Thursday, April 16, 2009

Five Thoughts on the Champions League Semifinals

1. This has been the best Champions League in recent memory in terms of exciting knock-out games. Pair this tournament with a proper football-playing Spain winning the Euros and I think that soccer is in a great patch right now in terms of risk-taking and excitement in big games. I'd like to think that Spain winning the Euros caused club managers to come out from their shells, but I don't really believe that. I will say that I can see a phenomenon where managers copy what other managers are doing. There is some sort of collective effect occurring where manager A sees that manager B isn't playing nine behind the ball and decides that he can push players forward, as well.

2. If not for the ridiculous Babel penalty at Anfield last year, the four teams in the 2008 and 2009 semifinals would be identical. This is probably something that concerns Michel Platini, although he ought to start by pointing his finger at the management of clubs like Milan and Real Madrid who have wasted resources and put out mediocre teams full of past-their-prime players for the last several years. The problem that he is probably grappling with right now is that the Big Four in England have asserted total control over the most lucrative league in the world. The question is whether Milan, Madrid, Juve, Bayern, etc. can compete with the Big Four if they get their s*** together. Barca can compete, but are they an aberration or a realistic possibility for the rest of the Continental elite.

3. Prior to yesterday, Ronaldo had taken the most shots of any player in the Champions League, but he had only scored once. I guess that goal made up for that stat. United fans, do you still want him to piss off to Madrid?

4. I cannot wait for Xavi/Iniesta/Toure vs. Lampard/Essien/Ballack in the midfield. For my money, those are the two best central midfields in the world. Gerrard/Alonso/Mascherano come very close. While plenty of attention has been paid to Bayern's inept back-line against Barca, their inability to stop Barca's central midfield from doing whatever it wanted to do was a major issue in their first half capitulation. Chelsea will do much better. That said, they have several match-up issues with the Blaugrana:
  • Ashley Cole is suspended for the first leg, so who plays left back against Messi and Alves?
  • Barca's biggest weakness is defending their flanks, especially the right flank because Alves gets forward so much. The problem for Chelsea is that their wide offensive players - Anelka, Malouda, and Kalou - are nothing special. Weakness against weakness?
  • Gerard Pique can be vulnerable against quick forwards, but he can hold his own against bigger guys like, say, Didier Drogba.

On the other hand, Chelsea are excellent on set pieces and Barca do not defend them especially well, so there is some potential there for Chelsea to get goals. Chelsea also get the benefit of Barca having to go to the Bernabeu in between the first leg and second leg.

5. I'm not alleging any sort of conspiracy here, but didn't Howard Webb have a little bit of a conflict of interest when he was the referee for Barca-Bayern when the winner was going to play an EPL side. Funny that he gave Barca's best player a yellow card for having the temerity to be obviously fouled in the box by Christian Lell.

Right now, I'm picking a rematch of the 2006 Final (Barcelona vs. Arsenal), but no pairing of the four remaining teams would be especially surprising.


Anonymous said...

Missing Ash at left back has me worried. Really worried. I'm not sure that he'd slow down Messi but he sure as hell has a better shot of doing that than anyone left Chelsea has at left back.

This will be a fantastic match up. Barca wins at home 2 - 1. Maybe 3 - 1. Chelsea goes back to the Bridge and earns a draw, 2 - 2 or something similar. Barca advances.

james said...

#3 - yes.

Anonymous said...

And then the Lords of Futbol created the beast from Ghana and He is the Bison. The Bison shall strike down upon the Blaugrana with furious strength and acute tactics to control and dominate the mid-pitch from box to box much as the herder controls his goats. And much like these herding beasts, the boys of Barca will be led by Him to slaughter.

John 17:32-34