how they find their form in the season's second half (they have the potential to go very far and remember this club features many new faces, not all of whom have meshed with the system yet).

Villareal (12) vs. Panathinaikos (16)

Actually check that: maybe this is the Toilet Bowl? Although Panathinaikos did win their group and Villareal have held their own against Top 25 competition. This one could go either way but we think Villareal have too much firepower. The yellow submarine is the pick.

So there you have it, folks. What do you think of our fearless forecast? Sound off below. We may even pretend to listen.

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