UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final Preview
With the heavily-anticipated UCL quarter-finals fast approaching (I'm writing this less than 24 hours before the first games by the way), I figured that I would give you some thoughts, predictions, and analysis. So let's get started with tomorrow's games.
1. Villareal v. Arsenal
15 Key Players; Players to Watch in BOLD
Diego Lopez GK
This matchup should be pretty entertaining and I could easily see this match go to extra time or even beyond. But see it going that far. This one is going to be decided by the two Spaniards in the middle of the park. If Senna can shut down Cesc then the Yellow Submarine has a chance to upset Arsenal. But if Cesc (or his other henchmen) impose their will then it will be a long couple of days for Villareal. The first match is in Spain, so it will likely be a close affair in the first match.
Rossi for the Submarine is going to have to play well. If he gets chances to score he must do so. Nihat will also have to do this if his side are to go through. Gallas also has to make sure that his side doesn't make one of those brain-farts in the back again. So, who's going to win?
Leg 1: Villareal 0, Arsenal 0
Leg 2: Arsenal 2, Villareal 0
Aggregate: Arsenal 2, Villareal 0
Arsenal's quality shines through in this one. Robert Pires's return won't be a happy one.
Just going to be honest here. Porto will have to play perfect counter-attacking football to win this one. Hulk, Lopez, and Gonzalez are all high quality footballers but they just won't be enough I believe. Helton isn't the greatest keeper, so I don't see much of a chance here unless Ronaldo, Rooney, and company just completely blow chance after chance.
3. Barcelona v. Bayern Munich
Alright with those two rosters about even, I think that this will be a good little tie. And it won't be a blowout like many think. Look at this. Bayern Munich has not lost a Champions League match yet. They've drawn twice, but that's as far as it goes. Heck, they scored 12 goals in 2 matches against Sporting Lisbon. This team is much better than people think and I'll tell you exactly why in my breakdown of the two teams.
The reason both goalkeepers are highlighted is simple: they both have to make all the saves they should and most of the saves they shouldn't. If one of these guys lets in an egg then that team will lose. These guys (especially Rensing) have something to prove here and I believe that they will both keep it close.
In defence the two teams are pretty even. Barca's is much quicker however. But it won't really matter because Bayern are a finesse/header team up top (more about that later). Bayern's defenders (especially good 'ol Lucio can't make Brazilian-type errors. 6 simple words to the Munich defence. When in doubt kick it out.
The game will be won in the midfield. I guarantee it. If Barca are in a hard spot then Messi will come farther and farther back to get the ball. In reality I can see him starting as a straight-up mid but he probably won't. Xavi is going to have his hands full. Ribery is a beast in the midfield and will be the best player on the field for these two ties. If Bayern lose it won't be because of Ribery (unless he headbutts someone). Schweinsteiger and Iniesta will also be a fun matchup. If Bastian Schweinsteiger can play a Germany-type game, then the German side will give Barca fits. So the midfield for me is a push. On to the forwards.
If the game is won by the midfield then the forwards will have to finish it off. It does no team good to have a forward booting the ball out instead of scoring most of the time (sorry, Peter Crouch). Up front its also a push with one catch. Luca Toni must play like he usually does for his CLUB. He can't play an Italy match(es) if they are to win. And the other two strikers are German and guess what? They (Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose) have to play like they do for their countries. If Klose finishes off moves like in the 2006 World Cup then Munich are going to send shockwaves through Europe. Mark my words.
Analysis: This will be a very fun matchup of players. Bayern's defence is a slower, smarter-type defence and they will have to be smart against the Barca quick-attack of Eto'o and Henry. The Barca defence will have to do well in the air (something that they aren't great at) to win. Toni will win headers, Barca you might want to bring Marquez out to play for his one-match-a-year. With all that said what is going to happen in this tie?
Leg 1: Barca 1, Bayern 1
Leg 2: Bayern 1, Barca 1
Aggregate: Bayern 3, Barca 2 (AET)
4. Liverpool v. Chelsea
Pepe Reina GK
Petr Cech GK
No pleasantries for this matchup. We all know that these teams know each other all too well. This is the third-straight year that they've met in this competition. So let's break it down by positions.
In goal its pretty even. Reina seems to be getting better and better and Cech is also playing well. The key for both keepers is in the air. Cech is still a little shy to come and get and Reina's height has never helped him to catch aerial balls. If one makes a mistake it could turn the momentum. Reina > Cech.
In the back I'll lean to Chelsea just to be fair. Liverpool's backline can be suspect at times but they are on good form so I'll take that into consideration. Terry will have to keep that back line in check. No mistakes can be given. One mistake equals a goal when Fernando Torres is lurking. Carragher, Skrtel, or Agger will have to make sound choices and listen closely to their keeper. No mistakes are needed.
Midfield goes to Liverpool. Alonso and Mascherano are the two of the best holding midfielders in the world. Essien is good but he can't out-do two guys. Gerrard has been playing much better than Lampard and it should be interesting to see how that matchup ends up. Riera v. Deco could be fun. But the big man in the middle will be Ballack. He's a German, so guess what. He needs to play like he's on the German team. If he can play like he used to, Chelsea will be a much better team. If he boots the ball over like he has most of the year then Liverpool have a huge advantage.
Up front it's Torres vs. Anelka/Drogba. This one also goes to Liverpool. As long as Torres doesn't play awful then Liverpool have the advantage. Torres doesn't really have to play well. The reason why is because he has Gerrard and Kuyt to set him up. So Torres can be playing awful football and then turn around and score a one-timer from Gerrard. Drogba/Anelka has to score their chances. These guys can play but I don't think that they have the team around them that Torres does this year at this moment in time. Alright and now its time to see my prediction.
Leg 1: Liverpool 2, Chelsea 0
Leg 2: Chelsea 1, Liverpool 1
Aggregate: Liverpool 3, Chelsea 1
I just don't think Chelsea has it in them this year. They are a good side but Liverpool seems to have their number even at the Stamford Bridge. We'll just have to wait and see.
So let's recap. Manchester United will thrash FC Porto. Bayern Munich and Barca will fight for a long time in a close game with Bayern squeaking in. Arsenal overpowers Villareal but not by much. Liverpool gets it done against Chelsea. And remember, if you have a German make sure he plays like a German.