Monthly Archives: December 2010

Champions League – Round of 16 Preview

 

The Round of 16 presents some intriguing matches. Bayern-Inter, Arsenal-Barça, and Lyon-Real Madrid should all provide drama. Interestingly, all are rematches (from some point in the competition) from last year. (source: UEFA.com)

On Friday, the Champions League Round of 16 draw was announced at the UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, and there are some juicy match ups.  Who isn’t excited about a rematch of last year’s championship match (BayernInter)?  Or rematches between Barcelona and Arsenal, and Lyon and Real Madrid.

All in all, I didn’t do a bad job of picking the teams that would make it to the round of 16.  I correctly predicted 14 of the 16 teams (though not always finishing in the right position).  The only real surprise was FC Copenhagen making it out of the group stage.  My other mistake was thinking that AC Milan was too dysfunctional to beat out Ajax in Group G.  The Dutch narrowly missed pipping the Italians, placing 1 point behind the Rossoneri.

Check out my predictions; how do they compare to yours?

Group A – 1) FC Internazionale Milan; 2) Tottenham Hotspur FC Actual: 1) Spurs; 2) Inter

Group B – 1) Olympique Lyonnais; 2) FC Schalke 04.   Actual: 1) Schalke; 2) Lyon

Group C – 1) Manchester United; 2) Valencia CF. Actual: 1) Manchester United; 2) Valencia

Group D – 1) Barcelona; 2) PanathinaikosActual: 1) Barça; 2) Copenhagen

Group E – 1) FC Bayern Munich; 2) AS Roma. Actual: 1) Bayern; 2) Roma

Group F – 1) Chelsea FC; 2) Olympique de Marseille. Actual: 1) Chelsea; 2) Marseille

Group G – 1) Real Madrid CF; 2) AFC Ajax. Actual: 1) Real Madrid; 2) AC Milan

Group F – 1) Arsenal FC; 2) FC Shakhtar Donetsk.  Actual: 1) Shakhtar; 2) Arsenal

With the group stage predictions making me feel pretty cocky about my knack for prognostication here are my previews of the eight Round of 16 matches.  For more information on the teams, I suggest taking a look at my group stage previews, where I cover each team in depth.  For a list of the match dates and times go here.

Roma vs. Shakhtar – This match up ties with Valencia-Schalke for the match with the least cache.  While lacking in name recognition, this should be an interesting match up to watch.  In the group stage, Roma stumbled against FC Basel, dropping a 3-1 decision at the Stadio Olimpico, but was able to rebound with a stunning comeback against Bayern in Rome.  Roma is playing well now, having just defeated Milan at the San Siro and will surely look to upgrade their team in the January transfer window.

Shakhtar, the first Ukrainian team to make it out of the group stage, is running away with the Ukrainian Premier League, having dropped just 5 points all season.  In 19 games, the Shakhtar are 17-1-1.  They were also able to go 5-0-1 on their way to winning Group H over Arsenal. The most impressive stat is Shakhtar’s dominance at home.  This season, they have won every home game (in all competitions) and have given up just 3 goals in 13 games.

Prediction: Shakhtar - Roma certainly have the players and the ability to win, but I expect Shakhtar to advance due to their dominance in Donetsk.

AC Milan vs. Spurs – This pairing presents an interesting match up between the Serie A leaders and the Champions League debutantes. Milan made it to this point by narrowly escaping Group G, finishing 1 point ahead of Ajax.  While their form in the Champions League has been inconsistent, they sit atop the Serie A table after several down years (by their lofty standards). They boast an attack led by Zlatan Ibrahimović, the always mercurial Robinho and fellow Brazilian Alexandre Pato, and enjoy the largest goal differential in Serie A.

Spurs, making their first appearance in the Champions League, acquitted themselves nicely by winning Group A over Inter.  They narrowly lost to Inter (4-3) in Milan, so they will certainly be familiar with their surroundings when they travel to northern Italy on February 15.  Domestically, Spurs are contending for a Champions League sport again this season, but sit 4 points behind Chelsea for the last spot.  If Spurs want to advance past the round of 16, they will have to do better at home than their current record (4-4-1) .

Prediction: AC Milan – Spurs have already tangled with one Milanese team this season and come out on top; however, I expect AC Milan to advance.

Valencia vs. Schalke – The second match up that doesn’t exactly spark excitement from non-soccer fans, but this should be an interesting match on the field.  Valencia currently sit 4th in La Liga, 5 points adrift of Villareal.  Valencia finished 2nd in Group C, behind Manchester United; though they did score 15 goals in 6 games.  Los Che scored 10 of those goals in their two games against Bursaspor.  While they have played well in spurts during the season; they must find consistency.

Schalke, winners of Group B over Lyon, have been a bit like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  They have played well in Europe, but have been mediocre in the Bundesliga.  Schalke posted a 4-1-1 record in Group A, only losing to Lyon in France; however, they sit 10th in the Bundesliga with a 6-4-7 record.  Which team will show up for the match in Valencia on February 15?

Prediction: Valencia, who despite their own inconsistencies, are playing better than Schalke.  I expect them to advance.

Inter vs. Bayern Munich – One of the most exiting match ups of the round of 16.  I know that I will be watching this match on my computer at work come February 23.  Inter, winners over Bayern last year, have struggled in Seria A this season.   The Nerazzurri are just 6-5-4 and have dropped games to the likes of Chievo Verona and lost the Milan derby.  With Rafa Benitez supposedly under fire, Inter need to find a measure of stability.  Clearly the team that won last season is missing José Mourinho.  Their form in the Champions League has also been less than stellar, finishing behind Spurs in Group A.  Recently, however, they did win the Club World Cup, so perhaps they are righting ship.

Bayern, a bit like Schalke, has been a team with two personalities.  Currently 14 points behind Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, Bayern diced their way through Group E in the Champions League.  Bayern nearly lost a 4 goal lead against VfB Stuttgart before winning their last match, and have been inconsistent all season. Just as with their German brethren, which team will show up for their Round of 16 match?

Prediction: Bayern - If Rafa Benitez’s status is still up in the air when these two teams meet in Milan, I just don’t see how Inter will beat Bayern.  Even if Rafa is fired before that match and Inter figures things out, the Germans have played better all season and should win the day.

Lyon vs. Real Madrid – Another juicy match up, and another rematch from last year.  Last year, Lyon got the best of Real Madrid en route to the semifinals.  This season, Les Gones are fighting for their spot atop the Ligue 1 table.  Currently, 10 teams are within 5 points of the top spot, with Lyon one point behind league leading Lille.  In the Champions League, Lyon finished 2nd behind Schalke in Group B, a group they should have won.

Real Madrid continue to be one of the top teams in Europe.  With the Special One at the helm, Los Blancos are challenging Barcelona atop the La Liga table and easily won Group G, which looked, at the beginning of the campaign, like one of the most competitive groups in this years Champions League.  Real Madrid have lost just 1 game this year in all competitions (though it was a drubbing at the hands of arch rival Barcelona), and look to make it past the round of 16 for the first time since 2004.

Prediction: Real Madrid.  No repeat of last year here.  Real Madrid have played well, against everyone not named Barcelona, and should advance.

Arsenal vs. Barcelona – The third of the absolutely awesome match ups in the Round of 16.  Also a rematch from last year, where Barcelona defeated Arsenal in the quarterfinals.  Arsenal have enjoyed a good deal of success this season, battling for the top spot in the Premier League.  Currently in 2nd place, 2 points behind Manchester United, the Gunners are have been nearly as inconsistent as Inter and Bayern.  Domestically, The Gunners have loses to Newcastle and West Brom on their résumé, while they finished behind Shakhtar Donetsk in Group H.  Arsene Wenger and his charges are talented enough to win this much, but will be facing a much tougher opponent when they host Barcelona at the Emirates on February 16.

Barcelona has been its usual dominant self this season.  A loss to Hércules CF in the second round of La Liga competition is the only blemish on an otherwise sterling record.  Barça are 14-1-1 in La Liga and won Group D with a 4-2-0 record.  Lionel Messi has been in fine form all season and new addition David Villa has added even more scoring punch.

Prediction: Barça - As much as it pains me to pick against the Gunners, Barcelona have been a buzzsaw this season.  The Gunners have been too inconsistent to truly threaten Barça, though this should be fun to watch.

Marseille vs. Manchester United - This is a match up that pits the defending French champions against one of the preeminent clubs in the game.  Sir Alex Ferguson had to be happy with the draw, as Man U avoided both AC and Inter Milan.  Man U, though, have been in fine form all season, having yet to lose a game in the EPL or the Champions League.  That said, they have 9 draws in 22 games.  The Red Devils already have a win over Arsenal to their credit this term and will face Spurs before their February 23 date with Marseille.

Marseille are one of the teams fighting for the top spot in Ligue 1 this season, sitting 2 points behind Lyon and 3 behind Lille.  Marseille haven’t lost a game in Ligue 1 since a 2-1 defeat by PSG in early November.  Marseille have already improved on last year’s showing in the Champions League showing by making it to the round of 16, though the French side will certainly want more.  They ended the group stage on a high note, winning 4 in a row and beating Chelsea in the final group game.

Prediction: Man U – Though Marseille have been in fine form lately, Man U has been clicking on all cylinders.  I expect a tight match when the two play in France, but Man U will ultimately advance.

FC Copenhagen vs. Chelsea – This has to be the most unlikely match up in the Round of 16.  Who, other than a few Danes, would have predicted Copenhagen making it out of the Group Stage.  Sure Group D was Barcelona and three “outsiders” but both Rubin Kazan and Panathanikos play in stronger leagues than the Danes.  Copenhagen are the first Danish side to make it this far in the Champions League and haven’t lost a Champions League game at home.  The Lions drew with Barcelona in the Danish capital and were able to secure an away win in Athens to advance.  In addition to their impressive run in Europe, the Lions have run away with the Danish SAS-Ligaen.  Copenhagen currently sit 19 points clear of second place Odense BK, and have yet to drop a match.

Chelsea are another team with consistency issues.  After jumping out to an early lead in the EPL, Chelsea haven’t won a league game since November 10.  Didier Drogba’s absence due to malaria is a huge part of Chelsea’s poor form, however the team has too many stars to use that as an excuse.  Chelsea will feel confident that they can improve on last year’s Round of 16 exit, as Copenhagen lack big game experience.  Carlo Ancelotti will need to inspire the troops, or Chelsea could find themselves in a hole, as Copenhagen hosts the first game in this match up.

Prediction: Chelsea – While I would love to see the plucky Danish side advance, it just isn’t going to happen.  Chelsea, especially with Drogba back, are just too good.

What do you think of my predictions?  Agree?  Disagree?  Would you be excited to see a final 8 consisting of: Chelsea, Man U, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Shakhtar, Bayern, Valencia and AC Milan?  Let me know what you think.


Merry Cliffmas and Happy Halladays!

The Philadelphia Phillies gave their fans an early Christmas present by signing Cliff Lee!

Wow!  Just as I am trying to finish the semester (only one more day!) another can’t miss story comes along.  Like the results of the World Cup voting, how can I not comment on the Philadelphia Phillies signing one Clifton Phifer Lee for $120 million over 5 years (with a vesting option for a 6th year)?  I mean seriously!  Did this really happen!?  Things like this never happen to Philly teams.  Generally, free agents have spurned teams from Philadelphia, especially the Phillies.  I guess the winning culture developed over the last several years has started to pay dividends beyond the World Series title and 4 straight years in the playoffs.  The Phillies are now a destination for free agents.

The most interesting part of the Phillies signing Cliff Lee is that he left money on the table to sign with them.  Both the Yankees and the Rangers offered more cash and more years.  According to Phillies beat writer Randy Miller, Lee’s wife played an important role in him signing with the Phillies.  She was reportedly spit on and harassed during the ALCS.  Looks like the stupid New Yokr fans may have cost the Yankees.  All I can say is thank you Yankee fans!

I am almost too excited by Lee joining the rotation to write anything coherent! Think about this, Lee, who won the Cy Young in the AL in 2008 joins a staff that includes: reigning Cy Young winner Roy Halladay; 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels; and 3-time All-Star Roy Oswalt. What other team can match that pitching depth?  The answer – NONE!

Just look at their numbers from last season:


I know that Lee, Hamels and Oswalt did not have great records, look at the other stats! Ridiculous. Also keep in mind that when Oswalt was with the Phillies he was 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA. The Phillies now have the best pitching staff in the league.  The only other team that could even make an argument would be the Red Sox with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett and John Lackey, but a couple of those guys have some questions marks and underperformed last season.

Assuming the Phillies can score runs for their Big Four, a problem at times last year, they have to be considered the early favorites to win the National League and the odds on favorite to win the World Series.

For more information on Lee’s signing with the Phillies check out:

Todd Zolecki with MLB – Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff …
Bill Baer at Crashburn Alley – Cliff Lee Signs with Phillies
Jeff Fletcher at FanHouse – In Spurning Millions, Cliff Lee Shows Value
Jayson Stark at ESPN – Cliff Lee’s return simply stunning

You Have Got to be Kidding Me!

I wish this were the US bid's logo, but clearly the Qatari's must have put more money in Sepp Blatter's bank account.

First, I want to thank Earbud DJ, for his guest post on Federer and Nadal.  I was a well written post, and I am appreciative of his periodic contributions on tennis. Second, I am fully aware that I haven’t written anything for nearly a month, and nothing substantive for at least 6 weeks, and I promise I will be back to posting more regularly after I finish my classes this semester.  While, I probably don’t have the time to be writing this (with a 15-20 page paper for my graduate history class, and work for my job looming), I just couldn’t ignore the announcements of the host nations for the next two World Cups.

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I’m indignant (at best) at the selections of both Russia for WC2018 and Qatar for WC2022.  Ravi Ubha over at ESPN calls the two picks bizarre, and I couldn’t agree more.  The selection of Russia and Qatar smacks of the charges of corruption, bribery and backroom politics that have dogged FIFA for years.  Before the selection, there were rumors that the Portugal/Spain WC2018 bid and the Qatar bid were in collusion regarding votes.  BBC television program, Panorama, reported that three top FIFA officials are reported to have taken bribes, totaling nearly $100 million, in the 1990s.  Why would we think that something like this didn’t happen this time?

Russia received the 2018 World Cup, beating my favorite - England.

For the 2018 selection it could be argued that the Russian bid, which was quite good – with all the oligarchs’ cash, a strong domestic league, decent national team, was the strongest.  Still, Russia would have to build or finish construction on all but one of the proposed stadiums.  England’s proposal, for comparison purposes, included just 3 unbuilt stadiums, and was centered on the expansion of current stadiums.  While, I believe the 2018 World Cup should have gone to England, the Russian selection was certainly competitive.

The same cannot be argued for the Qatari bid (Sorry no link, because the Qatar bid site is down.  Vengeance by some crazed US soccer techie? we may never know).  With 7 of the proposed 12 stadiums needing to be built and all but 1 of the remaining 4 needing significant expansion, 100+ degree temperatures during the summer, a small population, a barely competitive domestic league, and a national team with a FIFA ranking in the 100s,  Qatar just doesn’t seem like a logically place for the World Cup. Unless you are thinking about all the oil/natural gas cash the Qataris possess.

The 1994 World Cup was and remains the most successful World Cup ever held.  It spurred support for the creation of a national soccer league in the United States and drew some of the largest crowds to attend soccer matches (since stadiums became all-seaters).  There is no reason to believe that the proposed 2022 World Cup in the U.S. would have been any less successful.  If the U.S. had been given WC2022 the growing interest in soccer, demonstrated at this year’s World Cup, would have continued to mount.  Doesn’t FIFA want to tap the most lucrative market in the world, and turn the US into a soccer mad nation?  Wouldn’t turning a country where soccer was, at best tolerated into a footballing nation be as great a legacy as putting a World Cup in the Middle East? Clearly, money in pockets now was more important than more money in pockets later.

For more on the process, I direct you to Soccer by Ives, a fantastic site run by Ives Galarcep, a soccer writer for Fox Soccer.  He provides information on the vote breakdown and more for the World Cup selection process.  His site is also a wealth of  information on U.S. and world soccer.