Champions’ League Knockout Round Begins

Well, it’s the day many people have been waiting for about two months as the Champions’ League resumes today with the start of the knockout rounds. The two matches on tap for Tuesday have gigantic storylines that most of the football media have been salivating over since the draw was made in December. Let’s take a closer look at these match-ups and give you our One Game, One World predictions.

AC Milan-Manchester United 

Though these are two of European football’s giants, the tie has been overshadowed by the story of David Beckham in line to face the team that started it all for him. Beckham spent over a decade with Manchester United playing in over 250 matches and 62 times. He was part of a golden generation cultivated by Sir Alex Ferguson, however towards the end of his time there his relationship with Ferguson soured. Still, he is expected to receive a warm welcome when Milan play the return leg at Old Trafford.

Storylines aside, this promises to be a mouth-watering clash over the two legs. Leonardo has steered AC Milan through an extremely rough patch to start the season and the Italians have been downright impressive since. Though they failed to defeat Inter Milan a few weeks back and thus remain 9 points adrift (albeit with a game in hand), the club have sprung to life the last couple of months and if they can maintain their decent form could have an outside chance at the Serie A title.

The Italians will be buoyed by the return from injury of Brazilian starlet Alexandre Pato. Leonardo has kept the faith in established veterans such as Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo, Ronaldinho, and Dida, however he has successfully blooded in youngsters and appears to be setting up the Milan of the next few years very well.

Manchester United have also experienced a somewhat bumpy road this season. That perhaps was only natural after they sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for a world record fee. The departure of Ronaldo coupled with a severe injury crisis seemed for a time to unsettle the squad and threaten to keep Ferguson away from chasing trophies. However, the inspirational form of Wayne Rooney along with the superb displays of the likes of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, Edwin Van der Sar, Antonio Valencia and the improving Nani have the club chasing glory on three fronts (Premier League, Champions’ League, and Carling Cup).

Tough to pick a winner from this match-up. Logically, United as the more settled side now for a couple seasons probably have the edge overall, however Milan have shown they are no pushovers and after a couple seasons have found a nice balance between experience and youth. It’s in-form stars Rooney versus Ronaldinho in this one and though the Brazilian has enjoyed a renaissance, look for England’s main man to do enough to put his stamp on this first leg and grab a vital away goal for United.

One Game, One World Prediction: AC Milan-Manchester United 1-1

Lyon-Real Madrid: Another match-up that will showcase the return of a homegrown star as Karim Benzema comes back to Stade Gerland. This is an interesting match-up as Lyon have lost their vice-grip on French football while Real Madrid are seeking to spend their way to the top of Spanish and European football.

Real Madrid spent 250 million euros on new blood this past summer in order become the best on the continent once again. It’s amazing that European football’s most decorated club have not advanced past the round of 16 in the Champions’ League for 5 seasons. They will aim to end that and the fact that they have lost on their previous two visits to Lyon.

An embarassing defeat to 3rd division side Alcorcon in the Copa del Rey made the club the laughingstock of Europe back in November, but since then Real have played quite well, better than many had predicted as the team have gelled quicker than most thought they would. Still, these fixtures are the most important of the season to date and it remains to be seen how this extremely talented, but newly put together side fare in the matches where it counts most.

Lyon meanwhile have blown hot and cold this season. They are currently 8 points off the pace in Ligue 1 and are surely in a transition period. The club have sold many players over the last few seasons and while there remains a core of good individuals they are not the force they once were. Dismissing a side though that won 7 straight titles in France until Bordeaux broke that streak last season would be foolhardy. Lyon are a proven side in this competition and few go to the Gerland and win easily.

If Lyon can pick up a clean win at home then this tie will become very difficult for Real. Most pundits will have Madrid coming through and with Ronaldo finding his form and with the likes of Kaka supporting him surely they are the favorites. Still, they may be given a surprise and made to wait until late in the second match in order to claim passage to the next round. Expect this first leg to be tighter than many believe it will be.

One Game, One World Prediction: Lyon-Real Madrid 1-1

 

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