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Slakr’s Champs League Preview: What Does This Week Hold For The Big Four?

Slakr pulls out his rather misty crystal ball to predict this week’s results as the Champions League gets back on track. Be prepared to be amazed…
So in case it slipped anyone’s mind, I’m just being cruel here. Manchester United are not going to be playing in the round of sixteen. Which leaves them time to concentrate on domestic trophies. Sorry, I mean trophy. But the 2004-2005-2006 English Premier League Champions (who are we kidding denying it?), the 2005 FA Challenge Cup Champions, and my very own 2005 Champions of Europe are all in action, and some of the games look right peachy.

Lets start with what should be the dullest one of the lot. Liverpool are away to Benfica. And while Man United were unable to get it done in Lisbon, lets not forget that the scoreline there would be borderline acceptable with the Anfield leg still to come. Liverpool are also coming off two massive victories against their traditional rivals, while Benfica have to be looking forward to this weekend’s cruch game with Porto.

Benfica are also coping with a variety of internal struggles of their own. Liverpool’s lack of firepower must be a worry, but the midfield has picked up the slack fairly well this season, and with Gerrard’s form in the Champs League, Alonso coming back, Garcia’s crunch goals, and Kewell looking something like the marvel he was at Leeds (plus The Human Wrecking Ball John Arne Riise), they should be able to pull this one out. Given recent results, I’d have to predict a 1-0 win here for the ‘Pool.

Arsenal against Madrid should be a cracker. Arsenal fans are probably bricking at the thought, but there are a couple of factors that work in their favour here. First off, lets not forget that they’re the higher seeded side in this contest, something that has helped the vast majority of sides over the years (I don’t have the full stats, but I think I read it was something like 12 of the 16 side since this round was introduced). And while the comparisons to last year’s Liverpool side don’t really make sense to me, I think thats because I have too much respect for the Arse here. Liverpool’s problem last year was that they just didn’t have either the talent or the consistency to be anyone’s favourites for the Cup. They were carried through on the back of a few superhuman displays by individuals you wouldn’t have expected, and one who you would (Pongolle, Smicer, Biscan and Mellor vs. Stevie G).

Arsenal have talent in droves, and players who have proved it time and again. While Sol, Ash Cole and Paddy V will all be missed, Pires and Ljungberg are capable of turning games on their own. Jens Lehmann is also playing his socks off of late. And then there’s that man Henry. For my money, the greatest player ever to play in the Premier League, the man is capable of sublime displays of skill. Given the crap he’s taken from the Spaniards in the past, the man needs to step up now. That said, Madrid must be favourites here — they’re giving Barca run for their money in the League, and the sheer talent they’ll be lining up against a very young Arsenal team in one of football’s most storied stadia means that any result for Arsenal will be an upset. I’m banking on Henry to score the away-goal that keeps it interesting, but I’ve got to call this one for Real. 3-1.

Barca against Chelski. I think there was a collective sigh of relief when this one came out. Arguably the two teams to beat to win this year’s European Cup, its nice that they’re going to have to take on each other at this stage rather than leaving it to be the final. Its a pity that the field that this magnificent game will be played on would be more suited to a reserve game for teams in the Championship (these stupid fucking names are driving me insane). I’d love to see Chelski hammered here, but I’ve got to go for them as favourites here. While the most skilled player on the pitch will be playing for Barca, the order and discipline of this Soviet side is tremendous. Again, like Henry I’m gambling on Ronnie showing his class here and creating or scoring what may be the telling goal of this tie, but for this leg I’m going to have to hand it to Messrs Lampard, Terry and Cole and call it 2-1.