Champions League Round of 16: How they stand
We are at the midway stage in the first knock out round of the UEFA Champions League, 2011 and the first legs have thrown up some mouth watering ties for us in the coming weeks. Let’s start with what was without a shadow of a doubt the clash of the round if not the entire tournament:
In a repeat of last year’s quarter finals, there was only question which needed to be addressed: Can the Gunners beat Barca at their own game? Their chances dimmed when David Villa put the Catalans ahead but this night was to be the night when nineteen year old Jack Wilshere would come of age. He inspired his team to a famous comeback and goals from Robin Van Persie and Andrei Arshavin in the last 12 minutes ensured Wenger’s men would take a slender lead back to Nou Camp. With the away goal and the intimidating home form, Barcelona still remain favorites but with Gerard Pique suspended, if the Gunners could hold on to the lead in the initial stages they would be relishing the prospect of catching the 2009 Champions on the counter.
AC Milan vs Tottenham:
Spurs had almost pulled off a seemingly impossible comeback at San Siro last time they were there when a Gareth Bale hat trick helped them come from 4-0 down to 4-3 against defending champions Inter. Against Inter’s arch city rivals AC Milan, they did one better. A solid performance saw them come away with a solitary away goal lead going in to White Hart Lane. The headlines were grabbed by Reno Gattuso for his unpardonable behavior towards former Milan player and current Spurs coach Joey Jordan. But when the clubs meet in London on the 9th March, there will be no Gattuso and Peter Crouch’s late winner in Italy will stand them in good stead in making the quarter finals in their first attempt in the Champions League.
Kobenhavn vs Chelsea:
In perhaps the most one-sided tie of this round, Premier League champions Chelsea outclassed Danish outfit Kobenhavn 0-2 thanks to a brace from Nicolas Anelka. The Danish outfit simply failed to turn up on the night and Chelsea romped home. Despite their morale boosting win over Manchester United the Champions League still remains their best bet of winning silverware this season and with the luxury of a two goal lead coming into the return league, Chelsea are hot favorites to make it to the last eight.
Marseille vs Manchester United:
Manchester United and Marseille played out a goalless draw at Stade Velodrome as both sides missing key players were not ready to risk much. In many ways it was a typical United away match of this season where they lacked creativity and penetration in the final third. This tie looks far from over as Gabriel Heinze would look to upset Sir Alex’s plan when he returns to Old Trafford on the 15th of March. United’s main threat will be Marseille scoring an away goal but with a rock solid defence, the Red Devils will be confident of their chances.
Internazionale vs Bayern Munich:
In a repeat of last year’s final, Bayern Munich took a major step in avenging their final loss when a 90th minute strike from Mario Gomez ensured they would take a slender lead back to Munich. Inter no longer have in their arsenal their most potent weapon, Jose Mourinho and with what was evident from the first leg if they do not come up with a plan to deal with the pace and skill of Arjen Robben their title defence could come to a premature end. With star striker Diego Milito missing the second leg as well, Inter face an uphill task in the Allianz Arena.
Olympique Lyon vs Real Madrid:
Real Madrid, a name which had once become synonymous with the Champions League has not only not won since 2002 but have been eliminated that in the round of 16 for the last 6 years most recently at the hands of this year’s opponent, Lyon. However with the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho, Real are expecting a vicissitude of fortune and their prayers were answered when former Lyon striker Karim Benzema gave them a deserved lead. However a late strike from Bafétimbi Gomis ensured Lyon remain alive in the tie. The Spanish giants will start as favorites when the teams face off at the Bernebeau on the 16th of March but Lyon are more than capable of compiling more misery on Real Madrid, as they have demonstrated time and again in the past.
Valencia vs Schalke:
This game was built up as the return of Raul to Spain and he lived up to the pre match hype by popping up with an all important equalizer. In a match that Valencia dominated after taking a well deserved lead through Soldado (his 6th in as many European games) , they failed to find the crucial second goal and the former Real Madrid legend popped up to silence the Mestalla once again. Valencia look a stronger team going into the second leg but Schalke have an away goal and more importantly from sheer statistical point of view it is insane to bet against Raul scoring in a Champions League tie.
AS Roma vs Shaktar Donetsk:
In the upset of the round Ukranian side Shaktar Donetsk came from behind to beat Roma 3-2 in Rome. Goals from Jadson, Costa and Adriano sealed Roma’s fate who had gone ahead through a Shaktar own goal. Roma looked menacing after pulling a goal back to 3-2 but never did manage to find the equalizer. In Borriello and Totti they no doubt have the fire power to overturn the deficit but trips to Ukraine are never easy especially when one is trailing having conceded three away goals.
Shaktar Donetsk v AS Roma; Barcelona v Arsenal
Tottenham v Milan; Schalke v Valencia
Manchester United v Marseille; Bayern Munich v Internazionale
Chelsea v Kobenhavn; Real Madrid v Lyon