Champions League Quaterfinals I

It is a beautiful time in the sports year.  NCAA tourney has just ended, Opening Day has arrived, the NBA&NFL playoff marathons beckon, the Cricket World Cup, NFL draft zaniness, the MLS kicking off and crunch time in domestic soccer leagues across Europe.  Good stuff.  O.k. granted Cricket isn’t drawing huge interest in many places, but the “highlights” on BBC are excellent for lulling off into a peaceful slumber.  But let’s leave the dreamland of Cricket and focus on the Champions League quaterfinals.  First leg is tonight with the next game on April 11th. 

AC Milan v FC Bayern Munich (20:45 CET and 2:45 EDT & available on ESPN Deportes/Setana USA)

Milan hosts Bayern in a rematch of last year’s 1st knockout round encounter won by Milan 5-2 on aggregate.  Bayern will be without star keeper Oliver Kahn and Dutch midfielder Mark Van Bommel who are suspended tonight.  The German side has been playing well lately having defeated Bundesliga leaders FC Shalke 04 by 2-0 on Saturday.  Meanwhile Milan has struggled in the Serie A and currently reside in sixth place.   But they boast a remarkable home record at the San Siro in the CL having won 15 of their last 18 home games in the competition. 

First encounters in the two-leg format are difficult to predict since neither side wants to make a crucial mistake and put themselves in early difficulty.  Coupled with that traditionally these are two of the toughest defensive sides in all of soccer, it would seem to point to a tactical (ie boring) affair.   However, Milan is hinting at fielding two strikers (Gilardino&Inzahgi) which would certainly open things up for the offensive maestro Kaka to play in loads of space just behind the strikers.  Kaka is amazing to watch and capable of destroying teams through his passing or scoring.  And Bayern has demonstrated a ruthless desire to attack lately and possess two deadly finishers in Maakay and Podolski.  Breaking down Milan is always difficult especially with a healthy Nesta back in central defense but if English WC hero Owen Hargreaves can successfully control midfield for Bayern goals should be on the offer.  Therefore, TTL is going with an entertaining 2-2 game which would greatly benefit Bayern because of the away goals. 

PSV Eindhoven v Liverpool (20:45 CET and 2:30 EDT on ESPN2). 

TTL is a LP fan and was relieved when LP drew PSV.  And all the indicators point to LP coming through this tie victorious.  The teams played twice in the group phase drawing 0-0 at PSV and LP winnning 2-0 at Anfield.  The Dutch squad has seen a huge lead in the Eredivisie closed to 3 points and is decimated by injuries, playing without vital centre-back Alex and striker Kone.   Meanwhile, back at Merseyside, LP simply knocked out the defending champs Barcelona in the previous round and hammered Arsenal 4-1 on Saturday behind the robotic freak’s sensational hat-trick. 

Expect PSV to play a very defensive-minded game and try to frustrate LP at every opportunity.  The PSV manager Ronald Koeman has enjoyed numerous successes lately against English clubs with PSV knocking out Arsenal in the last round and his Benefica side defeating LP and Man U in last year’s CL.  Koeman has said he wouldn’t mind a boring 0-0 draw but TTL thinks an in-form LP squad while nick a 1-0 win, albeit in a boring game.   

Back tomorrow with a recap and a preview of the other quaterfinal games, Chelsea-Valencia and AS Roma-Manchester United.  Enjoy the games. 

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