Just one English club in action this time around due to Liverpool’s failure to progress from the group stages. Much like David Beckham’s appearance against Manchester United last week, as Inter Milan face Chelsea this week all eyes will be on former Chelsea manager, current Inter boss and all-time “special one” Jose Mourinho as he bids to prolong his past employers desperate search for European success. Below we take a preview each of the four remaining first leg ties taking place this week.
Tuesday February 23rd
Stuttgart – Barcelona
Christian Gross (ex-spurs laughing stock) takes charge of Stuttgart in the Champions league for the first time in this encounter following the removal of Markus Babbel hours before their last group game in a 3-1 victory over Unirea Urziceni. Stuttgart were in dismal shape at that stage of the season, having won just two of the fifteen league games in which Babbel took charge. Since Gross has taken over he has steadied the ship considerably and the Germans now lie in ninth spot in the Bundesliga. Much like Fiorentina last week, “Die Roten” will see the opportunity of a massive European scalp as a boost to an overall poor season. They will enter the game in good form having won four of their last five games, including a 5-1 thrashing of Koeln last weekend. Barcelona will offer a much bigger test than anything they have faced recently however.
Pep Guardiola (pictured left) had the dream managerial debut last season, guiding his side to victory across all four fronts in which they were involved. Like Stuttgart, last year’s winners have also won four of their last five league encounters, the blemish coming last week when they were stunned by comedy club Athletic Madrid. It was Barca’s first league defeat of the season and a slight indication that things are not going quite as smoothly for the Catalan club as they were last year.
They bounced back in style this weekend however, coming out 4-0 winners over racing Santander to remain two points clear of Real Madrid. Recent injury troubles seem to be coming to an end, with Daniel Alves and Xavi return to the squad, however Seydou Keita and Eric Abidal remain on the sidelines. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is doubtful.
Barca will enter the game as favourites, but as their compatriots Real Madrid found out last week, that tag counts for little at this stage of the tournament. Especially against sides with little else to play for.
Olympiacos – Girondins de Bordeuax
Olmpiacos are another side to restart Champions League football under new management since Bozidar Bandovic replaced Zico in January. New bosses aren’t something the club need to get used to however, bandovic is the fourth since last May. If the Greek side are to have any hope of reaching the quarter final stage for only the second time in their otherwise illustrious history, then their excellent home form in Europe must be continued this week. The Karaiskakis Stadium is far from an easy place to go. The Athens based club won all of their three group games at home without conceding a single goal. If any club will feel capable of ending this run however, it will be their opponents on Tuesday night.
Bordeaux were one of the most impressive performers of all in the group stages. The french club, under the direction of Laurent Blanc won five and drew one of their six games, shipping only two goals in the process. This feat is particularily impressive when it’s considered that they shared a group with European stalwarts Bayern Munich and Juventus. They dislodged perennial league champions Lyon last year and sit pretty on top spot once more right now, testament to the work that Blanc has performed at the club. A slight worry for them will be the form of Johann Gourcuff who has failed to reach the heights of last season, but they should still have enough quality amongst them to come out winners in this one.
Wednesday February 24th
Tie of the round. Chelsea will hope to emulate their league rivals Manchester United’s success at the same venue last week and head back to Stamford Bridge with something to defend from the outset.
The tie is dominated by the history of the two managers. Current Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti spent eight years at the San Siro, albeit in the red and black of AC Milan. Nevertheless, an encounter against Inter will be far from new for the Italian. Jose Mourinho (pictured) will also be made face familiar faces as he comes up against his former charges for the first time since his somewhat acrimonious departure from Stamford Bridge. It could be argued that the Portuguese manager knows more about his old squad than their current manager having signed, coached and befriended many of them during his four year tenure. It may also be argued that he may know more about Chelsea than Inter right now, despite having guided the Nerazzurri to Serie A success in his first year and so far steered them on course to retain it this time round, such are the strengths of his links to the Londoners.
Despite their devastating domestic form, Inter have not been as prolific in Europe this season, managing just two wins and three draws from their group matches. This will give Chelsea a lot of confidence in terms of their progression into the quarter finals once again this year. They enter the game sitting four points clear on top of the Premier League and have Didier Drogba firing on all cylinders once more since his return from the African Cup of Nations. Macedonian Goran Pandev is the dangerman for their opponents, with the striker in fine form in recent weeks.
Chelsea have problems with injuries with Alex and Ashley Cole definitely out. Frank Lampard is also said to have picked up a virus that may see his involvement limited. Returns for Mikael Essien, Juliano Belletti, Deco and Jose Bosingwa are said to be near, but may not come about soon enough to see their involvement this time around.
With Mourinho in his second season at the helm, Inter will feel that they have a real oppotunity to end the forty-five year wait to relift the top prize in Europe. Likewise, Blues fans will be hoping that the four time European Cup winner Anccelotti (twice as player, twice as manager) will guide their path to success this year. All that is certain is that in two week’s time, one of these club’s dreams will lie in ruins. Wednesday nights clash provides each of them a chance of gaining a headstart in ensuring it isn’t them.
The Russians have not played a competitive game since their domestic season ended in November, which is far from ideal preparation for this tie. One thing on their side is the fact that Moscow is never a nice place for a visiting side to come to with hopes of achieving anything other than frostbite, especially when Europe is in the grips of a modern ice age. CSKA finished ahead of Wolfsburg and Besiktas and behind only Manchester United in qualifying for this stage, a campaign that included a very credible 3-3 draw at Old Trafford. They could only manage a fifth place finish as their domestic league wound to a close meaning their form really could go either way.
As for Sevilla, the Spaniards currently sit in fourth place in La Liga and will feel that they definitely have enough quality in their ranks to test highly rated Igor Akinfeev in the opposition goal. A team consisting of Freddie Kanoute, Luis Fabiano, Alvaro Negredo and Diego Capel will pose a threat on any occasion.