Champions League: initial thoughts
The draw for the last 16 of the Uefa Champions League was, astonishingly, an exact repeat of the rehearsal the previous day. The tie of the round is Real Madrid versus Manchester United, but not far behind is the AC Milan-Barcelona clash. Here are some initial thoughts:
Galatasaray v FC Schalke:
What an opportunity for Galatasaray to reach the last eight for the first time since 2001. They are not as good as they were then, which could be a problem. Schalke are not as good as they were when they reached the semi-final in 2011 – and they were not particularly good then. This is the weakest tie of the round. Prediction: Schalke.
Celtic v Juventus:
Do not rule Celtic out. Against Barcelona in the group stages, they took passion and hard work to new levels. They won one of the matches but should have won both. Juventus are not as good as Barcelona. Celtic’s thirst for victory might mean that Juventus are not as good as Juventus –or, at least, the Juventus of Serie-A. Prediction: Juventus to win, but by the skin of their teeth.
Arsenal v Bayern Munich:
Considering that Arsenal have been in decline since 2006, their record in the Champions League since then is relatively good. Munich should have won the title last season and will lament facing such strong opposition so early in the knockout stage. My hunch is that, despite Bayern’s fine domestic form, Arsenal will win the tie and, like Liverpool in previous years, will do better in Europe than in the Premier League. Yes, Arsenal lost to Bradford in the League Cup, but they are as capable as one classic performance as they are a disastrous one. Bayern watch out. Prediction: Arsenal to spring a surprise (and keep Arsene Wenger in his job).
Shakhtar Donetsk v Borussia Dortmund:
In the summer of 2012, I tipped Borussia to be Barcelona’s chief rivals for the title in 2013. The German Bundesliga table, which shows Borussia way behind Bayern Munich, does not fool me. Although Shakhtar will prove to be strong opposition, particularly at home, I feel that the Germans will have too much strength up front. Prediction: Borussia Dortmund to go through.
AC Milan v Barcelona:
This looks better on paper than in reality. Barcelona should win. Given that the final is at Wembley, the stadium at which they have won the trophy twice (1992 and 2011), Barcelona will feel a sense of destiny. For Milan to win, they will need to borrow Chelsea’s bus from last season. Prediction: Barcelona.
Real Madrid v Manchester United:
Many observers will see this only in terms of Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford, while others will look upon it as Mourinho versus Ferguson. A more nuanced view would be to consider how Real Madrid’s deliberative style will deal with Manchester United’s more gung-ho approach. Their past four meetings at Old Trafford have brought these results: 2-2, 3-3, 2-3, 4-3, which augurs well for the second leg. Whatever happens, one fine team will bow out before the quarter-final stage. Prediction: Real Madrid, amid controversy.
Valencia v Paris St Germain:
PSG should win this one, although whether that will be enough to save Carlo Ancelotti from dismissal is another matter. This is probably a year too early for PSG but there is no doubt that they will be Champions League giants for the next five years or so. Prediction: PSG.
FC Porto v Malaga:
Expect plenty of passing, with Porto likely to edge it because they are brilliant at home and because Malaga are weak in midfield. Prediction: Porto.