The draw for the Champions League Quarter-Finals was held today at UEFA headquarters in Nyon and the big news was that we will be treated to a rematch of AS Roma and Manchester United, which promises the most attractive football from both sides.
The first leg of the quarter-final ties are scheduled to be played April 1/2 with the second leg on April 8/9. The semifinal ties are scheduled to be played April 22/23 with the second legs contested on April 29/30.
Quarter-Finals (my picks to advance are bolded)
Arsenal FC v Liverpool FC
AS Roma v Manchester United
FC Schalke 04 v FC Barcelona
Fenerbahçe SK v Chelsea FC
The semi-finals then setup like this:
Arsenal/Liverpool vs. Fenerbahçe/Chelsea
Schalke 04/Barcelona vs. AS Roma/Manchester United
Chelsea, semi-finalists in three of the last four campaigns, visit Fenerbahçe SK and have to be favoured to advance to the semis based on both their experience and their current form. Chelsea have conceded just once under Grant in the Champions League and should feel confident going into this fixture. It is not be an easy draw for Chelsea but at this stage there are no truly “easy” matchups to be had. The key will be the trip to Turkey, if Chelsea can come out of that match level, they should be able to win the fixture and progress to the semi-finals to face either Arsenal or Liverpool. Chelsea have yet to win the Champions League since Roman Abramovich took over the club and it is rumoured that unless they do so this season, current manager Avram Grant will be replaced at season’s end.
Roma will again seek to avenge the 7-1 thrashing they suffered last season but I have to question their team unity at this point. It has been well documented in the press that Francesco Totti and Brazilian midfielder Mancini have had a long-running personal feud. Now added to that, defender Christian Panucci had an altercation with midfielder Alberto Aquilani during a recent training session. Manchester United were less than impressive in getting past Olympique Lyon and will need to step their game up if they are to get past Roma.
The Arsenal – Liverpool tie could get ugly as the two sides also face-off in the league in between the quarter-final legs. Many observers will favour Liverpool as one could argue that they are able to concentrate solely on the Champions League but they have not locked up a Champions League place for next season so that’s a bit of a fallacy. Liverpool need to keep putting points on the board to hold off Everton who are currently level on points but trailing in goal difference. I was impressed by the way both clubs handled their respective Italian opponents in the last round and if the Torres-Gerrard combination can continue to click, Liverpool will be difficult to deal with. However, I think the midfield is where the tie will be won and lost and Arsenal have a more definite midfield. You know who will be out there and the players will know what’s expected of them. Can the same be said for Liverpool? Not really.
Both sides are likely to go with a 4-5-1 variant so I wouldn’t expect a high-scoring affair. I’d favour Arsenal in this tie simply based on the team chemistry and the overall consistency in their form this season. The two sides drew 1-1 in league play earlier this year.
I am picking Barcelona to advance over Schalke for a number or reasons. For starters, I think their squad is stronger even without Lionel Messi, who will miss both legs of this tie. One must also look at the fact that Barcelona get to play the second leg at home, which is a big advantage. Schalke are likely to adopt similar tactics to the ones they used against Porto in the last round. The German side fought for a home win and clean sheet, then defended that lead in the return leg. Against a side of Barcelona’s quality, it is a big ask. They have numerous ways to break down defenses and it will be a major upset if they do not advance.