Well it took five rounds of predictions, but I finally get to gloat a little bit. Barcelona (somewhat controversially) knocked off Arsenal 3-1 to advance to the quarterfinals (I predicted a 3-0 victory). Shakhtar did the same, easily dismissing the free-falling Roma squad 3-0 (I predicted a 2-0 victory). Not a bad day at all. Let’s see if I can get lucky again today.
AC Milan at Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs won the first leg 1-0)
Tottenham Hotspur can’t blow this one…right? Like many fans, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. On one hand, they looked every bit like a Champions League title contender in the first leg, when they pulled off a 1-0 upset at Milan. On the other hand, this is the same team that went out and lost to Premier League bottom dweller Blackpool (their only win since January 12) and only managed a 3-3 draw with relegation bound Wolves.
So the only thing we really know about Spurs is that we don’t know what team we are going to see in any given match. They pass the you-never-know test that I just invented: if someone approached you with the score from yesterday’s Spurs match, there is literally no scoreline that could surprise you.
Meanwhile, AC Milan has continued to dominate Serie A this season. They have reeled off four consecutive victories to all but lock up the title. It would take a huge collapse and an equally monster run from Inter to lose the title.
Milan can score and Spurs rarely can stop good attacking teams, so the 1-0 advantage that Spurs take into this match isn’t really all that big of an advantage. Sure, they have the luxury of playing back on their heels with the lead. But even with that going for them, I can’t grasp my mind around Spurs actually putting up two consecutive clean sheets against Milan. I’m sticking with my original prediction: Milan takes this leg 2-1 and advances on away goals. And I’m fully prepared for Spurs to shock me once again.
Valencia at Schalke 04 (teams drew 1-1 in first leg)
In the first leg preview, I spent a lot of time breaking down this game before deciding that Valencia would be too strong for Schalke. I have only one real regret: that I spent that much time analyzing the matchup in the first place.
Every year, the Champions League has at least one clunker in the Round of 16. That award went to the Olympiacos/Bordeaux tie last season. This season, Valencia and Schalke take it. Schalke is a middle of the table Bundesliga team and Valencia is probably the third best team in Spain, for whatever that’s worth. Neither has any realistic shot of winning the entire competition. The only other Round of 16 matchup you can say that about is Shakhtar/Roma, but at least that has this year’s potential Cinderella team in Shakhtar.
As far star power (or lack thereof)? Valencia’s top two scorers are Artiz Aduriz and Roberto Soldado, neither of whom came anywhere close to making Spain’s World Cup team. The closest thing to a star on the German side is former Spanish national team forward Raúl, best known as “the guy who used to be the leader on the Spanish national team before they were any good.” Catchy nickname, I know.
What’s all that mean? It means that I have no confidence in picking either team, so I’ll go with a 1-1 draw. One of the teams will advance on penalty kicks and promptly get destroyed in the quarterfinals.