By Kevin Koczwara
The next stage in Champions League play has been set today. Teams have been told who will face in the next round, and who their potential opponents could be.
This year’s quarter-finals and semi-finals have potential to be great match-ups. These next rounds could also become major coming out parties to the smaller clubs involved. With the likes of CSKA Moscow, Bordeaux and Lyon all making it further than expected.
So let’s break down each pairing and each route to the finals in Madrid.
Manchester United v Bayern Munich – This is the most star-studded draw of all, in my humble opinion. Two giants of Europe and their respected leagues. United and Munich can both grind out wins or show as little flash of brilliance, whatever is needed to win.
Munich has no shortage of attacking power. They chose to loan out Luca Toni–an Italian International striker– this year to Roma because he was far down their striking pecking order and deemed a surplus to their needs. They have a plethora of attacking players with skillon the wings with Ribery and Robben, both dynamic and game changers. Their attack power and recent form, going atop the Bundesliga table, should give Man United’s much traveled defense a hard time, and should be a fair warning to all of Europe that this side means business. Munich is a side running on all cylinders at the right time. United will be sorry if they take them lightly.
As for United, they have one striker currently vying for the Ballon d’Or, the World’s Best Player, and they tend to be a stingy side during the Champions League, especially at home. They just ousted Italian giants AC Milan handily and are atop their league table because they don’t give in to opponents attack and use their deadly counter perfectly. United will use a few of the same players that lifted the UEFA Champions League Tropy in ’99 when the defeated Bayern. And Sir Alex will have plenty of experienced players from their last two trips to the finals (2008 winners, 2009 runner-ups) to hopefully seal his way into yet another semi-final.
This is a difficult draw for the Red Devils as they rely on their wingers to get forward with their pace and power, and with Bayern’s extremely skilled and creative wingers on fire right now, they could be forced to change tactics. This match-up reminds me of last year’s Champions League Final where United had a hard time controlling the midfield and couldn’t get any pressure on Barcelona from the wings because their midfielders were forced to cover the attacking wide players of Barca.
Untied do hold the advantage with the scheduling draw, they will play the return leg at home, which could prove pivotal if they eek out a goal or two in Germany.
Lyon v Bordeaux – An all french match-up should be a delight. Both teams are difficult to score against, and both use set-pieces very well. The big draw here is that Lyon are catching up to reigning champs Bordeux in the Ligue 1 table, so this match-up could have league and title implications as they meet not only in the Champions League but also in the league between the European matches. As for Bordeux, they are at the top of the table and would like to keep it that way.
What really makes this match intriguing is that both teams have players who are coming into their own right now. Borduex’s Yoann Gourcuff has had a relatively quiet season, compared to last, but he was strong against Olympiakos int he last round, and looks to be coming into full-stride again. He is one of the future talents in France and this could be the stage he needs for his coming out party.
Gourcuff is joined in the Boudeux attack by Marouane Chamakh and Wendel. The three attack minded players all get the job done in different ways, but each is deadly. Gourcouff supplies Wendel’s left-foot on the flank and Chamkh in the box. And when either rising star gets the ball, look out, dangerous things happen.
As for Lyon, they have the hottest goalkeeper on the planet right now in Hugo Lloris. Lloris shutdown the potent Real Madrid this round to move through, and he looks to try and stay on the same form for this round.
If Lyon hope to move on, Lloris will have to get help from his center-backs, Cris and Jean-Alain Boumsong. Both were stellar against the giants from Madrid. The two center-halves will need to be strong on set-pieces because Bordeaux scores the majority of their goals from well calculated sets and great pouching ability in the box.
As for Lyon’s attack, they rely heavily on their striker, Lisandro López, to carry the brunt of their hold-up play and counter-attack. The Argentinian is a great passer and will roam into the midfield and create for other players who fill into his vacated space. He is a hard-working an intelligent striker who has that bravado every top-striker should have. He was a major part of Porto’s success last year in this competition, and he has been huge for Lyon.
The other player to watch for Lyon is Miralem Pjanic. He has come into his own in the last few months. He is a creative force already in the World at 19, and he is only getting better. He has become Lyon’s link in recent months, and with the more playing time he has received, the better he has gotten. I will even put Lyon’s chances of moving on past their Ligue 1 rivals on his shoulders. It is no secret that this team can defend, but if he can link up play in the attack, then they can score the goals necessary to move on.
The winner of Lyon v Bordeaux will play the winner of Manchester United v Bayern Munich in the semifinals.
Barcelona v Arsenal – The perfect pairing. These two sides play ball-control soccer with a mix of flair and passion. This is the match to watch if you can only chose one.There sre so many underlying stories here– will Cesc move on from Arsenal to Barcelona this summer? who will be the next growing star will Arsene Wenger pouch from the Nou Camp academy?
Arsenal are contending for the Premier League title and have looked great at home as of late, but they have struggled outside of the Emirates, which could be deadly if Lionel Messi continues his recent run of form when the two sides meet. Aresenal’s big advantage in this tie is that they have an easier league schedule surrounding these games. Barcelona on the other hand have to face Real Madrid in a decisive game in between the home and away affair with their English foes. Barcelona’s game against Real Madrid will determine the La Liga title, and this could be a major distraction for the Spanish club.
This should be the most entertaining pairing because both sides play beautiful soccer. But, Arsenal won’t be able to pull through because they lack depth in the striker department and that will be their demise.
Inter Milan v CSKA Moscow
The “Special One’s” side just fended off Chelsea with guts, hard work, and a little bit of skill. Now Jose Mourinho’s side needs to win in Russia, no easy task, ask Seville. Many Inter fans will be happy with this draw, but they should be weary of CSKA Moscow, a club on the rise with a HUGE home-field advantage.
After Inter’s emotional win at Stamford Bridge this week they must have been relieved to have avoided Barcelano or another English side for at least one round. They have had some tough draws thus far, but they keep proving themselves and I see this test being no different. Mourinho’s men are ticking the Champions League, and he has his strategies down pat.
the key for Inter is how Wesley Sneijder plays, as it is every week. he is the man that sets up their attack and links play all over the field with his pinpoint passing. If he is on his game Moscow will be on their heels hoping he doesn’t break their back or will with a blistering strike or a magical pass.
As for CSKA Moscow, they need to get a comfortable lead at home on their frozen turf field, then go to Milan and survive the Italians onslaught. If they don;t concede an away goal, or two, then they should be int he running to win this round and keep moving on. They will need to shutdown Samuel Eto’o and Wesley Sneijder and use their secret weapon from last round again, the long bomb. They hit in some thunderous strikes last round to beat Seville, but this time they have to go up against a world class keeper in Julio Cesar.
I am picking Inter here to move on and meet Barcelona in the next stage, which would be one great match-up of contrasting styles.
The Winner of Arsenal v Barcelona will face the winner of CSKA Moscow v Inter in the Semi-finals.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow The Soccer Guys on Twitter for all of your soccer updates.