2012-13 Champions League Last 16 Draw

Champions League last 16 008 

The ever-excellent Michael Cox’s analysis of the draw is here.

 

The prospect of Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford is a welcome yet foreboding one. He was an absolutely fantastic player for United, but more than that, he was the first player since Fergie’s Fledglings (God I hate that term) whom the fans watched grow up from a talented yet callow rookie to a world-class player in front of their eyes. In contrast to Rooney (who joined United a year after Ronaldo), who arrived with the biggest set of expectations ever placed on an English player in generations, Ronaldo was acknowledged as having great ability yet unproven and relatively unknown. Rooney was the sure thing; Ronaldo had a lot to prove and David Beckham’s big boots to fill. Yet Rooney is arguably still trying to live up to his early, ecstatic potential, whereas Ronaldo is indisputably one of two best players on the planet.

For this matchup, Ronaldo is arriving as the focal point for a troubled Real team. 13 points behind Barcelona, some members of the squad at barely disguised war with Jose Mourinho, who is almost certain to leave in the summer. Yet by the same token Madrid have nothing to play for other than La Decima, the tenth European Cup, and for Mourinho, there’s the strong incentive to become the only coach to win the Champions League with 3 different teams. The motivation, or at least the craving, will be there.

In terms of tactics, while the thought of Ronaldo, averaging more than a goal a game for Real, cutting swathes through United’s currently porous defence will surely coax some industrial-size bricks from fans’ rear ends, Real’s left side occupied by Ronaldo and either one of Fabio Coentrao or Marcelo is tailor-made for the counterattacking tactics that Ferguson employed to great effect at Chelsea and Manchester City. Ronaldo cuts inside onto his favoured right foot, and doesn’t track back; the two left-back candidates are attacking full-backs and not particularly renowned for their defensive prowess. United’s right side of Antonio Valencia and Rafael Da Silva is probably the best such in Europe at the moment: tremendous going forward, quick, disciplined, yet creative and possessing great understanding between each other, Rafael is a feisty defender and Valencia covers for him capably. As such, Ferguson will not feel the need to change his setup too much, and will in all likelihood try and field the same side that he did in the Manchester Derby in the first leg at the Bernabeu. For Real, it will be interesting to see whether Mourinho will try and augment his left flank at the expense of moving his most important player to another position, and how Ronaldo’s ego responds to that in what is the first game against the side where he made his name.

Predictions:

Real Madrid vs. Manchester United

Galatasaray vs. Schalke
– Galatasaray were horrible in the group stages and it would be a big surprise were they to get past Huntelaar and Co.

Celtic vs. Juventus
– Notwithstanding the famous victory over Barca, Celtic are one of the worst teams to ever make it to the knock-out stages of the Champions League. Another ultra-defensive couple of matches from them beckons, but Juventus should go through easily.

Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich
– I remember this tie in the early 2000s, when Bayern, managed by Ottmar Hitzfeld, were the most well-drilled, robotically efficient team that was all but impossible to break down, and Arsenal were completely useless against them. Bayern’s style has changed completely, and while they’re not quite as intimidating as they were 10 years ago, Arsenal are a bit of a mess at the moment and it’s difficult to see them progressing past last year’s runners-up.

Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Borussia Dortmund
– The number of talented players that will be on the pitch for these teams over two legs is mouthwatering, and there should be goals. Dortmund won the ‘Group of Champions’ for a reason, and should prevail.

AC Milan vs. Barcelona
– Milan just about scraped through their group, lost two of their best players to PSG last summer, and while Stephen El Shaaraway and Urby Emanuelson are playing heroically, they have got worse than last year when they easily lost to the same opponents. Barcelona are less neurotic, less experimental than last year, and that should mean a dominating display against the Italians.

Valencia vs. Paris Saint-Germain
– All that money has to count for something. The knock-out stages are where Zlatan Ibrahimovic will really be expected to earn his pay, and while he has a reputation for ‘choking’ on the biggest stage, the other talents PSG have in their ranks – Javier Pastore, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Thiago Silva – will see them through.

Porto vs. Malaga
– Two evenly matched teams on paper, but Malaga have performed excellently so far and topped a difficult group. Isco and Joaquin are the key players, although if the former leaves during the winter transfer window as has been rumoured, the balance may shift. Porto are very experienced in Europe and again there are some exciting forward players, but likewise if Tottenham revive their bid for Joao Moutinho in January, things will be difficult.

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4 thoughts on “2012-13 Champions League Last 16 Draw

  1. So you just predict every group winner to go through… I am willing to bet that will not happen. You are too quick to dismiss the runners up. I don’t think Galatasaray were ‘terrible’ in the groups, or else they wouldn’t be in this draw. Don’t think it will be a big surprise to see them get past a Schalke team that has lost 7 in a row domestically. Especially considering playing away to Galtasaray is probably the toughest venue to play at out of all the sixteen that are left. Niether are Celtic one of the worst teams to ever make the knockout round. You only have to look at last year, let alone the previous 20 years to prove that. Bayer Leverkusen lost 10-2 on aggregate to Barca in the round of 16……Celtic tied them 3-3 this year. Sporting Lisbon lost 12-1 on aggregate to a Bayern team that didn’t get past the quarters, in 08-09 so I think you are a little to early to condemn Celtic here. Your analysis and reasoning behind progression seems to be simply listing the good players that each group winners have. While I respect your opinion as your own, I cannot say that I agree with it.

    • Thanks for the post.

      Galatasaray squeaked past two other extremely unimpressive teams. Ali Sami Yen did indeed use to be a notoriously tough place for visitors to play in, but this season Gala’s record at home is 1W, 1D, and 1L, the one win coming against a second string United team who had already topped the group. At the halfway point it looked like they would come last, so I’ll give them credit for the revival, but nothing they’ve done in Europe has suggested that Gala will progress any further. Schalke had an unbeaten group campaign, beat Arsenal at the Emirates (not that hard nowadays, eh), and beat Olympiakos away, another raucous venue. Domestic form usually has little bearing in Europe e.g. Juventus in 1999, Liverpool in 2005, Chelsea last year, and Schalke’s form in Europe so far is excellent.

      I did exaggerate when calling Celtic the worst team ever in the knockout stages. I always want them to do well, and Celtic in the last 16 is a small miracle given their scant resources, but the knockout stages are where money starts to talk in Europe. I found their error-strewn matches against Spartak Moscow somewhat comical, but their ultra defensive approach against the big sides will mean that playing Juventus will actually simply matters for Neil Lennon. Juve can play a lot more direct than Barca, and spread play very wide very quickly, both of which will count against Celtic.

      You made me realize that I did in fact only pick the group winners, which is a bit of a coincidence. I think the Real-United tie is touch and go – either side can win. Shakhtar-Dortmund is another one. I would love to see Valencia triumph over PSG to prove that money can’t buy success. But I think the group winners this season have shown that they have both the quality and the form.

      • Fair enough. I respect that you are able to justify your writing and comments. I do agree with what you say about Valencia, but I think that Celtic’s defensive approach is more a lack of: technical ability, ball retention, and experience than it is a choice. However, your article has got me thinking, and thank you for taking the time to reply!

      • Thank you for your astute comments also. I overlooked the fact that Celtic have a very young team, so I agree with your point. I will be visiting your blog often – great details and insight there 🙂

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