UEFA Champions League: A Quarterfinal Do-or-Die

The fate of three EPL squads will be decided, with at least one going through to the next round.

Chelsea vs. Fenerbahce (aggregate 1-2)

Fenerbahce is confident they can survive in England and move on to the semi-finals. With clutch players like Deivid and Alex, coach and former Brazilian star Zico has assembled himself a team full of Turkish work ethic, determination and Brazilian poise and vision. The blend often clashes, however, as it has in the domestic league since their 2-1 win over Chelsea in the first leg. They have still managed to get their results and now await the return of former Real Madrid fullback Roberto Carlos to help solidify the backline. Avram Grant is still positive in both race for the EPL and UCL Championship. I can’t see the Blues being forced out of this one. It’s going to take another out-of-their-mind game to survive an offensive onslaught at Stamford Bridge.

Prediction: 3-1 (Chelsea 3-2 on aggregate)

Liverpool vs. Arsenal (1-1 on aggregate)

One thing is for sure. This will not be a goal-less game. Between the two talismans – Gerrard and Fabregas – you have 11 goals in this competition alone. But if you’re talking momentum, Liverpool has the nod…not by much, though. In-house rumblings of discontent have managed to surface, while Arsenal has had to deal with a pretty sad run of form as of late. Liverpool has their 12th man at Anfield, while Arsenal has a playing style that lends itself to these kind of tense deciders. The difference will be with how Rafa Benitez decides to handle Arsenal’s torrid offense…will he sit back and build a fortress and try and steal a goal on the counter? Or will he let Gerrard, Torres, and Babel fight Arsenal fire with Liverpool’s own potent attack?

Prediction: 1-1 (aggregate 2-2, Liverpool wins 5-4 on penalties) 

 

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UEFA Champions League: Ronaldo and his “big head”, a 17 year old bails out Barca

Manchester United 2, AS Roma 0

It’s called ‘having a team’s number’. Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney made sure of that. The heart of the Red Devils scored the first away goal without the aid of his backheel but instead it was his head and it put one foot for Manchester United into the Champions League semi-finals. Roma was without their usual maestro Francesco Totti and it showed with a lack of definitive finishing – but he will be back next Wednesday for the return leg. A 2-0 defeat at home will mean all things will have to go Roma’s way at Old Trafford. United was not without their inconsistencies, however, as Roma dominated the run of play for the first 15 minutes only to curse themselves over missed opportunities and the superb acrobatics of Edwin Van der Sar. Roma has a knack of scoring away from home, having done so twice this competition so far, and they will be looking to exploit a possible gap in defense left open by an injured Nemanja Vidic. Oh – by the way – it was Ronaldo’s 36th goal of the season. Unreal. It prompted Roma’s midfielder David Pizarro to call Ronaldo a “big head”.

Barcelona 1, Schalke 04 0

17-year old Bojan Krkic grabbed a much-needed away goal early in the match and led Barca to a 1-0 win in Germany. Highlighted by physical play, Rafa Marquez and Puyol organized a stingy defense capable enough of keeping Schalke’s big men Altintop and Kuranyi away from Valdes’ net. Nothing went on target for the Germans, whereas Thierry Henry troubled a weak left side and supplied the winning square pass to Krkic (the first of only 4 chances throughout for Barca). Near the end, things got sloppy, the crowd became weary, and whistles were heard in an attempt to prod Schalke into action. No luck, Barca takes the away goal back to Nou Camp. With Krkic’s goal, he became the youngest player to score in Champions League history.

TODAY’s GAMES: Liverpool vs. Arsenal, Chelsea vs. Fenerbahce

Champions League Draw: Quarterfinals and Semifinals

I am sure you’ve already seen it but the quarterfinal draw looks like:

Manchester United v. AS Roma – can Roma avenge the 7-0 drubbing of last year? they did in the group stages

Barcelona v. Schalke 04 – as inconsistent as Barca has been as of late, I wouldn’t put a Schalke shocker out of order, Kevin Kuranyi likes clutch games

Chelsea v. Fenerbahce – another possible upset, but Chelsea will probably see the Turks off with no problem – Mateja Kezman might want to give his old club a lot of trouble though

Arsenal v. Liverpool – battle of the on-form strikers, Adebayor vs. Torres, I’d go with El Nino if I had to pick right now

Semifinal Draw

Manchester United/AS Roma vs. Barcelona/Schalke 04
Chelsea/Fenerbahce vs. Liverpool/Arsenal

Well, what do ya think? Will United breeze by Roma? Is Fenerbahce really an easy draw for Barcelona, especially with how they’ve been playing as of late? Who will come out on top in the Battle of Britain???

More UCL Predictions: Chelsea, AS Roma, and FC Porto

FC Porto vs. Schalke 04
(0-1)

Coveted winger Ricardo Quaresma has promised a win at the Dragao, but it is Schalke with the one goal lead. Porto will be heading into this with a bit of momentum as Schalke still in the race for the Bundesliga title has lost three consecutive league games. If Kevin Kuranyi can find an early goal on the counter, Schalke could do what they did in the first leg – defend. The German international’s lone goal in the last encounter was partly due to a Helton handling mistake, but with the way things have been going, Schalke is going to have to take whatever they can get.
Prediction: 2-0 (2-1 on aggregate, Porto)

Real Madrid vs. AS Roma
(1-2)

The biggest advantage Real has today is the fact that they managed an away goal in Rome during the first leg. They are home at the Bernabeu but Real’s time since the first leg 2-1 loss has been frustrating, eeking by a pesky Recreativo side last weekend, 3-2. Injuries have depleted Bernd Schuster’s squad selection prospects hurt him most on the backline with Sergio Ramos suspended, Christoph Metzelder. The midfield and forward corps could miss the Dutch trifecta of Arjen Robben (definitely missing), Ruud van Nistelrooy, and Wesley Sneijder. AS Roma travels to Spain with little to worry about injury-wise, but certainly a lot to play for.
Prediction: 1-1 (2-3 on aggregate, AS Roma)

Chelsea vs. Olympiakos
(0-0)

Chelsea’s 4-0 win over West Ham United this past weekend mixed with media reports of Chelsea players ready to abandon Avram Grant make it a ‘pull-it-together’ kind of match-up at Stamford Bridge. The Blues will have to strike early and often in order to put away that freak, 90+ minute away goal that puts the EPL title chasers away. The Greek champions managed to beat Lazio away from home, 2-1, and it’s likely the Blues know that.
Prediction: 2-0 (2-0 on aggregate Chelsea)

Yesterday’s Results

Arsenal 2, AC Milan 0 – Cesc Fabregas’ long-range take was nice but don’t you think it was a little more the questionable anticipation of Zeljko Kalac?

Barcelona 1, Celtic 0 – Xavi, CHI February Best XI pick (posted tonight), comes through again but their win is overshadowed by an injury to Lionel Messi

Manchester United 1, Lyon 0 – Lyon looked dangerous in the second half, but experience, some dude named Cristiano Ronaldo, and composure seemingly always trumps flashiness and youth in the end

Sevilla 3, Fenerbahce 2 (5-5 on aggregate, 3-2 Fenerbahce in penalties) – a great game for those spectators that were neutral, for a report on this see Ryan’s – a Sevilla faithful – post

Gimme those predictions: Champions League Round of 16, Leg 2

Tuesday, March 4th

AC Milan vs. Arsenal
                (0-0)

The Gunners could go either way – too young, inexperienced to win at San Siro or young enough to not care or allow intimidation to get in the way of beating Milan at home. Wait…but is anyone telling Alexandre Pato to be nervous?
Prediction: 1-0, AC Milan

Barcelona vs. Celtic
                (3-2)

According to the girlfriend studying abroad in Barcelona, the town is OVERRUN by Celtic jersey-wearing fans, but none of that should affect the outcome of this game. Messi and company won’t mess up a good thing, especially when they need to refocus after a disastrous 4-2 loss to Atletico Madrid this past weekend. Barca is angry and Celtic haven’t won a road match yet in this season’s competition. Doesn’t mean the Hoops won’t fight hard…
Prediction: 2-0 (5-2) Barcelona

Sevilla vs. Fenerbahce
              (2-3)

Sevilla has home advantage which means it’s a virtual guarantee that Luis Fabiano, Frederic Kanoute, Dani Alves will be at the top of their game. If by chance, Alex and Mateja Kezman can catch Drago and Alves sleeping and get an early one, Sevilla could fold under pressure. This is going to be another high scorer though.
Prediction: 3-1 (5-4) Sevilla.

Manchester United vs. Lyon
                     (1-1)

Do you think Sir Alex Ferguson really wants Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa for the $90 million Lyon is asking for? Or is this a mind game – Sir Alex trying to mess with the youngsters’ heads before a big game. It’s a little bit of both and if Cristiano Ronaldo and Rooney work their usual magic, even first team goalkeeper and long term injury returnee Gregory Coupet will have a lot of work to do. Nemanja Vidic is supposed to return as well to shore up the defense, one that wasn’t tested much against Fulham. For Lyon though, all it takes is a Juninho set piece – home or away – to put things in the right place for OL.
Prediction: 2-1 (3-2) Manchester United.

Chelsea’s Greek Deadlock Made Worse – Threats, Sanctions?

Avram Grant called Chelsea’s performance the “worst performance since he took charge”. Without Frank Lampard in the starting line-up, the midfield looked oddly quiet against Olympiakos who were content to sit back and not muster any attacks against the Blues defense. Didier Drogba looked dejected – not himself – probably due to a African Nations Cup hangover of sorts. Solomon Kalou and Frank Lampard came on with some time to go, but by then the urgency was gone. Chelsea players looked satisfied with an away draw – which against Arsenal/Real Madrid/etc. would have been sufficient. Regardless, the Blues return to Stamford Bridge next week hoping a whiff of home will wake them up. Other developments have done the ‘waking up’ however…

Apparently, Avram Grant received anti-Semitic death threats at Chelsea’s training ground yesterday in the form of a package, with a note, containing a powdered substance that was later deemed to be harmless. The note also threatened Avram’s wife, Tzofit. Grant didn’t open the package as he was in Athens…the training ground, however, was shut down for a while after a staff member opened the note and package saying, ‘You are a back-stabbing Jewish b******. When you open this letter you will die a very slow and painful death.’ Clearly, there aren’t any good words to say about this…

In lesser – but still pretty bad – news, Chelsea is also being ‘told on’ by Serie A’s Reggina. The Blues apparently approached and effectively ‘poached’ Reggina’s most coveted youth prospect, Vincenzo Camilleri – 15 years old. Camilleri was expected to sign for Reggina when he turned 16, but opted to skip a scheduled youth team match and head to London to solidify the deal with Chelsea. Reggina’s chairman Lillo Foti is mostly disturbed with the fact that Camilleri’s move not only robs them of a big talent, but also of all future benefits, etc. He then tries to deflect the economic impact by saying that it could also destroy a young kid’s career, being moved that young, put into a crop of youth prospects all of the same if not better talent levels, etc. This is something that has been going on for a long time and it seems everyone (normally the losing club’s chairman) has a bad taste for it, but yet nothing has been done. Even UEFA’s president Michael Platini denounces it, but nobody really made a fuss about Astrit Ajdarevic’s move from minnows Falkenbergs in Sweden to Liverpool (let alone the WHOLE Liverpool youth movement this past summer). Or Fluminense’s Brazilian ‘whiz-twins’ Fabio and Rafael moving to Manchester United (even though there is an agreement between Fluminense and United). How should these situations be dealt with? Higher premiums for youth players? How do the clubs get properly compensated for such an undetermined loss?

In better news, Paulo Ferreira signed a new 5-year pact with Chelsea, effectively tying the rest of the Portuguese defender’s career to Stamford Bridge.

The giants are now awake…, Liverpool over Inter 2-0 in CL Home Leg

Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt hit for two late goals – Gerrard’s individual effort being the most spectacular of the two – to surprise the crap out of Serie A leaders Inter Milan.

This also wasn’t an example of finishing what little chances the Reds had – Liverpool dominated Inter – 19 shots to 4, finally breaking through Inter’s 10-man ‘catenaccio’. Yep, 10-men – the Reds got some help from Marco Materazzi when he was sent off for a second yellow card offense in the 30th minute for tugging on El Nino’s jersey. Inter then had to play a whole hour a man dow, at Anfield, after one of the worst losses in Liverpool history (might not be THAT bad).

This will be a huge morale boost for Liverpool and it was led by none other than captain Steven Gerrard (would you expect otherwise?). Rafa also put in timely subs (Crouch, Pennant – assisted Kuijt’s goal) and allowed the fullbacks, Fabio Aurelio and Steve Finnan, the proper room to serve the dangerous ball in. The wings, as a whole, were wide open once Materazzi was out of the picture. Lucas Leiva put in a promising 60 minutes for a young midfielder still learning about European soccer.

It was Liverpool’s 100th European victory at Anfield and – rightly enough – it was Gerrard’s 50th goal at home.

Other scores:

Schalke 04 1, FC Porto 0Schalke uses Kevin Kuranyi’s early goal to head away to Porto a goal up
Olympiakos 0, Chelsea 0Chelsea holds off the Greek champions at home and is ready for a Stamford return
AS Roma 2, Real Madrid 1David Pizarro and Mancini overcome a decent looking Real Madrid side to secure the home win