UCL Quarter-Final Preview (1 of 2)
AC Milan v Bayern Munich
Two of the more storied franchises to compete for the Champions League title (formerly called the European Cup). Bayern, European Champions on four previous occasions, have struggled for form in the Bundesliga but have shown signs of turning things around with a 2-0 win over league leaders Schalke 04 this past weekend. However, keeper Oliver Kahn is suspended for the opening leg of the tie after his row at a drugs test following their win over Real Madrid. Midfielder Mark van Bommel is also suspended after rudely gesturing to Real Madrid fans following the first leg of the tie.
Bayern Probable Starting XI (4-4-2):
Sagnol Lucio Van Buyten Lahm
AC Milan are sitting in fifth place in Serie A and are coming off a tough 1-1 draw with AS Roma. Milan will once again call on the veteran defensive pairing of Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini. Maldini was rested on the weekend so that he’d be at full stregnth for this clash. Alberto Gilardino will start up front on his own as Brazilian striker Ronaldo is cup-tied.
AC Milan Probable Starting XI:
Oddo Nesta Maldini Jankulovski
In the first knockout round of the Champions League a year ago, Milan won easily at home 4-1 and only had to hold out for a draw in the second leg in Germany. It will be important for Bayern to remain compact and keep the game close if they hope to return home with a chance of advancing. Milan have most often used a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-1-1 system with Kaka playing behind Gilardino and Gattuso and Pirlo sitting deep in front of the defence. At home, they may opt for a slightly more attacking approach but look for them to try and control the tempo and maintain posession. Bayern’s best approach will be to try and put pressure on the Milan back four with pace down the flanks. This will require Lahm and Sagnol to make supporting runs for Salihamidzic and Schweinsteiger. Hargreaves and Ottl have a big job to do. They will need to support their defenders and one of the two will need to attempt to mark Kaka out of the match. For AC Milan, they will want to focus on Van Buyten as he appeared to be a bit lacking for pace against Real Madrid.
PSV v Liverpool
This is a battle of two of the finer tactical minds in the game at the moment. Ronald Koeman has done well in getting the most out of “smaller” clubs like PSV and Benfica. He will need to get maximum performace out of his side as they will be without two key players in Brazilian defender Alex and striker Arouna Kone. PSV often use a 4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2 setup but with their injury concerns and perhaps feeling a bit outgunned, I suspect they will play a 4-4-2 setup in hopes of taking away some of the midfield space and offering more cover for the back four.
PSV Probable Starting XI (4-4-2):
Kromkamp da Costa Alcides Salcido
Afellay Mendes Simons Cocu
Liverpool are coming off a massive 4-1 Premiership win over rivals Arsenal with striker Peter Crouch netting a wonderful hat-trick. Crouch scored one with each foot and also had a headed goal for a “perfect” hat-trick. However, I’m not 100% convinced that he will start against PSV. Benitez may instead opt to insert Craig Bellamy’s pace into the frontline in hopes of unsettling a makeshift defensive pairing of da Costa and Alcides.
Liverpool Probable Starting XI (4-4-2):
Finnan Carragher Agger Aurelio
Gerrard Mascherano Alonso Riise
PSV are likely to adopt the same conservative approach that saw off Arsenal in the last round. They were content to soak up pressure and wait for an opportune time to counter-attack. These two sides drew 0-0 in a September group-stage match and a repeat is not unlikely. I suspect that Koeman would even be satisfied with such a scoreline in hopes of advancing on away goals. For Liverpool, Mascherano and Alonso had a dominant performance against Liverpool so it would be hard to suggest breaking up that pairing. It’s likely we will see Gerrard start out on the right side of midfield with Jermaine Pennant or Mark Gonzalez coming on in the second half to try and create width down the flanks if Liverpool are unable to sneak a goal. If they can grab a 1-0 lead, look for Liverpool to slow things down and control the midfield. Liverpool should go through if they remain patient and defend well on set-pieces.