Celtic v Juventus
The Bhoys of Glasgow face the Old Lady of Turin as two of world football’s greatest clubs return to prominence in their rightful places in the latter stages of the Champions League. Neither club is the most popular team in their home city, but both are seen as the biggest in Scotland and Italy respectively. In recent years the two clubs have endured a period of watching the knockout stages from the outside looking in and both will relish this tie. Juventus will enter the first leg as overwhelming favorites to advance to the quarter-finals, but will do well to respect the threat Celtic will provide.
Celtic’s Keys to Victory:
1) The support at Celtic Park on a European night is one of the most deafening and supportive in football. The home side needs to ignore the emotion of their fans and be patient in attack. If they don’t, then Juventus will open them up. If they lead late, then the backing of the 60,000 fans will be pivotal in maintaining their lead.
2) Celtic must take a scoreless draw or a one goal lead into the second leg in Turin. If not, the tie will be over. To do so they will have to defend resolutely and pick their moments to counter attack. A lot will be required of the Celtic back four and goalkeeper, Fraser Foster, in particular. He needs to repeat the heroics of his two performances against Barcelona. If he does then Celtic will have a chance to advance.
3) Juventus have a more talented squad than Celtic, but only one player, Andrea Pirlo, who makes them tick. If Celtic stops him then they will go a long way towards stopping Juve. This is one game where manager Neil Lennon might be best advised to man mark the Italian playmaker - perhaps a job for captain, Scott Brown. If not, then Pirlo can give Celtic the run around the way he did England at last summer’s European Championships.
1) Juventus will need to silence the crowd and stop them from being a factor for the home side. They can do so by keeping possession of the ball, slowing the game down, and scoring early, something Barcelona failed to do in both of their games against Celtic.
2) Celtic’s back four has been very inconsistent this season and is the team’s Achilles Heel. Until recently Juve have not been prolific in front of goal, but in Mirko Vucinic and Alessandro Matri they have two players who can punish any hesitancy from Celtic at the back.
3) Celtic rode their luck at times in their six group games with their opponents, guilty of some horrendous misses in each game. Juve will get chances in Glasgow and must take them or will be left to rue the cost.
Extra Time Prediction:
The first leg in Glasgow will be a very cagey affair with Celtic’s new found experience helping to frustrate their Italian opponents. The best Celtic can hope for is a hard fought 1-0 win, but if it stays 0-0 for long spells then a goalless draw will be seen by Celtic as a victory.
Real Madrid v Manchester United
This game has everything for the supporters of the two teams involved as well as for the neutral watching on television. It pits Jose Mourinho against Alex Ferguson, Cristiano Ronaldo against his former club, La Liga against the Premier League and more importantly two of Europe’s most attacking and most successful clubs against each other.
Real Madrid’s Keys to Victory:
1) United have struggled to keep clean sheets all season, so Real will fancy their chances against their back four. Patrice Evra is a major weak link for United, and a match-up with Ronaldo could hand the initiative to the Spanish champions.
2) Real have pace and attacking threat in abundance. Their speed on the ball and speed of movement off it will cause problems for United. If United are to contain Real then there can be no place in the line-up for Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick or the aforementioned Evra. Phil Jones can play in the Carrick role and Chris Smalling at full back, or vice-versa.
3) Wayne Rooney is always a danger man for United on the domestic front, but too often in the European games he can be nullified. The main threat to Madrid will come from Robin van Persie. Stop him and Madrid are a step closer to stopping United.
1) The Bernabeu crowd will start the game fully supportive of Jose Mourinho and his team, but the longer the two sides remain scoreless, the sooner they will turn against Real. United need to slow the game down, dictate the tempo, silence the crowd, turn them against Real, and put all the pressure on Mourinho’s side.
2) Alex Ferguson is an experienced manager, and he showed by his man marking of Marouane Fellaini on Sunday that he can adapt his tactics to the modern game. He will need to conjure up a similar tactical master plan if he is to get anything from the away leg. He must go with a youthful team and pick players with pace, or United will be in for a long 90 minutes in Spain.
3) To have any chance of advancing to the next round United must score in Madrid because they are not going to keep a clean sheet at Old Trafford. Real’s back four is their weakness, so Rooney, van Persie, Valencia, and Young must run at them all night.
Extra Time Prediction:
The demise of Real Madrid has been over exaggerated and they will show their class over the two legs. United would be best advised to ignore Real’s domestic performances because Madrid have only one goal this season: to win the Champions League. Mourinho will relish setting up his team to play against Ferguson’s and safeguarding his standing as the Special One. If Real score first and early in Madrid they have the ability to take United apart and demonstrate the gulf in class that exists between La Liga and the EPL. This game will be nothing but a comfortable win for the Spanish champions.