Well at last the Champions League gets somewhat interesting. After the horrible boredom of the group stages – Jumpthefence turned over to Eastenders on final game night and the lads on RTE were getting awfully stale with far too much filler – we’re treated to some crackers in the first knockout round. Premier league vs Serie A/ La Liga with a whole pile of interesting subplots thrown in. This time last year I’d have fancied all the English sides to progress but there are reasons enough to suggest it won’t all be one-way traffic now; in fact I’d wager there’ll be some high-profile casualty when these games are done and dusted.
Arsenal-Roma won’t be as straight-forward as one might think. Roma are on a decent winning streak after terrible early season form and with Totti back, Perrotta on form and Vucinic a threat, they won’t be fearing Arsenal at all. Chelsea-Juve has the Ranieri factor to lead with. Juve have actually looked a team again this season, thumping four past Milan last week, and with Del Piero on the sort of form he showed ten years ago, Amauri a revelation up front and the likes of Marchisio and De Ceglie coming through the ranks, they’ll be more than fodder for Chelsea.
United-Inter will bring out the best in the Mourinho/ Ferguson history. Inter looked out of their depth crumbling to Liverpool last year but Jose will have them more compact, harder to beat and a tad more resilient I feel. If Zlatan Ibrahimovic is ever going to announce himself as a big-game player (Italian football has had its share of Godots, we’re always waiting for them – Totti, Del Piero was actually known by that name in Italy), there’d hardly be a better tie. And Real-Liverpool has a glean of importance off it. Real have looked a shambles at times but with Ramos in charge they ought be better organised, up for it and if Robben is fit he could well inspire an upset. Rafa, going back to Madrid, will most likely make a stalemate of it and hope to nick a goal somewhere. Torres of course will be well up for it, and could be the deciding factor.
And if you want more: Arsenal-Liverpool this weekend could be fun. Pool will fancy making another statement of intent on their title, ahem, charge but like the teenage boy who’s finally got the go-ahead to take things further with the girlfriend, their nervousness may well end up making a mess of things. Arsenal can always be relied upon to be flaky so when we’re expecting a big-game, all-action display they could be disappointing (let’s be honest, they were lucky out to get something from Chelsea a few weeks ago). Both teams are far too inconsistent to call it. So we’ll say a 1-1 draw is a good bet.