By Dominic Vieira
This year’s Champions League last 16 is organized in a different format. Instead of there being the usual 4 games played on Tuesday and the other 4 on the Wednesday. The UEFA (brilliantly!) spread the schedule of matches over the course of 8 days. The benefit from this is that there will be a huge increase in TV viewers and us – the fans who love the Champions League. However, it may be a bit of a problem if your wife is not keen on football. Plan B: run down to the nearest pub/bar, these matches must not be missed!
At this stage of the competition, there is no such thing as an easy win. On that note, we must remember that in football we must never underestimate the opposition, never. All the games are going to be close and challenging, personally I find it incredibly hard to predict the results because they can easily swing either way. I would not be surprised if the so called “weaker/smaller” teams win, at this stage all of the teams have the potential to go far in the competition.
Each day, two intense close battles of “must-see” matches will be played; football will be performed at its highest level. Below is the schedule of the first leg of the last 16:
TUESDAY 16TH FEB 19:45GMT
Lyon x Real Madrid
AC Milan x Manchester United
WEDNESDAY 17TH FEB 19:45 GMT
Bayern x Fiorentina
Porto x Arsenal
TUESDAY 23RD FEB 19:45GMT
Stuttgart x Barcelona
Olympiacos x Bordeaux
WEDNESDAY 24th FEB 19:45 GMT
CSKA Moscow x Sevilla (17:45GMT)
Internazionale x Chelsea
On Tuesday, we will be entertained with two crunching matches; it will be hard to follow both of them. We will see the almighty Real Madrid play at the Stade Gerland under frigid conditions. However, we are unsure of Karim Benzema’s warm welcome return home, due to his current injury. Other notable missing players from The Merengues will be of Pepe, Guti, and Van der Vaart, who are all out due to injury. On the other hand, Olympiqyue Lyon will not be missing any of their regular starting eleven men. Kaka, Ronaldo and Higuain are certainly the men to watch from the Spanish side and it will be interesting to see how Cris, Cissokho and Toualalan will deal with them. On the other side of the field, Lisandro Lopez will definitely be running riot for Les Gones and he is capable of changing the result at any time. It will be a close and physical battle, I believe that Real Madrid has the quality and experience to win, and they are boosted by the return of Ronaldo, who scored two goals on the weekend. Real will win 1-2, but it won’t be a smooth victory.
The match in Italy will see a typical battle between two classic Champions League giants, AC Milan against Manchester United. This game will not only be a battle between Ronaldinho and in form Wayne Rooney, hopefully we will also see David Beckham playing against his former club. I believe this game will be won and lost in the middle of the park. It will be interesting to see Milan’s experienced and elegant trio composed of Pirlo, Gattusso and Ambrosini take on the physical and efficient United’s midfield. It will not be surprising if Ferguson opts to use a 4-5-1, his typical formation used in recent CL editions. The 4-5-1 will allow Fergie to utilize two wide fast wingers, which could be Nani, Valencia or Park; and they will certainly cause problems for Abate and Favalli. Manchester United will be without their Serb rock - Nemanja Vidic, veteran Ryan Giggs and creative midfielder Anderson. AC Milan recently recovered from many injuries and they will benefit from the return of Pato. However, they did play on the weekend and may suffer from fatigue. The match will be close and experience will be vital, knowing United’s style very well and not trying to be biased, I can see this game ending as a 0-0, 1-1 or 2-2. However, the result could tip either way, but United will want to finish the job at Old Trafford. Dida will be essential for the game; hopefully United will not be favoured by his infamous slips.