When the Champions League draw took place, I was confident in the extreme that Barca would have no trouble with Stuttgart. In light of Barca's injury situation and Stuttgart's improved form under Christian Gross, I don't feel that way anymore. There's an argument to be made that Xavi is more integral to the team's success than Messi because Xavi is the fulcrum around which Barca's play operates (and also because Xavi has been more able to impose his style when playing for his country). Xavi will likely be out tonight, as will Dani Alves, who gives the team its width and its Plan B. Alves's absence on the right forces Puyol to play on the right instead of the center, which then brings Rafa Marquez into the mix and I don't trust him defensively. Marquez the central defender scares me. Marquez the defensive midfielder, I like. There aren't too many defenders in the world with the skill to do this:
If you are looking for a good, short, weekly post as a primer on soccer history, I highly recommend the Joy of Six feature that runs every Friday morning in the Guardian. For instance, last Friday's edition was a trip down memory lane to one of the most shocking, gutsy moves you will ever see from a coach: Arrigo Sacchi pulling off Roberto Baggio 22 minutes into a must-win match against Norway in 1994. Baggio was the world's best player at the time, Italy were in a must-win game against a defensive opponent, and Sacchi made the decision in thirty seconds to pull Baggio off when his team went down to ten men.
I am extremely excited by the prospect of the second leg of Lyon-Real Madrid after Lyon won the first leg 1-0. 1-0 is a great result for a home team in the first leg because it means that they only need to score once in the second leg to force the home side to score three to beat them. (My first experience with this phenomenon was the '97 semifinal between Dortmund and Manchester United, when I was just getting into club football. Dortmund won the first leg 1-0 and then got an early goal at Old Trafford. The rest of the game was academic. United melted under the pressure of needing three.) Now, imagine the pressure that is going to fall on Los Merengues when they take the field in the second leg. The club spent hundreds of millions of Euros to succeed in Europe, which their fans view as their birth right. Their arch rival, whom they could always taunt as being a choker in Europe, has won two Champions League titles since Real last won it. Real have been knocked out at this stage in each of the last five years. The final is at their home stadium. I normally root for the La Liga sides in Europe, even Real, but I am definitely amused by the idea of watching the faces in the crowd if Lyon exploit Real's weakness at left back and strike first.
As a football fan, it hurts to watch AC Milan look this bad. Several weeks ago, I was excited to watch the Milan derby after Milan had reduced Inter's lead and were in a fine vein of form. The match that ensued was a colossal ass-whipping by the Nerazzuri didn't pause even after they went down to ten men. How does a major club allow itself to have this bad of a backline? Are they not aware that left and right backs are useful to have? The same issues popped up against Manchester United, even with Pirlo and Ambrosini turning back the clock and having strong games in the midfield. Milan created a bunch of chances after getting a lucky bounce to go up 1-0, but they didn't extend their lead and then United embarrassed them every time they came forward, especially exploiting 93-year old reserve right back Giuseppe Favalli.
I like Chelsea over Inter. Until I have reason to believe otherwise, I am picking against Serie A teams in Europe. (On the other hand, Inter now have the link-up players - Sneijder and Pandev - that they never had before, so maybe this team is different?)
Manchester City-Liverpool: I would like those 90 minutes of my life back, please.
I feel very conflicted on Landon Donovan right now. On the one hand, he is playing very well for Everton. He's found a team in which he fits and he's showing that he can compete at the highest level. Thus, he should stay in England. On the other hand, he's the biggest American star in MLS, so the league might need him right now, especially with labor issues popping up. Thus, he should come home when the loan ends.