The Christmas period is over and the continental players have had their winter break. Whilst their continental cousins were taking a well deserved rest the English Premiership league was grinding to a halt due to unusual weather conditions. Snow in the winter who would have thought.
February brings the return of the Champions League to our screens. There were some big casualties in the group stages with Liverpool, Marseille and Juventus all losing out and now having to make do with the Europa League. This all makes for interesting tournament at the bookies!
When the draw was made for the last 16 back on the 18th December in Nyon there were a couple of crackers that popped out of the hat, namely AC Milan vs Manchester United and Inter vs Chelsea.
The thing that first draws your attention to these games is the fact that Inter and Chelsea have been setting the pace in their respective leagues whilst Manchester United and AC Milan have been in hot pursuit all season. Looking at the line up of games in a little more detail you will see there is a lot more than meets the eye.
AC Milan has knocked Man Utd out of the Champions League the last four times they have met. There is also the return of former Man Utd hero, now of LA Galaxy, David Beckham who is on loan till the end of the season at the Rossoneri. This game pits two of the most successful teams in the last 20 years against each other. Both have massive stadiums backed by passionate fans hoping to progress to the next stage. Currently, the bets are on Man Utd but AC Milan have had a fantastic start to 2010 especially since United have looked less than convincing at the back. It would not surprise if AC Milan provides a little upset for last year’s beaten finalists.
The other inhabitants of the famous San Siro are Inter Milan who are looking for 5th straight Serie A title, last year’s title pulled Inter level with AC Milan with 17 apiece.
Inter Milan under the guidance of Roberto Mancini and now Jose Mourinho, the club has taken advantage of the match fixing scandal that rock Italian football’s most famous clubs, Juventus and AC Milan, allowing Inter to take control domestically. However, this domestic dominance has not been turned into European success with Inter being knocked out by English opposition twice in the last three years and are without a win in the knockout stages in that time. Could this mean a return to Stamford Bridge for the self styled “Special one” and his rather fetching scarf/long coat combo.
Mourinho has started his mind games already saying that this Chelsea team is his and not Carlo Ancelotti’s which naturally riled the Italian. Expect fireworks when ever Mourinho is around but not necessarily from his team, who haven’t looked convincing this season. On the other hand, Chelsea are looking like a very good team even if they can’t defend set pieces. The online betting sites are making Chelsea the bookies’ favourites for this one and betting against them wouldn’t be wise. The special one is going to have to pull a seriously large rabbit out of very small hat if he is going to upset the rampaging Blues.
Two very famous teams that have been absent from the later stages of the Champions League recently are Bayern Munich and Fiorentina. These two come head to head in the last 16 of the Champions League and the online betting sites aren’t sure which way the odds will go. Bayern are looking like slender favourites but the Fiorentina strike force of Mutu, Jovetic and Gilardino are good enough to sink any ship let alone a team that was hovering over the precipice earlier in the season. In Ribery, Bayern has one of the world’s most sort-after talents in world football but with all the speculation regarding his future, does he have what it takes?
The other ties in the last 16 look slightly more one sided. Real Madrid to overcome Lyon although this depends massively on which Real team turns up! On saying that, Lyon aren’t quite the same team they were 3 years ago either. Arsenal look set to book there place in the quarters after a great run of games where they have caught up and overtaken Chelsea in the Premiership. This combined with the return from injury of their talismanic captain, Cesc Fabregas, they should be too good for Porto.
The reigning champions Barcelona are hotly tipped to walk all over the whole competition let alone VfB Stuttgart. Finally for all there hard work in the group stages CSKA Moscow have been given a tie with Sevilla who will be welcoming back their star striker, Freddie Kanoute, who has been sorely missed in the last few games.
It’ll make a very exciting finish this year and football fans are in for a real feast of goals, drama and possible upsets!