At first glance, today’s Champions League quarterfinal match-ups look like mis-matches, but we have learned many times that an underdog can always find a way to conjure up a quality performance against a heavily-favored opponent.
Schalke 04 wouldn’t have been given much chance against Barcelona a month ago, but the German squad has been on a roll since its dramatic penalty shoot-out victory against Sevilla in the Round of 16. Schalke is unbeaten since that PK triumph and will face a Barcelona team missing most of its top stars.
The ManU-Roma clash was absolutely mouth-watering when it was first announced, but Roma’s recent inconsistency and Man United’s absolutely dominant form have turned this marquee match-up into a blowout waiting to happen. With Francesco Totti set to miss today’s first leg, Roma will be looking to keep things close against a Red Devils offense that has been unstoppable in recent weeks.
Here is a closer look at the match-ups:
Barcelona at Schalke 04
Today, 2:30 p.m., ESPN Deportes and ESPN360.com (5pm, ESPN Classic)
Players to watch: Barcelona: Bojan Krkic, Thierry Henry, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol. Schalke 04: Kevin Kuranyi, Manuel Neuer, Rafinha, Halil Altintop.
Key match-up: Puyol vs. Kuranyi. Schalke will need Kuranyi to produce on a day when Barcelona’s attack won’t be as potent as usual. Whether it is Puyol or Gabriel Milito, Barcelona will need to mark Kuranyi tightly or risk going into the second leg down.
Prediction: Schalke’s defense frustrates a struggling Barcelona attack as Neuer has his second big Champions League match in a row. Schalke 04 1, Barcelona 0.
Manchester United at Roma
Today, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2 and ESPN360.com
Players to watch: Manchester United: Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic. Roma: Daniele DeRossi, Mirko Vucinic, Mancini, Phillip Mexes.
Key match-up: Vucinic vs. Vidic. Once teammates when Serbia and Montenegro were part of the same national team, Vucinic (the Montenegran) will be key to Roma having a chance of scoring while Vidic (the Serb) will be looking to smother him. Watching Ronaldo go after Cicinho will be interesting as well.
Prediction: Roma comes out strong before Man U takes control. A pair of vital away goals give Manchester United a 2-1 win in the first left.
How do you see today’s matches playing out? Share your thoughts below.