UEFA Champions League: Week One, Part Two
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Real Madrid vs. Manchester United at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu; Madrid, Spain
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Real Madrid have struggled to get themselves together this campaign, costing the team dearly in La Liga. Jose Mourinho himself has conceded that La Liga is now beyond them. With what is currently a twelve point advantage (as of January 27, with a game in hand), Barcelona seems to have sealed this league race. Jose Mourinho is now concentrating on getting his team back together, in hopes of winning both the Champions League and la Copa del Rey. Mourinho’s actions may have hurt team morale last year, but right now Real Madrid are rolling in style. In their latest match, the team destroyed Getafe 4-0, Cristiano Ronaldo himself grabbing a hat trick. The tables seem to be turning for this team, having scored 10 goals in the last three games. Real Madrid are now beginning to look like their terrifying, former selves, with counter-attacking football that tears apart defenses of any quality.
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Manchester United are a winning machine that succeed against all odds. In the Premier League, no matter how weak their team seems to be, they win. They win with their backs to the wall, and somehow manage to pull through. They’re currently top of the table, in front of local rival, Manchester City. They make consistent comebacks, becoming overall favorites in every game. This tenacity and will power to pull through almost any game, however, reveals their biggest weakness: their defense. Offensively, with players such as RVP, Rooney, and Shinji Kagawa, Manchester United has some of the most prolific attackers in the Premier League. Their defense, however, has been exposed on numerous occasions, with a lack of a stable center being a huge problem. Manchester has conceded goals in seven of their past ten games; and that goes without showing the 4-3 win over Newcastle. The fact that they have to fight so hard to defeat less challenging teams clearly exposes their weakness at the back.
Consensus: Manchester United has the attacking prowess to beat any team, but their weak defense provides a great advantage for Real Madrid. Real Madrid have won 8 of their last nine home games in European competition, while Manchester has conceded first, in their last five European matches. Many have criticized this current crop of Manchester players, despite placing first, for being one of the weakest in Sir Alex‘s era. Manchester United may score some goals, but ultimately Real Madrid’s quick, mechanically precise counter attacks will be far too much for Manchester United. It may be a close game, due to the fact that Iker Casillas will not play — but Manchester lost this game before it even started. Look for a result of at least 4-2 in Real’s favor.
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Borussia Dortmund at Donbass Arena; Donetsk, Ukraine
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Shakhtar are in to reach the quarter finals for the second time, since the 2010/2011 season, after beating AS Roma. Shakhtar are currently in 1st place in the Ukrainian Premier League; it should be noted, however, that they do not face the toughest of oppositions, with a 13 point lead over Dnipro. They’re in good form, but is their form in Ukraine really all that comparable to that of Dortmund? They may not have the stars of other teams at this point in the competition, but they play as a unit. Although somewhat unlikely, a victory could be secured if they maintain their cohesion.
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Dortmund is the clear favorite in this tie. After a very shaky start in the beginning of the year, they are hitting their stride in style. To many people’s surprise, they won their group, ahead of Real Madrid, Manchester City, and Ajax. They are third in the German Bundesliga. Third may not sound impressive, but Dortmund are behind a near perfect Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen, and have scored the second largest amount of goals, behind Bayern Munich. They play in the same vein as Barcelona, in terms of possession, but they are much quicker, more pragmatic, and deadly. The team is made of youthful, quick players, all with their eyes on the goal. Mario Götze, Marko Reus, Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Błaszczykowski, and İlkay Gündoğan are all on the top of their game, ready to tear anyone apart. This German side has shown that they are no pushovers, and will punish anyone who considers them so, quickly and swiftly.
Consensus: I don’t believe there is any hope for the Ukrainians. It won’t be a blowout by any means, but like the ManU-Madrid game, it’s a forgone conclusion. Look for a Dortmund win: 2-0.