This week’s main report takes a look at the fixtures in the knockout stage of the Champions League. The draw was made last night and the games will be played next year in February. Who will make it to the final on the 28th May in London? Explanations of key vocabulary (in bold) can be found at the foot of the post.
The last sixteen of the Champions League, when the knockout stages begin, is often called the business end of the competition. While the group stages are interesting, it is often quite clear from the start which teams should qualify from the groups and many ties are dead rubbers, with no effect on which team will progress. So, 16 teams will now hope that they will be one of the two that makes it all the way to the final at Wembley in London on the 28th of May 2011. Let’s take a look at some of the match ups.
The pick of the bunch
One tie jumps out of the fixtures and that is Arsenal v Barcelona. Barcelona are the bookies‘ favorites to win the whole competition and while Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger believes his team can overcome the Spanish league leaders, it’s hard to see that happening. They met in the 2006 finals and Barcelona beat 2-1 an Arsenal side many would argue is stronger than the current team. Since then, Barcelona have got stronger, and they beat the London team in the competiton again last year, 6-3 on aggregate. In the Premier League, Arsenal are often compared to Barcelona, as their game revolves around short, quick passing moves. But this will be a case of students meets master.
Surely Chelsea will be already wondering who they will be meeting in the quarter finals after being drawn against the relative minnows of European football, FC Copenhagen. Of course, Chelsea’s management came out with the tired old phrase, ‘there are no easy games at this stage‘, but despite being unbeaten at home and running away with the domestic league, Copenhagen will surely struggle to get anywhere near Chelsea, a team looking to win their first Champions League trophy after coming close in recent years.
How about AC Milan v Tottenham? Spurs fans will remind you that they were the first English side to win a European trophy – back in 1963 – but this Champions League experience has been a bit of a fairytale so far. They’ve topped their group, scored more goals than any other team, and been involved in one of the most dramatic games in the competition – where they almost overcame a 4-0 deficit to Inter at the San Siro, pulling the Italian Champions back to 4-3. So, fresh-faced newcomers go the San Siro again, but this time to face one of the biggest teams, historically, in the competition, AC Milan. The Italian side have won this competition seven times, the last time being 2007, and this year they are topping Serie A and looking good. Expect goals, goals goals in this tie.
When the draw is made, most people focus on the big teams: generally, the champions of their leagues, or teams that have featured regularly in the later stages of the Champions League. But there are always decent teams that don’t get the attention they may deserve. These teams often become the dark horses of the tournament, moving under the radar of the media until they pop up against a big team in the quarter finals, or even the semi finals. So, in the last sixteen how about Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk. The Ukrainian side, Shaktar topped their group above Arsenal and Roma came second behind Bayern Munich. Both these sides are capable of beating good opposition and they will both look at this tie as a great chance to get through to the quarter finals, and then… who knows. Roma and Shaktar – dark horses
In the other ties, Inter take on Bayern Munich, Marseilles meet Manchester United, Lyon face Real Madrid, and Valenica will play Schalke. The bookies have Barcelona favorites, Real Madrid in second place, followed by Chelsea and Manchester United. FC Copenhagen are 200 to 1, while my dark horses are – Roma 40 to 1, and Shaktar 66-1.
the business end: The stage where the real work happens, the time things become serious
dead rubber: A game with no meaning, a formality
the bookies: Companies that offer betting/gambling services, the companies what chance teams have of winning
revolve around: Centre on, focus on, be mainly based on
a gimme: An easy tie, a simple game to win
minnows: A small team, a team with little history of success in a competition
there are no easy games: A cliche meaning that any team can beat another, used when a big team plays a minnow
a cracker: An exciting match (sometimes, a great goal)
a fairytale: an experience that has been much better than expected, an unexpectedly good run of form
dark horse: a team some people believe could get some surprise results (also, surprise package)
under the radar: Go unnoticed, not high profile