Champions League Quarterfinals: Predicting Each Tie's Outcome
This is where it all gets interesting. The Champions League quarterfinals are around the corner and all of us European football fans are eagerly anticipating the matches in front of us.
The draw in Nyon, Switzerland gave us these four wonderful ties: APOEL, the surprise package of the quarterfinals got here by beating Lyon, takes on nine-time winners Real Madrid, who conquered the challenge of CSKA Moscow. The winner of that tie plays the winner of Marseille, the only French side left in the competition after beating Inter Milan, and Bayern Munich, the German representative who demolished FC Basel 7-0 in the second leg of the Round of 16.
The other side of the draw has Benfica, who slayed the Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg, take on the only English team who, in unlikely circumstances, came back to beat Napoli, Chelsea FC. The winner of that tie plays the winner of the most interesting tie, in my opinion. The tie puts up a rematch of a group stage match up, AC Milan, the Italians who (barely) fought off Arsenal, and FC Barcelona, the defending champions, who destroyed Bayer Leverkusen in the second leg, thanks to a Lionel Messi 5-goal cameo.
The matchups that UEFA drew up for us gave us many interesting stories coming from seven different countries. From Spain to Cyprus, we'll have all types of competition from around Europe.
Here's my take on the four match-ups and who'll face off in the semifinals of Europe's most prestigious competition.
Olympique De Marseille vs. FC Bayern Munich
The last time FC Bayern Munich faced French opposition was on the way to the final in Madrid in 2010. They faced Olympique Lyonnais and beat them 4-0 on aggregate. This time they face Olympique de Marseille, the former team of Franck Ribery, Bayern's left winger and talisman. It'll be his first trip back to Marseille since leaving the club for the German giants.
Aside from all the feel-good stories, the French side had a tough round-of-16 fight with Inter Milan, scraping through with a late goal in each of the two games. The tie finished 2-2 on aggregate but Marseille went on to the next round courtesy of the away goals rule.
FC Hollywood, as they call them, played FC Basel in the last round, and were in for a scare, when they took home a 1-0 defeat after a late goal in Switzerland. After that loss, they took a loss in the league to Bayer Leverkusen, and after that, everyone wondered, "what's going on in Bavaria?" The tides turned after that, with Bayern destroying Hoffenheim 7-1 and following suit by beating Basel 7-0 and ending up in the quarterfinals.
Marseille lost their starting goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to a red card in the second leg in Milan, and Bayern recently got a boost from the return of Bastian Schweinsteiger from injury. Bayern seems to be on the up as opposed to Marseille, where they're just scraping by.
FC Bayern has stepped up to the plate when it mattered, and in significant style, which makes me believe that they'll step up to the plate again and slay the French challenge that is Olympique de Marseille.
Winner: FC Bayern Munich
APOEL FC vs. Real Madrid CF
Real Madrid must be pretty pleased with the way their draw is set up. They missed out on the big teams automatically, probably got the easiest team in the draw and are in fine form going into the stretch of the season. If you haven't noticed already, Ronaldo's scoring goals at will, like it or not.
APOEL FC haven't followed the script and ended up in the last eight of the Champions League by beating Lyon on penalties. I'm sure they'll be looking forward to facing the nine-time winners of this competition, and they'll certainly be the underdog in this one.
I say Real Madrid face Bayern Munich in the semifinals, with a nice relative win against APOEL over two legs.
Winner: Real Madrid CF
SL Benfica vs. Chelsea FC
The story of Chelsea's 2011-2012 season. Where do we start?
They hire Andre Villas Boas, high hopes arise. They start the season decently, but not up to Chelsea standards. Struggle in the group with Valencia, Leverkusen and Genk. Barely go through as group winners. They play Napoli in the first leg, AVB leaves out Cole and Lampard, they lose 3-1. Bad form in the league, AVB gets the ax, on comes Di Matteo, and they've won three games in a row, including a 4-1 comeback win over Napoli to get to this stage of the quarterfinals. The story's not over.
Into the picture comes SL Benfica who's not in great form but they have shown up at the right times in Europe, getting two away goals in Russia, and finished off the job at home 2-0. They aren't a pushover certainly, and they'll put Chelsea to the test.
With Di Matteo at the helm for now and Benfica loving the European stage lately, this tie is as interesting as Milan-Barcelona without the rematch factor. I think Chelsea have been here before too many times to let this go down the drain and will go through with a tough fight in Portugal for sure.
Winner: Chelsea FC
AC Milan vs. FC Barcelona
The defending champions of Europe versus the defending champions of Italy.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic getting another shot at beating Guardiola and the former employers, FC Barcelona.
AC Milan are in nice form if we're talking about the Italian league, but a blemish on their overall form is the thrashing they got at the Emirates in the last round, almost surrendering a 4-0 first leg advantage in London. They showed a few flaws in the back, with Arsenal applying the pressure at all costs and almost got the turnaround. All in all, AC Milan went through and now have the task of knocking down the Spanish giants FC Barcelona.
The Blaugrana, or FC Barcelona, are 10 points behind to Real Madrid in the league, but that won't hurt them one bit in this tie. As we all know, the tiki-taka style of Barcelona is hard to defeat, and the exceptionally play of Lionel Messi with 50 goals this season puts them in good position to beat AC Milan, even though Milan is a very formidable opponent (check the group stage results).
In Barcelona, the two played out to a 2-2 draw, thanks to an early Alexandre Pato goal and a late Thiago Silva header. In Milan, the story looked to be the same as it was 2-2 in the second half until Xavi broke the deadlock and Barcelona won that game, eventually winning the group.
When we look at the whole picture, the world will be looking forward to this match of two European giants, but I just think Barcelona are too experienced at this stage, in the big games, to let AC Milan get to them. It's going to be extremely tough, nonetheless, but I say Barcelona goes through to meet Chelsea, by a narrow aggregate score, with two great games at the Camp Nou and the San Siro.
Winner: FC Barcelona