UEFA Champions League: Round of 16 preview 2
The UEFA Champions League is back! “Stoppage Time” continues its preview of the Round of 16 games with a focus on those matches taking place on Wednesday with the second legs on Tuesday, March 9th:
FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN (Germany) v AC FIORENTINA (Italy)
Whereas Italian side AC Fiorentina had a comfortable ride in Champions League group E disposing of Olympique Lyonnais, Liverpool FC and Debreceni to finish top, German Rekordmeister (record champions) FC Bayern had to go to Turin and win away at Juventus to claim the second qualification spot in their group. At the time FC Bayern were struggling for consistency under new coach Louis van Gaal but a heroic 4-1 win against Italy’s Old Lady signalled a change in fortune for the Bavarian giants. Since then FC Bayern have been faultless in the Bundesliga while AC Fiorentina have slid down the Serie A table and are now finding it difficult to qualify for European competition next season.
Since the conclusion of the Champions League group stage FC Bayern have gone from strength to strength having won their last eight games in the league and are now level on points with joint leaders Bayer 04 Leverkusen, trailing behind the Werkself (Work’s Eleven) by virtue of goal difference. Having also qualified for the DFB Pokal (German Cup) semi-finals all is rosy at the Allianz Arena, at the moment, with the German side quietly contemplating a chance at going for a treble similar to what FC Barcelona accomplished last season. AC Fiorentina, on the other hand, have struggled with form and injuries since sealing their place in the knockout stages. The Viola have won only two of their last eight games in the league (against Bari and bottom club Siena) and from the heady heights of fourth have gone sliding down the table to their current rank of eleventh leaving them seven points from a UEFA Europa League place.
Although Mario Gomez has hit 14 goals so far in his maiden season at FC Bayern all of the fans’ expectations rest on the shoulders of Arjen Robben, who has been a revelation since his two goal introduction to German football against champions VfL Wolfsburg on Matchday 4 of the Bundesliga. The Dutchman is backed up by a returning Franck Ribéry who is desperate to show the fans the sort of form which led him to the German Footballer of the Year award in 2008. AC Fiorentina will hope that Stevan Jovetić, who impressed with his performance against Liverpool earlier this season, can once again perform on the European stage having scored three times in the tournament so far this season. However the Florentines have suffered with injuries this season and the news that defender Alessandro Gamberini will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury is bad news for the club. With the Italian side having never won a competitive fixture in Germany before the omens are against Fiorentina but at least they will be at home in the second leg so it is imperative that Fiorentina can score an away goal tomorrow night.
FC PORTO (Portugal) v ARSENAL FC (England)
Two-time European champions FC Porto will be hoping to continue their good form in the UEFA Champions League this season as they have struggled in their defence of the championship back home with both SL Benfica and surprise team Sporting Braga out in front. The Dragões (Dragons) progressed in second place from group B two points behind Chelsea FC and nine points ahead of both Atlético de Madrid and APOEL Nicosia. Arsenal usually progress with ease to the knockout stages in this tournament but find the tough going when the business end of the season arrives. Five years without a trophy would be a disaster for Arsenal fans who still lament how close they came to winning the trophy in 2006 when they were losing finalists to FC Barcelona. However they topped group H ahead of Greek champions Olympiakos and will hope that they can kick-start their season again in Europe.
FC Porto lie in third-place in the Portuguese Liga Sagres nine points behind leaders SL Benfica having played a game less than the Lisbon side. In their seven games since the group stage FC Porto have won four of them but have suffered a solitary defeat in that time to Benfica which has left them trailing in their wake. The Dragons have found consolation in the Carlsberg Cup (Portuguese League Cup) having qualified for the final to be played next month against…..Benfica. Arsenal have won seven of their twelve Premier League games since the group phase but have suffered a recent dip by losing to their two challengers for the title, leaders Chelsea FC and champions Manchester United. They did recover by beating Liverpool FC at home in their most recent league encounter so are still third in the table only six points behind first place. However defeats in the two domestic cup competitions to Stoke City and Manchester City means that Arsène Wenger’s men only have the domestic championship and Champions League to play for.
FC Porto’s danger man is Falcao who, since moving to the club from Argentine giants River Plate, has scored 17 goals (3 in the Champions League) so far this season. If he can link up with Brazilian striker Hulk then the Arsenal defence may just have problems against such a strong forward line although the Portuguese do miss two key players in Ruben Micael and Ernesto Farias. Arsenal’s inspiration usually comes from captain Cesc Fabrègas and the Gunners will rely on him more than ever as they suffer from a list of injuries including the likes of Andrey Arshavin, Robin van Persie, Eduardo and William Gallas, to name but four.
REMEMBER: the other four quarter-finals ties play next week so we will continue with the previews from next Monday, February 22nd.