The Ins and Outs of the Champions League Knockout Stages.

Champions League football has returned in the shape of the knockout stages. Plenty of questions to be answered by teams, and we’ve already seen the first legs, and thus half of the answers. The minnows of the competition have been knocked out and only the finer sides are left, making for incredible footballing master-craft’s in every game.

Fabregas celebrates victory over his possible future club

And arguably the pick of the bunch was Arsenal locking horns with Barcelona. Barcelona were favorites going into the tie and many many people’s favorites to lift the trophy again come May. David Villa gave the Catalans a half time lead before Robin van Persie and Andre Arshavin gave the Londoners a 2-1 victory in a win that had the hearts of all Arsenal fans pounding. Not only did they win the match, but the Gunners performed very well and much improved to last years home draw to the Spanish giants. What this means for both sides is that Arsenal now have given themselves a chance of progression. Had it ended a draw in London I’d have said the tie is all but Barcelona’s. But the one goal advantage that Arsenal carry now gives them the hope, confidence and belief to put a real test up to Barça with intent of progression. However, Arsenal missed out on a great chance to draw plenty of confidence in the shape of winning a trophy when they let Obafemi Martins score the easiest goal of his career to give Birmingham only their second ever major honour. My call is Barcelona 3-1 to still edge them out and qualify for the next round.

Real Madrid haven’t made it past the first knockout stage of Europe’s premier competition since the 03/04 season, and in last years edition of the tournament, they were knocked out by the team they face this year round, Lyon. The first leg of this tie shed a lot of light on how both teams have advanced since last year. Lyon have improved especially with the addition of Yoann Gourcuff while Real Madrid have Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria and probably most importantly, new manager Jose Mourinho. The first leg ended 1-1, with an impressive display from the home, French side. Madrid should have enough firepower to overcome Lyon, but the same was said this time last year. The French could still nick a draw, 1-1 would lead to extra time, any other score draw would lead to a Lyon progression. This is still definitely a possibility but nonetheless I predict Real Madrid to outclass their opponents 2-0 and get out of their rut of being humbled come the first knock-out stage.

Another highlight-on-paper fixture that we were treated to was a repeat of the 2010 Champions League Final between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich. In a very entertaining affair, both teams attacked well but the only breakthrough was made by the visiting Germans who scored a last minute goal to take a huge advantage back to the Allianz Arena. But was this really a repeat of last years champions league finalists? I’d argue that both teams have changed dramatically since. Inter have changed manager twice since that game, that ended in a 2-0 victory for them. Out with probably one of the best two managers in the world, Mourinho, and in with Benitez, later replaced by Leonardo in December. This 1-0 loss at home to Munich shows that they’re no longer the force they were last summer. Nonetheless Leonardo has revitalized the current champions and are in fine league form of late. There haven’t been too many squad changes between the two games, although the summer of 2010 showed us a world cup that German youngsters totally lit up. Before then, Ozil, Khedira and significant for this case, Thomas Muller, weren’t thought much of, but are now some of the most impressive footballers in the world. Muller, who plays for Bayern Munich, developed a lot in the past year and is now a much better player, holding a much more important role for his team. No doubt his development helped Munich to their San Siro victory. I pick Bayern Munich to win the second leg 1-0 and progress.

Gomez's last minute winner against Inter

On the first night of the Champions league knockout rounds in the 2010/2011, surprise package Tottenham Hotspur travelled to Milan as underdogs. Not many gave Spurs a chance when the draw was made in December. Harry Redknapp is not known as tactical genius but he sure set Spurs up in a way that a well-established European coach would be proud of. Apart from a 20 minute spell at the start of the second half, Spurs neutralised Milan. They kept their two most influential players quiet and then they delivered the knock- out blow when it really mattered. 8 minutes from time, Sandro played a simple pass into Aaron Lennon who was ran at Yepes and Nesta and played a weighted pass into Peter Crouch and the 6ft 7 striker did the rest. Without Crouch, Spurs wouldn’t be in the last 16 if it wasn’t for him. He’s scored 6 goals so far in the Champions League this year. Spurs should definitely see off the tie at White Hart Lane. They have been formidable opponents at home in the champions league this season winning 4 and scoring 14 goals. But, surely once they come up against a stronger side in the last 8, this amazing run will come to an end. My second leg prediction is 3-0 (4-0 agg) to Tottenham.

Arguably the dullest match of the round so far. Manchester United travelled to the South of France hoping to nick an away goal, which they failed to do. The match failed to live up to its expectation as both sides failed to carve out any real chances of note. The best falling to Darren Fletcher in the 11th minute when his rasping drive was saved my Steve Mandana in the Marseille goal. Manchester United have now kept clean sheets in their 4 away games in this seasons Champions League, which is very impressive. If they can get a kind draw in the next round (should they go through) then it’s hard to to see them not being in the mix at the end. For Marseille, a victory over the English side could mean they lose Didier Deschamps at the end of the season. With the possibility of some top European jobs becoming vacant come June, it is hard to see him at the Stade Veledrome next season. Manchester United are looking strong enough to go through, 2-0.

6 months ago, a bookmaker wouldn’t have taken bets on Chelsea winning this game. Such has been their fall from grace in recent months many fancied FC Copenhagen to knock the English Champions out of the competition. Carlo Ancellotti once again left Didier Drogba on the bench in favour of new signing Fernando Torres. Torres was amongst the early action missing some early chances, but the star of the show was Nicolas Anelka. Many thought he would make way for Torres, but it’s clear he won’t be at the club just to make up the numbers. He was vital in this win with 2 brilliant finishes. His two goals have surely put Chelsea into the next round. One worry that Chelsea will have is the lack of form from their £50m striker. Another fruitless game for the Spaniard but one feels that his first goal is only a matter of time away. Once that goal goes in, he will start scoring goals. It’s vital for Chelsea’s season that he does. Chelsea should see the tie off at home and move into the last 8, 2-1.

Elsewhere in the knockout stages, Roma suffered a surprise home loss to Shakhtar Donetsk 2-3. Valencia ground out a 1-1 draw away to Schalke, with Raúl continuing his European goalscoring record for the Germans. We pick Donetsk and Valencia to make their way into the quarter finals of European football’s most esteemed competition.

Co-written by cillian17 and robbieoreardon.


One Comment on “The Ins and Outs of the Champions League Knockout Stages.”

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