Earlier, we took a brief look at the ties that will start tomorrow afternoon here in the US. Right now, we’ll look at Wednesday’s games. Once again, my picks to advance to the semifinals are highlighted in bold.
1. Arsenal vs. Liverpool: Don’t let Arsenal’s comeback to beat Bolton this weekend fool you; the Gunners aren’t playing well right now and they couldn’t have been happy with drawing the European buzzsaw that is Liverpool in this round.
For Arsenal to win this tie, they must hold serve at the Emirates on Wednesday and either come away with a win or a scoreless draw. If they lose to Liverpool at home or concede in a draw, or perhaps even concede in a one-goal loss, the Reds will take that positive result back to Anfield, grind the second leg out, get the job done, and advance. You don’t go into the home of England’s most successful European club and come away with anything, it’s that simple, at least in the Champions League. A European night at Anfield is a special, special sight to behold and the inexperience of Arsenal could be exploited there.
What are the keys for both teams? For Arsenal, as I said, they likely need to win on Wednesday.
“Well duh, but how do they do that?” Liverpool can be beaten on the wings. It’s nearly impossible to penetrate through the likes of Gerrard, Alonso, and Mascherano in the middle, but Babel and Kuyt are fairly limited defensively. Unfortunately for Arsenal, those two players have just as much speed, although Kuyt perhaps a little less so, than the players (Walcott/Eboué and Rosicky) Arsene Wenger will play on the flanks. If those guys can whip balls in to Adebayor and/or Bendtner, it could come down to an aerial battle between Carragher and Skrtel and the Arsenal strikers. Personally, I’d take the Liverpool defenders, but that’s just me.
For Liverpool, Ryan Babel needs to have a big game. No Bacary Sagna, who is out with an injury, on the right side likely means that either Justin Hoyte (average at best) or Kolo Touré (out of position) will be pressed into action and will have to deal with the Dutch winger. Babel has the strength to beat Hoyte one-on-one and the pace to beat Touré. If he can force his way to the byline and inside the box, that havoc will create chances all day for the most in-form striker in the world right now, Fernando Torres.
Prediction: This tie may have extra time and penalties written all over it, but I can see Liverpool getting it done in 180 minutes. With that said, I can see Arsenal doing the same but based on the Reds’ European exploits and the fact that they have a better two-leg manager, I’m going with Liverpool. 0-0 in the first leg, 2-1 in the return leg at Anfield — 2-1 aggregate
2. Fenerbahçe vs. Chelsea: I’ll tell you right now, Fenerbahçe aren’t going down without a fight. They will make Chelsea work for the entirety of this tie and it’s not as cut-and-dry as one may think.
Usually the team who hosts the second leg has the advantage; in this case, however, I don’t agree. No one, and I repeat, no one, wants to travel to Istanbul in front of the rowdy Turkish crowd and play. It’s important that Fenerbahçe come out strong on Wednesday and take something positive back to Stamford Bridge. They need to set the tone in this tie and dictate to Chelsea how it is going to be played. Remember, this is a team that beat Inter Milan in this competition already, and say what you want about Milan’s recent dip in form, that was still a hugely impressive result and one that shouldn’t be discounted.
Chelsea was extremely fortunate to beat Middlesbrough this weekend, and they’ve been giving up a lot of chances in the past couple of weeks. There are goals to be had for Fenerbahçe, but they must convert their opportunities and that’s something Middlesbrough couldn’t do. Then again, there is a reason that Fenerbahçe are in the Champions League and Middlesbrough are..well, they’re Middlesbrough.
In much the same fashion, Chelsea are going to get their fair share of chances as well against a Fenerbahçe back line that conceded five goals in two games against Sevilla in the Round of 16. The Blues possess a multitude of quality attacking players, and I would expect them to do their job and bury a couple balls into the back of the net.
I have to be honest, I haven’t been able to find much information on this but if Roberto Carlos is healthy again, he’ll give Fenerbahçe a big boost on the left side. The former Brazilian stalwart was named as one of the 125 best living players by Pelé in 2004 and still possesses a lethal left foot. He missed both games of the Sevilla tie, I believe, and Fenerbahçe could really use him back for this quarterfinal round.
Prediction: Fenerbahçe are a team with nothing to lose, having already exceeded expectations in reaching this stage of the competition. I expect them to play like at home on Wednesday and pull off a 2-1 win to give themselves a chance heading back to London. Chelsea doesn’t score a ton of goals, so it could be a little tighter than desired, but the Blues will get it done at the Bridge. 2-1 in the first leg for the Turkish side, 3-1 in the second leg for Avram Grant’s men — 4-3 aggregate