Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Nicky's Champions League Sweet 16 Sweetness

Sorry I've been gone for a while. There really is just nothing to write about with the January transfer window closed and the NFL busy conducting its slave auction....er...scouting combine. But now that's changed..because this week, in fact, on this very day, the Champions League Round of 16 begins! Me so hawny!

Patrick has already given his picks, so here are mine for today's matchups. along with some pithy analysis.

Everytime I read "FC Porto" I think of "Vince Clorto, Keymaster of Gozer". They are the current leaders of the Portugese league, which, before you laugh, has produced as many Sweet 16 teams (2, Sporting Lisbon being the other) than either the German, French, and Dutch leagues combined. What you should know about Porto is that their leading goal scorer goes by one name, and that name is "Hulk". His name is Hulk but he's listed at 150 lbs. As for Atletico, they have sucked the big one in La Liga this year, currently residing in 7th place. They obviously have done OK in the Champions League though, and they tied Liverpool twice in group play. They've never lost at home to a Portugese club. I think they will keep that intact with a draw today, then Porto will finish them off in the second leg.

Lyon has reached this round thanks mostly to being placed in the "Group of Moderate Discomfort" in the previous stage, a group that included 2 clubs, Fiorentina and Romania's Steaua Bucharest, that went the entire group stage without winning a match. The competition gets just a wee bit tougher today, as in facing THE BEST TEAM IN THE WORLD, Barcelona. I say they are the best team in the world because that's what Lyon's coach, Claude Puel has recently called them. Not that I don't agree with that. Barca's not at their top form right now, as evidenced by a loss to lowly Barcelona rivals Espanyol last weekend, but they shouldn't have too much if any trouble with Lyon. They'll win on the road today and win big in the home leg to advance to the quarters.

The Gunners have been held without a goal in four of their last six matches. They went out and got Russian Euro 08 hero Andrei Arshavin, and he led them to a 0-0 draw at home against Sunderland. Awesome. In fairness, they've got Adebayor and Fabregas on their injury list right now, so that probably makes a big difference. Arsenal is in 5th place in the Prem right now, so they are in real danger of not being invited back to this shindig next year. Still, I think they are good enough to win a home match against the 6th place team in Serie A, and beat them pretty easily. A note of caution though, the last time Roma played a Premiership team was in the group stage, and they beat Chelsea 3-1. So if Arsenal does not give themselves some cushion today, they may be in trouble in the second leg.

And here would be your money matchup. The first place team in Italy against the first place team in England. Inter's peaking right now, having beaten a then-surging AC Milan club a couple of weeks ago. The Nerazzuri (Black N Blue) did not do so hot in the group stage though, managing just a 2-2-2 record and finishing behind Greek side Panathinaikos to earn this plum assignment against the defending European Champs. Man U has a European record 20 match unbeaten streak in Euro play going right now, and I don't think it's going to end today. I think they earn a draw at Milan today, then finish the job at home in the second leg.

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