Monday, July 24, 2006

This is a good year for me to be getting Gol TV

Feelings of invincibility when looking at a stacked lineup before a season are often a prelude to disaster (see: Mets, New York for just about any season prior to this one), but Barca's signing of Lilian Thuram and Gianluca Zambrotta has me salivating at the idea of this starting XI:

Valdes
Thuram - Marquez - Puyol - Zambrotta
Edmilson
Xavi - Deco
Messi - Ronaldinho
Eto'o

On the other hand, the team's bid for a second straight European title will almost certainly have to run through this starting XI:

Cech
Paolo Ferreira - Gallas - Terry - Cole
Makelele
Ballack - Lampard
Robben - Cole
Shevchenko

With the implosion of Juve and Milan, is anyone else in the picture in terms of clear-cut favorites for the Champions League this year?

13 comments:

Tim said...

Although I wouldn't call them a favorite by any means, I wouldn't completely rule out another run by Arsenal. They've only really lost Pires (the biggest loss), Berkamp (who couldn't travel), and Campbell (who is useless save for that one goal). Add that to the fact that Fabregas is still maturing, the injury problems on defense shouldn't last nearly as long as they did last year, and Tomas Rosicky has joined the team. That should place them squarely in the dark horse category.

Of course, having to qualify will always make it dicey.

Michael said...

I agree that they're a darkhorse, but you can't expect Arsenal to repeat their run from last year, any more than you could expect Villareal to repeat their run (if they were even in Europe). My point is that Arsenal is not a favorite, because their team doesn't look as good over a long haul as Chelsea or Barca. I'd put Arsenal into a second category along with Liverpool, Inter, Bayern, Lyon, and Real. Over 90 or 180 minutes, any of these teams are capable of beating one of the two favorites.

LD said...

I got a team for you...

Valencia.

S. Canizares
Miguel-Ayala-del Horno-Moretti
Abelda-Baraja-Viana-Aimar (Edu, Kluivert)
[Cristiano Ronaldo???]
Morientes-David Villa

They're seeded in the top 8, so they avoid (if they get past the initial knockout) Barcelona, Real, Inter, Liverpool, Lyon, Man U and Arsenal.

Maybe not a favorite like Barcelona and Chelsea should be considered, but I'd say they're in the "a good bet to go far" group, along with Inter, Bayern Munich and Lyon.

Michael said...

Compared to Chelsea and Barca, Valencia are not in the same league. They have three guys who started for the national teams this summer; Chelsea and Barca have line-ups in which every player was an international starter this summer (with very limited exceptions). Also, Valencia are apparently looking to sell Aimar, although this is angering their fan base greatly. (If they're selling him to raise money to buy Cristiano Ronaldo, then that's a different story.) Overall, they look relatively unchanged from the good, but not great team of last season.

One other team I left off is Werder Bremen, although we'll have to see how they replace Micoud.

LD said...

Correction - Valencia released Kluivert.

Yeah, Valencia don't have the names of Barcelona or Chelsea, but I still think they'll be there when the quarters and semis roll around, and then anything can happen. And I think they'll make a run in La Liga (along with a surprise team in Atletico Madrid).

And I also think by saying they only had 3 starters this summer is a little misleading (I mean, Eto'o doesn't fit that description, but I think we know he's pretty good). Ayala started every match for Argentina. Miguel was one of the best defenders in the cup. Villa led Spain's potent attack. Canizares arguably would start for half of the teams at Germany 06. Del Horno pulled out with an injury. Morientes is third among all time scorers for Spain. Marchena (I didn't list him) did start a match for Spain in Germany. So did Abelda (and remember, even Cesc Fabregas didn't start every game for that Spain midfield). Moretti is a stud on the Italy U-21 team, and it shouldn't be too surprising that he didn't make that back line at his age. Baraja was a player for Spain in 2002 and 2004 and has 38 caps. Viana subbed in twice for Portugal, including the England match. Aimar subbed three times for Argentina. Edu had been a part of Brazil's midfield at the last Copa America, but he's been injured for most of the last year.

And they're saying that they'll pay whatever it takes for Cris Ronaldo.

So while I don't think they have the marquee names Chelsea or Barcelona have, they still have good players. And we can just ask how many trophies Real won with Los Galacticos to see how much marquee names automatically confer titles.

Michael said...

If Valencia is so good, then why did they not mount a challenge in the Primera last year? They made a brief run to get back within six points (thanks to an error by Valdes) and then promptly fell off the map. They have some pretty good players, but they're mostly back-ups on the top level. They have, in my estimation, five world class players: Canizares, Ayala, Miguel, Aimar, and Villa. Marchena and Albelda are pretty good, but no better than Iniesta and he's a back-up in Barcelona. Ditto for Viana as an equivalent to Motta. Del Horno...yes, he has a great history against Leo Messi.

Over 120 minutes, anything can happen. Barca was probably as good or better than Valencia on paper in 2000 and Valencia beat the piss out of them in the CL semis. However, Barca would be a favorite this time because they have better players. Right now, Barca and Chelsea have better players than any other team. That's my point. And you know that invoking the Galacticos is a bad comparison. Those Real teams were horribly imbalanced between defense and offense, not to mention poorly coached. Barca and Chelsea are neither.

LD said...

Look, I'm not a Valencia fan, per se. And I never said that they were in the class of Chelsea or Barcelona (and I agree with your point in that few teams have the resources to sign players like those two teams have). But I do think they deserve a little more credit than you're giving them. Morientes was a world class striker before the transfer to Liverpool. Edu was a world class player (I consider anyone who can make a Brazillian national team to be a world class player) before his injury and the emergence of Cesc Fabregas at Arsenal (while he was away at the Copa America). Consider that Valencia was third in La Liga last year, added del Horno and Morientes, gets back Edu from injury, and only loses Kluivert (old and fat, no loss), Carboni (old), and Fabio Aurelio (a loss there). Over the last year, they've gotten healthier and much younger. If this team also adds Cris Ronaldo, I think they're a serious threat in the Champions' League and La Liga.

LD said...

Oh. And as of 2 PM today, we have a third challenger for Chelsea and Barcelona.

AC Milan.


Think Silvio made some calls/threats?

Chg said...

Can you give me some suggestions on a team to adopt?

My general guidelines are probably similar to those of many Americans:

I want an aggressive, attacking style of play with as little diving as possible. I couldn't stand to cheer for the professional equivalent of Portugal.

I don't want to be associated with any facist or racist teams or fanbases.

While I like the underdog, I don't want someone in immediate danger of relegation and seasons of wandering in the wilderness.

Decent uni's and/or team name would be nice.

My own idiosyncracy: I'd rather not cheer for a team who's primary sponsor is a beer/alcohol company.

After reading "How Soccer Explains the World," I was close to adopting Tottenham. I know nothing of their style of play, I just liked how they defused the slurs and adopted them as a badge of honor.

However, I am less likely to do so after knowing they are now Bill Simmons's team. Any suggestions, either of teams or places to go for research?

Michael said...

LD, I'm buying your points somewhat on Valencia, but I'm not sold that Morientes makes them younger or better. I always liked him, especially for Spain in '02, as well as his stretch at Monaco, but his form at Liverpool was worrisome. Edu does make them better, but I still see him in the second tier of "world class." Del Horno is alright, but not outstanding, unless his time at Chelsea was just a fluke. I like Valencia and they should be good, but I don't think they've narrowed the gap that much, especially given that Barca has shored up their primary weakness: left back.

CHG, "How Soccer Explains Globalization" is a great starting point from which to pick a team. As far as your criteria:

Attacking style: Barca and Madrid are good starting points. Lyon is an idea. Arsenal would be the English team to root for, but the internet is already inundated with fans of the Arse. Werder Bremen would be an off-beat choice, but they have dreadful uniforms (orange and green - only good for Miami fans). Ditto for Borussia Dortmund, who have highlighter-yellow jerseys. German teams generally score a lot of goals and it isn't trendy to like them. Maybe you should check out Schalke 04 for a neat twist. Roma is another option.

Fascist/Racist - That rules out Madrid (as well as some lesser Spanish teams), Lazio, and possibly Inter. Chelsea fans were the original hooligans, which makes for an amusing contrast with their current yuppie fanbase.

Unis - what colors do you like? I'm very partial to Barca: dark red and blue, plus one of only two clubs with no sponsor. Athletic Bilbao is the other and their fans are even more crazily pro-Basque than Barca fans are pro-Catalan. Do you like red and white stripes? Roma has cool crimson jerseys, but they're form-fitting, so you need to be cut to wear their jersey.

No alcohol sponsorship - that rules out Liverpool and, uh, I'm not sure.

One other option: Ajax. More than Spurs, they've adopted a Jewish identity in response to their rivals. They're noted for attacking play. They have sweet, distinctive red and white jerseys with a kick-ass logo. (My personal fave for logos is Valencia, with a bat on top.) They are a famous team, but you wouldn't be trendy rooting for them. The only problem is that the Dutch league isn't great and Ajax loses their best players to the major clubs.

Anonymous said...

I thought Inter were communists, not fascists. Their fans are lunatics though.

Another beer sponsor is on the only club jersey I own - Celtic's (Carling), and kind of oddly, Carling also sponsors Rangers. I thought Everton's sponsor was Chang Beer, but it's not a well known beer. Leeds used to use Strongbow Cider. I know it's not on the jersey, but isn't Estrella Damm a sponsor for Barcelona? (Not that I have a problem with any of them).

K.J. Shoemaker said...

IF Milan stays in the CL somehow, do you think they'll go buy a player (are there any left to buy)? If so, even though they're getting old they're still good.
I've got to say Real Madrid is on the high end of your 2nd tier now that they signed some defense AND Robinho demonstrated he's getting more dangerous.
But since I'm a Barca (and, sigh..., Roma) fan I like your top 2. Dark horse: Lyon. But they'll choke because they have a terrible manager.

Kanu said...

It's pretty obvious that the 2 you listed are clearly the top favorites.

One year Lyon will get over the hump. I was going to mention Bremen but you already did.

As far as Valencia, I just want to say that Edu is very much world class, and they will be better this year in midfield with him back from injury. I watched damn near every match Edu played for Arsenal, and he is just outstanding. Losing him last summer was probably a bigger loss than Vieira - losing them both certainly sucked ass, especailly since Edu left first mainly because he wanted to go somewhere that he would be a regular starter, only to realize that he would have been at Arsenal with PV4 moving on. Anyhow, I expect big things from him this year.

Once you get to the knockout stage anything can happen. I look forward to Chel$ea getting knocked out again. Note that they are NOT a #1 seed, so they might get Barca in the group stages this time around. Either way, whatever group they land in will be the default Group of Death, since they are on paper a #2 seed when in reality they are certainly a #1 seed, so their group will likely have 2 heavyweights for sure.