CHELSEA v Barcelona
Real Madrid v ARSENAL
Benfica v LIVERPOOL
You can just imagine the Barca players chomping at the bits to get to Chelski, who have the disadvantage of playing the second leg at the Nou Camp. Hell, Rijkaard doesn’t even need to motivate his players – they’d be fired up for revenge. On the other hand, this could be exactly what Chelsea need to fire up for the final stretch of the season – the domestic race hasn’t been much of a challenge for them, and a blistering set of matches against the top Spanish team of the moment could be just what the doctor ordered. Stop Ronaldinho and you’ll have a chance, although that’s easier said than done.
My prediction: Barcelona’s attack is brilliant, but I suspect Chelsea’s defensive strength and Mourinho’s tactical mind might sneak a win.
The Gunners against Real? Arsenal did so admirably well against Inter Milan a couple of seasons ago, but can they pull of an upset – and Arsenal are the underdogs here – against a Real side that could well find themselves under new management by the time this game comes around? No Vieira this time, of course, but that seems to have only been a problem for Arsenal in matches against very physical, rugged teams – certainly not a description applicable to Real Madrid. To me, though, much will depend on how many of Real’s galacticos will be available and on-form for the match. Real’s defence will have no chance against Henry, so it’s up to the midfield and attack to stamp their class. Arsenal’s defence is not as strong as during their ‘invincible’ season, and their midfield might have problems with Real’s ball wizards. An on-song Henry could swing events their way, but this over-dependence on one man could be their downfall.
My prediction: I think Real could sneak this by a whisker – but even if I’m wrong, the second leg at Highbury looks to be a potential blockbuster nevertheless.
Benfica could be tricky. While they did beat Man Utd, let’s not kid oursleves by pretending that they actually knocked the Red Devils out – MU were undone with their results in other matches. What I see happening here would be a typical European knockout performance from Rafa’s men – a defensive approach away and attack like hell at home. Worked against Chelsea last season – disputed goal and all.
My prediction: No surprise here – Liverpool to thrash Benfica 15-0 in aggregate, with Crouch, Cisse, Stevie G, Garcia and Alonso scoring hat-tricks. Sounds about right, doncha think? 😛
(This post is also published in Hantu Bola: Petaling Street Hooligans).