Jumaat, 16 Disember 2011

Champions League Knockout Previews - Part One

Bayern Munich

Strengths: In Manuel Neuer, Bayern have a goalkeeper who was widely regarded as the best shot-stopper of the 2010/11 competition. There is an abundance of creativity in midfield through Schweinsteiger, Ribery and Robben, while Mario Gomez is in frightening form, topping both the Bundesliga and Champions League scoring charts.

Weaknesses: Central defence. Both Jerome Boateng and Daniel Van Buyten are prone to lapses of concentration and are rather short of pace. Bayern can score against anyone, but they can also concede against anyone too, proven in their 3-2 league defeat to lowly Mainz.

How they play: Jupp Heynckes is one of the most experienced coaches in the competition; in 1998 he led Real Madrid to glory, ending their 32 year wait to reclaim the trophy. A prolific striker in his playing days, Heynckes likes his teams to take the initiative, demonstrated in Bayern's group stage win over Man City. Playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Ribery, Robben and Mueller supplying the service to Gomez, Bayern are a daunting challenge to any opponent.

Key player: Bastian Schweinsteiger. Playing in a more withdrawn role, everything goes through the former wunderkind.

Can they win it? If you live your life by one maxim, let it be this: Never, ever write off the Germans. Not even in your wildest of dreams. (Although if your wildest dreams involve a German football team, you probably need to make some serious lifestyle changes - Ed)


Strengths: City's conquerors Napoli have become the neutral's team to watch this season. They possess an exciting array of attacking talent with Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik capable of stretching even the most resilient backlines.

Weaknesses: Although qualifying at their expense, Napoli conceded as many goals as City in Group A. In allowing the opposition to have the lion's share of possession they invite pressure onto themselves, which could prove terminal in the last 16.

How they play: Free-flowing, expansive, counter-attacking football. While the forward three offer pace and directness, Gokhan Inler and Walter Gargano provide a structural anchor. Napoli are a joy to watch at times and coach Walter Mazzari will look forward to pitting his wits against one of the bigger teams in the last 16.

Key player: Edinson Cavani. The best striker in Serie A when he's in the mood. Don't believe the braces, his three goals against City assured Napoli's progression and showed he's no punk ass kid.

Can they win it? Probably not, but maybe. Definitely maybe.

Inter Milan

Strengths: In what has been a tumultuous season so far for the 2010 winners Inter's main strength is their experience, which saw them through the group stage.

Weaknesses: Where to start? Imperious under Mourinho, Inter showed signs of cracking last season (the 5-2 defeat to Schalke at the San Siro springs to mind), and have been in chaos this campaign. In defence, Andrea Ranocchia can be a liability, while Walter Samuel, Christian Chivu, Javier Zanetti and Lucio are all in the twilight of their careers. Inter topped Group B, despite losing at home to debutants Trabzonspor in the opening fixture. Anything can happen.

How they play: At the moment, not like champions. Inter have lost six matches so far in Serie A, including a defeat to minnows Novara. While they undoubtedly have quality in Sneijder (how much did he want to leave in the summer?), Forlan, Milito and Pazzini, it's clear they miss the unrivalled effectiveness of Samuel Eto'o.

Key player: Wesley Sneijder. If Inter are to go further than they managed last season, they need their Dutch wizard at his phenomenal best.

Can they win it? If they pull their collective finger out, then yes.

CSKA Moscow

Strengths: CSKA left it until the last game to secure second spot in Group B. They have quality throughout the team, from commanding centre back Sergei Ignashevich, to playmaker Alan Dzagoev and prolific marksman Seydou Doumbia.

Weaknesses: Nicknamed 'The Horses', CSKA have a tendency to bolt. While they beat Inter at the San Siro, they also gifted Lille their only win in this year's competition with a 2-0 defeat in Moscow. They miss goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, who is on the long term injury list.

How they play: With Dzagoev as the hub, and a dynamic forward line in Doumbia and Vagner Love, CSKA have the potential to cause problems for most defences. The return to fitness of Keisuke Honda, a set piece specialist, is also a timely boost.

Key player: Doumbia. Five goals so far in this year's Champions League has seen Doumbia attracting suitors across Europe.

Can they win it? Nyet.


Undefeated in Group C, Benfica walked through to the last 16 in the way we all expected United to. They'll be evenly matched against one of the group runners-up and can progress if they get Oscar Cardozo firing.

Weaknesses: Oscar Cardozo doesn't always fire. Both United and Basel scored more goals than Benfica in the group stage.

How they play: Captained by their commanding centre-back Luisao, Benfica are solid in defence and look to catch teams on the break. Maxi Pereira is a tireless runner from full back, while Nicolas Gaitan, Axel Witsel and Pablo Aimar provide the phwoar factor.

Key player: Oscar Cardozo. Scorer of a great goal against United, but he needs to be more consistent. The Paraguayan has two matches to prove he can play in the big games.

Can they win it: Do platypuses lay eggs? What, they do? But they're mammals...


They're better than the 2008 winners.

Weaknesses: They shouldn't have got this far, and will surely fall at the next hurdle. They have a good blend of youth and experience but won't be a test for any of the group winners, apart from APOEL.

How they play: Despite the enormous difference in quality, Basel were impressive against United, particularly in the 3-3 draw at Old Trafford when they deserved to win. Heiko Vogel presided over just one defeat (a 2-0 loss at home to Benfica) while caretaker and has helped the club maintain its grip on first place in the Swiss Super League, which led to his permanent appointment this week. Attacking intent is suppied by playmaker Xherdan Shakiri, with Alexander Frei providing the finishing touches.

Key player: Shakiri. He looks a little on the chunky side and certainly lacks a neck, but the young Swiss international is a box of tricks and has a fierce shot.

Can they win it: The defeat to Benfica aside, they've not really been tested so far. We'll have to wait and see.

Real Madrid

Strengths: Before Saturday's Clasico, it could have been claimed that Real are the best team in the world on current form. And even though they had their balls handed to them by Barca, it's hard to think they won't make it to the final this year. The only thing standing in their way could be the Catalan menace.

Weaknesses: At present any criticisms of Madrid feel forced. It could be argued that they're still unreliable in defence, with Ramos and Marcelo occasionally ignoring their primary duty. The biggest threat to Madrid's safe passage, though, is if disciplinary issues rear their ugly head once more. Last season suspensions took their toll, Mourinho will have to lead by example on this occasion.

How they play: El Clasico aside, wonderfully. Fast, free flowing, elegant football that may be the perfect antidote to those tiring of tiki-taka. Madrid score goals for fun and unlike with Mourinho's previous teams it's a joy to watch. They'll attack anyone, but also know how and when to revert to a tighter approach.

Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo. He deserves to be crowned World Player of the Year. Sh*te against Barca though.

Can they win it? Yes, but unless they defeat Barcelona along the way it would be a hollow achievement.


After continuing their Champions League flirtations with Real Madrid in the group stage, Lyon qualified courtesy of a nine goal swing in the final round of fixtures. Bafetimbi Gomis' seven-minute hat-trick against Dinamo Zagreb broke Mike Newell's Champions League record, and Lyon will be looking to him (Gomis, not Newell) and Lisandro Lopez to fire them into the quarters.

Weaknesses: Lyon improved year on year since winning their first Ligue 1 title in 2002, but have stagnated of late. Playmaker Yoann Gourcuff is failing to live up to high hopes and the team have been inconsistent in the league.

How they play: Before the 7-1 thrashing of Dinamo, Lyon had only scored two goals in their first five group matches. They have pace down the wings in Michel Bastos, Aly Cissokho and Bakary Kone, but struggled to impose themselves against Real and Ajax. The loss of exciting talent Miralem Pjanic has removed an element of their creativity.

Key player: Michel Bastos. The man charged with creating opportunities for Gomis and Lopez.

Can they win it? If Zagreb were the opposition every time, then yes, most definitely.

source: http://www.football365.com/f365-features/7374156/Preview365

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