Podcast 28: Champions League: The last 16

After almost a three-month break the Champions League is back and languagecaster previews the 8 mouthwatering ties that lie ahead. Will it be another all-English final or will the winner come from Spain, Italy or … Greece?

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After the rather dreary and predictable set of first round group matches the Champions League begins in earnest with next week’s knockout stage. 16 teams will play two legs to determine the quarter-finalists. Last year’s beaten finalists Manchester United and Chelsea are joined by two more clubs from England, as well as four from Spain, three from Italy, two from Portugal and one each from Germany, France and Greece. So, who are the favourites, the dark horses and the outsiders in this year’s competition?

The holders Manchester United are in fine form and few would bet against them winning the trophy for a second year running – something that has not happened since AC Milan did so in 1990. They will play Inter Milan who will be determined to reach the final for the first time in almost forty years – quite remarkable for a team that looks set to win its fourth straight Scudetto. Inter tend to fall at the the knock-out stages but they do have Jose Mourinho as their coach and he has had some recent success over the Red Devils. Jose’s former club Chelsea are going through a bad patch but with Dutch coach Guus Hiddink recently installed their chances have improved. To make the next round they will have to beat Italian side Juventus who are also managed by a former Chelsea coach, Claudio Ranieri. There is a third Serie A – Premier League match up when Arsenal take on Roma and though both teams are not challenging for their respective domestic titles, on their day they can play some great football. Roma, especially, will need no further motivation to win as the final will be held in their own Stadio Olimpico on the 27th May.

Many people’s favourites to win the trophy are Barcelona who are currently running away with La Liga and playing a glorious brand of attacking football. They play French side Lyon who have declared that they will attack the Catalans in an attempt to get to the next round, which should make for an interesting affair. Nine-time winners Real Madrid play five-time winners Liverpool in a clash of European heavyweights. Both lie in second place in their domestic leagues some way off the leaders so they will be all out to do well in this competition. The other Spanish sides, Villareal and Atletico Madrid are both suffering from a dip in form but should fancy their chances against Greek side Panathinaikos and FC Porto respectively. Those two teams are ranked amongst the outsiders along with Sporting Lisbon who face German team Bayern Munich with Jurgen Klinnsmann’s team viewed as a dark horse by many.

So, who is going to win? Well, I am going for a Barcelona – Bayern Munich final with Lionel Messi leading the Catalans to their third major European title. But with my track record in predictions, I wouldn’t bet on it.

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