It has been a while since we’ve had some UEFA competition to talk about but the UEFA Cup Round of 32 kicks off today and tomorrow with some fantastic matchups.
The showcase fixture has to be Werder Bremen vs AC Milan. Werder have struggled this seasons and are basically out of the running in the Bundesliga title hunt so the UEFA Cup is one of their only shots (they are also still active in the DFB Pokal) at some glory for this season. Their most recent result can be seen as a microcosm of their season. A 1-1 draw at home against last place Borussia Monchengladbach has to be viewed as another lost opportunity. Despite creating a wealth of chances and dominating posession, Werder simply could not find their touch in front of goal and dropped valuable points.
AC Milan have also seen their chances of a domestic league triumph go up in smoke after they lost 2-1 to bitter rivals Inter Milan this past weekend. The loss drops them 11 points behind Inter and while they could still make up that ground, it looks a tall order at the moment. Going into this match, Milan have two notable injury worries. Undoubtedly their best player, Kaka, is unlikely to play due to a left foot injury. David Beckham may also not be ready to go after a slight hamstring pull. Beckham has been the subject of many headlines as Milan attempted to make his loan deal permanent but have failed to reach an agreement with MLS.
I am looking for Milan’s experience and depth to pull them through this tie but it could be a close one.
A couple of teams I am pushing to make the next round are PSG and FC Twente. Both are led by coaches who have had their reputation tarnished by underperforming squads and impatience in the job. McClaren was dismissed as England manager after missing out on Euro 2008 qualifying. There has been much laughter at his expense but he has quietly done a nice job with FC Twente. They were unfortunate to be drawn against Arsenal in their Champions League qualifying attempt but have done well in UEFA Cup play. McClaren has led the club to 2nd place in the Eredivisie, currently ahead of traditional powerhouses Ajax and PSV.
Paul Le Guen was ushered out the door at Ibrox after less than a full season in charge. He landed in another job, this time with Paris St. Germain, who at the time of his hiring were lying 17th in Ligue 1 and in danger of being relegated but he led them to safety in his 1st season finishing 15th. This season he has them challenging at the other end of the table as they currently sit 2nd in the league.
My predictions for the Round of 32 are below.
Dynamo Kiev (UKR) v Valencia (ESP)
Zenit St-Petersburg (RUS) v VfB Stuttgart (GER)
Olympiakos (GRE) v St Etienne (FRA)
Aston Villa (ENG) v CSKA Moscow (RUS)
Werder Bremen (GER) v AC Milan (ITA)
Paris St Germain (FRA) v VfL Wolfsburg (GER)
NEC Nijmegen (NED) v Hamburg SV (GER)
Sampdoria (ITA) v Metalist Kharkov (UKR)
Bordeaux (FRA) v Galatasaray (TUR)
Aalborg (DEN) v Deportivo La Coruna (ESP)
Braga (POR) v Standard Liege (BEL)
Lech Poznan (POL) v Udinese (ITA)
Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR) v Tottenham (ENG)
FC Copenhagen (DEN) v Manchester City (ENG)
Marseille (FRA) v FC Twente (NED)
Fiorentina (ITA) v Ajax (NED)
Who do you see advancing? Which ties have the most potential for upset?