1. Jose' Mourinho will play counterattacking football.
Real Madrid have all but booked their place for their first European semi-final since 2003 thanks to a dominating 4-0 performance at the Santiago Bernabéu. Mourinho is a master of seeing out second legs throughout his illustrious managerial career. Last year’s semi-final defensive masterclass against Barcelona in the second leg came out of determination, tactical genius and inspiring resiliency in his players. Mourinho will surely implement a single striker in the formation, while likely implementing two ball-winning midfielders in Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira or Lassana Diarra. There’s no reason for Real to go chasing any goals, though I’m sure they’ll notch one with a likely all out attacking formation set by Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham side.
2. Nicholas Anelka will be the most dangerous striker at Old Trafford.Given only twenty minutes in the 1st leg at Stamford Bridge, the controversial striker didn’t have much time to make an impact and somehow replaced Didier Drogba rather than the bumbling out-of-form Fernando Torres. The French veteran has been in excellent form in Europe this season, slotting home seve goals in just eight appearances. Expect him to get a deserved start alongside Didier Drogba or (what I’m hoping for) in a three-pronged attack featuring Drogba, Malouda, and Anelka. Chelsea have only one competition to really chase this season and Carlo Ancelotti needs to go and attack this one right away to have any shot against the red Manchester United jersey. Anelka’s clever movement and clinical finishing will be a key to victory.
3. Internazionale Milano will score at least two goals to make Schalke 04 nervous.
After the firing of Rafael Benitez, the squad adopted an attacking policy out of necessity to chase the league and other competitions. To some extent, Leonardo’s bold stance has worked, but has clearly shown the squad to be a terribly lackluster defensive side. Despite scoring within the 1st minute of the 1st leg, the Italian side still managed to lose the lead not once, but twice to give German feel-good story Schalke 04 a comprehensive 5-2 win. Leonardo will need a miracle to progress in the competition, just like last round, but unfortunately can’t rely on away goals to squeak by this time around. The amount of firepower on the squad and the defensive shortcomings of both teams should make this a highly entertaining affair, despite many writing off the former-treble winners chances already.
4. Barcelona will lose at Shakhtar but advance with no problems.
The best team in the world easily dispatched of the Ukrainian champions at Camp Nou, but did show that their squad depth is exploitable. Despite having 64% possession and only allowing two attempts on goal, the Catalan side could have easily given up two goals instead of one. Sergio Busquets doesn’t work all that well as a make-shift center back but is good enough to provide Pep Guardiola with an emergency solution. The men in Barcelona jerseys have always had trouble away from home in Europe since Pep took over and this story should be no different. Shakhtar are an excellent home side and Luiz Adriano will give the back-line plenty of problems. I’m putting Shakhtar up for at least two goals, but that really won’t worry Barcelona all that much. The tie is already over.
5. Gareth Bale will cement himself as one of Europe’s most dangerous players.
The injury crisis at Tottenham certainly did not help Hotspur garner any sort of result at Real, but in reality, it was Peter Crouch’s bumbling self that sent the English team likely crashing out of the competition. The team has already exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations thanks in large part to Gareth Bale’s scintillating form. He should be fully recovered for the return leg at White Hart Lane. Expect great things, considering he gave Sergio Ramos plenty of problems when he did have time on the ball with his rampaging runs. The outside Spanish back should be rightly nervous for the clash he will have with Bale. Expect a goal and/or an assist out of the young Welsh star.
About the Author
Chris Behrens, Champions League Correspondent and soccer seer at soccerpro.com.
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