Monday, February 23, 2009

Quick Champions League Thoughts

United-Inter - This is going to be disappointing. These two teams are stocked with talent and are each about to win their third straight domestic league title. They also have cagey coaches who will take few risks, which means that the games will be slogs in the midfield. Expect a lot of Cambiasso and Zanetti running into Carrick and Fletcher or Giggs. Do not expect a lot of Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo galloping at defenders. In the end, I like Inter because of Mourinho's record against Ferguson, the injuries to United's back line, the recent track record of defending champions losing in the round of 16, and Adriano rounding into form. 1-0 Inter at the San Siro and 1-1 at Old Trafford.

Chelsea-Juve - A few weeks ago, I was certain that Juve were going to knock the Blues out of Europe. Now, I'm having my doubts. Guus Hiddink is a proven knock-out tournament manager. Chelsea were always going to get a bounce from their new coach; that bounce will be stronger when that new coach is Hiddink. Ranieri is a nice guy and all, but he is also far more likely to make the tactical blunder that will decide the match. Juve have been stuttering in Serie A, allowing Inter to build a huge lead. The Bianconeri don't have the depth that they once did because of Calciopoli and this is the time of year that their thin bench will show. 2-0 Chelsea at the Bridge and 1-1 in Turin.

Arsenal-Roma - Hell if I know. Arsenal fans are getting what their team (does not) pay for. The squad is thin and young, as it's been for the past four years. They do have enough quality to win a tie like this, but Roma are the hotter team and they have the second leg on the banks of the Tiber. Give me the Giallorossi to score one for Serie A. 2-1 Arsenal at the Emirates and 3-1 Roma at the Olimpico. This will be the best of the four ties involving English teams because Arsenal and Roma have styles that will play well together. Speaking of which, I'm not often inclined to agree with Arsene Wenger, but he's spot on when he complains about Premiership sides doing precious little to attack. This has not been an especially attractive season in England. Honestly, can you pick out one team that has produced exciting games, week in and week out? Paging Senor Valdano...

Liverpool-Real - For me, this is like Notre Dame and Ohio State playing. On one side is the detestable arch-rival; on the other side is my least favorite team in the sport. At least I can root for my conference by cheering for Los Merengues. So, uh, hala Madrid?!? In the end, it won't matter because the 'Pool are going to win this tie. Benitez is hard to beat in a knock-out competition and doubly so when he has the second leg at home. He can park the bus at the Bernabeu, grind out a result, and then rely on the Kop intimidating an opponent and the ref for the second leg. I'm angry already just thinking about it. Juande Ramos is a fine tournament manager in his own right, but he isn't quite defensive enough to beat Benitez at his own game. Honestly, would you bet on the team that has made three Champions League semifinals in the past four years or the team that has lost at this stage in each of the past four years? Plus, as is usually the case, Liverpool have only Europe to play for. 1-1 at the Bernabeu and 1-0 at Anfield.

Barca-Lyon - I'm not worried. I might have cause to be after Barca lost a home match against last-placed Espanyol over the weekend, but the team had a clear case of "look ahead!" and they were thrown off by a horrendous red card decision. Barca created almost every chance in the match. If there is an acceptable way to lose, that's it. There are two causes of concern for the Blaugrana. First, Victor Valdes had an absolute howler to gift the Pericos their second goal. If he loses confidence as a result, then he could single-handedly give Lyon a result. Second, the injury to Eric Abidal could force Puyol to play left back, which weakens Barca at both left back and in the middle. I'm OK with either Pique or Marquez; I'm not OK with both. All that said, in Messi I trust. As far as Lyon is concerned, they have been underwhelming domestically, but they've been playing defensively and that style will work against Barca. Benzema could be a tremendous counter-attacking weapon against a side that get farther forward than any other. However, Lyon always come undone at this stage and Jean-Alain Boumsong is going to be prominently involved. I have a good feeling about Toure Yaya choking the life out of Lyon. Finally, Barca have a sterling record when they have the first leg on the road in recent years. They can wait for the opponent to come attack them without pressing too hard. Lyon are faced with a Hobbesian choice: sit back and blow the home leg or get forward and risk road goals. I'll bet they do the former. 0-0 at Stade Gerland and 3-1 at the Nou Camp.

Atleti-Porto - I've changed my mind on this tie. Atleti looked dead and buried at the start of the year, shipping goals by the bushel. They have a horrendous record against quality opponents in La Liga. That said, they have talent and they should get a bounce from new coach Abel Resino. He'll organize them enough defensively that a moment of magic for Kun Aguero will get them through. This being Atleti, they'll do just enough to get their fans' hopes up before crushing them. 1-0 at the Calderon and 2-1 at Estadio do Dragao with Atleti going through on road goals.

Villarreal-Panathiniakos - There's always one surprise team in the quarterfinals. Last year, it was Fenerbahce. This year, it's the Turks friends from across the Aegean. I have a soft spot for Henk ten Cate and Villarreal are stuttering just enough to let Panathiniakos become the team that everyone wants to play in the quarterfinals. 1-1 at El Madrigal and 1-0 at the Olympic Stadium.

Bayern-Sporting - Surely Die Bayern aren't this bad. 2-2 at the Alvalade and 2-0 at Allianz Arena. Bayern then get a couple weeks to sort out their alarming drop in form before they play one of the big boys in the quarters. Maybe Der Kaiser will think next time before he opines that the team's best player can move to Real if he so chooses. Since when was Beckenbauer such a softie?


Anonymous said...

My boss doesn’t quite get the Champions League. So I had to lie about why I was taking a half day today and tomorrow. I said I was going home to watch the NFL Combine. He understood that.

Equally acceptable excuse: going to scout a 2011 running back from Waycross.

But soccer? Yeah, soccer.

Oversimplification [o•ver•sim•pli•fi•ca•tion] (1) to reduce something to such a level of simplicity that it becomes distorted or falsified; (2) summaries of individual match-ups used to determine the outcome of team sporting events; (3) the stuff below.

United-Inter: Rio Ferdinand > Adriano. ManUnited.

Chelsea-Juve: Pardon the complex formula. As always, solve the parentheticals first. (Hiddink > Ranieri) > (Pavel > John Mikel Obi). Chelsea.

Arsenal-Roma: Roma – Totti = Defeat. Arsenal. Up the Arse!

Liverpool-Real: Real = Raul; Liverpool > Raul; therefore, Liverpool > Real. Liverpool.

Barca-Lyon: Messi > God. Barca.

Atleti-Porto: Form > Skill. Porto.

Villarreal-Panathiniakos: Rested > (Injured + Suspended). Panathinaikos.

Bayern-Sporting: Liedson > Toni. Sporting.

Michael said...

I'll play.

Zlatan > [Insert name of fill-in for Vidic and Evans]

Motivated Chelsea > Juve > Chelsea under Scolari

Arsenal - Star Catalan Midfielder < 0.

Liverpool < Real Madrid < Al Qaeda < Nazis

- or -

Raul < Father Time

(Barca - Pep deploying Busquets as forward when team is trailing) > Anything in France

Aguero > anyone on Porto (but Messi > Aguero [and Maradona best remember that]