Playing Nostradamus, Champions League Style

With UEFA Champions League play heating up, it is only fitting that we take a look at the matches that we have in store over the course of the next two months. The remaining teams in Champions League play are some of the typical fan favorites, but the likes of Real Madrid, Chelsea and Liverpool have all managed to be bounced from the tournament in the early rounds. That being said, let’s take a look at the quarter-final match-ups scheduled for March 30 and 31 as well as April 6 and 7.

The first match is between Lyon and Bordeaux. This French rivalry game will be heated, to say the least, as Lyon looks to re-assert itself as the premier French football club, after a 0-1 loss to Bordeaux in Ligue 1 play in December. Over the past year, Lyon has lost the likes of Karim Benzema to Real Madrid and midfielder Juninho to Al-Gharafa of Qatar. The team must now rely on stud Miralem Pjani?c who has already scored 4 goals in Champions League play. Bordeaux has definitely proven itself as the best team in Ligue 1 and will rally behind forward Marouane Chamakh and defender Benoît Trémoulinas against Lyon. Pick: Bordeaux over Lyon.

The next matchup is between the heralded German club, Bayern Munich, and Manchester United. The last time these two powerhouses went head to head was this past summer in the Audi Cup as Bayern defeated United in a penalty shootout. However, a lot has changed since then. Despite the offseason losses of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, and the recent injuries to Ryan Giggs and Michael Owen, Man U look like contenders largely because of the play of Wayne Rooney. Rooney, the uncontested leader of the Red Devils, has willed himself to four goals in Champions League play and wants revenge for the pre-season loss to Bayern. However, Bayern’s dominant play from midfielders Arjen Robben and Bastian Schweinsteiger could prove to be too costly for Manchester. Pick: Bayern over Manchester United.

The most highly anticipated quarter-final matchup is undoubtedly between Arsenal and Barcelona, a re-match of the 2006 Champions League final that Barca won, 2-1. The tandem of the recently acquired Zlatan Ibrahimovi?c and superstar Lionel Messi has powered Barcelona to the top of La Liga’s standings. Barca’s defense will be put to the test as it faces an Arsenal team that has led the Champions League in goals scored (18), averaging 2.25 goals per game. But, Arsenal has never won the Champions League and have a lack of experience at this high level. For former Arsenal and now Barcelona player Thierry Henry, the game will become personal. Henry scored a club-record 174 goals for Arsenal during his eight years there. Although Arsenal is also an incredibly talented team with the likes of Cesc Fábregas, Robin Van Persie and perennial all-world defender William Gallas, I believe that the only team that can match up with Barca’s skill would be Inter, who they thoroughly defeated early this year. Pick: Barcelona over Arsenal.

The last quarter-final matchup is between Inter Milan and CSKA Moscow. Inter has demonstrated that by swapping Ibrahimovi?c to Barcelona in return for Samuel Eto’o, they knew all along that Eto’o was the missing piece of the puzzle for the Champions League title. His goal in Inter’s recent Champions League game against Chelsea was absolutely gorgeous and he is enough reason for me to confidently say that Inter will demolish CSKA Moscow. Eto’o’s skillful play more than compensates for the overeager Argentine striker, Diego Milito, who has been called for offsides 16 times in Champions League play, second-most of all players. Between Eto’o and midfielder Sulley Muntari, Inter has proven itself to be one of the fastest teams in all of the world, but still has a handful of veterans that make the team gel extremely well. The defense of Lucio, Javier Zanetti, Ivan Cordoba and the youthful Maicon have made Inter an extremely hard team to score on. Phenom goalie Julio Cesar is letting in just under a goal per game (.88) in Champions League play, largely due to his defenders. Although I don’t see Moscow presenting Inter much of a threat, Inter must make sure to account for forward Tomáš Necid, who has scored 4 goals in Champions League play, and 19-year-old midfielder Alan Dzagoev. Pick: Inter Milan over CSKA Moscow.