Monday, 21 March 2011

Europe: Part 1 - Champions League Preview

Last Friday both the quarter-final draws were made for Europe’s elite club competitions, the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.

Real Talk Football takes a look at the draws of both competitions, and previews the last eight teams left in each competition. Today we start with part 1 which features the Champions League draw.

Champions League

The four ties in the quarter final draw are as follows:

Real Madrid v. Tottenham Hotspur

Tale of the tape

Tottenham’s European adventure saw them top Group A ahead of defending champions Inter Milan, Dutch champions FC Twente and German side Werder Bremen.

Spurs defeated seven time winners and European heavyweights AC Milan 1-0 over two legs in order to book their place in their first ever Champions League quarter final. With their full throttle attacking football, nobody has begrudged the North London side their spot in the last eight.

Serial big spenders Real Madrid have reached the quarter finals of the Champions League for the first time in the last seven years. The Spanish giants are undefeated in their campaign so far, overcoming AC Milan, AFC Ajax and AJ Auxerre in the group stage.

With star man Cristiano Ronaldo and two times Champions League winner Jose Mourinho in charge, Madrid will feel they can go all the way this season.

Key Players

Karim Benzema – the French forward came under scrutiny in the first half of the season with his lacklustre performances in La Liga, however the 23 year olds form has vastly improved, and he’s been Real’s top goal scorer in the Champions League with 6 goals in 7 appearances.

While striker Gonzalo Higuain out for the season and Manu Adebayor breathing down his neck for a 1st team position, he needs to continue his rich vein of form.

Luka Modric – The Croatian playmaker has been instrumental in Tottenham’s campaign this season, and his link up play with wingers Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, have been the key weapons in Spurs Champions League challenge.

Probable Line-ups

Chelsea v. Manchester United

Tale of the tape

The two English powerhouses have been ever-present competitors in the last six seasons in this competition, and contested the 2008 Champions League final.

Chelsea, who has struggled to regain the domestic titles this year, sees the Champions League as their main target this season. They topped Group F with 15 points, winning five matches while their solitary defeat came away to Olympique de Marseille. Chelsea beat Danish side FC Copenhagen comfortably 2-0 over two legs in the second round.

Manchester United haven’t been at their best this season, but have still managed to grind out results and maintain their stay at the top of the Premier League, reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup and of course, reach the latter stages of the Champions League. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side qualified top of their group, fending off competition from Bursaspor, Valencia and Glasgow Rangers.

In the second round, there 2-1 victory over Marseille was synonymous with many of their victories this season, a game where they had a lot of first team players missing, and still managed to grind out the result.

Key Players

Nemanja Vidic – The Serbian defender has been head and shoulders above the rest of the other centre backs in Europe, and has been the cornerstone of Manchester United’s solid defensive record, which has seen them only concede two goals in Europe this season.

Nicholas Anelka – the Frenchman has seven goals in his seven Champions League appearances this season, and has outshone fellow strikers Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres in Chelsea’s campaign.

Probable Line-ups

FC Barcelona v. Shaktar Donetsk

Tale of the tape

Shaktar Donetsk are favoured as the “Dark Horses” in this year’s competition, thanks to their immaculate home form (they are unbeaten at the Donbass Arena in almost two years, over 60 matches), as well as their array of talented imports such as attacking midfielders Douglas Costa and Willian, Striker Eduardo and Luiz Adriano, as well as established and experienced players including; Tomas Hubschmann, Razvan Rat, Darijo Srna and Dmytro Chygrynskiy.

They surpassed Roma comfortably 6-2 in the second round stage, beating the Italians both home and away. They recovered from a 5-1 thumping away to Arsenal to go on and win Group H ahead of the English side.

For Barcelona, progression into the latter stages is minimal of expectations for the Catalan club, and they progressed through as winners of Group D. On paper they were expected to dominate the group stage however it wasn’t all plain sailing for the Spanish giants as FC Copenhagen, Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos all gave a great account of themselves.

In the second round, Barca overcame a first leg defeat by Arsenal to beat the Gunners 4-3 over two legs, in a fiery and intriguing contest.

Key Players

Xavi Hernandez – The Spaniard World Cup winner impressed with his sensational passing ability in the seven matches he’s played in. He is the heartbeat of the Barcelona side, while his experience and ball retention skills are valuable assets to the side.

Dmytro Chygrynskiy – the 24 year old is quite familiar with the Barcelona team having spent the 2009/10 season at the Camp Nou. He is a tall, no nonsense defender who was influential in both legs of the second round victory over Roma. His quality will be essential in dealing with Messi and co.

Probable Line-ups

FC Internazionale v. FC Schalke 04

Tale of the tape

Schalke have somewhat surpassed expectations by reaching the quarter finals, but with the experienced Raul and goal poacher Klass-Jan Huntelaar, plus an array of talented players, has helped the German side top a tough group that contained the likes of Lyon, SL Benfica and Hapoel Tel-Aviv. In the second round, they beat Spanish side Valencia in two competitive encounters, winning 4-2 on aggregate.

Defending champions Inter Milan reached the quarter finals by the skin of their teeth, after two fantastic matches against last year’s beaten finalist Bayern Munich. Only a late goal from Macedonian international Goran Pandev saw Leonardo’s team progress on away goals. During the group stage, they finished runners-up in Group A, behind Tottenham.

Key Players

Samuel Eto’o – The Cameroonian international has been in sensational form this season, returning to his favoured central striker role, after playing out of position for much of last year’s victorious Champions League challenge. This season, he is the joint top scorer in the competition with eight goals from eight games, with four assists.

Raúl – the legendary Real Madrid striker is the record highest goal scorer in Champions League history with 71 goals, if anyone can be the difference maker, he can. Despite being at the ripe old age of 33 he hasn’t missed a step on the European stage, and has chipped in with 3 goals in this campaign so far.

Probable Line-ups

All ties will be played on the 5/6th April, and the return legs played on 12/13th April

Who do you think will win the Champions League? Cast your vote on the right hand side and let us. Part 2 will be coming on Wednesday.

Real Talk Football

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