Thursday, March 12, 2009

Barca Blitz Lyon, Ferguson Finally Puts One Over Mourinho, My Dumbass Predictions, And Much More

Lots to discuss, let's get right to it.
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The Barca-Lyon game was a joy to watch. It started scrappily, ended in a bad spirit, and yet was thoroughly captivating in the intervening 70 minutes. In about a quarter of an hour, Barca -- through the prolific trio of Henry, Eto'o and Messi -- put four past Lyon, before allowing one back just before halftime. Immediately after the break, Lyon added another to make it interesting before Barca slowly but surely ground them down.

Chasing shadows obviously had an adverse effect on Lyon's collective mood because challenge after surly challenge followed in the second half, with a host of yellow cards and Juninho getting sent off just before the final whistle. Keita added a fifth from practically the last kick of the game, and sent a message to the rest of Europe: Barca are back. Don't say you weren't warned. They have put that temporary blip of two losses (Espanyol, Atletico) and two draws (Betis and Lyon) behind. Even the goals they conceded were more as a result of a little conceit and a loss of concentration than anything major. Are they playing as well as they did between September and December? No, but no one in Europe is, or can.

Three trophies are there for the taking. How badly do they want them?

One final note: I really would like to see guys like Hleb, Gudjohnsen, Bojan, and Keita getting more of a go in the next two or three games. People like Xavi and the three up front need a break if they're going to be effective toward the crucial part of the season (May). Guardiola, if there's one criticism of him, has been relucant to rotate regularly, even when it's been clear the team needed a spark. Let's hope that changes now that Barca don't have any midweek games for the three weeks after playing 18 games in the last 70 days.
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Football is, more than any other sport, a game of inches. Around the 25-30 minute mark in their game against Man U, Inter finally hit their stride. Needing just one goal to gain the ascendancy, they saw Ibrahimovic hit the cross-bar with a nodded header, sent an angled shot just wide off the post after he had Van der Sar beaten, and Stankovic just missed with an audacious shot from the outside of his right boot. With a 15 minute period of sustained pressure, they had to score. I remember thinking that if they didn't score then, they'd get punished, and sure enough, Ronaldo's goal in the second half settled the tie.

The point is this: Inter were this close to getting a foot in the door. They didn't, and ultimately, looking at the 2-0 scoreline, no one can say it wasn't a fair reflection of the two teams on the night. The United juggernaut rolls on, Ferguson gets to enjoy his £300 bottle of wine, and Inter have to face uncomfortable questions about whether or not they can actually cut it at this level as presently constituted.
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So in my Champions League picks made about three weeks ago, I predicted (a) three out of four English teams getting booted, with only Arsenal getting through (all four English teams got through); and (b) Villareal getting through over Panathinakos, based on the idea that "it's crazy hard to get a result there [in Greece] for a visiting team (Villareal won away after drawing at home). In all, I enjoyed a 50% success rate, and really, Bayern-Sporting shouldn't even count as a correct prediction. In other words, don't ever listen to anything I say. Actually, now that I think about it, you people probably find that advice redundant.
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Some quick awards:

Most impressive performance:

I'm tempted to go with Bayern, but given they put twelve friggin goals past Sporting, I'm inclined to think the latter didn't show up. At the end of the day, you have to tip your hat to Livepool, who outmaneuvered Real at the Bernabeu, and then ran them ragged and made them look amateur at Anfield. Every time they rumors and doubts swirl about Rafa, his team puts in a monster performance in Europe. I have learned the hard way that you doubt them at your own peril.

Most pathetic performance:

Sporting. Again, twelve goals.

Darkhorse for the next round:

In this roller-coaster season of theirs, it is crazy to think that Chelsea have suddenly found the spirit and steel that has always made them so dangerous. I don't think anyone would consider them favorites or anything, but I think they're just fine with that -- many times, being an underdog can have a galvanizing effect on a team.

Most giddy:

The English press tomorrow. Get your puke-buckets ready.

Biggest question mark:

Real Madrid, no question. At least Inter and Lyon, two other teams who seem to find the last 16 an insurmountable obstacle in the last half decade, can be content with winning their domestic leagues. Real, barring a collapse by Barca, are going to be shut out for trophies this season. In addition, their club is in turmoil yet again, with another election for President soon to come, no doubt followed by (yet) another manager, no doubt concomitant with some combination of Ronaldo/Kaka/Messi speculation (they're unlikely to get any of those guys, but who cares about facts?). Keep your eye on this team; a severe implosion could lie ahead.
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The draw for the last eight is on Friday. Here are my rankings for teams in descending order for teams the average fan would want to see.

1. Porto
2. Villareal
3. Chelsea
4. Arsenal
5. Barcelona
6. Bayern
7. Liverpool
8. Man U

Thoughts?

UPDATE
: Comment of the day from a Guardian reader:
Well, at least the Gunners have shown they can spank Roma and score 7 against them as good as United.
UPDATE II: Man, I love the commenters on the Guardian. Here's one from Sid Lowe's piece on Barca being the only team capable of stopping the English teams:
I, for, one prefer Barcelona win the Champions League like Spain did at Euro 2008. For that matter, Iraq's win in the Asian Cup did dissipate some of the dark clouds over Iraq. Who remembers Greece's abject win in 2004? Greek nationalists, Republicans, Puritans and fiscal conservatives. Who remembers Spain's win in 2008? Pentecostals, Guardian readers, hedonists, Jazz musicians, fat chefs and rambunctious dogs. Barcelona winning will be for the good of the game.

12 comments:

Ananth Krishnan said...

Barca looked good, but that's also because Lyon are too similar to them. It wld be good to see how Barca handle a team that get stuck into them and dont let them play (a bit like we did last year, though of course we had our fair share of luck). I'd like to see a Barca-Liverpool draw (just so we avoid at least one of you buggers!).

Re the draw: Annoyingly, the draw is next friday (the 20th) so we'll have to wait a while. The obvious plum draw I'd like wld be either Villareal or Porto, but have a sneaky feeling we'll draw an English side (it's been due). Would like to avoid Bayern.

Asfandyar said...

Spot on with the analysis and the 'awards' there.

The Utd - Inter game was very much equal. Could've been a draw just as easily. Both teams had their chances, we just took ours while Inter didn't. Fergie messed up a bit regarding tactics because our left flank was exposed till the second half and Scholes had a poor game.

That said, I can't be bothered; we dispatched Inter 2-0. More than happy about that.

Hoping for a Porto QF now.

AKS said...

The ideal draw:

Liverpool v Bayern Munich
Villarreal v Arsenal
Chelsea v Porto
Barcelona v Manchester United

Ahsan said...

Um, ideal for whom, AKS?

I say we get 2 intra-English battles and one intra-Spanish battle:

1. Liverpool vs. Man U
2. Chelsea vs. Arsenal
3. Barca vs. Villareal
4. Porto vs. Bayern

That should make for captivating viewing.

Ananth Krishnan said...

Ahsan, that's the draw UEFA wants. Conspiracy theorists say they've rigged it so that the English sides knock each other out lol. I'd hate for us to draw an English side. For one it'd be boring, and secondly, I fear it'd become a Premier League encounter - less tactical, and your technical quality will matter less.

I'd rather play Bayern, or even Barca. The way I look it, even if we lose, I'd still get to enjoy two super European nights which is what this competition is all about (esp since there's a chance I'll get to see the first leg if it's at OT and do not fancy seeing the Scousers or the Arse).

Ahsan said...

Ananth:

After Man U's ball-less display against Barca last year, I don't want to see a repeat. Parked, bus, etc.

But if you're lucky enough to catch a CL game at OT, you must write about it, either as a guest post for us or on your blog so I can copy and paste.

AKS said...

Interesting comment Ananth, and one with which I'd have to agree. I'd much rather Arsenal lose to Barcelona in a stunning game of football than lose to Liverpool in a 'premier league' encounter.

adeel said...

man, i just watched torres humiliate vidic completely and am utterly amazed. vidic reads situations and reacts as well as any centre back in the game today and torres just schooled him. 4-1 to the scouers at OT.......and i still cant understand how they manage these performances out of nowhere. at least there might be some semblance of a title race now. do try to catch bbc's match of the day broadcast at 10pm UK time (onn bbc iplayer even) if you can and tell me torres isnt the complete striker every manager wants.

lala pathan said...

MAN UTD by far is the only team in the world football history that can win lots of trophies and yet play the most unatractive and dirty football ever played. I thought INTER were much better and deserved to win but they missed their chances but it doesn't matter cause i predict BARCA to win it this year. what a stylish way to tell their critics not to count them out..bravo..dat was beautiful football....i actually wanna c liverpool play MAN UTD in the quarterfinals or BARCA or ARSENAL....

lala pathan said...

liverpool vs man utd
barca vs chelsea
arsenal vs byern
porto vs villareal

JJY said...

As much as I hate United, it's tremendously unfair to call their football unattractive. If anything, while Arsenal get plenty of plaudits for their style, it often lacks substance - which can often be blamed on their complete and utter inability to finish (Yes, I mean you Nicklas Cuntner), I don't think United get enough credit for how entertaining they can be.

Anyway, I hope we (the Gunners) come up against either villareal or porto.

And I thoroughly agree with the view that playing a side from another country is what makes the champions league, and is significantly more exciting than playing any of the other big three.

lala pathan said...

I highly disagree to the fact that arsenal is unattractive in their way of playing football then MAN UTD...look at ronaldo's goals last year, more then half were scored by him just directing the ball in to the net. he was just lucky being in the right place at the right time. MAN UTD has no class. they have luck on their side . we all saw their class on saturday against liverpool at home...now BARCA has class!