After the matches Tuesday and Wednesday, some teams have clearly put themselves in a good position heading into the second leg in a couple weeks’ time. Others put themselves into a hole that they’ll have to climb out of in that second leg. Here, I’m going to examine the teams that fit into each of these categories.
1. Liverpool- This is the most obvious pick; there’s no question about it. You can say what you want about Marco Materazzi and how he shouldn’t have been booked twice, whatever. The fact of the matter is Liverpool won 2-0 against a team in Inter Milan that is undefeated in Serie A and had only one loss to their name all season long, at Fenerbahçe in the Group Stage of the Champions League.
Liverpool didn’t just beat Inter either, they dominated the match from start to finish. The Reds had 25 shots (6 on goal) compared to just 4 (0 on goal) for the Nerazzuri, 70% possession, and won numerous more corners than their opponent.
I don’t think there’s any way that Inter will be able to claw their way back in the second leg either as not only will they be without the suspended Materazzi and likely the injured Iván Córdoba, Rafa Benitez and Liverpool know how to shut shop and grind out the result they need. If Liverpool can nick a goal at the San Siro, Inter would need to score four goals to advance. That’s not going to happen against a Benitez-coached side.
2. Sevilla- Even with their 3-2 loss at Fenerbahçe, Sevilla are in the driver’s seat going into the second leg of this tie. Any time you can score twice on the road in a competition where away goals are so valuable, you’re in good shape to progress. Sevilla have a +17 goal differential at home this year and are 8-1-3 in the league, so Fenerbahçe have their work cut out for them in Spain. Sevilla have to win, but any victory without conceding two or more goals will do.
3. Barcelona- This tie is essentially over as Barcelona won 3-2 at Celtic Park on Tuesday. Celtic is awful away from home in European competition and knowing that, they were really counting on their crowd to help give them a lead heading into the second leg. That didn’t happen, and I would conservatively estimate Celtic’s chances of winning in Spain are extremely slim to none. That’s conservative.
1. Chelsea- Underestimating Olympiacos could prove to be a fatal mistake for Avram Grant and his team if the Greek side can snatch a goal and then grind out some sort of result at Stamford Bridge. We all know that Chelsea are not exactly dynamic even at the best of times anyway; they rarely score more than two goals in a given game, but being held scoreless on Tuesday really puts the impetus on them in the second leg.
2. Schalke 04- Winning 1-0 at home over Porto very likely won’t be enough for the German side. Porto are 9-1-0 on home turf in their domestic league this season, have only conceded one, yes, one goal at the Estádio do Dragão in the league (+20 goal differential), and just three in the league and Champions League combined. Schalke have been less than impressive on the road this year and will be four days removed from a league clash against Bayern Munich when they play in Portugal. I don’t think they’ll have the energy or the heart to get the job done there, and having only one goal in their back pocket doesn’t help.
3. Lyon- An important home victory over Manchester United was in Lyon’s grasp yesterday but an 87th minute goal from Carlos Tevez spoiled that possibility. The 1-1 scoreline clearly favors United as they’ll welcome Lyon to Old Trafford for the second leg, needing only a 0-0 draw or a victory to advance. The juggernauts of La Ligue really squandered an opportunity to make Manchester United squirm a little bit, and now they’ll have to chase a goal (or two) in a tough place for visitors to play.