Friday, December 28, 2007

Champions League Round of 16 Previews--Part 2

The night before Christmas Eve I gave you all my predictions for four of the eight Round of 16 ties in the Champions League and as promised, I have the last four today.

5. AC Roma vs. Real Madrid: This could make for a pretty entertaining two games as we'll see the current leaders of La Liga take on the current second-place side in Serie A. Madrid are 8-0-0 in the league at Santiago Bernabeu while Roma are 5-4-0 away from home, so something will have to give when Madrid host Roma on March 5. However, I think this tie will basically be decided in Rome during the first leg. If Roma can get a win and not concede a goal I think they can go to Madrid and, in true Italian fashion, sit 9 or 10 men behind the ball and grind out a draw. To me though, it's more likely that Real Madrid will score at the Stadio Olimpico and at the very worst, head home with a draw. Madrid aren't going to lose at home so the only chance Roma has to advance to the quarterfinals is to win the first leg and stave off the attacks in the second leg. Robinho and Ruud van Nistelrooy are tied for 3rd place in the top goalscorers category with four apiece. Here's what it comes down to: If Madrid can stifle Francesco Totti (9 goals in 10 Serie A matches), they'll move on and it's as simple as that.
Real Madrid-3, Roma-1

6. Arsenal vs. AC Milan: This is the most interesting tie of the round with the young bucks at Arsenal taking on the veteran old guard at Milan. Arsenal may or may not still be in serious contention to win the Premiership by the time the first leg at the Emirates rolls around in February, but AC Milan have essentially no chance to win Serie A this season. In fact, Milan may have to win the Champions League this year just to qualify for it next year as they're way off the pace even though they have three games in hand on most of the other teams in the league. Listen, I know Arsenal are 9-1-0 at home this season but they've feasted on a soft schedule; the Gunners are beatable in London, especially because Milan will have all of their focus on the Champions League as Serie A is out of reach, and because the Rossoneri boast such an experienced, battle-tested roster. They are the defending champions and I expect them to play like it when they go to the Emirates in February. Gattuso won't give Fabregas a yard of space and will hound him all game long, while Arsenal doesn't have anyone who can contain Kaka (especially if Gilberto leaves in January). To be honest, I think Milan will win both legs and advance in style.
AC Milan-3, Arsenal-1

7. Olympiacos vs. Chelsea: Out of any of the teams Chelsea could have drawn for this round, I think they got their preferred choice. It won't be easy to go to Greece and come out with a result (Olympiacos is 7-0-0 at home in the league this season) but Chelsea will find a way to win 1-0 or 2-1, and they won't lose at Stamford Bridge in the return leg. The Blues won't win the Premier League and honestly, I think Avram Grant needs a deep run in the Champions League to really ensure his job status as manager. I don't care that he just signed a multi-year contract; if a big-name manager is interested, Roman Abramovich will come calling with no expense spared. As I said, Chelsea will get it done in this round with relative ease but we'll see what happens after that.
Chelsea-5, Olympiacos-1

8. Fenerbahçe vs. Sevilla: Here is the possible upset of the round; Fenerbahçe are my dark horse to move on to the quarterfinals and gain some valuable exposure for Turkish soccer. Fenerbahçe won all three of their group stage games at home en route to finishing 2nd behind Inter Milan in Group G, including a 1-0 win over Inter in September, and are 8-1-0 on home turf in the Turkcell Süper Lig so far this season. Sevilla, on the other hand, are seemingly crumbling as we speak. The back-to-back winners of the UEFA Cup now sit in 8th place in La Liga and are just three points ahead of the 13th place side, Recreativo Huelva. New manager Ronald Koeman is really trying to put his stamp on the club with the benching of some well-known players like David Albelda, Santiago Canizares and Miguel Angel Angulo, and I get the impression that the players don't have much confidence in him. Sevilla have just one win on the road in La Liga this season; they won't win in Turkey, so this tie will come down to the second leg in Seville, where they've already lost three times in nine matches. Fenerbahçe have some experienced players in Roberto Carlos, Alex, and Stephen Appiah while Sevilla's roster could be raided in January. It would be an upset in name only; I really think Fenerbahçe are the better team and we'll see that over two legs.
Fenerbahçe-3, Sevilla-2

So there you have it, my picks to move on to the quarterfinals of the Champions League. To recap:

Manchester United
Real Madrid
AC Milan

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