Champions League Preview: Luiz Returns

Real Madrid vs. Schalke 04 (Aggregate 2-0)

Even with their poor run of form as of late, Real Madrid have got to be the favorites Tuesday night as they host Schalke at the Bernabéu. Madrid are coming off a defeat to Athletic Bilbao and a draw against Villareal, and fans are starting to become restless with the form of their star players during these disappointing performances with a recent poll showing that 1/3 of fans would be happy dropping Ronaldo to the bench. Despite this poor streak, it is difficult to see Carlo Ancelloti’s side relinquishing a two-goal advantage at home.

Schalke will be facing an uphill battle if they hope to stay in Europe. Kevin Prince-Boateng will miss the match through suspension, but the Germans will be uplifted by the return of their top Champions League scorer Klaas Jan Huntelaar, who was injured during the teams’ first leg matchup. The Bundesliga side has yet to win a game away from home during this year’s competition, while Madrid has won every European game they’ve played this season. It will take a massive upset and/or collapse for the Spanish giants to fall, and I don’t think the trio of Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale will let that happen. Madrid will win 3-1 and continue their quest for an 11th Champions League title.

FC Porto vs. FC Basel (Aggregate 1-1)

Basel will travel to Portugal trying to make up for the late away goal they allowed to Porto during the first leg in Switzerland. The Swiss side will feel encouraged by a major absence for their opposition. Striker Jackson Martinez, who leads Porto in goals scored both domestically and in Europe, will miss the crucial second leg with a groin injury. Since the first match on February 18th, Porto has strung together three straight victories and has closed the gap between them and Benefica to four points. The Portuguese outfit has not lost a home game at all this season and has never allowed more than one goal when hosting a match. This does not bode well for Basel who has not won away from home during this European campaign.

In their previous five matches, Basel has managed to win only twice. On top of this subpar form, it seems as if the Swiss’ strike power does not travel well in Europe. In their three games away from home, Basel has scored only twice. Porto’s unbelievable home form, paired with Basel’s impotence on the road, gives the edge to the Iberians. I expect Porto to win the game 2-1 and comfortably advance in the tournament.

Bayern Munich vs. Shakhtar Donestk (Aggregate 0-0)

It was a disappointing trip to Ukraine for the Bavarians four weeks ago. Bayern Munich were held scoreless and lost Xabi Alonso through a red card. This was only the fourth time all season that Pep Guardiola’s side had been kept out of the net, and the first time since October 26th. Since the game against Shakhtar, the reigning Bundesliga champions have won four straight and have scored 15 goals, while only allowing two. During this European campaign, the Allianz Arena has been an impenetrable fortress for Bayern. In the group stages, Manchester City, Roma and CSKA Moscow all visited Munich, and all of them left with a defeat and without a goal. If they are able to maintain this stout defense and give players such as Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller a handful of scoring opportunities, Bayern should cruise onto the quarterfinals.

I fully expect Shakhtar to follow Jose Mourinho’s patented strategy of parking the bus for their trip to Germany. The Ukranian side will be defending for their lives for the better portion of this match, while looking for any Bayern mistake to jump on and counter. All it takes is one away goal for Shakhtar to take full control of this fixture. If they score once, that forces Bayern to put away two goals to advance. The dream scenario for the visitors would be a quick early goal and then keeping all 11 men behind the ball for the remainder of the match. However, I can’t see any team stopping Bayern for two straight matches, especially with the second game at the Allianz; so I say Bayern win the match 3-0 with a dominant performance.

Chelsea vs. Paris Saint-Germain (Aggregate 1-1)

PSG's David Luiz

A riveting draw in Paris in the first leg of this Round of 16 matchup sets the stage an eventful trip to Stamford Bridge. Currently, Chelsea sit in first place of the Premier League with a commanding five-point lead over Manchester City with a game in hand as well. Mourinho’s men go into this fixture holding a crucial away goal over their French opponents. This plays right into Mourinho’s pragmatic style of play as even a 0-0 draw will be good enough for Chelsea to advance in the next round. The London side have picked up their first silverware of the season since playing in Paris last month, and talk of an unprecedented treble have picked up steam. Since their elimination from the FA Cup at the hands of Bradford City, the Blues have not lost in eight games following, and Thibault Courtois has only allowed more than one goal twice in 2015. This paired with the amazing attack force of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fàbregas will make it very difficult for PSG to leave with a win.

You can never count a team that has Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The big Swede provides an unmatched scoring option and he can turn the match on its head at any moment. Ibra isn’t the only scoring threat for Laurent Blanc’s side as evidenced by Edison Cavani’s classy header in the last match between these two sides. Another storyline to follow Wednesday night is David Luiz’s return to the Bridge. The Brazilian left Chelsea for a massive fee of £50 million, and he’ll be looking to justify this price tag against his former side. It will be a massive disappointment for Chelsea if they get knocked out now, and I feel like if you give Mourinho four weeks to plan he will come up with a winning formula. Chelsea will win 1-0.

 

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About the author: Collin Carpio

 

I am currently a senior at the University of Missouri in the Journalism School. I have been an avid follower of Manchester United since 2006 and of course I support the Stars and Stripes. Due to my St. Louis high school allegiances, I am a big supporter of Brad Davis and Sporting KC in MLS.


 

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