- Posted by Drew Epperley
- On February 15, 2010
- 0 Comments
- AC Milan, Geoff Reid, Lyon, Manchester United, Real Madrid, UEFA Champions League
By Geoff Reid
It’s that time of year again for Europe’s top clubs as the Champions League comes round again after a winter break. This year’s last 16 match-ups has some intriguing story lines with some players and managers going against their former clubs, and some real david vs goliath clashes ahead. This has the potential to be real classics in the coming weeks. Lets take a look at each of the opening first leg fixtures:
Olympique Lyonnais vs Real Madrid from Stade Gerland, Lyon.
What is particularly fascinating about this match is the return of former Lyon hero Karim Benzema who made 112 appearances and scored 43 goals from 2004-2009. From the French club’s perspective, they have always managed to get out of the group phase of the competition, but have never progressed to the real latter stages of the tournament. This might be there best chance of advancing because on the other side, the galaticos from Madrid have also failed to reach the quarter finals since 2004, and which new galactico Christiano Ronaldo said wants to end. The Portuguese winger was quoted in the associated press saying “It’s a long time. it’s time to bring that to an end. If Real Madrid can’t beat Lyon, then we can’t think about winning the Champions League.” Both clubs are also not top of their respective divisions, which for Real Madrid is not unusual the last few seasons, but for Lyon, it’s a change after so many consecutive seasons winning the French Ligue 1. Both clubs want European success so badly this season. For Lyon, after years of dominating their own domestic league, Europe is the new frontier. Real Madrid on the other hand, have brought in a boat load of new galaticos since former President Florentino Perez took back his old job and buying superstars is the only way he operates.
Lyon’s captain Cris will have his hands full not only with who his opponents are, but his partner in defense is none other then Jean-Alain Boumsong, the same defender that had a nightmare at Newcastle United a few years ago. The key for Lyon will be for their midfield to press high and not give an inch to Madrid’s midfielders and cut off the supply to the forward line. Key to this will be Swedish midfielder Kim Kallstrom. French attacking midfielder Sidney Govou should provide the biggest threat either playing as a winger, central midfielder or a second striker, in support of Argentine forward Lisandro Lopez. This Lyon squad is not as strong as they have been the last few seasons, but when a club can produce the likes of Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, and Karim Benzema, then it’s a sure thing that the next gem is in the current squad and may come alive in this tie.
Real Madrid are blessed with the best goalkeeper in the world currently in Iker Casillas, but the back line in years gone by has not been up to the same standard. While the current back line is better then previous years, it shouldn’t frighten the life out of Lyon by any means. Sergio Ramos is a very fine player, but has a tendency to get caught out of position. Pepe has a hot head on his shoulders and if players like Govou can get under his skin or in his head then it will go a long way. Further up the pitch is where Madrid are most dangerous with an embarrassment of attacking riches on the club’s books. Mahamadou Diarra will help with defensive cover, with Xabi Alonso distributing the ball to teammates from deep positions he’s so good at. The choice of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Rafael Van der Vaart as attacking weapons, take your pick to who you think needs shutting down more? If they all fail, then Guti can always provide a spark that’s lacking. Up front, Manuel Pelligrini, Real Madrid’s manager has Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain to lead the charge and if none of that seems to work, why not bring on club captain, all time top goal scorer for the club and Mr. Real Madrid Raul Gonzalez to provide leadership and inspiration. Not a bad choice of options here right?
Prediction: I feel the first leg will end in a draw. setting up perfectly for the Spanish giants in the second leg. There is simply too much talent on display for this to be a 0-0 draw so I feel the final score of the first leg will end in a 2-2 draw.
AC Milan vs Manchester United from the San Siro, Milan.
Such an intriguing match-up with the David Beckham factor alone, but that that is overshadowing a bunch of other wonderfully gifted players on show locking horns too. Last season’s finalists are no doubt weaker now compared to one year ago with the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, but that doesn’t mean that they’re pushovers either. Sir Alex Ferguson has been one of the top managers in world football the last 25 years and knows how to beat Italian sides especially. He will be facing off against a rookie manager in former Brazilian international Leonardo. He has had a lot to learn in his first season as gaffer, but he has learned by getting thrown in at the deep end and seems to be better for it with Milan getting off to a very slow start, but proving he is capable of turning around the form of the club. Last time Sir Alex went up against a rookie manager was none other then Pep Guardiola of Barcelona who just happen to win every tournament they entered in 2009.
If we take a look at United first, a team that I watch on a weekly basis, through the last two months they’ve had defensive troubles with injuries and personal issues with Dutch shot stopper Edwin Van der Sar. They’ve recently got Rio Ferdinand back from long injury layoff, and are still waiting on Nemanja Vidic to return from a leg injury. Recently, veteran Ryan Giggs broke his arm and the red devils will be sure to miss his leadership, as well as providing an offensive spark off the bench in the final third from open play and set pieces. This should give top scorer in this competition, Michael Owen a chance on the biggest stage where he has always had a habit of showing up. Look for Owen to either partner England colleague Wayne Rooney up front or come on as a sub in the second half to support him. Rooney is having his best season as a professional and look for Milan to try and neutralize him as much as possible.
Keeping Rooney quiet will be key for Milan’s chances of advancing because Brazilian goalkeeper Dida has never convinced after all these years, and the back line is of course a little younger then previous years but still up there in age. Alessandro Nesta should be partnered in the heart of defense with Tiago Silva who seems to have recovered from a groin strain. Beckham may not start this one because the last two games he’s come off the bench and Leonardo may have other ideas of how to attack United. The midfield will be anchored by one of world’s best holding midfielders Andrea Pirlo, and he should be supported by former Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini and midfield destroyer Gennaro Gattuso. Up top, Milan will most likely go with a three pronged attack in Brazilian wonderkid Alexandre Pato, Dutch ace Klass-Jan Huntelaar and player of the past decade Ronaldinho. Always been one of my favorite players to watch, he seems to have recaptured his best form after the departure of national team colleague and friend, Kaka. Back in July, I predicted that we’d see the best of Ronny because of that, and at least so far, he hasn’t disappointed.
Prediction: I believe this will be a 0-0 draw. Sir Alex knows how to get the better of Italian clubs, and no doubt will be looking to get a result on the road for the return leg at Old Trafford. That’s not to say there won’t be any scoring because it wouldn’t surprise me if we had a scoring draw, but United should get the result they need, and if they get an away goal so much the better.
More previews tomorrow for Bayern Munich vs Fiorentina and FC Porto vs Arsenal first legs.
Editor’s Note: Geoff Reid appears on WVHooligan each week. Feel free to leave Geoff your thoughts/comments below. You can also reach him on Twitter @GeoffReid