International Soccer
Bayern gets early shot at revenge against Inter

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Bayern Munich and Inter Milan met seven months ago in the Champions League final, both in search of historic trebles. Now, the teams will meet again in the first knockout stage under vastly different circumstances.

Inter Milan completed the treble - winning the Champions League, Italian Serie A and Coppa Italia - behind a Diego Milito brace in a 2-0 win. Bayern left the Bernabeu in Madrid, Spain with just the Bundesliga and Pokal Cup titles.

No matter the outcome of the round of 16 battle - set for February 23 in Milan and March 15 in Munich - Bayern will never be able to regain the missing piece from last year's otherwise memorable season.

Still, after Friday's draw put the two teams together early in the tournament, Bayern believes "this is our chance to take revenge," said chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

"We have a score to settle with Inter," Bayern manager Louis van Gaal added.

Without revenge, Bayern may have no other championships to play for after mid- March. Bayern, like Inter, is struggling domestically. Both clubs are not even in the top five currently at nearly the midpoint of their respective seasons.

Bayern could blame runaway leaders Borussia Dortmund in Germany for its plight and Inter could point the finger at the good form of crosstown rival AC Milan, but the truth is neither side has been in championship form this season.

Munich can take solace in the fact that star winger Arjen Robben has been injured this season, and he should be healthy when these teams clash along with a number of Bayern players who have been sidelined through injury.

Inter has been boosted by the return of Champions League hero Milito, but its most glaring absence won't be back before the teams meet again, as former coach Jose Mourinho - who led the treble-winning season - left for Real Madrid.

Both sides are still alive in their league cups, but Bayern faces a tough road test before Christmas at Stuttgart and Inter still has to navigate four rounds in the Coppa Italia.

However, the first leg of the round of 16 series is still two months away, and that's enough time for both sides to find the form that led to so much success just a season ago.

At the same time, both could still be struggling domestically and in danger of missing a qualifying spot for next season's Champions League. And who knows if Inter coach Rafael Benitez will survive another day, let alone two months.

"A lot will depend," Inter president Massimo Morrati admitted Friday, "on both teams' form at that stage of the season."

So, from our crystal ball comes the team most likely to be back in form in two months' time, and the first of our predictions for the first knockout stage.

Winner: Bayern Munich

Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma

Shakhtar was the surprise winner in Group H, and still has seven starters from its 2009 Europa League winners. The addition of ex-Arsenal man Eduardo adds an important piece - he had a game-winner against Arsenal in group play - as this team just continues to improve. Roma's in knockout play for the fourth time in five years and made the quarters twice, but must find more consistency at this level to avoid another Italian side going out at this stage.
Tottenham's maiden voyage in the Champions League has been successful thus far.


Winner: Shakhtar Donetsk

Tottenham vs. AC Milan

Tottenham's maiden voyage in the Champions League has been successful thus far and winning Group A ahead of Inter should give the team confidence for Milan's other, currently stronger, side. Spurs' 21-year-old Gareth Bale was sensational in group play, but the old guard at AC Milan is showing signs of life. Milan's leading Serie A, and if it can maintain that form, may reach the quarters for the first time since winning in 2007. Otherwise, Italy is done.

Winner: Tottenham

Schalke vs. Valencia

Schalke is having a Jekyll and Hyde season, posting four wins to grab Group B, while winning just five of 16 games in the Bundesliga. Schalke has an enormous amount of new talent that's still jelling and wouldn't it be funny if Raul guides the Blues to the quarters. Valencia remains off the pace of Barcelona and Real in Spain, but tied Manchester United in its final group game. If Valencia gets a result in Germany it can advance, but otherwise will struggle.

Winner: Schalke

Real Madrid at Lyon

Real Madrid has been eliminated at this stage for six straight years, and that season was ousted by eventual finalist Monaco. Mourinho was brought in to snap the jinx, and with the talent he has at his disposal - Kaka has yet to play in 2010-11 - it seems impossible that the streak continues. Lyon, however, denied Real at this stage last season, winning the first leg and earning a tie in the second in Madrid. A repeat this year would taint Mourinho's legend.

Winner: Real Madrid

Barcelona vs. Arsenal

Arsenal was unlucky to draw Barcelona, as the English side's style will result in another exit against the Spanish champions. The Gunners were bounced in the quarterfinals by Barca on aggregate, 6-3, last season in a rematch of the 2006 final. Barca and Lionel Messi, who scored all four goals in 4-1 win last year in the second leg, will turn this into a speed bump on the way to their fifth quarterfinal appearance in the last six years.

Winner: Barcelona

Manchester United vs. Marseille

Current unbeaten English Premier League leader Manchester United - albeit with seven draws in 16 matches - also went undefeated in group play and a favorable draw will have Sir Alex Ferguson's boys in the quarters for the fifth straight year. Marseille did top Chelsea in its final group-stage game (Chelsea already had the group locked up), but the French squad just doesn't have enough talent to contend with England's best with something on the line.

Winner: Manchester United

Chelsea vs. FC Copenhagen

Chelsea hasn't won in the Premier League since Nov. 10 and has just five goals in its last seven league games, falling from first to fourth in the standings. The Blues' talent still overwhelms FC Copenhagen, and an in-form Chelsea would destroy the Danish side with a London final still a possibility. FC Copenhagen deserves credit for becoming the first Danish team to qualifying for knockout play, but its trip to London will only be good for sightseeing.

Winner: Chelsea

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Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com.

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