Friday, March 20, 2009

Insta-thoughts on the Champions League Draw

Manchester United-Porto - United fans have to be overjoyed. Maybe this is karma for a very tough draw in the round of 16? A reward for banishing Jose Mourinho to the sidelines? Every other major contender is on the other side of the draw. A quarterfinal against Porto followed by a likely semifinal against Arsenal is as manageable a draw as United could have hoped for. Then again, with United's record against the big four in England this year - four points in five matches - the tie with Arsenal might be tricky. I didn't see anything from Porto in the Round of 16 that would lead me to believe that they can hang with United.

Arsenal-Villarreal - Arsenal are the darkhorse right now. If they get healthy and can deploy Arshavin, Walcott, Cesc, Adebayor, and Van Persie at the same time, then they could be a threat to make the final. I still see them as being a notch below United, Liverpool, and Barca; their roster isn't as deep and talented as those three, but they wouldn't be an easy out for anyone. As for Villarreal, they have tailed off in 2009, but they do retain an excellent central midfield with Cazorla and Senna and they are dangerous up front with Rossi and Nihat. They are very vulnerable defensively other than Diego Lopez between the sticks.

Chelsea-Liverpool - These sets of fans have to be muttering. After challenging round of 16 draws, they have to play one another and then (probably) Barca to get to Rome. That's quite the gauntlet. Chelsea-Liverpool ties were shit on a stick for years, but the second leg last year was encouraging. Hopefully, with Mourinho gone and Benitez now having a quality striker, the quality of the matches will continue to improve. I'd have no idea how to pick a winner between these two. Their three Champions League encounters have all been decided by razor thin margins. Two went to extra time and the third finished 1-0 after Eidur Gudjohnsen missed a glorious chance to send Chelsea to Istanbul. You might as well flip a coin between these two.

Barca-Bayern - Barca's relatively lucky Champions League draws continue. Jurgen Klinnsman is noted for a very offensive playing style, which will create lots of space for Barca to operate. I operate under the assumptions that no team in the world is better than Barca when granted time and space and that counter-attacking teams like Liverpool are the most dangerous opponents because they can use Barca's aggression against the Blaugrana. Bayern's defense is suspect and Barca's attack is rolling. The concern that I have is the idea of Franck Ribery with acres of space on Bayern's left because of Dani Alves getting too far forward. Barca are going to have to shift Rafa Marquez out on the right when Alves gets forward and push Yaya Toure back into central defense to cover. That would then require one of the two offensive midfielders to shade back a little to play the screening role. I do like the match-up of Pique against Toni. Pique is a little slow, but he's good in the air. Toni is the kind of striker whom he should be able to mark. (The same would be true with Didier Drogba. Fernando Torres, not so much. Another reason to root for Chelsea.) Also, I'd put the odds of Mark van Bommel getting sent off at 2/1. He's a total hothead and he'll go crazy trying to get the ball off of Xavi and Iniesta. Barca's biggest advantage in these matches will be their dominance in the midfield. The strategy will be to kill the supply lines to Ribery and Schweinsteiger. Operation Uranus, commence!


Tim said...

I agree with your assessment of Arsenal as a dark horse right now, especially since their home legs for the quarters and semis are the second leg. (How special would the second leg game against ManU at the Emirates be?)

However, Arshavin is cup-tied with Zenit and cannot participate. That said, the return of Cesc, Wolcott, Adebayor, and possibly Rosicky won't hurt one bit.

Anonymous said...

Bobby P says:

Walcott is out again. Knee this time.