Is back in action! Let's do our requisite rundown of today's matchups.
Schalke 04 vs. FC Porto. Schalke are having a mediocre season in the Bundesliga where they sit fifth, and are easily the worst team in this knockout round. They barely managed second in the group stages with a then-struggling Chelsea, lowly Rosenborg and rapidly tanking "what is wrong with this team?" Valencia. They got through with the fewest points of any team. Porto, in direct contrast, finished first in a fairly difficult group that saw them matched against Liverpool, Marseilles, and Besiktas. They're cruising the Portuguese league, and with the perpetually underrated Pedro Emanuel at the back, Lucho dominating midfield, and the brilliant Quaresma leading their attack from the wing, you have to expect this first leg to go Porto's way, even on the road. Last German Standing 1 - 3 Portuguese Dragons.
Liverpool vs. Internazionale. Wow, Liverpool. Barnsley? Really? Fifth in the League, and now eliminated from the FA Cup in style by a Championship team, this would seem to be a club in crisis. Never you mind, though, because whenever this competition rolls around, England's most successful club in Europe seems to rise to the occasion. The Champions League has also been Rafa's bread and butter, but if he doesn't accomplish the unenviable task of knocking off Inter, he's as good as gone. Inter, meanwhile, continue to go about their business of solidifying a third straight Serie A title with jarring efficiency. However, success in Europe has largely eluded these Italian giants, and not since the 1960's have they seen a fruitful campaign in this competition. In short, they're massive chokers. (See last year's fall and brawl against Valencia or their shameful beatdowns at the hands of AC Milan in 2005 or Arsenal in 2003.) They'll also have to deal with a Liverpool squad rejoined by a healthy Gerrard, Torres, Reina, and Mascherano (so, really, their four best players). But having one of the scariest rosters in Europe and the leading scorer in the competition (Zlatan) should help them this time, right? Well, my only advice is that you not have money riding on this game. This is the best I can do: Hicks and Gillette 1 - 1 Reggie Miller.
AS Roma vs. Real Madrid. Yum yum. This is a truly juicy tie. Roma were unfortunate to be grouped with a rampant Manchester United, but came out with eleven points. For Real, eleven is all it took to win their group, though. Life just isn't fair. Madrid have been cruising La Liga, but have had difficulty navigating their domestic cup competitions. Roma are sitting in second, but tenuously, after losing to Juventus. Thus far, Madrid has had a more dominant look about them, but that being said, it should be noted that the Serie A has been much more competitive than La Liga this season. Roma will also be looking to salvage their reputation after their 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Manchester United last year. It'll be interesting to see how Roma's stellar CB's Mexes and Juan deal with the cagey veterans of Madrid in attack. Los Merengues still have the edge, though. WIND 1 - 2 BWIN.
Olympiacos vs. Chelsea. Everyone is writing off Olympiacos in this tie, and not without good reason. In recent history, Chelsea have been extremely strong in this competition, only to fall victim to penalties or bad luck right before reaching the finals. Their current form, while mind-numbingly dull, also adds to their favored status. Olympiacos will have to be strong at the back, as Avram Grant is expected to announce an ambitious 4-3-3 alignment featuring either Drogba or Anelka flanked by Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips. The Greek champions can look to strong performances against Werder Bremen and Lazio along with their fine league form (only one loss) for inspiration, but Chelsea haven't lost a game in a long time and I would expect nothing short of victory today. Greek David 0 - 1 Boring Goliath.
Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we'll see the mouthwatering matchup of the week: Fenerbahce vs. Sevilla! Jay kay.
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.