The draw for the UEFA Champions League Quarter Finals was held last week, with the ties to be held in the first two weeks of April. With all the big teams avoiding upsets in the previous round – AS Roma being the only big name casualty – the quarter finals present some fascinating match ups.
INTER MILAN vs. SCHALKE
April 5 2011 at Stadio Guiseppe Meazza, Milan
April 13 2011 at Arena AufSchalke, Gelsenkirchen
The first Quarter Final pits last year’s champions Inter Milan, against German side Schalke. Inter Milan has won the competition on three separate occasions, while Schalke has never won Europe’s elite competition.
After struggling in the early parts of the season – resulting in the dismissal of manager Rafa Benitez – Inter Milan has bounced back strong with Brazilian manager Leonardo at the helm. Their improved form has seen them get right back into the Serie A title hunt, while also firming as one of the teams to beat in the Champions League this year. With a squad featuring the quality of Maicon, Samuel Eto’o, Diego Milito and Julio Cesar, they’re still a great chance of winning another Champions League.
Schalke appear to have an uphill task ahead of them to get past the Italian giants. After eliminating Spanish club Valencia in the previous round, fans will be hopeful of progression, but regardless, reaching the quarter finals should be seen as an achievement for this squad. Although with All-time Champions League Leading Scorer Raul, they still pose a threat, and could catch Inter Milan by surprise.
PREDICTION: It should be fairly straightforward. On paper, Inter Milan is the superior team, and should comfortably beat Schalke.
INTER MILAN: 4 SCHALKE: 1 (on aggregate)
REAL MADRID vs. TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
April 5 2011 at Estadio Santiago Bernebéu, Madrid
April 13 2011 at White Hart Lane, London
This pairing has the potential to be the most exciting match-up of the quarter finals. Real Madrid and their nine European titles face a Tottenham side making its first appearance in the revamped Champions League.
Madrid looks like a side on a mission this season. After a litany of near-misses in the Champions League over the last six years, under the leadership of the masterful Jose Mourinho, Madrid has been in fine form all season. They sit just behind rivals Barcelona in the Spanish La Liga, and progressed into the Champions League quarter finals after comprehensively dispatching Lyon.
The biggest concern for Madrid is an injury to Portuguese mega-star Cristiano Ronaldo, placing him in doubt for the Tottenham tie. Yet Madrid still has plenty of other quality players that could step in and try and fill Ronaldo’s shoes.
What a Champions League campaign it has been for Tottenham this year. They were forced to come from 3-0 down to overcome Swiss side BSC Young Boys, in the first qualification stage. Since then, they have been a European revelation, topping their group – which included Inter Milan, FC Twente and Werder Bremen – then eliminating AC Milan in the last round. This victory came on the back of an astounding 1-0 win at the San Siro in Milan.
The play of Welsh winger Gareth Bale has been simply faultless for Tottenham, it even lead to England manager Fabio Capello, declaring Bale the best player in the world. More of the same will be needed by Bale, plus contributions from the likes of former Madrid playmaker Rafael Van der Vaart, Luka Modric and Jermain Defoe, if Tottenham are to book a semi-final place.
PREDICTION: A hotly contested tie, with both sides having legitimate grounds for approaching this one with confidence. Home field advantage in the second leg could prove the difference for Tottenham, earning a victory to signify their European capabilities.
TOTTENHAM: 3 REAL MADRID: 2 (aggregate)
BARCELONA vs. SHAKHTAR DONETSK
April 6 2011 at Camp Nou, Barcelona
April 12 2011 at Donbass Arena, Donetsk
Quite simply, Barcelona will be unbackable favorites in this tie. They’ve been the best side in European Football over the last few years, winning the Champions League in 2006 and 2009. Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk has never won the Champions League.
Where can we begin with this Barcelona squad? They’ve been showered with accolades for the past few years, with many people even hailing this current squad, as the greatest team in the history of European Football. Led by World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi, they were undefeated in the Group Stage of this year’s competition, and then eliminated Arsenal in the last round. With the First-leg of the tie taking place at the Nou Camp, Barcelona could put it out of reach before travelling to Ukraine for the return leg.
If nothing else, Shakhtar Donetsk will travel to Barcelona free of any expectations. This is a tie that the Ukrainian champions are expected to lose; and lose comprehensively. However, their Champions League form has been outstanding, winning seven out of their eight games. But Barcelona is a different beast all together; they will need to produce something special to challenge the might of Barcelona in this tie.
PREDICTION: Expect Barcelona to come out firing in the First leg of this tie. Establishing a strong advantage ahead of the second leg in Ukraine will definitely be Barcelona’s aim. A Barcelona victory could potentially set up a mouthwatering semi-final battle with fierce rivals Real Madrid.
BARCELONA: 6 SHAKHTAR DONETSK: 1 (aggregate)
MANCHESTER UNITED vs. CHELSEA
April 6 2011 at Stamford Bridge, London
April 12 2011 at Old Trafford, Manchester
What an encounter we have in store here! These two bitter rivals are set to lock horns to try and move one step closer to Champions League glory. Manchester United has three European Titles in their cabinet, with the most recent coming in 2008. Of course that title came about by shattering Chelsea’s hopes of winning their first European crown. Who could ever forget this iconic moment in Moscow?
Manchester United should head into this clash as slight favorites. They’ve out-performed Chelsea in the English Premier League all season, and are undefeated in this year’s Champions League. Their success this season has been built off the incredible consistency shown by the United defense, having only conceded two goals in the club eight Champions League encounters. However, they have been finding the net with less regularity this year and this will need to change for United to get past Chelsea.
Given all the rumors and scandal surrounding Chelsea as of late, a first meeting with Manchester United since falling in the 2008 final, could be the perfect tonic for an ailing season. Despite all of Chelsea’s successes since Roman Abramovich took over the club, Champions League success has still eluded the Blues. The chance to move closer to that glory and eliminating Manchester United in the process will be a great motivator. The play of its enigmatic strike partnership of Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres will be key to determining the outcome of this tie.
PREDICTION: This one really could go either way, with both sides having a slightly worrying “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” complex this season. With that being said, I still feel that if Chelsea performs at their best over these two games, they should just have enough to get past Manchester United.
CHELSEA: 2 MANCHESTER UNITED: 2 (aggregate)
Chelsea winners in Penalty Shoot-Out