The biggest club competition, the UEFA Champions League returned with its usual intrigues; but more importantly superb display of football artistry was showcased. UEFA has through its desire to expand it television revenue have succeeded in enlarging our appetite by extending the second leg from the first leg by 3 weeks as against 2 weeks; this ensures that football fans like you and I are able to absorb the action on our TV screens to the fullest.
With the second set of games approaching; I will review the first set of games especially the Real Madrid v Manchester United match up and then preview the remaining fixtures in the first knockout round of the UCL.
Real Madrid V Manchester United
A lot had been made about Cristano Ronaldo facing his former club and mentor; it did leave up to expectation as both teams had contrasting approaches to the game. United had at some point shown their hand at how they would approach the match particularly with the Spurs game at White Hart Lane. United sat quite deep and decided to use the pace that surprise inclusion Danny Welbeck possessed; Rooney on the other hand seemed quite confused at what his exact role was; station on the right at some point to help out Rafael and later occupying a deep play making role to release United on the break. Manchester United had the better chances and should have left the Bernabeu with an away win to take to the March 5th second leg at Old Trafford. Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid seemed to run out of ideas in my opinion as they found it difficult to break a resilient United Midfield and defense which restricted them to shots from outside the box and of course they had an inspired David De Gea to contend with. In summary, Ronaldo will continue to be a major concern as he looks forward to his return to Old Trafford; the game will be a lot more open and Real are sure to attack as they’d be more open spaces to run into. This tie would go to the last minute and is pretty difficult to call; but I kinda expect United to complete the job at Old Trafford.
Valencia V PSG
PSG take a 2-1 advantage to the Parc D’ Prince in 3 weeks time, but it could have been more with the Parisians dominating the first 60minutes with Lucas Moura looking very lively in his Champions League debut ; he’s combination with Lavezzi and Pastore was a joy to watch on the night, however; PSG let Valencia back into the tie via some sloppy play and Zlatan’s Red Card which gives this tie a completely different dimension as he will miss the return leg in Paris and this does give Valencia a chance back into the tie. PSG have grown in leaps and bounds as the season as progressed and with the inclusion of Lucas Moura and David Beckham to their Squad they now possess some extra options to their weaponry. I expect PSG to complete the job in Paris quite comfortably.
Celtic V Juventus
From the introduction of the line up, it was clear that Celtic had clearly shot themselves in the foot; particularly the inclusion of Efe Ambrose in the starting line up; absolutely suicidal by Neil Lennon. Obviously Ambrose must have been suffering from Jet lag as the errors he made were so glaring and quite unfortunate. This is not to take anything away from the brilliant Italian job executed by Juventus and Antonio Conte; they were very well organised, got an early goal, then sat back and let Celtic come at them all through they came and caught them on the break to finish easily with two additional goals; Catenaccio was reborn with that performance, now the old lady can look forward to the next round with consummate ease.
Shakhtar Donetsk v Borussia Dortmund
I reckon its about time the Ukraine and Russian Football federation made some adjustments to their league calendar putting into consideration the European Campaigns of some of their top clubs to give them any chance of making it past the Quarter Final rounds. This is because by the time the knock out rounds of Europe’s elite competitions come around teams in this region are on break whilst the league season in main stream Europe is in full swing, this is a big disadvantage for them.
To the game itself; Shakhtar obviously missed the artistry of Willian who they had sold to Anzhi in the January window, but showed that they could still cope with out him and rumped into a quick lead despite not having any serious football for over a month or so. Dortmund on the other hand were reeling from their home humiliation by Hamburg at the weekend, needed to bounce back which they did by nicking a late equaliser from Mats Hummels. Shakhtar have it all to do when they visit the Signal Park for the second leg as Dortmund have to be clear favorites to progress now.
Preview of the remaining games
Milan v Barcelona
Milan are all of a sudden resurgent, remember earlier in the season when Milan were in the bottom half of the table and in all sorts of trouble, but in El Sharawy they have a player who at the early part of the season decided to carry the team on its back and claim victory from almost hopeless situation. Currently, the Milan side is a different proposition from the early part of the season and confidence is very high; credit to Maximo Allegri as he has been able to find the ideal playing pattern for the team, coupled with the January signing of Mario Ballotelli (unfortunately he is cup tied for the champions league). Milan definitely have it all to do as Barcelona are a team in form and more or less have the La Liga title in the bag; i expect Milan to employ some unorthodox antics to sway the first leg as they have done before; they could for instance manipulate the pitch as they did against Arsenal at last season’s first knock out round. It would not be that straight forward for Barcelona but the weapons they possess would be too much for this Milan team.
Arsenal v Bayern Munich
The whole world would be wondering how exactly the Gunners will bounce back from their elimination from the FA Cup especially with the Bavarians being the next visitors to the Emirates. Bayern have won the last six games and look very comfortable at the top of the Bundesliga table with only one loss in 22 games and a very frugal 7 goals conceded thus far. Bayern have the best attack and defense in Germany and have different varying weapons in their Arsenal that will hurt the Gunners from all over the pitch. Outside the La Liga top two; Bayern have to be considered as the third favorites, more so they would still be kicking themselves for letting home advantage slip during last season’s final.
As we all know, stranger things have happened in world football and the Gunners may just turn the tide around and deliver an A+ performance against the Bavarians. It would be tough as it’s still a mystery how Arsenal would cope with the wingers of Bayern as their full backs have had a tough season; moreover Arsenal do not have any match winners in their squad unlike Bayern who have this in abundance all over their squad.
FC Porto V Malaga
Porto have shown that there’s life after Hulk and are undefeated along with Benfica in the Portuguese League conceding only 9 goals in 19 games thus far with 47 goals scored; quite impressive stats; but they come against a Malaga side that have more or less over achieved thus far this season and really play with the attitude of having absolutely nothing to lose. No one would have thought, Malaga would qualify top of a group that had mighty AC Milan especially due to the fact that they had to sell their best players from last season; Santi Carzola and Salomon Rincon coupled with the financial problems they were going through and inability to pay the salaries of their players. This has been a season of discovery for Malaga and Pellegrini has shown that he still has a lot to offer despite his dismissal from Real Madrid three season ago and also the impending UEFA Financial ban hanging over their head. This would probably be the best game of the round, why? Both teams will play without any inhibitions and would be quite an open attractive game; I am particularly looking forward to this game and strongly believe Malaga might just progress from this tie because they still hold the unknown quantity tag despite the progress they have made this season; Porto’s domestic success may just be their Achilles heel especially as they have won their last 6 matches; it would be the battle of the creative midfielders Isco v Moutinho.
Galatasaray v Schalke O4
Galatasaray have kind of showed their hand to the whole of Europe of their strong desire to be a force in this year’s Champions League with the signing of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder. If all the defenders had thought they’d seen or heard the last of the menacing Ivorien Striker, they thought wrong has he announced himself back to main stream Europe with a goal and assist in his debut for Galatasary. Schalke on the other hand lost Lewis Holtby to Tottenham in the January window and already he is showing what a player he is in the English Premiership, so definitely Schalke will miss him. Both teams have an identical record in their last 6 games with 3 wins for Galatasaray and two for Schalke in the same period. Gala’s reinforcements definitely give them the edge as the quality they have signed obviously make them a much better team from the one we say during the group stage, based on the strength of this I will lean towards Galatasaray to progress.
We’ve got some fantastic games on the cards once again and i hope this time i won’t have egg on my face with all these my predictions.
Let the games continue.
Tactics IQ Limited
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