Lyon versus Manchester United
The French Champions take on their English counterparts in an intriguing encounter. The key battle will be between Benzema and Vidic and Ferdinand, and the Frenchman, who has the look of a young Ronaldo, has been tearing up the French league, leading the scoring charts. His pace, skill and strength were clearly evident on the defeat of Rangers at Ibrox, with Benzema scoring twice. At the other end, Manchester United will have practically a full squad available, with naturally the main threat coming from Cristiano Ronaldo and a on-form Rooney. The two attacking sides should yield a number of goals, with the previous meeting between the two causing a 4-3 score-line. Will Man United’s defensive strength overcome the Lyon attack?
Prediction: First leg: 2-1; Second leg: 3-1 (Man United progress)
Roma versus Real Madrid
Roma have been widely acclaimed for their free-flowing football, claiming it to be the closest modern reincarnation of Rinus Michel’s Ajax. Playing Totti in a false striker role and clever movement off the ball could cause problems to a back-line that appears to have struggled in recent games, despite the continued heroics of Casillas. The same issue plagues Roma, who will face the most clinical striker in Spain last year, a revitalised Raul and the flair of Robinho, and a defence comprising of Doni should not hold the clean sheet in either game. This appears to be the game for the purists and it should not fail to excite.
Prediction: First leg: 2-2; Second leg: 1-0 (Real Madrid progress)
Celtic versus Barcelona
Celtic Park is a mysterious place. The reigning European champions have come here and lost. The English Champions have lost there too. The crowd has such a force on the players that even the greats can freeze upon encountering such noise. The fantastic four of Barcelona has largely failed as a nickname by the fans, with perhaps only Messi performing to the heights expected. The introduction of two precocious youngsters in Bojan Krkic and Giovani Dos Santos has highlighted a bright future. The return of Yaya Toure from the African Cup of Nations has given defensive solidity. Yet the side have come to rely on Messi and a lack of variety in their play could prove costly.
Prediction: First leg: 1-0; Second leg: 3-0 (Barcelona progress)
Liverpool versus Inter Milan
Letting Havant and Waterlooville lead twice in the FA Cup? Losing to Barnsley at Anfield in the very competition? This side of Liverpool is very rarely seen. Off the field matters concerning ownership and managerial distress has caused a terrible run of form. Contrast that to the ultra-consistent Inter Milan. Still unbeaten in the league, crippled by injury, the strength of the side is clearly evident. What Massimo Moratti wanted is finally coming to place. The influential Ibrahimovic returns to the scene of a defeat two years ago with Juve, and will be seeking revenge. But Liverpool is a different creature in European competition. This now is their only chance of a trophy against a side prone to collapsing at vital moments in a season, but change is common in football as Inter won the Scudetto for the first time since 1989, can they win a European Cup since the days of Sandro Mazzola?
Prediction: First leg: 2-2; Second leg: 2-0 (Inter Milan progress)
Arsenal versus AC Milan
A match billed as the new generation against the old guard. The Milanese have been revived by the youthful exuberance of one Alexandre Pato. While both sides have been debilitated by injuries, something close to their full sides will encounter one another. The midfield tussles between Flamini and Fabregas against the cunning of Pirlo and aggression of Gattuso. The pace of the game will be vital, with a high tempo favouring the Gunners, yet if the Rossoneri take charge as they did last year in the semi-final, few teams can cope with such an attacking force. And we have not even mentioned Kaka yet.
Prediction: First leg: 2-1; Second leg: 0-0 (Arsenal progress)
Olympiakos versus Chelsea
Arguably the most one-sided tie of the round, with an Olympiakos side that only this year managed to win away after 31 attempts, with the reward being a tie with the Blues. Chelsea’s strength in depth will allow them to prevail with relative ease. The former Premiership presence in the Greek side is from Lua-Lua. With Terry and Lampard back in the side, a win should be a formality on paper, yet the often laborious style of Chelsea will not make this an aesthetically pleasing game despite the talent on offer.
Prediction: First leg: 1-2; Second leg: 3-0 (Chelsea progress)
Fenerbahçe versus Sevilla
The Turkish side caused the shocks of the first round of group games, in dominating Inter, resulting in a 1-0 score-line, that was not a true reflection of what took place. Led by Brazilian legend Zico, they play with a sense of flair embodied in the Brazilian side of the 80s. Led by Japan’s Brazil-born playmaker Alex, and the strongest (but not always accurate) left foot in the modern game in Roberto Carlos, this promises to be a game of aggressive, attacking football. Sevilla, may have lost Juande Ramos, but have the clinical, if volatile Fabiano, and on of the best right wing combinations in Europe in Navas and Alves. A side rejoined by its Africans and with the pace and industry of Capel on the right will want to make up for their mediocre league position. This could prove to be a classic game.
Prediction: First leg: 3-1; Second leg: 3-0 (Sevilla progress)
Schalke 04 versus Porto FC
The least mentioned game in the whole round sees Mirko Slomka’s side take on Porto in an intriguing clash, with the attacking prowess of Kuranyi up front and Pander and Rafinha providing an attacking outlet down the flanks. A side which has always challenged for titles but rarely succeeded will face the most successful Portuguese side, in terms of titles won. Naturally with the threat of Quaresma, more influential will be the game of Lucho Gonzalez, and the finishing of Lisandro Lopez. The stronger defence of Porto should prevail but this Schalke could prove to be a strong underdog.
Prediction: First leg: 1-1; Second leg: 1-1 (Porto progress on penalties)