Given my rooting interests, a Champions League Final Four including Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool is akin to:
a. The 1998 college football season, which ended with Tennessee and Florida State contesting the national title and Ohio State on the outside looking in.
b. The 1999 Final Four, which included Duke, Ohio State, and Michigan State.
c. A hypothetical pair of League Championship Series with the Yankees and Red Sox on one side and the Mets on the other (otherwise known as the Orgasmotron 9000 in Bristol).
d. The 2004 Presidential Election.
The correct answer, in case you're wondering, is answer "a" because of the added element that in 1998, I felt that karma was punishing me for the glory that was the 1997 college football season by heaping onto me a season in which all the odious teams in college football were at the top of the rankings. This year, karma is punishing me for Barca's glorious 2006 Champions League triumph by serving up a bevy of EPL teams that are showing themselves to be something other than overhyped. I'm going to be left to root for AC Milan, which I'll do in a pinch but produces no great feelings of warmth and happiness, or Bayern Munich, which I'll do happily since I'm the Jew who loves Munich and because Bayern gets much of their offense from two Dutchmen (Mark van Bommel and Roy Makaay).
A few other thoughts on last night's series of unfortunate events:
1. Chelsea's winner was the least-surprising injury time winner ever. Aside from the Blues' tendency to score late, they completely dominated the game after Valencia's fantastic five-minute spell late in the first half when Los Che scored once and nearly scored two more. Valencia couldn't get a sniff of Cech's net in the second half. The only chance they got was blazed over by Angulo. Meanwhile, Chelsea were repeatedly generating corners and they forced two great saves from Canizares. Chelsea's second goal was almost inevitable, given the way the game was going. Chelsea were completely dominating in the midfield for the entire second half; Albelda and Albiol deserve some significant criticism for the fact that they seemed to be spectators in the game. The Blues were also winning every single ball in the air. In fact, they were often unchallenged as Valencia's players simply didn't seem to want to challenge them physically. Chelsea got their heads to just about every corner for a significant stretch of time. I always thought that Barca were lousy at defending set pieces, but maybe this is an issue throughout La Liga.
2. Michael Essien sent in the long ball for Chelsea's first goal and hit a near-post screamer for the second. One wonders why Mourinho doesn't play Essien at right back as his first choice option, as that solves two problems: (1) the team's lack of a right-back; and (2) the team's excess of central midfielders. He put Essien there in the second halves against ManUtd and Arsenal when Chelsea came from behind to force draws. Essien is a terrific player. He makes it harder to root against Chelsea because I generally like African players and I specifically like Essien because he has such a well-rounded game.
3. Canizares made two great saves yesterday, but he had a series of dreadful clearances in the first half and his positioning was poor on Essien's winner. (His positioning wasn't as bad as Doni's inexplicable placement on United's opener, but it was suspect nonetheless.) I stand by my conclusion that Santiago isn't the player he used to be.
4. I had forgotten how much of a bitch Ashley Cole is. I doubt that Chelsea fans really like a mercenary who spent years at Arsenal. I know that Arsenal fans can't stand him and I can't imagine that much of the rest of the world can stand a guy who complains for 90 minutes. In sum, no one likes Ashley Cole. OK, maybe one person:
5. I fast-forwarded through the Roma match after they fell behind 3-0, figuring that I might as well check out the Valencia match since it had to be more competitive. From what I saw, Michael Carrick is worth every penny that Alex Ferguson lavished onto him, Cristiano Ronaldo is indeed the best player in the world, and Ryan Giggs still has it, despite his shambolic performance in Rome. After the team looked disjointed in the first leg, Manchester United looked perfect last night. Their passing and movement were exceptional, as they embarrassed the static Roma defense time and again. Christian Chivu and Phillipe Mexes are good players and they were made to look abysmal by the Red Devils. Each goal was a team move. In sum, there is a reason why United are on top of the EPL right now.