This one I felt contrarian about after the first leg. Common sense and normal analysis now say that Barca should win relatively easily. They are at home, have the away goal, have gotten back to winning with last weekend’s La Liga win, increased their lead to six points thus taking some pressure off the squad and have Messi. However, a big reason they are favored is that Benzema is a doubt. On the other side, Lyon have the always dangerous Juninho (his first leg goal was probably one of the top 3 free kicks I have ever seen given where it was taken from), nothing to lose and a shaky Barca defense now that Puyol is out. That’s the one major chink in the armor.
Key: If Lyon can score first, they have a shot. However, no Benzema is a problem. I just don’t know if they will have the gas to keep Barca out for 90 minutes on that big pitch at the Camp Nou. Plus, Iniesta is back. I also think Eto’o is due to score.
Surprise match winner: Keita or Gerard Pique.
Prediction: Barca 3 Lyon 1 (if Benzema plays, Lyon in an upset on away goals after holding Barca 2-2).
This could be the second most exciting tie of the day. Atletico will have to go for it as Porto has two away goals. However, they don’t have to go for it till the second half. Try telling that to such an attacking squad. I love Aguero, Forlan, Simao and Maxi as a quad going forward. They are as good as any of the top attacking foursomes in the world. That said, Porto is tough and, in Lisandro and Lucho, have the ability to score with anyone. The Dragao is a tough stadium to play in.
Keys: If Aguero and Forlan play like they did against Real Madrid, they will get goals. It’s all about the keeper – if Leo is on, they have a good chance of going through.
Surprise match winner: Maxi.
Prediction: Atletico 2 Porto 1. Atletico in an upset.
Arsenal has a hatful of goals coming. I said it before their last two games and they have scored a bunch of goals in them.
Keys: No De Rossi. Yes, Totti is back, but without De Rossi in midfield, Roma is going to be turned over. Their only chance is if Vucinic has a big game. He is a brilliant and underrated striker. On the other hand, Arsenal is starting to fire on some of their cylinders. It is tough for them not to have the cup tied Arshavin out there for them, but they have more than enough.
Potential surprise game winner: Bendtner or Doni. I just don’t think Mexes and company can handle Arsenal in defense.
Prediction: Arsenal 3 Roma 1
My bad on getting the first leg score of Pana vs Villareal wrong. Didn’t interfere with the result as Villareal won through. Other than that, was right on with the other three results. Bayern vs Sporting was a farce and shows Bayern as fool’s gold.
Best football of the day was absolutely played by Liverpool. Brilliant first 20 minutes, especially by Torres. It’s going to be interesting vs Man United this weekend.
Chelsea deserved to win, but it was a squeaker at certain points, especially after Del Piero scored the penalty. How about that Iaquinta call! Essien is a bull and Drogba is a beast (even if I’m not a big fan of his).
Tomorrow’s games are going to be better…
Bayern are going through after their hammering of Sporting Lisbon in the first leg in Lisbon. Only question will be if Ribery starts and if he adds to his tally.
The Villareal game is a bit more tricky. Pana is very tough at home as most Greek teams are and will be even tougher to break down given their two away goals from the first leg. Gilberto and Karagounis are European veterans.
Key: Villareal keeping Pana off the scoreboard. Play like you played at Manchester and keep it tight and hope for Rossi or Pires or Nihat to nick one.
Potential surprise matchwinner: Marcos Senna off a free kick.
Observation: ex-Man United strikers do really well at Villareal – see Forlan and Rossi.
Prediction: I’m changing my mind. 1-1 with Pana going through on away goals.
Still sticking with Chelsea to go through.
Keys: Del Piero unleashing some magic and getting on the scoreboard. I think Amauri will have a better game and will be a handful for Terry and Alex. It just feels like Juve are a little light in midfield with Sissoko gone for the season. I have a hard time believing they can handle a packed Chelsea who will probably play with Drogba alone up front.
Potential surprise matchwinner: One of Juve’s center halves on a set piece – let’s say Chiellini. Or an unused player like Iaquinta.
Observation: Chelsea has won every game since Hiddink became head coach. Without, I believe, conceding more than 1 goal in any game. With that said, I have a hard time believing Juve can score more than 1.
Predicted score: 1-1.
Still sticking with Liverpool eliminates Real in the second leg with a goalless or 1-1 draw.
Keys: Will Arbeloa be available at right back. If so, then they will have Mascherano and Xabi to playing holding – maybe even bring in Lucas – with Gerrard, Kuyt and Babel or Ngog. Torres off the bench if required. Real are going to have be patient else they will be two goals down overall with Liverpool hitting them on the counter. Best best for a first half goal is off a set piece. Get Mascherano on a yellow early and it will reduce his aggression which is key to getting a foothold in midfield. Also, can Liverpool handle Robben on the wing? I think they will as they will double up with a midfielder and the left back (probably Aurelio) on Robben.
Potential surprise matchwinner: Out of favor Van der Vaart or Schneider.
Observation: For an English team vs a Spanish team, there sure are a lot of Spaniards on the English team and more Dutch players on the combined squads than any other contingent.