Posts Tagged real madrid
Despite the efforts of Iker Casillas at redeeming his Real Madrid team’s horrid start to the six-yard lottery shots, Bayern Munich will square up with Chelsea for the ultimate prize in European club football.
A jet paced start to the match saw CR7 “not do a Messi” and give the Merengues the lead before once again being the recipient of a Mesut Ozil assist to put Real 2-0 up in the night and 3-2 ahead on aggregate.
Both goals came either side of Arjen Robben side-footing over when scoring seemed sure… before bundling himself into the Madrid net, comic consolation.
The Dutchman soon after got the ball into net from the penalty spot and level aggregate scores. The rest of the night was huff and puff really, with Mario Gomez squandering a number of chances, CR7 sending two ‘trademark’ ‘spot kicks’ straight into Manuel Neuer’s waiting gloves before poking a third well over.
And Kaká… the Brazilian was uncharacteristically below par after replacing Angel di Maria and him going off for Granero rather than Ozil wouldn’t have been a bad idea.
And indeed it wouldn’t have, as Kaká saw his penalty saved by Neuer after extra time had seen no further goals scored. Kaká’s was Madrid’s second penalty, the first had also been missed.
Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo eventually did a Messi. Neuer did very well to get down and save ego personified’s six-yard lottery shot. Thus putting Messi’s miss into perspective… “shit happens!”.
Why Kaká decided to duplicate CR7’s spot kick is a bit annoying, and Neuer obliged gladly by duplicating the save. It was Bayern’s UCL final ticket now…
Cue in the drama that had gone awol from the second half through to extra time and Casillas saved a poorly taken pelanty from Badstuber; who will miss the final suspended, before putting his left arm out in position to keep out Philip Lahm’s pelanty as well. A top draw save there.
Xabi Alonso had put Madrid on their way back between both Casillas saves, or so it seemed. Up stepped Sergio Ramos, the man who has seen red almost as frequently as the Bayern squad.
He missed, in a most woeful manner.
That left Bastian Sch… *quits trying to spell name without looking it up*… weinsteiger to send the Bavarians home, on the night, for that night, for the night.
It also left me (and I’m sure it’s not just me) wondering why Ramos when it could have been either of Higuain or Granero. Putting things to perspective, again… “shit happens!”.
All that said, this saves the world from another round of Martian Messi vs. Lord Ronaldo previews. We’ll instead have another proper final between teams that will be extremely motivated albeit differently.
Bayern will be playing in front of home fans, and be sure the beer will flow that day even before the match’s over and more so should Bayern win.
Chelsea meanwhile will play knowing it’s their best chance of making next season’s Champions League. The Blues are not out of contention to finish fourth in the Premier League but it’s not like Newcastle United would do the West Londoners a favour and sleep off at this moment, Tottenham though… *smh.
That said, it’s actually the best possible final for neutrals of the beautiful game. We’ll get to argue over theatrics by Drogba, Ribery and Robben though we’d rather a pulsating tussle for the right to be crowned kings of Europe.
I’ll be honest to admit that Chelsea have far exceeded my expectations in the gruelling period the Blues have just gone through, one that leaves them on the brink of FA Cup and Champions League glory while being set to finish potentially outside the top four.
The latter bit of the reality at Stamford Bridge sets the club up for quite the thrilling climax to their season, which I’ll expatiate on right after coming to terms with what the club have achieved.
Following the draw in the West London derby at Craven Cottage, Chelsea was faced with a tasking run of matches that would see them face the Sillywhites in the FA Cup semi final before hosting Barcelona four days after, visiting Arsenal three days after and then visiting Barça in the return leg of their Champions League semi final.
A poor decision by the referee may have helped a very little in the 5-1 demolition of the Sillywhites but nonetheless it was a scoreline I least expected, as I was hoping those Londoners would rise to the occasion and serve up an intriguing semi-final that (preferably) would stretch into extra time and even to penalties.
Then came Barcelona to town and despite “gaining all the world”, it benefitted them none as Didier Drogba’s strike on the stroke of half time proved the only goal of the UCL semi-final first leg at Stamford Bridge. Crucially, Barça was twice denied by the Chelsea post and more so, Ashley Cole cleared a Fabregas effort off the line.
Next up was Arsenal, my dear Arsenal at the Ems. With eight changes made; changes that meant no starting shirts for Mata, Lampard, Mikel, Ivanovic with a suspension, Ramires, Meireles and gunner-nemesis Drogba with a ‘knee injury’, Arsenal should’ve won this derby.
Alas, we were twice denied by the post but (thankfully) unlike Barça, there was no Drogba to score a match winner. Unfortunately, we neither got that. Goalless draw that ultimately left both clubs satisfied not to have lost.
At this point, it didn’t seem to me anymore that Roberto di Matteo had been riding his luck since becoming interim manager at the Bridge. He’d tinkered with the squad so much that Salomon Kalou was getting more games than the AVB-preferred Daniel Sturridge, and he was being vindicated all the way through those testy affairs.
One last tinkering needed to be done, at the imposing Camp Nou where Barcelona had won 24 successive league matches prior to effectively losing the title to mortal rivals Real Madrid with that 2-1 loss. Match winner of that night CR7 had been crowned world player of the year soon after, a move labelled immature and not well thought through…
If the first leg was dramatic, the second leg’s was gilt-edged epic as goals from Sergio ‘diving talent left unappreciated’ Busquets and Andres Iniesta either side of John Terry’s sending off meant Barcelona was cruising to another Champions League final, this time at Munich.
But just as against Real Madrid, the Catalans got pegged right after scoring with Ramires coming through with the crucial away goal for the Blues to wrap up a pulsating last 10 minutes of the first half.
Second half began in a frenzy and when the world’s beloved Lionel Messi stepped up to take that (hotly contested among fans hundred and thousand miles away) penalty, I’d have had my face, with its defeated countenance, covered by my palms if I was a fan of the Blues.
That penalty in my opinion made the 2012 world footballer of the year crown that of CR7, and that’s even if Real Madrid fail to make the Champions League final. It was a ‘moment’ that would surely have set tikitaka on their way to another final and the headlines would’ve told another tale of greatness from the Leo.
Alas… Messi missed!
I cannot imagine the levels the emotions of Chelsea fans such as my oldest brother would’ve reached in the closing moments of the match, more so when Messi saw an effort come off the Chelsea post and surreally so when El Niño sealed the fate of the night with a second goal for Chelsea deep in stoppage time… and probably also a place in Spain’s Euro 2012 armada.
There’s still some way to go for the Blues though, with two matches against Liverpool in the league and FA Cup final to come along with a league match against the in-form Newcastle United… thin is the line between a glorious campaign with two cups in the kitty or what could end up being a “what could have been… ” season.
As for Barcelona, “no love lost… no love found”. Fans of the Catalan club can cqmp with gooners who know all too well what it feels like to be thrown out of contention from at least two competitions in a week.
Snapped up from Chivas Guadalajara just before a commendable World Cup campaign in South Africa for Mexico, ‘Chicharito’ arrived Old Trafford, scored 13 goals in 21 league appearances and made such an impact at the Theatre of Dreams that Dimitar Berbatov’s long overdue return on goals for the money spent on him could not save him from losing his first team place to the diminutive Mexican.
Peter Osaze Odemwingie
Mostly condemned for moving to a club of Westbromwich-Albion’s stature by fans back in Nigeria and abused racially for leaving Lokomotiv Moscow by fans of the Russian club, Osaze went about his business and his sterling performances for the Baggies through the season; bagging 15 goals along the way, was more than enough to silence his critics and announce his talents to the English game. Being named PFA Player of the Month twice added good icing to his cake.
Robin van Persie
This Dutchman’s form for Arsenal, laden as always with time on the sidelines due to injury, deserved a trophy but just like his goal in the Carling Cup final against Birmingham City, it simply didn’t prove enough. Van Persie however should be proud of his individual performances this season having finished with 18 league goals this season; the first of those scored on New Year’s Day, equalling the record held by Cristiano Ronaldo and former teammate Thierry Henry for most goals scored between January and season’s end. He also shot his way to breaking Didier Drogba’s record of scoring in six consecutive away league matches by scoring in nine consecutive away league matches.
Where Rafael van Der Vaart was the sleek outer design of the Tottenham Hotspur team, Croatian playmaker Modric was the engine under the hood that truly ran the show with space-opening passes, playing self and team out of trouble and providing the occasional assist. Modric indeed is the unsung star of Tottenham this season and you just feel a far less calamitous goalkeeper and more consistent forwards will see the top echelon of the Premier League be even more competitive.
After leaving Sunderland in January the dearth in goal became obvious at the Stadium of Light, much to the benefit of Aston Villa where between the New Year and March he became top scorer of the Villans with 10 goals in 16 league appearances; including two in a memorable win at Arsenal at on the penultimate weekend of the season
All he needs is a moment to show why every opposition defender is ever unsettled when Rooney appears on the starting sheet of Manchester United on any given weekend and weekday. Every season his game improves steady and his scoring touch has remained at a good level for a forward, his team play has improved tremendously and it’s when the team performs that managers are happy; individual performances come as added bonus really.
Everton would be better off in the league had the club attained same level of consistency as Baines. His occasional goals and high return on assists only bettered by Cesc Fabregas and Didier Drogba (according to Opta Sports) along with assured performances week after week for all 38 league matches amazingly, deservedly earned him the club’s Player of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season as well as Goal of the Season.
Bolton Wanderers had a request to have the teenage English midfielder back on loan at the Reebok Stadium rejected few days to the start of the season and it proved to an invaluable decision by Arsène Wenger as evident by a consistent return of stellar individual performances for Arsenal all through the 49 matches he played in all competitions; one that deserved a trophy as reward… one that eluded the team.
Most unfortunately for the Three Lions of England, Bale is Welsh. A fact that made his explosive form for Tottenham Hotspur one worthy of much praise and enough for him to win the PFA Player of the Year although… winning that accolade was perhaps a bit of a hasty decision from the Queens’ men.
Edwin van Der Sar
This here is a Dutchman that has tasted the highs (Ajax) and endured the lows (Juventus and at Fulham; no offence to the Cottagers) of football hence retiring on a high at Manchester United after a top quality season of performances in all competitions is just what van Der Sar derseves. Van Der Save earned that nickname with string of saves that belied his 41 years and hopefully the Red Devils won’t go through the conundrum of finding a replacement like it did after Peter Scheimichel retired.
Rafael Van Der Vaart
Following in the individual steps of countrymen Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder… out of Real Madrid, van der Vaart added a bit more flair to the game of Tottenham Hotspur, culminated in his 13 goals in 28 league appearances for the Lilywhites and a commendable campaign for the club; one that saw Spurs reach the Champions League quarterfinals in its maiden appearance in the competition.
Ageless Welshman has now won one less league trophies than Arsenal has in its history. If that does not hit you enough in the face, think of it this way; only three clubs in all of England has won more league titles than he has… and the picture should be settling in now. Even at the ripe age of 37 when it is goalkeepers that attain their peak, Giggs proved very instrumental in Manchester United’s title winning campaign with his experience coming in handy and the evidence of speed in him still that belies his age. This here is a Welshman that has got better with age.
And others worthy of making this list fall below:
Blackpool/ Ian Holloway
Ian Holloway must be a man with an inhumanly high self-esteem and if he added a bit of ambition to this spirit, I sense Blackpool could become a much better team than its potential currently shows and I hope they avoid relegation. The Tangerines meanwhile will make for a purist’s favourite as they play football for the gallery, even if it backfired hard in a good number of matches. #Jolly
Sir Alex Ferguson
Love him, hate him, two things are sure with this wily old Scotsman, frequent success and a loyal customer to the chewing gum industry. Despite the familiarity in the Old Trafford atmosphere having been at the Manchester United helm since 1986, Sir Alex will do what needs to be done in order to keep the trophies coming and that’s how the Red Devils eclipsed arch-rivals Liverpool to become the team with the most league titles (19); like we did not recognise him as a legend already though. Writing of doing what needs to be done, there’s a third thing you can be sure of with SAF… the hairdryer treatment; testimonies abound! #Wine
The Gunners did all in its power to extend an unenviable run of years without a trophy… and succeeded *ticks seventh year*. Arsenal only has itself to blame for winning nothing this season and unless Arsène Wenger stops being emotional about the matter, a lot of the great talents at the club will never attain greatness at the club. #Drought
The Portuguese tactician once again proved his prowess from the bench by winning the Copa Del Rey against Barcelona and breaking Real Madrid’s six season jinx of not going past the Champions League first knock-out round; going as far as the last four. It never was going to be easygoing at the Bernabeu and I sense two more seasons there would see Mourinho mould himself into a tactical legend. All that said, the Portuguese of course wasn’t going to let the season go by without a dose of touchline bans as well as “all eyes on me” and “me against the world” rants; encapsulated in the four El-Clasico encounters at close season #Journeyman
AC Milan/Massimmiliano Allegri
The Rossoneri may have been embarrassed out of the Champions League in the first knock-out round by debutantes Tottenham Hotspur but they handled affairs back home and ensured FC Internazionale’s run of four consecutive ‘Scudettos’ came to an end, thus earning some respect for the coach Allegri as well as a season’s worth of local bragging rights while at it. #Resurgence
His 16 goals in the Europa League so far; a record already for most goals in a single season in either European Cups (Opta Sports), certainly served FC Porto well in the Portuguese side’s run to the final and in my opinion brings the 25 year old Columbian out of the shadows of the imposing Hulk; his Brazilian strike partner at the club. #Potent
BV Borussia Dortmund
The high competitiveness levels attained by the Bundesliga makes Dortmund’s league triumph very laudable. More so making use of a young, skilful team in dethroning perennial title favourites Bayern Munich, Dortmund now must prove to the rest of Europe; though without Real Madrid-bound Nuri Sahin, that not only the Bavarians can perform well on the big stage but for now, it’s always good to see a team other than the usual win. #Refreshing
How many hat tricks was that again? Five hat-tricks in one season; this season, is just lethal stuff! Too bad this form still was not enough to get Bayern Munich the German league title though 27 goals in 30 league matches should serve a good enough personal consolation for the striker. #Vain
Perhaps Real Madrid’s best performer this season through his assured play in defence and later on in midfield, his importance to the team became most glaring following an underserved red card in the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg against arch-rivals Barcelona… the Catalans went on to score two goals afterwards and virtually seal its place in Wembley that night. #Gibraltar
Called upon on too many occasions to rescue Real Madrid, Casillas proved his class as a reliable goalkeeper time and again. #Reliance
Thanks for making Arsenal the butt of yet more disheartening jokes after letting slip of the Copa Del Rey trophy from the parade atop the Real Madrid winning train… we know the rest. #Slipshod
Not to say he is him but this is a bit how Jose Mourinho started… I’ll keep my eye on his teams and currently that’s FC Porto that he has guided to the league title and Europa League final in lethal, record breaking fashion; being the third youngest manager to win the Super Liga at 33 years, guiding FC Porto to amassing a massive 80 out of a possible 90 points in the league complemented by a run of 16 league matches won… all without any previous managerial experience? #HotShot
Queens Park Rangers
This very financially stable club has gained promotion to the most viable financial league in the world and I’m looking forward to QPR matches next season especially the London derbies. #Royal
Having won the UEFA Champions League in 2005/06 (2-1 vs. Arsenal) and again in 2008/09 (2-0 vs. Manchester United), Spanish giants C. F. Barcelona now appear to be favourites to once again reclaim Europe’s most prestigious club competition following the semi-final first leg matches. According to statistics (from Opta Sports) no club has overturned a 2-0 defeat in 15 attempts at the semi-final stage of this competition, a result the Catalans achieved on April 27 against fierce rivals Real Madrid; all the better at the Santiago Bernabeu home of the Merengues.
The result may have been different had Real’s Portuguese defender and a sturdy defensive midfielder of late Pepe not been sent off quarter of an hour into the second half with scores still goalless, albeit it would be biased to let that take the shine off the very well executed brace by Argentine phenomenon Lionel Messi whose second saw him weasel past four white shirts before finally slotting past Iker Casillas for his 52nd goal of the season in all competitions for Barcelona and 36th goal in all his Champions League appearances, which has seen him go past German legend Gerd Muller on the all time top-scorers list.
Meanwhile a repeat of the 2008/09 final is on the cards after the Red Devils finally got two goals past the impressive Manuel Neuer of Schalke 04 in the second half after the German goalkeeper kept his side in the tie with a string of saves in the first half. Barring what happens to any of the teams’ players in the second leg matches, Manchester United stand in better frame to match the ingeniousness of Barcelona. However, it would be very difficult for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to reclaim a trophy it won in the 2007/08 season.
First factor going against United is the unfair fluidity Pep Guardiola’s charges have attained when it comes to team play, which leaves opposition teams either having to play a faster pace game, have at least a 90% completion rate in its passing game and then have a minimum of three players that each can produce a moment of magic from any part of the pitch. There also is going about grinding the game to scrap, not allowing Barcelona the fluidity they have perfected and successfully implemented in a majority of matches in all competitions this season before then going about to win such match.
And yes, United’s attacking third comprising an in-form Wayne Rooney with goals and assists paired with this season’s revelation in perhaps all of Europe, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez with his great technique at positioning and not just goals scored but important match winners time and again that have seen him earn himself a starting shirt ahead of Dimitar Berbatov (left out completely in the Champions League semi-final first leg at Germany) can pose quite a threat to the rampaging Catalans.
This is complemented by Edwin van Der Sar who stands stalwart between the sticks, the imposing Nemanja Vidic who is the heart of the Red Devils’ defence and a midfield based more on effectiveness than on flair through veterans Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs alongside Michael Carrick and Anderson with Nani especially and Antonio Valencia most capable of the flair part of the business.
All that said, whichever of the aforementioned midfielders Sir Alex puts in the starting line-up must play like they sometimes have over this season in order to not see Rooney having to come deep just to get a feel of the round leather, a scenario the Red Devils team must avoid otherwise Chicharito would be left isolated upfront and Rooney would have been taken some distance from a range where he can actually cause damage.
It would be the best starting Scholes as he has the ability to achieve a pass completion rate the Barcelona forwards enjoy supply from their midfield while starting Giggs would be a better idea than starting Luis Nani as the vastly experienced Welshman has been more consistent over the season and more so lately than the Portuguese whom one isn’t sure would turn up on match-day. Carrick is also capable of achieving a good pass completion rate but like Nani, one can never know which Michael would turn up on match-day.
Based on this seeming uncertainty in midfield that normally would not be glaring against most other oppositions, United may still just find Barcelona a riddle a bit too hard to sort out.
First off, here’s how match day one went in the four groups on preview:
Group E: Bayern Munich 2-0 AS Roma. CFR Cluj 2-1 FC Basle
Group F: MSK Zilina 1-4 Chelsea. Olympique Marseille 0-1 Spartak Moscow
Group G: Real Madrid 2-0 AFC Ajax. AC Milan 2-0 AJ Auxerre
Group H: Arsenal 6-0 Sporting Braga. Shakhtar Donetsk 1-0 Partizan Belgrade
Much has happened since a fortnight ago when these matches were played with Chelsea and Arsenal falling to first league defeats of their seasons, Bayern being stunned at home by surprise Bundesliga leaders FSV Mainz, Roma edging Inter Milan in Serie A in what should prove a real confidence booster for the Italians and Real Madrid dropping points in a goalless draw against newly promoted Levante to leave los Merengues playing chase in la Liga already.
In Group E, Roma’s seeming revival will be tested by CFR Cluj at the Stadio Olimpico which may prove a bit too imposing for the visiting Romanian side. A win for Roma in this match is especially crucial as any other result will deeply jeopardise Giallorossi’s chance of making the knock-out round. Bayern Munich, that have French winger Franck Ribery back, is favourite to win the trip to Switzerland to face Basle as the Bavarians will be out to get the home loss by Mainz behind them.
Group F sees an attractive fixture with French champions Marseille visiting the Stamford Bridge fortress to face Chelsea and its former striker Didier Drogba. Marseille may not have the quality of players or home advantage as Manchester City but there is much the French side can take to the Bridge. That said, Chelsea is known to recover very well from losses as against City on Saturday and Marseille will be made to rue losing its first match at home to Spartak. The Russians can consolidate on that crucial win with what should be a stroll of a game against visiting debutantes Zilina. A win for Spartak there would mean six points in the bag before a dreaded double header of games against Chelsea with the Blues visiting Russia in the first of those games in mid October.
In Group G, Ajax must utilise its youth and home advantage against seven time champions Milan that have former Ajax striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic in its fold along with Alex Pato, Robinho and the ever dreaded Ronaldinho to bank on to ruffle the Ajax back line. Luis Suarez will be key if Ajax is to win otherwise, experience will play in favour of Milan with a point from the trip in the least.
Milan will also be driven to win by the looming fixture with Real Madrid coming after this and with the Spaniards not in top form, an upset in the form of a loss or draw against Auxerre will swing the group advantage to Milan… Jose Mourinho has his work cut out.
Finally from Group H, Arsenal face a tricky trip to Partizan Belgrade without captain Cesc Fàbregas and goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, who was chief culprit in the shock 2-3 reverse at home to West Brom in the Premier League, giving Polish keeper Lukasz Fabianski a starting berth and his chance to be Arsenal’s first choice keeper. Safe for that department, the Gunners should get a point at worst from this trip. Braga meanwhile must pick up from an appaling opening day display at the Emirates when Shakhtar visit Portugal looking to consolidate on its opening day win over Partizan. Any less than a win for Braga will poise Shakhtar for the double salvo in October against Arsenal and a reunion of Eduardo da Silva with his former employers.
Lot’s of criticism has come in light of the quality of clubs that now find themselves getting swept aside in a stroll by their more established counterparts following Wednesday’s round of Match Day One fixtures in the UEFA Champions League.
In Group E, AS Roma held its own until a barrage of unrelenting pressure from Bayern Munich earned the Germans a well deserved 2-0 win thanks to goals in the closing ten minutes from youngster Thomas Müller – with an exquisite finish with the outside of his right – and veteran Miroslav Klose. The Bavarians now lead the group ahead of CFR Cluj that held on for a 2-1 win over visiting FC Basle in Romania.
In Group F, a first half brace from Nicholas Anelka helped Chelsea on its way to a 4-1 win at MSK Zilina with Ghana midfielder Michael Essien opening the scoring for the Blues early on while Daniel Sturridge got the visitors fourth three minutes into the second half. The group’s other match saw Spartak Moscow leave France with all three points in a lone goal win over Olympique Marseille thanks to an own goal nine minutes from time; those three points could prove quite crucial for Spartak at the climax of the group stage.
Group G saw 2-0 wins for favourites Real Madrid and AC Milan over Ajax and Auxerre respectively. At the Bernabeu, Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain was in form for los Merengues as he sealed the win for Real 20 minutes from the end after his first half opener was credited as an own goal. At the San Siro meanwhile, Zlatan Ibrahimovic picked himself from a missed penalty over the weekend with a brace for the Rossoneri to down the French debutantes.
And finally from Group H, where Arsenal barely needed the second gear in the 6-0 thrashing of Sporting Braga with captain Cesc Fàbregas the star of the night with two goals and two assists. Andrei Arshavin got a goal and two assists, Marouane Chamakh scored his first with the foot and third for Arsenal in competitive football and substitute Carlos Vela got a brace, including a well executed chip over Braga ‘keeper Felipe. Arsenal lead ahead of Shakhtar Donetsk that pipped Partizan Belgrade by the lone goal.
The wait is now down to the hours for the kick-off of the UEFA Champions League and you can view the preview of Group A to D at http://wp.me/puIC6-3u while Group E to H is previewed here.
Last season’s beaten finalist Bayern Munich and Italian giants AS Roma would straight away pop up as favourites to qualify from the group, but that’s what the paper says. Based on form, Bayern will need to raise their game a notch coupled with a bit of luck in front of goal when the Bavarians begin their campaign at home to the Italian club that on its part, has to raise its game well more than a notch coming on the back of a rattling 5-1 humiliation at Cagliari. I’m thinking Bayern will use this game as a launch pad for what has been a below par start to the season while the light seems a long way off in the tunnel Roma is in now.
As for the other group game in Romania between CFR 1907 Cluj-Napoca and Swiss champions FC Basle, I’ll go for a Cluj win even though Basle are a decent side coupled with the fact that the club – with very similar stripe to Barcelona – has started its domestic season on a good note but the trip to the Eastern bloc may prove too daunting for Basle against a Cluj side that is capable of getting a much bigger scalp in its campaign based on the adventure of previous seasons in this competition.
Here’s how it is here. We have French champions Olympique Marseille, Russians Spartak Moscow and debutantes MSK Zilina looking forward to fighting for valuable points against each other while only hoping for whatever against overwhelming group favourite Chelsea. The Blues are in exceptional form with four league wins from four…but in truth, Chelsea is prone to a bit of a struggle on the occasional odd trip and that to virtual unknowns Zilina may well not turn out to be a stroll in the park for the Premier League leaders.
The other game between Olympique Marseille and Spartak Moscow at the imposing Velodrome should have a more competitive edge. It is games as this that Marseille, the champions of 1992, must win to stand a strong chance of making the knock-out rounds and I’d have fancied l’oM to achieve just that had a certain Mamadou Niang remained at the club…still not enlightened to the wisdom of allowing him leave. Anyway, Marseille should nick this one even if it turns out tough.
Touted as the group to watch (trying not to use the cliche), the group could just turn out to be a straight fight for top spot between favourites Real Madrid and AC Milan with Milan confident of its chances against Real having had the better of the Spaniards at the Bernabeu after a draw in the San Siro the last time the two met. But I like the starlets from Ajax, led by Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez and backed up by a good ‘keeper in Marten Stekelenberg. The team spirit of the Dutch side may fall just short of upsetting the odds to claim a second round berth but it sure should create a few headaches, starting with the trip to face Real Madrid that has failed to impress so far under new manager Jose Mourinho but we all know the Portuguese tactician will take any kind of win – scrappy or classy – even at the expense of a goal feast…three points are three points no matter how it is gotten and Real will be out to do just that against Ajax. Milan meanwhile will be out to erase the shock loss at Cesena on Saturday with an assured display against visiting French debutantes Auxerre and the presence of a fearsome attack comprising Ronaldinho, Pato, Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic should undo the French resolve. Ibrahimovic especially has something to prove to his new employers following a missed penalty against Cesena…not what he had in mind for a first impression no doubt.
Should Arsenal fail to win all its home games in this group, there is going to be trouble to simply put it. The Gunners on paper are runaway favourites but Sporting Braga knocked out Sevilla in the final qualifying round while not many clubs fancy trips to places like Donetsk or Belgrade. I therefore see this group staying competitive till match day five and six and here is why. Arsenal is not exactly a good guest on Portuguese soil nearby, let alone the frozen fields far at the former Soviet. So having two home games in its first three matches I feel may play to Arsenal’s advantage especially if the Gunners get a good result in the trip to Partizan Belgrade on match day two. Match day one against Braga at the Emirates should meanwhile be a good one for Arsene Wenger’s side in light of the very dismal record of visiting Portuguese teams to England.
Shakhtar Donetsk should have enough of themselves when Partizan visit Ukraine in the group’s other encounter on match day one. It will be interesting to see how former Arsenal striker Eduardo will fare for Shakhtar in the competition especially against his former employers on match day three when the Croatian will be at the Emirates in what will be an emotional return.
You may have had some feeling at the back of your mind that the football season, perhaps wasn’t fully on the way and from Tuesday night, that piece of ‘sporting anomaly’ will be fixed when the UEFA Champions League – Europe’s elite, and the world’s most glamorous club competition – begins on September 14 and there are a few match-ups should whet the appetite and set us on our way for this season.
Just to recap, FC Internazionale of Italy is the defending champion following a 2-0 win over German champions Bayern Munich at the Santiago Bernabeu; home of Spanish giants Real Madrid that have won the competition a record nine times…though their last triumph came in 2002 and more un-graciously have been unable go past the first knock-out round the previous six seasons. Right out of the hat, the favourites are, of course, the defending champions FC Internazionale along with 2009 champions CF Barcelona, English champions Chelsea and three time winners Manchester United while outsiders include AC Milan, Real Madrid – despite their knack for Second Round exits, you always have to hope – and err, Arsenal.
Inter Milan have an efficient team of players to count on and are as a result favourites to make it out of this group on top and besides, Rafael Benitez isn’t a stranger to European success with experience from Valencia and most memorably at Liverpool. The Nerazurri have a tough trip to FC Twente that, despite the exit of Steve McLaren to manage Wolfsburg, remain a modest enough team to cause Inter some trouble on Tuesday night. Group A’s other match looks more attracting with Werder Bremen at home to debutantes Tottenham Hotspur and both sides are attack minded teams so a few goals should probably be expected even though both sides will be missing a few players – Claudio Pizzaro and Jermain Defoe especially – and they have not been in good form on the field with Bremen on four points from four matches and Tottenham, unbeaten in four matches but have been disappointing in their last two league outings against clubs they should be winning. Looks like Bremen will edge it unless Spurs get their act together.
Olympique Lyonnais could have had it worse but in my opinion, the French side have a group it can cope with without much fuss and the visit of Schalke to the Gerlande should present a good platform to launch their quest in this season’s competition. Schalke have been dismal in the Bundesliga this season despite the arrival of Spanish veteran Raul and Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and that poor form may well spill into their European adventure for now. The other group match sees Benfica host Hapoel Tel Aviv, a match the Portuguese side to win. Lyon and Benfica as a result stand as favourites to qualify from this group while Hapoel may well nick the Europa League slot by finishing third in the group unless the Schalke side gel very soon.
This is a competitive looking group that on paper readily sees Manchester United and Valencia favourites to make the next round but I like the mould of Turkey’s representative this season. Champions League debutantes Bursaspor have begun the season in blistering note, winning all four league games so far including away at Galatasaray and should prove tough hosts to Spanish side Valencia on Tuesday. The group’s star match on the day would be at Old Trafford where Scottish champions Rangers face a Manchester United side that has thrown sure win positions away in their last two league matches; still baffled at how the Red Devils allowed Everton two goals in stoppage time in that enthralling draw at Goodison Park. Wayne Rooney will definitely be in the starting line-up on Tuesday and United should have the win even though the Scots will go about showing they aren’t one to be bullied around.
If I were Panathinaikos, I’d be cursing Hercules (not the Greek superhero) for that shock result on Saturday night because it will certainly push Pep Guardiola’s men to set the record straight at the expense of the visiting Greeks. The other game in Group D has Russian side Rubin Kazan on a tricky trip to Danish league leaders FC Copenhagen. This tie looks even to me, both sides are modest enough though if there’s to be a win on the night, I’d place my bet on Copenhagen…the trip from the old Soviet to Scandinavia isn’t a stroll you know.
All matches begin 19:45 BST (British Standard Time) so you might want to check for time zone differences. This season’s final will take place at England’s Wembley Stadium in May 2011 while the group stages run from September 14 & 15 to December 7 & 8. Have fun being a part of the Champions League!
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So who do you reckon will face whoever in the UEFA Champions League group stage, with the hour for the draws drawing ever so close now.
Pot One has last year’s finalists Inter Milan and Bayern Munich along with English trio Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal, Spanish champions Barcelona, AC Milan and Olympique Lyon that I feel will make quite an impact again this coming season following their capture of talented midfielder Yoann Gourcuff from Bordeaux.
Pot Two is highlighted by Real Madrid; no thanks to losing out in the first knock round to Lyon last season, the sixth straight time los Merengues have bade bye to the competition so early, AS Roma, Werder Bremen and Olympique Marseille. A lot of eyes will be on Tottenham Hotspur in Pot Three that also has Scottish champions Rangers and Ajax Amsterdam while Pot Four has got among others, FC Copenhagen, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Auxerre, Spartak Moscow and MSK Zilina (no offence, who?).
Also watch out for the likes of Portugal’s Sporting Braga in Pot Three after knocking out Sevilla in the final qualifying round as well as a certain Bursaspor from Turkey…whatever happened to Fernabahçe and the likes?
My guts tell me Real Madrid would probably get their nemesis Lyon and I’m counting on Raul making a return to the Bernabeu as well in Schalke colours. The Red Devils could also draw Rangers, just to play up the Scot link with Sir Alex and Tottenham should get ready for one of Barcelona, Inter Milan or AC Milan, I’d prefer Barça!
But hey, it’s just my guts! The real draw will be known from 17:00 BST and the group stage will kick off from September 14 and 15…now the season’s completely started!