Thursday, 16 December 2010

Champions League Preview: Last 16


Position: Group Winners

They fended off competition from reigning champions Inter Milan to top the group, while escaping tricky away trips to Werder Bremen and FC Twente with draws, and winning all three home games saw them finish as group winners.

Key Player: Luka Modric

The 25 year old Croatian has come into his own in 2010 with some fantastic performances; helping Spurs reach the Champions League and 4th place in the Premiership last season, while this year he has helped Spurs surprisingly top their group in their first ever Champions League campaign. He is now regarded as one of Tottenham’s most important players and one of the best midfielders in Europe. He will need to keep fit if Spurs are to progress further in the competition.

Possible Opponents: AC Milan, Lyon, Valencia, FC Copenhagen, Roma, Marseille

Starting XI:

Inter Milan

Position: Group Runners Up

A team faulting domestically, and a side struggling to defend their Champions League crown, getting through the group stage is the best thing Inter Milan could have achieved. Rafa Benitez has had a baptism of fire in Serie A, but he is lucky Massimo Moratti has shown understanding and support for the Spaniard as injuries to key players (who were vital in the Champions League success last year) has taken its toll on the Inter side.

Now however, they have done the hard part, getting out of the group as defending champions with a bit part squad and a new manager. Now it’s down for the club to strengthen in January if necessary but most importantly get the likes of Diego Milito, Wesley Sneijder and Walter Samuel back, then Inter have the proven quality that they could go all the way, yet it depends on if the manager can get the team there.

Key Player: Esteban Cambiasso

The 30 year old Argentine had been the remaining bit of cello tape holding together the troubled Inter Milan ship. He, of course, is a defensive midfielder, but he filled in at centre back a few weeks ago as Inter had ran out of defenders due to injuries and suspension.

Why is Cambiasso a key player? He holds the midfield together while Sneijder is allowed the freedom to pull the strings in midfield and dictate the play. A vital component to the Inter team.

Possible Opponents: Shaktar Donetsk, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Valenica, Lyon

Starting XI:

Schalke 04

Position: Group Winners

The Bundesliga runners-up faired very well in the Champions League, topping the group from last season’s semi-finalists Lyon. The most impressive stat regarding their performances in this year’s Champions League campaign; they only conceded 3 goals. An excellent defensive record, thanks to German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and powerful centre back Christoph Metzelder.

Key Player: Klass Jan Huntelaar

The Dutchman has becoming somewhat of a journeyman, wondering around Europe for the last few years, taking a chance in the big time, playing for eight different clubs in the last eight years. After unsuccessful at AC Milan and Real Madrid, he has now found his feet at Schalke and has created a dream partnership with Champions League legend Raul. He has hit 7 goals in 13 appearance this season for Schalke, and is one of the clubs best players.

Possible Opponents: Inter Milan, Valencia, Arsenal, FC Copenhagen, Roma, Marseille, AC Milan

Starting XI:


Position: Group Runners Up

One of the most dominant clubs in the French Ligue 1 in the last 10 years, made it to the Champions League semi-finals last season, losing to the eventual runners-up Bayern Munich. They have struggled domestically this season, but similarly to Inter Milan; the most important thing is that Les Gones have made it through the group. The clubs domestic form is its priority, but a strong Champions League run would be just what the club needs. A semi-final finish last season, who’s to say they can’t go further this time around.

Key Player: Lisandro Lopez

The focal point of the Lyon side, the former Porto attacker is a veteran of the Champions League now entering his 6th season in the competition. With Lyon faltering in the league, he has still managed 9 goals in 14 appearances, and with the 27 year old has the Champions League pedigree, given the right service, he could score against the toughest defences in the competition.
Possible Opponents: Tottenham, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Man Utd, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Shaktar Donetsk

Starting XI:

Manchester United

Position: Group Winners

Manchester United continued their tradition of winning Champions League groups, but this one was more intriguing as they won all there away matches, most impressively a hard fought away win over Valencia.

Key Player: Nemanja Vidic

Untill last week, the key player for me was striker Dimitar Berbatov. However since he is now back to warming the bench at Old Trafford, the Club’s full time captain Nemanja Vidic is the key man. Manchester United never overpowered any team in their group, only scoring 7 goals in the whole group stage, but they were however resolute in defence, seeing them only concede 1 goal. This solid foundation is that which could lead their charge in this campaign.

Possible Opponents: Lyon, AC Milan, Marseille, Roma, Copenhagen, Inter Milan

Starting XI:


Position: Group Runners Up

Valencia finished 2nd in the group ahead of Rangers, and Bursaspor, with a total of 11 points. The Spanish side have played some excellent football in this season’s competition, and caught the eyes of their European counterparts with a 6-1 drubbing of Turkish side Bursaspor.

Key Player: Roberto Soldado

The former Real Madrid striker made his name at Getafe before joining Valencia to replace the outgoing David Villa. The 25 year old has started his career at the Mestalla well, scoring 5 times in 13 appearances. The Spaniard is looking to get himself into the International set up, and a decent Champions League campaign will aide that objective.

Possible Opponents: Tottenham, Lyon, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Shaktar Donetsk, Schalke

Starting XI:


Position: Group Winners

We all know the calibre of the European giants, and the quality of players at Pep Guaridola’s disposal. The Catalan club didn’t have a perfect campaign, drawing with Rubin Kazan and Copenhagen away from home (showing some form of a weakness), but Barcelona are clearly the favourites and the team to beat.

Key Player: Lionel Messi

He has been feature on this blog many many times, and everyone knows the quality of the 23 year old. He has 17 goals in 13 La Liga appearances, 6 goals in 6 Champions League games this season. Altogether 25 goals in 28 games, a fantastic season already, combined with Xavi, Iniesta and David Villa, Barcelona for me; are clear favourites.

Possible Opponents: Inter Milan, Lyon, Roma, Marseille, Arsenal, AC Milan

Starting XI:

FC Copenhagen

Position: Group Runners Up

The first Danish side to make to the Champions League knock-out phase, Copenhagen finished ahead of the ever improving Rubin Kazan and the disappointing Panathinaikos. Their home form was where they were most impressive, contributing them to 7 points out of a possible 9.

Key Player: Jesper Gronkjaer

The former Chelsea winger has been vital to Copenhagen’s Champions League campaign this year, and is an undoubted quality individual, who is a the side main attacking threat. Despite the Danish team being the relative “minnows” of the Champions League; with their strong home form, anything is possible.

Possible Opponents: Man Utd, Tottenham, Schalke, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Shaktar Donetsk

Starting XI:

Bayern Munich

Position: Group Winners

Last year semi-finalists are struggling domestically (as so many others are in this year’s competition) but you feel Bayern Munch could go the distance again, as long as Franck Ribery and talisman Arjen Robben stay fit. The Bavarians only lost one game in the group stages, and that was group rivals AS Roma.

Key Player: Mario Gomez

The German international has finally settled in with the German giants, and has scored 6 goals in the group stages, making him the second highest goal scorer in the tournament so far. He joined Bayern from rivals Stuttgart 18 months ago, with a price tag of around €35million, and has taken the mantle of star player at the club with Robben being injured and Ribery looking disinterested. Bayern were runners-up last year, and they have enough attacking options to take them all the way again.

Possible Opponents: Arsenal, Lyon, AC Milan, Marseille, Copenhagen, Valencia, Inter Milan

Staring XI:

AS Roma

Position: Group Runners Up

Last year’s Serie A runners-up, made hard work of qualifying from the group, but managed to collecting 10 points. The real issue they have to address for the Italian side; is its lack of solidarity in defence; conceding 11 goals and only scoring 10 goals. Roma at home, are a very strong team at home, but they seem to struggle when they get into the latter stages of the Champions League.

Key Player: Marco Borriello

The Italian hitman was ushered out the door at the San Siro, and has taken like a duck to water with the Roma side. He has 4 goals to his name in the group stages, and is the key focal point of the Roma attack.

Possible Opponents: Shaktar Donetsk, Chelsea, Tottenham, Man Utd, Schalke, Barcelona, Real Madrid

Staring XI:


Position: Group Winners

Chelsea were one of the favourites to lift the Champions League crown, but with many experienced players leaving the club, domestic struggles and injuries to key players, the west London side have lost that favourites tag. However 5 wins from 6 matches means Chelsea are by no means incapable of performing, and will look forward to the knockout draw, believing they can beat anyone.

Key Player: Michael Essien

The Ghanaian midfielder has only just returned to the Chelsea first team, and I believe the club will no longer give away silly goals. Essien is widely regarded as one of the best midfielders in the World, paired with Frank Lampard in the Chelsea engine room, the Blues are more than capable of being the first London team to win the Champions League.

Possible Opponents: Lyon, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Copenhagen, Valencia, Roma,

Starting XI:


Position: Group Runners Up

Marseille biggest scalp in the group stages was beating English double winners Chelsea 1-0 at the Stade Velodrome. With this self belief, and momentum they feel they could cause an upset in the knockout stages. Manager Didier Deschamps took Monaco to the final in 2004, so why can’t he do the same with Marseille? Only time will tell, but they could be outsiders.

Key Player: Steve Mandanda

One of the most well known goalkeepers in Europe, the 25 year old has played at Marseille for 3 years and is seen as the safe pair of hands. His side only conceded 3 goals in the 6 matches, the best of the group.

Possible Opponents: Shaktar Donetsk, Tottenham, Man Utd, Schalke, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich

Starting XI:

Real Madrid

Position: Group Winners

The nine time winners of the biggest club trophy in the world; haven’t collected the biggest accolade since 2002. At the moment, after a huge spending spree this summer, they undoubtedly have one of the best managers in the World in Jose Mourinho, as well as one of the greatest players, that being Cristiano Ronaldo. Real possibly have the two best footballing assets needed in order to win the Champions League title.

Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo

The Portuguese international has already won the Champions League title with Manchester United, where he was also a runner-up. He is in blistering form this season, scoring 24 goals in 32 appearances. A definite match winner, Ronaldo will be vital to Madrid’s campaign.

Possible Opponents: Arsenal, Marseille, Lyon, Roma, Copenhagen, Inter Milan

Starting XI:

AC Milan

Position: Group Runners Up

AC Milan finished second in what was seen as one of the trickiest groups, finishing just 1 point clear of Ajax. Two inspired signings in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho, going forward Milan to look a team who can unlock any defence. In the midfielder your concern is the age of the players, such as Seedorf, Ronaldinho, Ambrosini, Gattuso and Pirlo who are all over 30. The experience is there, but is the tempo and is the legs still there? Defensively again is an area where AC Milan may struggle, as they conceded 7 goals after only scoring 7, in the whole of the group stages.

Key Player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The magician returned to Italy after a spell deemed “unsuccessful” at Barcelona (he scored 16 goals in 29 games, and the winner in El Clasico). He has been sensational for AC Milan this season, scorng 13 goals in 20 appearances, with 9 assists.

Possible Opponents: Skahtar Donetsk, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Valenica, Schalke, Tottenham, Man Utd, Barcelona

Starting XI:

Shaktar Donetsk

Position: Group Winners

The Ukrainian moneybags somewhat surprised everyone by winning this group. How with 5 wins from 6 matches, the Miners showed that they are no slouches, especially with Arsenal shocking performances in the three away games they played, this was probably one of the most open groups in the Champions League. Shaktar conceded the least amount of goals in the group, and that is the reason why they ended up as winners.

Key Player: Eduardo

The former Arsenal striker scored 3 goals in 4 appearances, dismissing any beliefs that he wouldn’t be able to perform at the highest level ever again. He seems settled in Ukraine, putting his injury stained Arsenal spell behind him.

Possible Opponents: Marseille, Lyon, Roma, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Schalke, Valencia, Copenhagen

Starting XI:


Position: Group Runners Up

Arsene Wenger’s side beat Braga 6-0 and Shaktar Donetsk 5-1 in the group stages, but still managed to struggle and falter away from home, to mess up the much needed opportunity to take the top spot in the group. Now, the only English representative not to win their group, Arsenal have a very difficult second round match whoever they draw.

Key Player: Samir Nasri

The 2010 French Footballer of the Year has been excellent for Arsenal this season, and is widely regarded as one of the best midfielders in the Premiership. The 23 year old has scored 12 goals in 21 matches this season, and has scored some absolutely brilliant goals along the way.

Possible Opponents: FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Schalke, Bayern Munich

Staring XI:

The draw for the knockout stage is later on today, and of course you will get all the latest breaking news, as well as coverage of the draw itself on Twitter @RealTalkFB and on Real Talk Football Blog.

Leave below, who your predictions are for the draw itself.

Real Talk Football

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