Defense is key for Real Madrid

February, 22, 2011
02/22/11
8:57
AM ET

With the Champions League knockout round continuing today, let's determine each team's chances in the first leg. Using ESPN's Soccer Power Index -- a predictive algorithm designed to forecast future soccer events -- we calculated the offensive, defensive and overall rating of each team and used those to find the individual match predictions. A team's SPI rating is easily described as the number of goals a club is expected to defeat (or lose to) an average big four opponent by on a neutral field. Here's a look at today's two matches:

Lyon-Real Madrid

This week's matchups feature a host of top European clubs, but none rated higher by SPI than Real Madrid. Real's rating of 1.49 is second only to Barcelona in all of Europe. Given the parameters of the draw, SPI would have made Madrid the favorite in this round no matter which side it faced. Real Madrid could be boosted by the return of Kaka, as it tries to avenge its loss to Lyon at this stage of the competition last season.

SPI believes the Real defense will be able to hold against Lyon's offense. Madrid has conceded just 19 goals in 24 La Liga matches this campaign, second-fewest in the league, five of which came in its defeat to league leader Barcelona. Outside of that fixture, Madrid has not conceded more than two goals in a match in all competitions this season and has conceded one or zero in its last 10 matches. In six Champions League Group Stage matches, Madrid conceded only twice and posted five clean sheets en route to winning Group G.

Lyon has tallied 38 goals in 24 French Ligue matches, including eight in its last two contests. Lyon has experienced success against Real Madrid in this competition in the past, outscoring Real 10-4 in their six previous meetings.

Chelsea-Copenhagen

This matchup features two clubs with vastly different Champions League experience. Chelsea returns to the knockout round for the eighth consecutive season, while Copenhagen makes its first appearance at this stage of the competition.

Unfortunately, SPI is not able to make an accurate prediction on this match for two reasons. First, the algorithm does not have enough quality data on Copenhagen to properly gauge its talent; and second, Copenhagen has not played a match in over two months as the Danish League takes an extended winter break. SPI does not have the tools to measure how a layoff like this might affect a club.

Even without a precise prediction, it is safe to say Copenhagen will have its hands full with Chelsea. The Blues are one of the top-ranked teams remaining in the competition, with an SPI rating of 1.00. At the time of the draw, Chelsea was having a tough run away from home. It took just two points from six matches in November and December; dropping from first to fifth in the Premier League in the process.

However, Chelsea has improved its away form recently, taking eight points from its last four matches away from Stamford Bridge. Chelsea also had a successful Group Stage away from home, going 2-0-1 and scoring six goals while conceding just two. This form will need to continue against Copenhagen, who went 2-1-0 at home in the Group Stage, including a 1-1 draw with Group D winners Barcelona.

We'll return tomorrow with a look at the finals rematch between Inter and Bayern Munich, as well as the Marseille-Manchester United tie.

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