Chelsea travel to FC Copenhagen with new signing Fernando Torres likely to feature prominently while on the same evening former manager Jose Mourinho leads his Real Madrid side into battle against Lyon as the knock-out phase of the Champions League continues apace writes BackPageFootball contributor Ger McCarthy.
Round of 16, First leg
Parken Stadion, Copenhagen
FC Copenhagen vs. Chelsea
How did they get there?
It is fitting that one of the biggest fairytale stories of this season’s Champions League tournament should involve FC Copenhagen and the Danish club’s progression to the knockout phase for the first time in their history.
Copenhagen finished runners-up in Group D behind Barcelona to make it through to the last 16. A memorable 1-1 draw with the Catalans on Matchday 4 paved the way for a must-win final group encounter with Panathinaikos which the Dane’s duly won 3-1 to spark scenes of wild jubilation in the Parken Stadion.
Martin Vingaard and Dame N’Doye have caught the eye for the Danish outfit in the group stages and each has contributed 2 goals en-route to qualification. Jesper Gronkjaer previously lined out for Chelsea but has proven an astute acquisition for Copenhagen with his experience and dead ball delivery.
FC Copenhagen’s experience at the business end of the Champions League is in complete contrast to that of their last 16 opponents, Chelsea. The Roman Abramovich bankrolled squad of internationals are chasing their first Champions League trophy but have managed to progress past the round of 16 in each of their last 8 attempts.
The Pensioners pretty much sailed through the opening phase topping Group F with 15 points from a maximum of 18 on offer. A solitary loss away to Marseille on Matchday 6 (with qualification already established) was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect campaign.
Nicolas Anelka has been in tremendous form knocking in 5 goals in as many group fixtures. The additions of Fernando Torres and David Luiz during the January transfer window has further strengthened a squad packed with international experience, marking Chelsea down as one of the teams to beat in his season’s competition.
The Londoners have stumbled recently in the Premier League and struggled to stay amongst the top four Champions League qualification berths including a 1-0 defeat at home to Liverpool. The arrival of Torres adds to a hugely talented forward line which includes Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba but just how Carlo Ancelloti manages best to deploy two or all three of the previously named strikers will go a long way to deciding how far Chelsea progress in this year’s tournament.
Two players most likely to influence the outcome of the tie
Fernando Torres – Chelsea.
The 50 million euro signing of Fernando Torres from Liverpool caused shockwaves across the globe and indicated club owner Roman Abramovich’s commitment to finally capturing the coveted Champions League trophy. Torres has had little time to adjust to life at Chelsea but a player with his undoubted abilities is certain to feature prominently between now and the end of the campaign.
As alluded to earlier in this preview, manager Ancelloti faces a difficult task getting Torres to adjust to how Chelsea attack. At Liverpool he was the apex of the attack whereas at Chelsea he may find himself playing off Anelka or Drogba. Either way, a Torres firing on all cylinders increases Chelsea’s chances of winning the Champions League.
Martin Vingaard – FC Copenhagen.
The Danish international midfielder has played all 6 Champions League group matches for Copenhagen this season scoring twice and assisting in another goal. The versatile midfielder has also weighed in with 7 goals in 19 domestic appearances this term solidifying his status as Copenhagen’s most important midfielder. The Danes are certain to be put the under the severest of pressure over the two legs with Chelsea but in Martin Vingaard possess a quality international player who will have a big say in how Copenhagen fare.
Anything other than a Chelsea victory over the two legs would constitute the biggest Champions League shock of this and many other seasons. Qualifying for the round of 16 is new ground for Copenhagen but the Danish side have nothing to lose and proved for long periods in their two group clashes with Barcelona that they can upset the best Europe has to offer. Chelsea will go through though but only after a dogged showing from Copenhagen.
Real Madrid travel to the Stade de Gerland for a meeting with French outfit Lyon, the same side who knocked the Spaniards out of the Champions League at the round of 16 stage last season. Jose Mourinho is now at the helm however and despite a recent dip in domestic form, Real Madrid will be slight favourites be to progress to the quarter final stage.
Lyon finished second in Group B behind FC Schalke 04 to qualify for this season’s Champions League knockout stages. The Ligue 1 side’s away form cost them a shot at top spot in the group following consecutive away losses to Benfica (3-4) and Schalke (0-3).
Benfica’s failure to get anything from their trip to Hapoel Tel Aviv on Matchday 5 meant Lyon were assured of passage to the round of 16 on the same night they lost to Schalke in Germany. Michel Bastos and Lisandro combined for 5 goals in the group stages with Bastos catching the eye with his performances in midfield.
Nine time European Cup / Champions League winners Real Madrid enter the round of 16 tie with Lyon on the back of a stuttering domestic campaign which has seen the Los Merengues fall 7 points behind bitter rivals Barcelona at the top of La Liga. Jose Mourinho strengthened a Madrid forward line over-reliant on the magic of Ronaldo during the transfer window with the acquisition of Adebayor from Manchester City.
Real dropped a mere 2 points on the way to finishing top of Group G and qualification for the knockout phase of this season’s Champions League. The Spanish side bested AC Milan, Ajax and Auxerre to make it through to the last 16 thanks to 4 goals apiece from Karim Benzema and Ronaldo.
Real Madrid will be wary of having to face a French side as potent on the counter-attack as Lyon are with memories of last season’s Champions League exit still fresh. Jose Mourinho has instilled a determined ‘off the ball’ work ethic to go along with the silky skills of Ronaldo, Di Maria and Benzema when Madrid is in possession but failure to progress beyond the round of 16 could spell the beginning of the end of Mourinho’s tenure in Spain.
Despite Lyon’s many attacking qualities Real Madrid have already demonstrated their prowess in the Champions League this season by topping a difficult group and only dropping 2 points in the process. Real Madrid are my tip to progress to the last eight of the competition.
Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled ‘Off Centre Circle’ about a lifetime spent playing amateur football in Ireland. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.