Make or Break Time for Serie A Teams (UEFA Champions League R16 Return Legs Preview)

It really is make or break time for the Italian sides in the UEFA Champions League. All three teams face uphill struggles against their English opponents, and it will be tricky for any of them to progress. Roma and Juve both have a one-goal deficit to recover, while Inter travel to Manchester on level terms.

Chelsea's Jose Bosingwa, left, battles for the ball with Juventus' Pavel Nedved during the Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match between Chelsea and Juventus at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2009. (AP Photo)

Juventus (0) vs. Chelsea (1)

Chelsea’s form may have picked up under Guus Hiddink but they’re still not the same side they were under José Mourinho. This will be a massive test for the Bianconeri and they will need to show a massive improvement on their first leg performance, which for me was rather poor.

With Didier Drogba, Chelsea have arguably one of the best centre-forwards in the world. This season he may not have been as productive as you’d expect, but since Hiddink arrived his goalscoring form picked up rather nicely: after getting one goal in the first leg (and again Saturday, in the FA Cup against Coventry) the towering Ivory Coast international will be the biggest threat to Buffon & friends. Especially given the possible unavailability of Nicolas Anelka. Inter target Frank Lampard is another player always capable of scoring match-winning goals for the Blues, and if Juve can keep these two quiet they will stand a good chance of beating the Londoners.

Down on the Juve’s side, the Bianconeri are currently dealing with a never-ending streak of injuries (first-team starters such as Camoranesi, Legrottaglie, and Sissoko are all unavailable for this one), but Claudio Ranieri will be glad to know Ricardo Carvalho is still injured for Chelsea. The Portuguese centre-half is probably among the top 5 defenders in the Premier League, and Chelsea are currently cruelly missing his pace and sense of positioning. John Terry plays better with Carvalho at his side and his Brazilian replacement Alex is just not of the same standard in my opinion.

I wouldn’t go betting on Juve going through, but it isn’t over yet and beating Chelsea is not an impossible task.

AS Roma's forward Francesco Totti (L) challanges with Arsenal's Ivorian defender Kolo Toure (R) during their Champions League first knockout round football match, at The Emirates stadium in London on February 24, 2009. (AFP/Getty Images)

Roma (0) vs. Arsenal (1)

I think of all the Italian sides Roma face the hardest task. They should have been beaten by a far greater margin in the first leg at Emirates and I will never know how Nicklas Bendtner missed all of his chances. The way Arsenal play seems to cause a real problem for the Italian teams and I can’t see Roma getting through this one.

Granted this particular Arsenal side isn’t as good as in years gone by but there is still a wealth of talent in their ranks. Eduardo is back and scoring following a horrific leg-break last season and if he plays he will cause even the best defenders problems. They do still have a lot of notable absentees (Fàbregas and Adebayor topping the list) but Arsenal are still a good side and I think they’ll get the better of Roma at the Stadio Olimpico.

Roma are without Perrotta, Cicinho and Pizarro (injured) on top of midfield leader Daniele De Rossi (suspended), an enormous loss for the Giallorossi who will need every ounce of Francesco Totti’s talent if they are to progress.

Inter Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic (L) reacts beside Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand during their Champions League soccer match at San Siro stadium in Milan February 24, 2009. (REUTERS)

Manchester United (0) vs. Inter Milan (0)

It might seem strange to say given their first half of the first leg, but I think Inter have the best chance of progressing of all three Italian teams. The game is still finely poised at 0-0, and a draw with goals would be good enough for them to progress by virtue of the away goals rule.

That is not too say the task will be easy. Manchester United are without a doubt the best team in England at the moment but Inter are the best team in Italy so the difference in class is not so great. Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t hit the same heights he did last year but is still a great player and Inter will need to be on top form to stop him. Vidic and Ferdinand form an impressive defensive partnership for the Red Devils, but in Ibrahimovic & Adriano Inter have perhaps the only strikers who can match that super-human aerial ability.

It would upset the sports betting odds somewhat if Inter did knock out the reigning champions, but in Mourinho the Nerazzurri have a manager who has got the better of Man Utd on more than one occasion. For me, Inter Milan are most likely of the Italian sides to be competing in the Champions League after the first knock-out stage.


Further reading: For a great in-depth analysis of each match (Positives/Negatives in each team, key players, etc.) read Gazzetta‘s “Italy-England, Part Two” article (fully translated in English).

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Posted in English Premiership, Inter, Juventus, Roma, UEFA Champions League |

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