The Champions League resumes this week and there are some great fixtures that are sure to entertain fans of European. I will be breaking down 5 of these ties and giving my opinion as to what we might expect to see in these ties. For the other 3 ties I will give a short opinion on who should advance.
Real Madrid V Manchester United
This is surely the tie of the round, not only because it is probably the hardest tie to predict, but this fixture has a number of sub-plots that make for interesting viewing.
This tie features two of world football’s elite – Manchester United seem to be on the way to winning the Premier league at a canter, while Real Madrid are lurched in an underwhelming 3rd place in La Liga. This match also features Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford for the first time and the resumption of Ferguson V Mourinho – two managers who have their claim to being the best manager in the world and were engulfed in a pulsating rivalry when Jose Mourinho was manager of Chelsea.
As for the tie itself – Real Madrid head in as slight favourites despite their relatively poor domestic form. With that being said, this tie will be settled by fine margins and there are many key battles which will shape which way this tie goes. The tie will boil down to which team is able to handle the other’s strikeforce better. United have Rooney and Van Persie and Madrid have Ronaldo and Benzema – which ever team is able to handle these attacking threats better will be victorious in my opinion. The Ferguson-Mourinho battle will come down to how they go about dealing with each other tactically. United will look to double up on Ronaldo and look to flood the midfield to try to stop Madrid having the space to get good service to Ronaldo and Benzema. Real Madrid will rely on Xabi Alonso to anchor their midfield and I believe that Alonso is a very key player for them as without him their midfield looks very vulnerable and United will seek to exploit that.
Over recent years, Madrid have been vulnerable at the back, however in the last few months we have seen the emergence of Varane at centre half and he is forming a decent partnership with Ramos so I feel they are a lot stronger down the middle. It would not surprise me to see Ferguson try to get the ball wide as quickly as possible and try to attack Madrid down the flanks with the pace of Valencia and Young with Evra and Rafael overlapping. Mourinho will likely be weary of this and select a defensive formation to deal with the wide threat.
Opinion – I wouldn’t be surprised to see United go and get a result at the Bernebau on Wednesday but think Madrid will have too much on the counter attack at Old Trafford with Ronaldo being too hot to handle. I think it will be a draw in Madrid and Madrid will turn it around winning at Old Trafford – Madrid to go through on agg.
Ac Milan V Barcelona
Another pulsating tie is AC Milan V Barcelona. Two clubs with a very rich history go head to head in the last 16 and in this one it is hard to look past the Spanish giants. Barcelona have been in Imperious form this season and they should have too much quality for an AC Milan side that are struggling in 5th position in Serie A. The likes of Messi, Iniesta and Xavi should have too much for the Italians and I fully expect Barcelona to cruise to a comfortable two-leg victory. The hope for Milan lies with the fact that Barcelona always seem to concede, so if they can score early and defend like trojans they may cause an upset. Opinion – Barcelona to go through comfortably on agg.
Celtic V Juventus
This tie is intriguing as it has the David V Goliath feel to it. Juventus should have too much quality for Celtic and I expect them to go far in this years competition, given their dominance of Italian Football recently, but you can never write Celtic off as their European record in front of a boisterous Park Head crowd is simply outstanding. On paper, Juve should walk this, but I have a feeling it will be tight, with Juve edging it at home in the second leg.
Opinion – I think Celtic will get a 0-0 at home as they are so tough in Europe in front of their own fans, but I think Juve will eventually break them down in Turin and earn a hard fought victory – Juve to go through on agg.
Arsenal V Bayern Munich
Five years ago, this would have been a mouthwatering tie. But Arsenal are not the force they once were. Bayern Munich are my dark horses to win the entire competition and they should be far too strong, as their team is made up of a large portion of the German National team. Arsenal have a pretty weak squad this year which is reflected by their league position of 5th. Arsenal’s best chance lies with Theo Walcott, but with Phillip Lahm in the Bayern squad, I expect Bayern to nullify this threat.
Opinion – I think Bayern Munich will end up comfortable winners as they put down a marker and let everyone take notice that they are a real threat for this years Champions League. – Bayern Munich to win on agg.
Valencia V PSG
PSG are a team on the up. they have made some astute signings and are a very strong squad. Ibrahimovic has been on fire this year and they really do have a potent strikeforce with Javier Pastore providing the creation in midfield. Valencia have enjoyed a decent season and are 5th in a very strong La Liga and did well to match Bayern Munich in the group stage. I think this will be a keenly contested tie.
Opinion – I expect this to be close but PSG should have just too much fire power for Valencia to handle. PSG on agg.
Galatasaray V Schalke 04 – Galatasaray on agg.
Porto V Malaga – Malaga on away goals
Shakhtar Donetsk V Dortmund – Dortmund on agg.