UEFA Champions League 2011-12: Last 16 Preview

David JacobsCorrespondent IFebruary 12, 2012

UEFA Champions League 2011-12: Last 16 Preview

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    I wouldn't mind Spurs building the stadium featured in the picture!

     

    Anyway, here I am with another go at the 'Power Ratings' preview of the last 16.

    I did it for last year's tournament and enjoyed researching teams other than the usual contenders as well.

    The English clubs already haven't had the best start to their Champions League campaign. In fact, that may just be the B/R Understatement Of The Year 2012!!!

    The two English teams expected to walk it (Manchester United and Manchester City) have walked OUT with their tails between their legs and the two teams from London expected to be expelled from the tournament (Arsenal and Chelsea) have surprisingly managed to get through to the last-16 when it didn't look as easy as previous years would suggest.

    The proverbial jaws of the football-viewing public had all dropped by about 9:45PM on the 7th December 2011 as Manchester United failed to even get a draw from plucky, Swiss high-flyers FC Basel who sent the Red Devils crashing out with a 2-1 victory.

    Back in the blue half of Manchester, they did give Bayern Munich a lesson in football, but for now that's the only one they'll be able to give as Napoli 'hollowed out' City's victory with a 0-2 away win against stragglers Villareal. Bayern secured their place in the last-16 before their final game so to heckle City fans a bit more.

    Munich may have just been lackluster because they could afford to be like that. Plus there's no subsequent £190m debt!

    As a Spurs fan, I can't help but go to bed smirking about the rather short-lived exploits of one particular team here. But for the purposes of neutrality, I shall leave it to you to guess which one!
    I'm serious, the pundits hyped them up immediately when they hadn't truly earned the right to such praise or accolades.

    The teams have been sorted alphabetically for your convenience. I'll go literally from A-Z (that's AC Milan to Zenit St. Petersburg!) analyzing the chances they have of advancing past their opponents, to the final and winning the trophy. There has already been a surprise or several!

    What's to stop some more like that?

    Football - It's a funny ol' game!

    [Thank you Greavise] ;)

    - Although, as a matter of fact, it wasn't him who came up with that observation.

    The great sports journalist/writer Norman Giller, a close friend of Greaves, came up with that famous line as a title to one of his books; the former Chelsea and Tottenham legend then took it on as his catchphrase while working as a pundit, and judging by some of the games and gaffes witnessed over the years, rightfully so.

    Right, off we go then!...

    Oh, and MANY MANY thanks to http://en.wikipedia.org and http://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/ for their sources of information which I'm about to use excessively for data.

AC Milan: The Italians Have Quite a Job.

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    GROUP STAGE FORM - DWWDLD


    NEXT OPPONENT - ARSENAL

    If you look at the results of the matches in Group H, you might say AC Milan - on face value - looked slightly below par for a well established Champions League side who have won the tournament seven times—the second highest number of title wins behind Real Madrid (nine times).

    Their group stage campaign kicked off with a hard-earned 2-2 draw away to La Liga high-flyers Barcelona.

    The Rossonieri broke a Champions League record by scoring the fastest goal in the tournament's history (a blistering 25 seconds). Alexandre Pato was the goalscorer and things suddenly looked very promising for Milan fans. 

    But as expected, Barcelona didn't shrivel up.

    Before half time, Pedro had equalised and five minutes after the second half commenced, David Villa scored a stunning 30 yard free-kick to put Barca into the lead and back in control of the game.

    But towards the end, Milan were holding their own ground, and their tenacity was rewarded late into injury time when Thiago pounced on a Clarence Seedorf corner to grab a late point.

    Two comfortable home wins against Vitoria Plzen and BATE Borisov followed this.

    However, when Milan played their away games against those two little-known teams, both scores were tied at 1-1 and 2-2 respectively. When you can't grind out results against such teams - with all due respect - it is usually reflected in future knockout matches as the best teams naturally remain in the tournament.

    Sandwich a 2-3 home defeat to Barcelona between the two draws and you have a team who may not be cut out to progress much further this time round.

    POWER RATING - 2/5

APOEL Nicosia: APOEL Nice-to-See-Ya!

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    GROUP STAGE FORM - WDDWDL

     

    NEXT OPPONENT - OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS

    Group G turned out to be one of the more closely run groups, but it's not clear if it's because of the competitiveness of all four teams involved or because they are roughly the same 'calibre' as each other.

    Porto, being former champions should have set the benchmark and looked favourites from the early stages to coast through this group of APOEL, Shakhtar Donetsk and Zenit St. Petersburg. A 2-1 win against Shakhtar gave the impression that it'll be a good run. It didn't materialise and Porto were pushed down to third, but only by one point.

    The table seems all topsy-turvy now as Porto were knocked out, Zenit took second place and a relatively new Cypriot team topped the group and made history by doing so.

    No Cypriot side has ever made it into the last 16 until now, so whatever happens, their country will back them to the hilt.

    Group  G

     

          Total  
      Clubs P W D L F A +/- Pts
    1 APOEL FC              6               2 3 1 6 6 0 9
    2 Zenit St Petersburg             6                     2 3 1 7 5 2 9
    3 FC Porto             6             2 2 2 7 7 0 8
    4  FC Shakhtar Donetsk             6             1 2 3 6 8 -2 5

    Everyone loves an underdog, I know I do!

    However, APOEL only tied with Zenit on points AND scored two goals less than them. With that being said, Zenit should be put at the top of the table on goal difference.

    Anyway, APOEL face Olympique Lyonnais in the last 16 and have the away-goal advantage, although Lyonnais are used to the pressure involved in this competition and may not have too much trouble with the "newbies".

    APOEL will need to toughen up their defence after conceding the same number of goals that they scored (6).

    POWER RATING - 1/5

    The table above is extracted from uefa.com - http://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/season=2012/standings/round=2000263/group=2001391/index.html

Arsenal: Can the Gunners Battle Towards the Final?

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    GROUP STAGE FORM - DWWDWL

     

    NEXT OPPONENT - AC MILAN

    Arsenal have had a shaky start to their season and are now in the same position Spurs were in two seasons ago—scrapping for a top-four spot when usually, they always secure third or fourth place with ease, owing to the high-quality attacking football they play.

    OH how boots like to switch feet!

    Nonetheless, Arsenal still qualified for a place in the Champions League knockout stages this year.

    Arsenal and Spurs can be two of a kind in places. Sometimes, when they go 1-0 up, they find it difficult to kill the game off.

    Spurs demonstrated this at West Brom on the 3rd January this year, and more recently, after peppering Wolves' goal at White Hart Lane, a 1-1 draw was the result and Steven Fletcher's goal for Wolves was very much against the run of play.

    Arsenal demonstrated a perfect example of this "capitulation" in their first group game against Borussia Dortmund. The Gunners went 1-0 up thanks to Robin Van Persie, their talisman this season but then in the final minutes allowed Ivan Perišić to volley a super shot into the corner for an unwanted 1-1 draw.

    Things then started looking up for the Gunners in the group stage at home to Olympiacos and then away to Marseille, not the easiest of away days I must say. This was made clear by the fact that it took a last-gasp goal--from substitute Aaron Ramsey--to take a vital three points back across the Channel.

    Credit coming your way now Arsenal;

    A win is a win, however you do it. PLUS, Arsenal have a right to brag about being the first English club this year to secure a place in the last 16 WITH a game to spare! Something which Chelsea were unable to do (they were very shaken by their late defeat to Bayer Leverkusen but the Blues are still through) and something which both Manchester clubs didn't get a chance to do. 

    On that basis alone, I might for once tip Arsenal to go further than Chelsea but I shall pipe down now; you know the old saying—careless talk costs trophies!

    Arsenal's next opponents are AC Milan so they certainly will have a tough game ahead of them, but there could've been more dangerous teams to get drawn with.

    So if Arsenal make the most of it and come out with all guns blazing, despite their league title hopes being short-lived, a season of silverware might not be.


    POWER RATING
     - 3/5

Barcelona: Barce or Farce?

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    GROUP STAGE FORM - DWWWWW

     

    NEXT OPPONENT - BAYER LEVERKUSEN

    As if Barcelona need their ego massaged any more. NEXT!

    Joking! How could I even dream of skimming over such a prominent and dominant team who have arguably the biggest fan base in the world?

    But seriously though, I don't really need to tell you what everyone already knows about them and accepts more willingly than Darwin's Theory of Evolution!

    They are the best team in the world right now.

    And apart from descending into 'holding-my-face-when-he-tapped-me-on-the-shin' competitions with Real Madrid, they play a good game of football.

    Barcelona as a last-16 opponent are a bigger inconvenience to the other 15 teams than a pair of French breast implants.

    Even though their bitter rivals Real Madrid have won the Champions League twice as many times (plus an extra one to make nine), many believe that since Barcelona's SEXTUPLE title haul in 2009 (that's the La Liga title, Copa Del Rey, Supercopa de España, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup AND the FIFA Club World Cup), the tables have somewhat been turned dramatically as Barcelona have nudged Real Madrid out of the spotlight.

    However, the quality of football exhibited by both teams has not diminished at all.

    The Catalans have already knocked Real Madrid out of the Copa Del Rey this season, so if the two sides were to meet again in this competition, Barcelona would once again be the favourites to win.

    Messi has taken a centre forward role in recent times and he's just as good in that position as he is on the right wing cutting inside.

    Competitors better get wise to that as well. And once they get wise to it, they better have a plan to deal with it. And once they have a plan to deal with it, they'll need to execute said plan!


    POWER RATING
     - 5/5

FC Basel: The 'Mental' in 'Emmental'

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    GROUP STAGE FORM - WDLDWW

     

    NEXT OPPONENT - BAYERN MUNICH

    I have to say that FC Basel's initials, logo and kit appear to make up a Poundland version of FC Barcelona. The colours and the traditional-style regulation football draw the stronger comparisons.

    For the non-British-inducted folks reading this, Poundland is equivalent to whatever chain of "dollar-stores" USA may have.

    Ok, enough of me making holes in a Swiss team...oops...did it again.

    You could even call them "FC Basel-ona." The possibilities are endless!

    Basel are the only Swiss side to qualify for the Champions League directly (e.g. without having to make it through a playoff). They also make a good pesto.

    I think I'll restrain myself on the punnery from now on.

    Die Rotblau had a "sandwich" campaign. Started with a 2-1 home win against Romanian minnows
    FC Oţelul Galaţi, followed by a rip-roaring 3-3 draw at Manchester United and a 0-2 humbling by group table toppers SL Benfica.

    But on the return to Benfica's patch, Basel drew 1-1 and finished with flair as they narrowly beat Oţelul Galaţi 2-3 and defeated Manchester United 2-1 back at St. Jakob Park, arguably like they deserved to do at Old Trafford.

    Striker Alexander Frei has been in sublime form for his hometown club since his return back in 2009. He is the talisman this season and it may be enough to see them through for a while, considering he is a goalscorer and goals win games usually.

    But one man can't be a complete team, so the campaign may be cut short by bigger fish in the pond.

     

    POWER RATING - 2/5

Bayer Leverkusen: The Job's Not Done Bayer Longshot

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    GROUP STAGE FORM - LWWLWD



    NEXT OPPONENT - F.C. BARCELONA

    The only surprise I can see from Group E is that Leverkusen scored four goals less than Valencia CF, conceded one more than them and STILL managed to progress with a goal difference of ZERO!
    Valencia had a goal difference of +5 and there was a two-point gap between the two sides by the end of the group stage.

    You could say Leverkusen were rather lucky in that sense, but it wasn't luck which got them a late 2-1 home win against group winners Chelsea.

    They worked very hard to get something from that game. A never-give-up work ethic is always an underrated quality, but nevertheless desirable by many teams.

    Thing is, Barcelona are able to deal with anything thrown at them 95% of the time, even work ethic. They mechanically play blinding football almost every time and have pretty much everything
    to show for it.


    Die Werkself's erratic group stage form still leaves some people wondering what might happen. Seeing as the favourites are their opponents, I cannot call myself a credible writer if I was to think Leverkusen are going to walk it against Barcelona, who once again look an unstoppable force.

    Barcelona would have to be very much off-par by their own standards if Leverkusen were to get anything significant from the away leg.

    POWER RATING - 2/5 

Bayern Munich: Once in a Blue Mun!

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    GROUP STAGE FORM - WWDWWL



    NEXT OPPONENT - F.C. BASEL

    Bayern Munich appear to have been a Champions League constant.

    Well, I've never known them to be knocked out until at least this stage. Expectation from the fans demands it. Expectation becomes highly addictive when teams begin the doing-fantastically-well process.

    I may have said this before but Bayern Munich are definitely the "Manchester United" of Germany.

    Firstly, they consider themselves as a "national club."

    With 2,437 official fan clubs across the country (totalling 10million supporters) who can blame them. It does reinforce the 'glory hunter' myth though that:  a large number of Munich fans would have to travel 120 miles to the Allianz Arena for a match. From London to Manchester, Mancs with oyster cards would have to travel a distance of 163 miles.

    Close enough.

    Secondly, there is a similarity about their rivalries with other teams.

    Bayern Munich's "local rival" is (TSV) 1860 Munich, whose considerably smaller fan base can be considered more local to the area. Their heyday was in the 1960s and in that decade, they swept up two top division titles (one of them was the Oberliga Sud—Predecessor to the present Bundesliga) and the German Cup.

    Manchester United's local rival is Manchester City.

    Their heyday was also in the 1960s. They grabbed themselves a Second Division title, which gave them promotion to the First-Division and they won that title just two seasons after. They won the FA Cup the following year. You see? Two leagues, one cup...don't worry, I won't link you to "that" video.

    Until recently, they too had also faded into the distance and watched in agony as their dominant rivals continued raking in the trophies and continuously running out of space in the cabinet.

    Bayern Munich and Manchester United have both enjoyed multiple title wins during the 2000s
    and even before that.

    OK, I've finished going way off topic now. Back to the preview:

    The primary expectation of getting through to this stage has been fulfilled for yet another year. As have the group-topping results. Apart from a slight hiccup away to Napoli with a 1-1 draw, Munich ran the gauntlet in their usual attacking style with Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery on the flanks providing fantastic service to the very sharp Mario Gomez.

    Combined with one of their best recent acquisitions in goal—former Schalke star Manuel Neuer and the important areas of the field are covered, and covered well.

    Humbling Manchester City early on in the group stage, nicking a 3-2 victory against a tough Napoli side and routinely beating Villareal at the Allianz arena guaranteed qualification with a game to spare, which they happily let the Citizens have their way with at the Etihad Stadium; Napoli's victory over Villareal the same night had no bearing on second place following City's rather unlucky away trip to Napoli two weeks earlier.


    POWER RATING - 4/5

Benfica Lisbon: Fringe Ben-Fics

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    GROUP STAGE FORM - DWWDWW




    NEXT OPPONENT
    - ZENIT ST. PETERSBURG

    Benfica are on-par with Real Madrid and Barcelona in the sense of being undefeated in the group stage of this competition and I may cause controversy when I say that the quality of the football is on a par with them too.

    After all, the results show they've been doing something right.

    Whilst it appeared easy to predict the "top" and "bottom" teams in this group, not many people expected the turnout we've had this year; and those same people would admit being tempted to bet their life-savings on Manchester United qualifying 'as usual'.

    It wasn't the easiest opening game for Benfica, but they impressed their home fans with a 1-1 draw with Manchester United, who were looking a bit ropey at the time. Benfica dominated much of the game with 14 shots at goal compared to United's uncharacteristic four shots. Oscar Cardozo scored the first goal 24 minutes into the first half with a superb finish.

    But Ryan Giggs, one of United's many talismans replied in less than 20 minutes with an equally wonderful goal to give the Red Devils a lifeline and their first on-target shot of the game. In a frantic few minutes of second-half stoppage time, Nolito missed a golden opportunity by tapping the ball just wide, leaving one team relieved and the other wondering what could've been.

    Stop reading for a moment to guess which one was which!

    Their most impressive win seemed to be away to FC Basel and that was the Swiss team's only defeat in their campaign. Manchester United folded when they visited Basel, but does that necessarily mean Benfica are currently better than Manchester United as an exhibition European side?

    Maybe not, but it does make you scratch your head how against all expectation, Manchester United, a giant of world football failed to qualify this year.

    Benfica showed bottle and football flair on all their away days, including a second draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford, but will their nerves of steel be enough to see them through to the final and possibly knock the two La Liga giants off their perch?

    As the Portuguese would say it—possível.

     

    POWER RATING - 3/5

Chelsea: It Nearly Blue Up in Their Faces!

9 of 17

    GROUP STAGE FORM - WDWDLW




    NEXT OPPONENT - NAPOLI

    There is an inconvenient truth about the relationship between enhanced team successes and the expectation from the fans—when success grows, the expectation grows too, sometimes the latter grows too quickly and sackings occur as if the manager has murdered the club owner's cat, fed the entrails to his dog, videoed it, uploaded it on youtube titled "lolz" and sent a copy to the owner

    You'd be forgiven for saying that the torches and pitchforks are being ordered on ebay by Abramovitch.

    It sounds like Andre Villas-Boas' end-of-season fate is already sealed following their rather embarrassing 3-3 draw at home to Manchester United after going 3-0 up.

    I noticed something strange in Chelsea's group (E): NONE of the four teams won a single away game.

    That statistic sums up Chelsea right now to some degree that they are playing at the same level as Valencia, but as slightly more biased fans (supporters of rival clubs) see it, they appear to be about as good as Genk!

    But with the exception of a two-points-dropped game against Bayer Leverkusen, Chelsea's group stage campaign looked like plain sailing. They scored 13 goals and only conceded four, earning them a deserved place in the last 16.

    Chelsea's weaknesses when they go to Napoli will be a proneness to "folding" under pressure when they're a goal down, or even when three goals in front (see Chelsea v Manchester United for reference), unless Drogba becomes a regular again or Torres pulls his finger out.


    I recommend bringing Drogba back into the mix as he is much more effective than Torres.

    Sacking Villas-Boas now will have no positive effect whatsoever.


    POWER RATING - 4/5

CSKA Moscow: Russia Hour!!

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    GROUP STAGE FORM - DLWDLW

     

    NEXT OPPONENT - REAL MADRID

    CSKA Moscow's group stage form shows their fans that they could not get bored supporting them this season. It was something different every time. They surprised Lille when striker Doumbia pulled Moscow out of a hole by scoring a brace to scrape a 2-2 draw.

    When Inter Milan came to visit two weeks later, CSKA lost, but not without coming back from 2-0 down again.

    Lucio and Pazzini opened the scoring early on in the first half for Inter Milan. On the stroke of half time, Dzagoev pulled a goal back giving the Nerazzuri something to think about in the second half. Vagner-Love spread his "love" around the Luzhniki stadium by equalising in the 77th minute for CSKA.

    Their back-from-the-dead approach seemed to have worked once again, but the Italian behemoths crashed the party just two minutes later when Zarate scored a third goal.


    The surprises continued as they won 3-0 against Turkish team Trabzonspor.

    On the final matchday in the group stage, they pulled off the biggest surprise of their campaign by getting revenge on Inter Milan at the San Siro with a 1-2 away win.

    It is widely believed that you can't beat a bit of Eastern-European work ethic, but if in the form of a football team, it is somewhat possible—particularly if faced with a match against Real Madrid, who score goals for fun when it suits them, which doesn't always seem to be during El Clasico!

    Can CSKA pull off an even BIGGER surprise?

     

    POWER RATING - 3/5

Inter Milan: Inter the Finals Again...?

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    GROUP STAGE FORM - LWWWDL

     

    NEXT OPPONENT - OLYMPIQUE MARSEILLE

    Strangely enough, Inter Milan—along with their other Group B opponents—have been slightly better on away games than at home. In away games, they never lost—but at home, the won one and lost two!

    The Nerazzurri started badly with a shock 0-1 home defeat to Trabzonspor despite getting more than treble the number of shots at goal. Trabzonspor right-back, Ondřej Čelůstka poached a rebound after Halil Altintop hit the crossbar. Inter picked up the pace a fortnight after with an away win against CSKA Moscow.

    They grabbed an away win against Lille and beat them a second time at the San Siro, which would become their last victory of their group stage campaign as they went on to draw away against Trabzonspor and lose at home for a second time against CSKA Moscow. Remember, they were never secure at the top spot in the group as the points table would prove to you.

    Inter Milan are away in the first leg against Olympique Marseille, so maybe their away form will equate to some vital away goals to build up the aggregate. However, a team's form isn't something they can rely on to see them through as form is forgotten about when the opening whistle blows.

    With all due respect, Inter Milan's opponents weren't exactly seasoned former title-holders like them, which makes me doubt them as this year's title contenders.

     

    POWER RATING - 3/5

Olympique Lyonnais: Olympique Lucky, Eh?

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    GROUP STAGE FORM - DWLLDW

     

    NEXT OPPONENT - APOEL NICOSIA

    Olympique Lyon scraped through to the last 16 this season (more on that a little bit later).

    In a close-run match with Ajax, they got away with a goalless draw.

    They then went away to get a 0-2 win against Croatian points dispenser Dinamo Zagreb (well, come on, they didn't win any games, they scored three and conceded 22; it wasn't a good tournament for them just being honest). In the return fixture against Ajax, it was another goalless draw and by the closing game of the group stage, Ajax were on course for a place in the knockout stage with eight points and a goal difference of +3; Lyon had five points and a goal difference of -4.

    Initially Lyon's progression looked unlikely from then on. However, the luck of the fixture list on the final matchday left Ajax facing the undefeated Real Madrid and Lyon facing Dinamo Zagreb.

    Le Gones had to go hell-for-leather and rack up some goals.

    They did just that.

    Whilst Ajax got swallowed whole 0-3 by Real Madrid's subs, Lyon turned a major defecit into a major win. Dinamo Zagreb got in front late into the second half but Lyon forward Gomis replied just before the whistle.

    Shortly after the break, the goals started to fly in, and I mean that literally. Gomis scored a hat-trick within six minutes. He added a fifth goal at 70 minutes on the other side of Lisandro's goal and Briand made it 7-1 with another goal to complete the miracle and send Lyon into the last 16.

    Now, about that "luck" Lyon had, let me show you the Group D table to illustrate my point:



         Home          Away        ||          Total          
      Clubs P W D L W D L W D L F A +/- Pts
    1 Real Madrid CF Real Madrid CF 6 3 0 0 3 0 0 6 0 0 19 2 17 18
    2 Olympique Lyonnais" src="http://img.uefa.com/imgml/TP/teams/logos/18x18/5312.png" height="18" alt="Olympique Lyonnais" width="18"> Olympique Lyonnais 6 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 9 7 2 8
    3 AFC Ajax AFC Ajax 6 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 6 6 0 8
    4 GNK Dinamo Zagreb GNK Dinamo Zagreb 6 0 0 3 0 0 3 0 0 6 3 22 -19 0


    SOURCE: http://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/season=2012/standings/round=2000263/group=2001388/index.html

    I don't think it's ever happened before in all that is group stage football, but Group C looked almost "perfectly representative" of a top team, a bottom team and two mid-table teams along with 11 clean sheets all round!

    I maintain that Olympique Lyonnais got very lucky and "scraped through" because they had exactly the same number of wins, draws and losses, home AND away, as AFC Ajax!
    The goal difference was the line between survival and elimination.

    Some may say the fixtures calendar did Lyon a favour with Zagreb being the final fixture so Lyon ought to do their survival justice by playing their best game against APOEL.

    POWER RATING - 2/5

Olympique Marseille: Is There Life on Mars-Eille?

13 of 17

    GROUP STAGE FORM - WWLDLW

     

    NEXT OPPONENT - INTER MILAN

    It was full steam ahead for Olympique Marseille.

    Les Phocéens got an away win from Olympiacos in Greece and bulldozed Borussia Dortmund 3-0 at Stade Velodrome in their native France. However, they were unable to take advantage of an Arsenal team who in the Premier League were stumbling but in the Champions League have proven their mettle and character in order to top Group F.

    Arsenal's substitute winger Aaron Ramsey stepped in at the last minute to score a solitary winning goal from the bench. It threw a proverbial spanner in the works for Marseille. They managed to gain a point from the Emirates on the return fixture, but Olympiacos took three points from Marseille on their travels
    to France.

    It went down to the wire as Marseille needed to beat Borussia Dortmund a second time, which would nullify the result of Olympicaos' game at home against Arsenal and qualify.

    Olympiacos beat Arsenal comfortably (3-1), but it wasn't enough to keep Marseille in third position, as they came from 2-0 down (sounds familiar) to win 2-3 against Dortmund in a dramatic end to the group stage.

    Their away form in the Champions League was slightly better than their home form, but Inter Milan's away form was better than their home form, so maybe that will have a bearing on the outcome of the two upcoming legs.

     

    POWER RATING - 3/5

SC Napoli: Will They Be Caught Napping?

14 of 17

    GROUP STAGE FORM - DWDLWW



    NEXT OPPONENTS - CHELSEA

    Like Tottenham Hotspur did last season, Napoli have finally lost their Champions League "V-plates" this season and have got it right first time.

    But Group A turned out to be a major scrap for the top two places. Napoli were a tough team to crack, and with only one loss—a 3-2 loss away to a solid Bayern Munich side—nobody could begrudge Napoli a place in the last 16 with their exciting games.

    The only thing standing in Napoli's way right now would be Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech with his dogged match-winning goalkeeping performances, despite the defence in front of him being prone to nerves as soon as they concede one goal.

    Edinson Cavani is in top form for Napoli and so will be even hungrier for a goal or two against an established team like Chelsea.

    The fact that Chelsea are away to Napoli first will add a lot of pressure to them and make them crack.
    Chelsea recently capitaluted against Manchester United even though they were initially home and dry on 3-0. Napoli will look to capitalise, and may progress if Chelsea's faltering league form leaks into their European campaign.

    If any underdog is going to make it to the final in Munich this season, it's likely to be Napoli with Cavani and his "Cava-nier" attitude (*badoom tssh*).


    POWER RATING - 4/5

Real Madrid: Real Mad-Bid?

15 of 17

    GROUP STAGE FORM - WWWWWW



    NEXT OPPONENT - CSKA MOSCOW

    Real Madrid and Barcelona are always trying to outdo each other as La Liga title rivals in goals, in skills, scorelines, cleansheets, diving and even seeing how many nerve endings in the players' legs are connected to their faces!

    In this group stage, Real Madrid won the points round with a clean sweep of victories in the group stage while Barcelona "trailed" behind with five wins and a draw—OH THE HUMANITY! In the goalscoring round, Barcelona scored one more goal (20) than Real Madrid (19); it's 1-1.

    The tiebreaker? Goal concessions. Real Madrid conceded two goals less (2) than Barcelona (4).

    Real Madrid win the El Clasico Statico match 2-1!

    Anyway, Real Madrid stormed the group stage and secured their spot in the knockout stages with one or even two games to spare. That takes some doing, and Jose Mourinho has the tactical nous, the man management and above all, sheer arrogance to get the best out of his players and take them all the way to the final.

    Like Barcelona, I don't need to tell you much about how prominent they are.

    In the tournament Real Madrid are nine times champions and three times runners-up, but they haven't won it in 10 years and Barcelona have been the team to lift the title most recently.

    I sit and wonder if Real Madrid want to win the title purely because they want to lap up the glory of being the best team in Europe and—as Europe is arguaby the epicentre of football supremacy—best team in the world, or they want to get one over on their closest rivals since Atletico Madrid, whose formation was contributed to by dissidents from the Whites (Los Blancos) in 1904.

    Will the tide turn this year? The Copa Del Rey says no, but Mourinho is saying yes...because he is truly special.

    POWER RATING - 5/5

Zenit St. Petersburg: Will Zenit Reach a Zenith?

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    GROUP STAGE FORM - LWDWDD




    NEXT OPPONENT - S.L. BENFICA

    I'm very sorry football fans, but I'm pretty much exhausted of unique insightful things to say now.

    I'm knackered, but with my last fluid ounces of journalistic "magic potion-y stuff," I'll try and make an observation on the final team in this slideshow—Zenit St. Petersburg—just for you lovely people who took your entire lunch-hour (or teabreak if you're skim-reading!) to look at my previews!

    It's a UEFA rule that no two teams from the same country can meet each other until the Quarter-Finals, so if Zenit St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow can weather the storm from their respective opponents, another tale of two cities may open up, and as I mentioned the Russian work-ethic earlier, I'll bring it up again and say that it could turn out to be a damn good match if the two teams were drawn together in the next round.

    However, fantasy will need to be put to one side until we get some concrete results.

    And with Zenit, it wasn't all that pretty.

    They didn't win an away game but defeated Champions League veterans Porto 3-1 at Stadium Petrovskiy. They won 1-0 against Shakhtar Donetsk as well, but not much of note happened after that. Zenit drew their last two games and got through thanks to the goalless draw against Porto on the final matchday.

    If you looked at the teams in that group (Group G), you could deduce that the team Zenit should've beaten (APOEL) weren't beaten; and the teams they were likely to lose to (Shakhtar Donetsk and Porto) drew and lost to them!

    Group G ended up looking very topsy-turvy with APOEL at the top; and the two more familiar sets of faces in the Champions League (Shakhtar and Porto) at the bottom.

    Zenit may know what it's like to win a European trophy or two (UEFA Cup 2008 and UEFA Super Cup 2008), but seeing how low-scoring this year's group stage was for them, it may be the end of the line against Benfica,

    POWER RATING - 1/5 

And That's All Folks!

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    And that's all folks!

    I'm knackered and should've got this done before Monday (which it is in the UK, where I live,
    woop woop!).

    Now I'm not going to get the gold medal on my profile I've been longing for since I joined

    (everybody go '"aaaawwwww")

    That's it for this year's Champions League Last-16 preview. I hope you enjoy whatever surprises this season's tournament throws at us, the football-watching world...and there will be a surprise I'm sure.

    I will now exit humming the tune of "Zadok The Priest" (The Champions League theme song).

    Goodnight World!