Yesterday's matches saw two bores, one solid game, and one fantastic finish. Today, I think we'll see some all-around better play. And personally, these are the matches I've eagerly anticipated.
Celtic vs. Barcelona. That other team that sings "You'll Never Walk Alone" plays today, and you can bet the atmosphere at Parkhead will be out of this world. Barca and Celtic currently find themselves in identical positions in their respective leagues (second), but nobody will argue that the SPL is even in the same solar system as La Liga. That being said, this is not a vintage Barcelona team. Though they're back in the title hunt thanks to Madrid's recent slip, the squad hasn't looked like the world beaters everyone predicted before the start of the season. What's more, Celtic have a history of success in this competition and a reputation in recent years for playing the best clubs down to the wire. They've been on a fantastic run of league form (last three victories: 5-1, 5-1, 3-0) and are at home. I think Barca is ripe for the taking. Bhoys 2 - 1 Cules.
Lyon vs. Manchester United. United made a HUGE statement with their 4-0 dismantling of Arsenal over the weekend. Though both sides were missing some key players, it was a far cry from a reserves game, and United made it clear that even five points adrift, they're still the champs and the team to beat. Of course, which United will show up today? The one that was put to the sword (twice!) by Man City? Or the one that scored six goals in a half against Newcastle and just smacked down their biggest title rivals? That's the big question because based on sheer talent and depth, this should be the best team in Europe. Lyon are no slouches, though. They're holding on to the top spot in Ligue 1, are captained by free kick wizard Juninho, have Italian stud Fabio Grosso in their back line, and possess two of the most explosive young talents in Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa.* With those two marauding the front lines, United will have to be really careful not to get hit on the break. I foresee a high scoring affair, but can anyone really see the Red Devils losing this game? OL 2 - 3 MUFC.
*How much you want to bet that these two will be wearing AIG on their chests next year? Especially if they put in a good performance tonight.
Arsenal vs. AC Milan. Ah, yes. What a matchup. So many ways to spin this, and it always sounds good: Youth vs. Experience. Form vs. Class. Fabregas vs. Kaka. New Gattuso (Flamini) vs. Actual Gattuso. Attack vs. Attack. The expectations are certainly high to see some joga bonito from these two sides, but will it meet them? Honestly, probably not. But that doesn't mean this won't be a good game, and it'll certainly be the most important one of the year for both sides. Arsenal need to rebound the way they did the last time a major rival (Tottenham) smashed them out of a cup competition (Carling). Right now, it's just this and the league, and one way or another, they have to finish with silverware to call this year a success. Meanwhile, Milan need to show they haven't lost the plot, begin their title defense well, and keep their challenge for fourth in the Serie A looking legitimate. Now that Milan have found their home form, if Arsenal want any chance to take this, they have to win or at the very least prevent Milan from scoring. Anything less than a 0-0 draw will spell elimination. Anything more than a 1-0 win should give them the breathing room they need to go to the San Siro and advance. At the Fortress Emirates, I believe this is possible. Gunners 2 - 0 Rossoneri.
Fenerbahce vs. Sevilla. Oh, who am I kidding. Nobody cares. Well, I guess that's a bit harsh - Sevilla are a very good team, and they seem to be finding their form after a stuttering first half to their league season. They lost and then won against Arsenal in convincing fashion in the group stages, and ended up on top when Wenger stopped playing first-teamers. Let's also not forget their recent run of success in European competition: two UEFA Cups and a Super Cup in the last two years. They also added a Copa del Rey and a Spanish Super Cup last year. Basically, this team is incredible when it comes to knockout competitions. Fenerbahce, meanwhile, are the reigning champions of Turkey, and finished second in their group amidst some serious competition in Inter, PSV, and CSKA Moscow. They did manage to beat Inter at home, but were thrashed in the away game. My head knows they're not a bad side, it really does. I just can't take them seriously. That's why I think a Sevilla dedicated to offensive tactics will take a precious away goal back to Spain with them, where they'll finish the job. The Yellow Canaries 1 - 1 The Cup Specialists.
Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.