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Champions League 2nd Round


Tonight’s action:

Liverpool V Inter Milan
Olympiakos V Chelsea
Roma V Real Madrid
Shalke 04 V FC Porto

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The pick of the ties comes at Anfield where Liverpool and Inter lock horns for the first time since their controversial 1965 European Cup semi-final where the Merseysiders took a 3-1 advantage into a second leg that the Italians won by three goals to nil, sealing their place in the final. Allegations of corruption have refused to go away since that night when the referee, Jose Maria Ortiz de Mendibil, allowed two goals that Liverpool felt should never have been allowed to stand. Ian St John also had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside. While the memories of that game still linger in the minds of the older generation of Liverpool fans, Inter Milan fans went out and bought Liverpool replica jerseys by the bucket-load following Liverpool’s 2005 win over their arch rivals AC Milan.
Tonight’s game is likely to be a tight affair with some intriguing battles. When Liverpool last came up against Zlatan Ibrahimovic they knocked Juventus out of the Champions League en route to glory in Istanbul. Sami Hyypia often struggled against the Swede though, and the lanky striker hit a post that night in Anfield.
Javier Mascherano will also come up against some familiar foes in his Argentine teammates Esteban Cambisso, Javier Zanetti and Julio Cruz, who is expected to lead the attack alongside Ibrahimovic.
Meanwhile Fernando Torres will start for Liverpool up front and will be anxious to score on a night that epitomises why he chose to come to Anfield.

Prediction: While many are predicting Inter to come and destroy a Liverpool team lacking confidence, this one should be tight. Liverpool respond well to Champions League adversity and might nick it, 2-1.

Olympiakos V Chelsea

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The suggestion is that Chelsea will be resting the likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard, while Nicolas Anelka will drop to the bench to make room for Didier Drogba. Michael Ballack and Alex should return to the starting lineup for Chelsea in place of their captain and vice-captain.

Olympiakos will quietly fancy their chances here. With a UEFA inspection having deemed the pitch playable, Olympiakos will be used to the freezing conditions in Turkey at the moment and will hope to catch the likes of Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips on a night where they don’t fancy playing in the cold.
Having finished second in a tricky group which saw the back of Lazio and Werder Bremen, the Greeks will want to put an end to their record against English opposition which has seen them fail to beat an English team over two legs in their history. Chelsea will have the Carling Cup final on Sunday in the back of their minds too, so despite all the talk of wanting a Champions League trophy as a priority, the Blues have decided to rest key players. Olympiakos will go into the game full of hope that they can spring an upset, or at least take a decent score back to Stamford Bridge.
However, Chelsea’s squad is peaking and with players coming back from suspension and injury, plus the options they can call on from the bench, it is hard to see the game going Olympiakos’ way.

Prediction: With Chelsea’s strength in depth at an all-time high and with players full of confidence, this has to be an away win. Don’t be surprised if Olympiakos start the quicker of the two teams but fall away with a 1-3 scoreline.

Elsewhere, Francesco Totti could secure the honour of having the most European appearances for Roma if he plays against Real Madrid tonight. Totti has been injured lately though, and Spaletti will probably wait until the last moment before deciding what part his talismanic striker will play in the game. Real Madrid will also rush back an injured star, Gabriel Heinze. Real’s defence is woefully short of cover through various injuries and Heinze should make his first start in over a month. This game could be the most entertaining with the likes of Mancini and Totti V Raul and Van Nistelrooy. Expect goals, perhaps a 2-2 draw.

The final game sees a first time knockout appearance for Shalke 04 against perennial second rounders FC Porto. This game should be tight, though Shalke have been struggling defensively having failed to keep a clean sheet since the start of the year. FC Porto are sitting pretty at the top of the league in Portugal and will fancy a repeat of 2006 when they beat Liverpool 3-0 to advance to the quarter-finals. Whatever happens, the winner of this tie will be one of the weaker in the next round as this year’s Champions League 2nd Round is particularly strong. A draw is also likely here, possibly low-scoring, 1-1.

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