Returning from its winter hiatus is Europe’s premier club competition as 16 of the continent’s top teams compete for the chance to be crowned European Champions in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium on Saturday 22nd May. The latter stages of this competition have been dominated by English clubs in recent seasons so can another team progress to the final stages and upset the status quo?


Lyon vs Real Madrid

Lyon are regulars at this stage of the Champions League but rarely make it much further than the last eight, by comparison Real Madrid’s record in this competition speaks for itself as they have been crowned European champions an unprecedented nine times. Real Madrid enter the knock-out stages with the incentive of the final being hosted at their home ground. The Spanish club are, unsurprisingly, favourites to go through in a tie which could see Karim Benzema play against his former employers.

The Stade Gerland outfit are no longer the dominant force domestically, with Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux taking over that mantle, but Lyon have accrued plenty of European experience over the past decade and will be a test for anyone. The Ligue 1 side have already shown plenty of character during this season’s competition by progressing from a group containing Liverpool and Fiorentina.

Winning the Champions League, a trophy currently held by bitter rivals Barcelona, on their home ground must be a dream for anyone connected with Real Madrid. Los Blancos are struggling to keep pace with Barcelona in La Liga so the Champions League may represent their best chance of silverware this season. A Champions League triumph would also go some way towards vindicating a significant transfer outlay over the summer that saw the acquisitions of Kaka, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Real Madrid have the advantage of playing at home in the second-leg and with the Madrid side capable of scoring at the Stade Gerland Lyon will surely face a mammoth task when they visit the Spanish capital.

AC Milan vs Manchester United

The script was always written for David Beckham to return to his boyhood club as an opposition player, all that needed to be decided was which team and in what context. December’s last 16 draw provided the answer as AC Milan were drawn with Manchester United. Is the script written for Beckham to score with a trademark free kick in the last minute and knock the Old Trafford side out of the Champions League?

Manchester United in the post-Ronaldo era are relying heavily on Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs and both have performed with aplomb so far this campaign. England international Rooney is currently in the best form of his career while Giggs is enjoying a fine Indian summer. Unfortunately for the Red Devils, Giggs suffered a broken arm in their recent Premier League fixture against Aston Villa and will miss at least the first leg. Otherwise Manchester United should be relatively fresh for their trip to the San Siro as they have had a free weekend to prepare for the game due to their FA Cup exit at the hands of Leeds United.

AC Milan suffered a terribly slow start to the season as they began life after Carlo Ancelotti. The new man at the helm, Leonardo, was under huge pressure within weeks of the season starting but to his credit has turned it around. Despite this, in recent weeks the Rossoneri have fallen off the pace in the race for the Scudetto and go into this Champions League tie on the back of a much needed Serie A win over Udinese. Milan will also be boosted by the possible return of Alessandro Nesta and Alexandre Pato from injury.

This fixture offers an intriguing tactical battle and Milan may feel they have some advantage from playing at Old Trafford in the second-leg. Manchester United have looked far from secure defensively this season, mainly due to the absence of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at times, and a team possessing the attacking talents of Ronaldinhio, Beckham and Clarence Seedorf will feel confident of scoring away goals which could prove pivotal.

FC Porto vs Arsenal

Porto, the 2004 winners are up against an Arsenal side desperate to win this trophy for the first time. Like Lyon, Porto have been regulars at this stage of the Champions League in recent seasons but rarely progress much further than the last eight. Last season the Portuguese giants exited the competition at the quarter-final stage after Manchester United, and in particular a Cristiano Ronaldo wonder-goal that will live long in the memory, knocked them out. Domestically, Porto aren’t having the best of times as they struggle to keep pace with Sporting Braga and Benfica in the Liga Sagres title race and involvement at this phase of the Champions League will be a welcome distraction.

Arsenal have coped admirably with the absence of Robin van Persie through injury and remain in touch with the Premier League leaders despite a difficult run of fixtures in recent weeks. Question marks do though still remain over The Gunners’ ability to last the distance and after an FA Cup exit at the hands of Stoke City the Champions League could be Arsene Wenger’s best chance of landing silverware. Like Manchester United, Arsenal have had a free weekend due to their FA Cup exit and will travel to Portugal on the back of a confidence boosting victory over Liverpool in the Premier League.

Porto will need to attack at the Stadio Dragao and try and take a lead to London as achieving any kind of positive result at the Emirates Stadium will be difficult. Arsene Wenger’s young side have plenty of European experience despite their seemingly tender years and should be able to cope with the partisan Portuguese crowd in the first leg. If they return from Porto at least level then the English side will be clear favourites to win the tie and progress.

Bayern Munich vs Fiorentina

The resumption of the Champions League could not have come at a better time for Bayern Munich. The Bavarians are in exceptional form domestically as they look to overhaul Bayer Leverkusen at the top of the Bundesliga, and the autumnal days where Louis van Gaal appeared to be one game away from the sack now seem a distant memory.

The same cannot be said for Fiorentina. La Viola’s league form has slumped in recent weeks and they currently lie 11th in Serie A at the time of writing. The Tuscany based club have also been rocked by the news of star striker Adrian Mutu failing a random drugs test. Despite these problems, Fiorentina probably stand the best chance of the three Italian teams of progressing to the next round considering both Milan clubs face Premier League opposition.

Current form dictates that Bayern will be favourites over the two legs to progress, especially if they can prevent Fiorentina from returning to Italy with an away goal. On the other hand Fiorentina will aim to keep things tight at the Allianz Arena and look to win the tie in the second leg in front of their passionate home support at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.


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