Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Other Super 8: Champions League Quarter Finals

PSV Eindhoven v Liverpool

AC Milan v Bayern Munich

Roma v Manchester United

Chelsea v Valencia

If the Champions League were a ouija board, and we rapt onlookers were slumber partying teenagers, then it might seem as if Dark Lord is guiding the upturned shot glass to spell out 'L-I-V-E-R-P-O-O-L', that is until the girl in the Manchester United pyjamas whimpers "I don't want to do this anymore"...

Certainly the omens are good for the Reds: they've drawn PSV Eindhoven, the weakest side remaining in the tournament, and one that they have already met and beaten in the group stages; they play the second leg at Anfield; judging by Saturday's demolition of Arsenal, they appear to have come out of the international break in fine fettle; their opponents are in the midst of a domestic slump and are missing their most influential player (the Brazilian defender Alex).

Old Lucifer might have a point here. Surely PSV can't finagle their way past another superior team through defensive sturdiness and a couple of moments of opportunism? Still, Liverpool will remember their exit to Benfica in last season's competition and will want to bring a result back from the Philipsstadion. And who's that, communicating from the other side....is that you Arsene...what's he saying? B-E-W-A-R-E P-S-V......

From petrified teenagers to greying patricians: AC Milan and Bayern Munich are, of course, super-colossi of European football, jangling 10 Champions League and European Cups (as your Daddy used to call it) in their pockets between them. But the relative ordinariness the current incarnations of these two and the likes of Real Madrid (vanquished by Bayern in the last round) is stated as proof of the non-vintage status of this season's tournament.

Certainly Milan's last 16 victory over Celtic, in which they managed a single goal in 210 minutes, did not evoke the glories of the Rossoneri's past, and the sight of Bayern languishing fourth in the Bundesliga is a very rare one indeed in the normal run of German football.

Although a victory over league leaders Schalke 04 at the weekend should put some pep in the Bayern step, Milan should be fancied here for the tournament savviness that has seen them reach the quarter-finals for the fifth time in-a-row, for the fact that they clobbered Bayern 5-2 on aggregate in last year's round of 16, and for the loss to the Bavarians of Oliver Kahn through suspension.

To Roma and Manchester United and the guiltless checking out of Totti. The bold Francesco has attracted all the attention in the run-up to this game, having, as he is, the season of his life in Serie A.

The key to Totti and Roma's success was the decision by new coach Luciano Spalletti (how very Italian this) to play without a centre-forward at all, instead playing the Roma fans' idol in a deeper-lying role, allowing the midfield triumvirate of Simone Perotta, Daniele de Rossi and the Brazilian Mancini - he of the astonishing quadruple-stepover goal in the win in Lyon last time out - to attack in support.

United will be feeling top of the world after the demolition of Blackburn at the weekend, but prior to the freewheeling second half display on Saturday they suffered what could turn out to be a fateful blow to their lofty season-end prospects: the injury to Nemanja Vidic.

The rock-solid Serbian's absence might be felt less tomorrow night, however, than against most domestic rivals. Alex Ferguson will already have been contemplating playing a 'marker' type defender on Totti, and the mobility of, perhaps, Wes Brown might suit.

United are missing a whole back four, however: Vidic, Gary Neville, Patrice Evra and Mikael Silvestre are all unavailable, and the Stadio Olimpico is a bad place to go without your most trusted defensive troops. A clean-sheet will be United's aim; it might be Roma's too, who'll fancy repeating the trick they pulled on Lyon on United.

Chelsea probably drew the shortest straw of the English clubs by getting Valencia, but then the Spaniards will probably have felt the same themselves. Chelsea remain the most convincingly attired of the English clubs, and perhaps even of anyone left in the tournament. In the event of their procurement of a victory at Stamford Bridge tomorrow night, who would you rather send to bludgeon out an away result in Europe?

With that Shevchenko guy starting to look like that other Shevchenko guy who once graced this tournament with Dynamo Kiev and AC Milan, Salomon Kalou starting to look like a footballer and Joe Cole finally returning to the squad, they have reason to fancy the latter stages of the tournament that Jose Mourinho would, I believe, choose to win of the three that they remain in contention for.

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Anonymous FRANK said...



10:11 a.m.  

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