English clubs to continue European superiority
Since Liverpool’s victory in the Champions League Final in 2005, the competition has been dominated by the superiority of English clubs. Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have all made appearances in the last four finals.
As we head into the second round knockout matches, there is no reason why the English clubs won’t continue their fine form in the world’s most prestigious club competition. For Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, their mission is to complete the Italian job. They’ll be looking to overcome the three three Italian giants: Inter Milan, Juventus and Roma respectively.
Inter Milan may be top of the league by seven points, but they have stuttered to pole position. Jose Mourinho has done an adequate job at the Milan club so far. However he doesn’t have the same ‘special’ bond with the Inter players as he did with his old Chelsea players.
Ferguson will be aware of the threat posed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He will look to nullify the threat from the giant Swede. With Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand – possibly the best defensive partnership in world football – United should be capable of keeping Ibrahimovic quiet. Add their defensive solidarity to their attacking prowess with Dimitar Berbatov, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney, I can only see one out come: a United victory.
Juventus who head the chasing pack in Serie A could prove a difficult team to overcome for Chelsea. The ‘Old Lady’ are vastly experienced with the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Paolo Nedved and Gianluigi Buffon. Blended with the youth of Sebastian Giovinco. They are coached by Claudio Ranieri, former Chelsea manager, famously christened ‘The Tinker Man’. Ranieri will undoubtedly be looking to avenge his unfair dismissal by Chelsea.
Chelsea are a club in turmoil at the moment. Gus Hiddink, who was appointed as manager on Tuesday, will have the unenviable task of guiding Chelsea through a potentially rough few weeks. The outcome of the match: if Hiddink can placify the tension within the dressing room and find a way of accommodating all his stars then one would expect to see Chelsea in the quarter finals.
Both Arsenal and Roma have experienced a difficult first half of the season. Both teams are lying in fifth place and looking to force themselves back into the Champions League places. Roma have stumbled their way through Serie A this season. They have been lying in the bottom half of the Scudetto for most of the season, but with a recent turn around in form now find themselves in fifth, one point behind Fiorentina.
Arsenal might just sneak it if they can defend well at Stadio Olimpico.
Arsenal have also suffered from patchy form this season. They have struggled to cope with the loss of Mathieu Flamini. Also the rise of Aston Villa has thus far deprived them of their annual Champions League spot. There is an incentive for both clubs to put together a good run in the Champions League.
Success in Europe would certainly eclipse the disappointment of their poor domestic league showings. Outcome: very close to call, but Arsenal might just sneak it if they can defend well at Stadio Olimpico.
Finally, Liverpool face Real Madrid in a tie that will excite Liverpool fans. Rafa Benitez holds a good record against Spanish clubs in the Champions League with his only loss against Barcelona. Real Madrid, who lie in second position in La Liga have been disappointing this season and have failed to keep up with pace setters Barcelona. Manager Juande Ramos has steadied the ship after the departure of Bernt Schuster.
But arguably for Benitez and Liverpool there will never be a better time to play Madrid. Liverpool who have for the first time in years mounted a title challenge, are a team high on confidence. They have proven over the years a difficult team to beat in Europe, with their dogged persistence one of their key attributes.
Fernando Torres will be looking to rekindle old rivalries in Madrid and could well find himself on the score sheet. Outcome: if Liverpool can keep a clean sheet at the Bernabeu, and with a electric atmosphere at Anfield, they should be able to overcome the Spanish giants.