20 February 2006

The Chaaaaaaaaaaaampions! (Part One)

Oh, y'all, I am so excited. The Champions League starts up again tomorrow! This is my favorite competition in the entire season. (I mean, the World Cup's awesome, but that's only once every four years. The Champions League is every year!) And, yes, before you say it, I liked it best even before Liverpool won it all last season. That just added to my love. So tomorrow kicks off the round of 16 -- there should be a less awkward name for that -- and because I want to make myself look like a fool, I'm going to predict the winners of these ties.

Bayern Munich/AC Milan -- Yeah, this is one of the ones I don't know much about. I've never followed the Bundesliga, and I only vaguely keep up with Serie A. Milan had a struggle in qualifying for the knockout round, and they've not been setting the world afire in their domestic league; yeah, they beat Juve, but they aren't consistent enough to challenge for the title seriously. At least they're ahead of Inter now. Still, though, I'm going with Munich, since their domestic form is better, and I think they're due.

Benfica/Liverpool -- OK, we lucked out with this one. Liverpool's really come a long way from where they were this time last season, without a lot of injury trouble and some good off-season buys. (Robbie Fowler -- what else do you need?) Benfica, on the other hand, are struggling in the league this season. However, as we learned last year, domestic form is no indicator of European form -- also, Liverpool are still in the FA Cup. We've already played more matches than a lot of teams will all season, what with the colossal waste that was the World Club Championship. Tiredness may be a factor, but I think we'll show up for the Champions League, since you know. Defending champions and all. Additionally, Benfica finished second in the weakest qualifying group. I'm saying Liverpool to take this one, but we'll be tested in the next round.

Real Madrid/Arsenal -- You could call this tie the Twilight of the Invincibles, really. Both of these teams have really been struggling this season; as it stands now, Arsenal would have to win it all to be back in the Champions League next year. Real were in a similar situation earlier on. Finishing second in the group didn't help their confidence, and neither did losing their manager. However, since then, they seem to be turning things around. Arsenal, on the other hand? They're coming off a loss to Liverpool, and still haven't figured out a good way to cope with losing Vieira. Despite that, I think they might be the dark horse this time. They have everything to play for, and nothing to lose -- it's all but certain that they have to stay in the Champions League in order to keep Henry around next year. They may lose the first game, but hopefully they'll get some people back from injury in time to pull this one out. (Also, I hate Real, ever since they totally screwed over Michael Owen.) For all these reasons, I'm saying Arsenal, on away goals.

PSV Eindhoven/Olympique Lyonnais -- Remember how I said I didn't know much about Milan/Munich? I know even less about this one. Except both these teams are consistently in the latter stages of this competition; they met in the quarterfinals last season, when PSV needed away goals to advance. After that, Milan needed away goals to beat them in the semis. Lyon's running rampant over Ligue 1, and even Gerard Houllier hasn't been able to halt their momentum. Similarly, PSV's five points clear of Feyenoord in their domestic league. So you could really call this one the battle of the secondary league-leaders. (I didn't say it was catchy.) I don't really prefer one team over the other, but Lyon's been my dark-horse pick to win it all since the first game, so I'm saying Lyon.

The other ties I'll predict tomorrow, since this entry's long enough already. Man, I'm so happy this competition's back. If only I could watch it live -- stupid job interview/Property class.

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