Friday, December 18, 2009

UEFA Champions League 2009-10: First Knockout Round Matches Previews

The draw of the first knock-out round of UEFA Champions League 2009-10 has been finished today. So, we have got the schedule of the first knockout round matches. You know that three clubs from England: Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, three clubs from Italy: AC Milan, Inter Milan and Fiorentina, three clubs from Spain: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla, and two clubs from France: Bordeaux and Lyon, two club from Germany: Bayern Munich and Stuttgart; and one club from Greece (Olympiacos), Russia (CSKA Moscow) and Portugal (Porto) have formed the last 16 places of the tournament.

Who will Face Whom

Competing Teams


First Leg

Second Leg



Manchester United

AC Milan

CSKA Moscow


Bayern Munich


Inter Milan







Real Madrid

First leg matches of the last 16 will take place on 16/17 February and 23/24 February. Second leg matches will be held on 9/10 and 16/17 March. All of the runner up teams of group stage will play their first leg matches at home, while the Champion sides will have to play their first leg matches away from home. The good side of the draw is that teams from the same group and same association were not drawn together. So, there will be no repeat of the group stage matches in the first knock-out round.

Here, I am writing about each of the 8 matches and the competing teams.

Arsenal vs Porto

At the beginning of the season there were many who were skeptical about the success of Arsenal this season as they lost a number of star players last Summer. However, Arsene Wenger side has already shown that they are full of talent and has the potential to win the European title this season. Summer signing Thomas Vermaelen has been turned out to be the trump card of the Gunners while other stars like Arshavin, Robin van Persie and Fabregas have put on their best to keep Arsenal in the title race of premier league and Champions league.

Arsenal progressed to the first knock out round as the Group H winner with 13 points. Out of 6 games, Arsenal won 4, drew 1 and lost at Olympiacos in the other. I should say that their performance was pretty much satisfactory in the group stage, given that they do not have many big stars; rather they rely on their young but talented footballers. Arsenal may have lost some games in the premier league against Big Four clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United, but still they are in the third place of the competition with 3 points adrift off second placed United. So, I think Porto will face a huge challenge from the Gunners.

Porto reached the last 16 having finished second to Chelsea in Group D with 12 points. They won 4 games and lost one. Most importantly, they defeated Chelsea away from home in the group stage and this shows that Porto players have the quality to win over big teams like Arsenal and Chelsea. They have some good players like Hulk, Maicon, Bruno Alves and some others. If Porto players can show their character, then Wenger boys would face some hard challenge from the Portuguese outfits.

Manchester United vs AC Milan

This is the match that millions of fans have already started waiting for. No doubt, it would be a massive game. After the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United is arguably not as strong as they were last season and it would be interesting to see how AC Milan without Kaka face United without Ronaldo. AC Milan is not at their best at the moment as they reached the last 16 after finishing second to Real Madrid with 9 points from 6 games including 2 wins, 3 draws and a defeat. Moreover, they are currently five points behind leader Inter Milan in Serie A.

Manchester United did not struggle to reach the last 16 as they got into the knock out stage with 13 points from 6 games as the Champion of Group B. They are also in the second place in EPL and are in the right track of the title race. They did not have a good start to the season, but they bounced back following initial hiccups. They still have star players like Rooney, Berbatov, Valencia and experienced players like Giggs and Scholes. So, Ferguson could be tempted for another European title this season. They failed to win the title last season after losing to Barcelona in the final, but there is no doubt, they have the quality and talent to win it this time.

Real Madrid vs Olympique Lyon

Real Madrid is the centre of all attention this season in Europe. People are waiting to see the result of bringing back Madrid’s Galáctico image. They have spent huge amount for landing the stars like Kaka, Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Karim Benzema and some others. However, the magic touch that people expected from this new Real Madrid have come yet. In fact, Real Madrid is in the second place in La Liga behind Barcelona and recently lost to their arch rivals Barcelona. Their performance has been pretty much inconsistent so far this season and they recently suffered a humiliating defeat in Copa del Rey. So, despite spending huge amount, Real Madrid has not yet shown expected performance. However, the good thing is that Ronaldo has found his United form the very beginning of the season at Madrid and this is the threat Real possess against any opposition. Real reached the last 16 as Group C champion with 13 points.

Lyon may not have many star players but they have some quality players who can win matches for their teams. They progressed to the first knock out round as Group E runner up with 13 points. They lost only 1 game in the group stage and the French side are now in the fourth place in the league standing with 8 points behind leader Bordeaux. On pen and paper, Real Madrid is a far better side, but given Madrid’s inconsistency I think Lyon has chance to get into the quarter final stage of the tournament. If Real Madrid can play as per their level, then Lyon may not be good enough to stop their Europe mission.

Barcelona vs Stuttgart

German side Stuttgart may have reached the last 16 as Group G runner up, but they would definitely face a huge challenge from the defending Europe champion Barcelona who are still playing at their best. A number of Barcelona players are currently at their best. They have perhaps the best midfield in the Europe that includes the players like Xavi and Andres Iniesta and their forward line consists of Europe’s best player Messi and summer signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

They also have a strong defense led by Carles Puyol. Barcelona reached the final 16 with 11 points earned through 3 wins and 2 draws. However, the only concern for Barcelona is consistency and injury, the two factors that they suffered for since the start of the season. Stuttgart finished third last season in Bundesliga and this season they are currently in the 15th position with 13 points from 16 games. No doubt, their league performance does not reflect in Europe as the German side played really well in the Group stage of Champions league. So, Barcelona has nothing to fell relaxed about Stuttgart’s league form.

CSKA Moscow vs Sevilla

Sevilla has been the frequent face in Champions league in the recent years alongside two Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid. Sevilla reached the last 16 with 13 points as Group G champion. They are currently in the title race of La Liga with 30 points from 14 games. Overall, their performance has been satisfactory so far this season. Now that they have got to face Moscow, they can really hope for a quarter final place. They have some good players and most importantly they have a balanced squad.

Russian outfit CSKA Moscow can also be happy to be drawn with Sevilla, considering that they could avoid facing any Europe powerhouse. However, Sevilla would not be an easy opponent given their performance in the recent years. Moscow finished second in Group B to Manchester United and lost two games. Still, Moscow fans can be hopeful for a quarter final place as they are going to face Sevilla.

Olympiakos vs Bordeaux

Greek champion Olympiakos reached the round of 16 thanks to 3 wins and a draw in the group stage. Most importantly, they could defeat inspirational Arsenal side at home and it would be huge boost to their confidence level. They have some talented as well as experienced players. They are currently at the top of the table with 36 points and it would be interesting to see how they face the French champions. It is pretty much certain that Bordeaux would give them a tough challenge to get over in the game.

French champion Bordeaux has been in good form now. In fact, they are currently leading in the French league with 6 points lead over the second place Marseille. Over the last few season, they have consistently playing well and this time there is good chance for them to make it to the last 8 of the tournament. What is more important is that they are currently in good form too. They reached the first knock out round with 16 points including 5 wins and a draw. So, they are still undefeated in the tournament so far. Overall, I think, Bordeaux is favorite against Olympiakos, but to be honest, both teams have enough chances to progress to the next round of the tournament.

Chelsea vs Inter Milan

Besides the Manchester United vs AC Milan match, this is one of the two most attractive matches of the first knock out round. Chelsea has been in excellent form so far this season. Under new manager Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea has been playing very well and they are current at the top of the league point table with a 3-point lead over second placed Manchester United. This match will be a special for Inter Milan manager José Mourinho who would face his former club Chelsea with whom he achieved some notable successes. Chelsea has a very strong squad in the presence of Drogba, Anelka, Essien, Terry, Ballack and many others. Overall, Chelsea will be looking to win the game in their bid to win their first every European title this season. Chelsea reached the last 16 as the group D champion and they did not lose any of their group matches.

Inter Milan progressed to the last 16 as group F runner up. They lost a game to Dynamo Kyiv away from home and it would be interesting to see if they stave off the challenge posed by Chelsea. Inter Milan has been winning league titles with sheer ease over the last few years in Italy, but they did not do very well in Europe. So, this time they will be desperate to get success in Europe too. They have some quality players like Samuel Eto'o, Javier Zanetti, Maicon and some others. So, I think that it would be a highly competitive game with both side having enough opportunities to win, but I think, Chelsea has a slight edge over Inter Milan.

Bayern Munich vs Fiorentina

German side Bayern Munich is one of the most successful clubs of Champions league, but in the recent years, he ahs not been very successful. This year, they would like to change it and at the first round of knock out stage, they would face Italian side Fiorentina. Bayern reached the last 16 as Group A runner up, but they could earn only 10 points from 6 games that is not good for a club like Bayern. They lost two games and drew 1, while won 3. They are currently in the third position in German league with 30 points from 16 games. So, they are not at their best at the moment, but I think, they have the quality to edge past Fiorentina.

Fiorentina into the last 16 as Group E champion with 15 points and they did not lose any game. So, you can assume their recent form and Bayern Munich should consider this fact that they are going to face some tough challenge from the Italian outfits. They have some good players who can win matches. Fiorentina’s form in Europe does not reflect in Italian Serie A where they are currently struggling at no. 9 with only 24 points from 16 games. However, it is just a two-game affair where even a weak side can win putting on some good performance in the two games. So, football fans can expect a competitive match between Bayern Munich and Fiorentina.

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