Saturday, March 27, 2010

Champions League Quarter Finals Preview

In 1806, Napoleon's powerful military confronted a daunting coalition of European powers, including Prussia. Europe had been at war for the best part of fifteen years, and it would take close to another decade for the last vestiges of Napoleonic France to be soundly defeated in war. For a quarter of a century -- from the time of the French Revolution to Napoleon's final defeat -- France fought against myriad coalitions of European states, and never lost. Twenty five years against the rest of Europe. Alone.

Amongst those victories was a particularly comprehensive one against Prussia at Jena and Auerstadt. But this was no ordinary defeat. A young man by the name of Carl von Clausewitz served in the Prussian military, and saw first hand the awesome force that was the French army. Clausewitz, of course, would go on to become arguably history's most prominent theorist of war and, in his own way, changed the course of history.

A run of the mill defeat became seminal because of the lessons it imparted on the Prussians, who resolved to imitate the French war machine to beat it. The military was professionalized, and the General Staff instituted. Inculcating patriotism and nationalism became state policy. The levee en masse was imposed. Training was modernized. And meritocracy, rather than background or social position, became the primary way in which the officer class was constituted. The Prussian motto, it seems, was "If you can't beat 'em, be 'em. And then beat 'em."

It worked too.
Between the middle of the nineteenth century and the middle of the twentieth, there was no more formidable fighting force in Europe than the Germans. German unification was achieved via a series of victories over France in 1870-1871. It was a most glorious victory; the German Empire was formally recognized in the majestic Hall of Mirrors at the famous Palace of Versailles, home to the French monarchy for centuries. It was the definition of adding insult to injury; a slap in the face that the French would not easily forget.

Why does all this matter? Simple. Imitation may well be the sincerest form of flattery, but there is something more functionally important about imitation: it sometimes works.

Which brings us to the Champions League. The obvious question, of course, is whether or not Arsenal can out-Barca Barca. Both clubs subscribe to the "receive, pass, offer" ethic of football, privileging intelligent movement off the ball to create space; neither is particularly physically imposing; both are often accused of trying too hard to pass it into the net; both can get predictable in attack, especially if there is a lack of viable width on offer; both are loathe to lift the ball more than three feet off the ground, and both play flowing, attractive football that fair-minded observers regard as the most pleasing to watch amongst top European leagues. The only problem for Arsenal is that Barcelona do all of that better than they do.

To be clear, I actually don't think this will be a cakewalk by any stretch, as some in the media are implying. For one thing, Barca simply haven't been at their best in the last two months -- the only complete games they've played in that period were the 4-0 wins against Sevilla in mid-January and against Stuttgart two weeks ago. In between we have seen various problems at various times, such as (a) imprecise passing from the midfield, (b) key injuries to Xavi, Abidal, Keita, Pique, and Dani Alves, (c) an over-reliance on Messi, and (d) a lack of movement from Ibrahimovic.

For another, Barca's pressing which works so well against other teams might not work to the same extent against Arsenal because they too are very comfortable on the ball in tight spaces (though I would submit that they haven't yet played a team that presses immediately after losing possession quite like Barca does).

And then, of course, there is Cesc Fabregas, one of the top ten players in the world having perhaps his best season. We are all intimately aware of the personal and emotional ties that both him and Henry will have in these games. Pep Guardiola will have an interesting decision to make with respect to Yaya Toure vs Busquets for this game. He has tended to prefer Busquets this year, despite Yaya offering more of a physical presence and greater athleticism. But in this game, I think Busquets might be a better bit, because he has the ability to harry players in the middle of the park which Barca will need against Fabregas. If he is allowed a free hand, Barca will be in trouble.

All those are important caveats to the promise of Barca winning this tie, but that is all they are: caveats. Look, anything can happen in cup football, especially with the away-goals rule. It takes one mistake, seriously one mistake, and you can be out. Plus, the only teams that seem capable of knocking Barca out of Europe have been English (Chelsea in 05, Liverpool in 07 and United in 08). It's not as if Barca losing is inconceivable.

But it would be surprising, nay, shocking. There is only one Arsenal player that would make it in Barca's first eleven, and that is Arshavin at LW over Henry/Pedro. Their defenders and goalkeeper (Almunia is worth at least one goal over these 180 minutes) are nowhere near as good as Barca's. Also keep in mind that Barca play (and beat) teams like Arsenal very regularly in La Liga, but Arsenal have never played anyone quite like this Barca team. And then there's the little matter of Leo Messi, who might well run riot against Clichy or Eboue or whatever combination Wenger dreams up.

And here's the kicker: Barca haven't been at their best for large parts of this season, but whenever push has come to shove, whenever they have needed a result, they have knocked it out of the park. They will be inspired, they will be pumped, and, I predict, they will show Arsenal how it's done by winning both legs.

Prediction: Barcelona win 5-2 on aggregate

As for the other games, here are my quick thoughts:

United-Bayern: I want Bayern to win because deep down, United are the only team left in the competition that I think can beat Barca (Chelsea and Real were the others). But honestly, they don't have a shot. I mean, I know the Ribery-Robben combination is supposed to be all that, but color me unimpressed. United are simply playing too well in Europe, and with the seconed leg at home, should go through comfortably, I think.

Prediction: United win 3-1 on aggregate

Inter-CSKA: An interesting one, isn't it? The only reason I'm even entertaining the thought of a CSKA win is their funky playing surface and the fact that their season is just getting underway, so they'll be fresher (though the flipside of that is that they mightn't be in a rhythm like some of the other teams). But Jose-coached teams very rarely lose to teams weaker than them on paper, and he'll have his guys prepared. It won't be pretty, but they'll go through methinks.

Prediction: Inter win 1-0 on aggregate

Lyon-Bordeaux: I really have no effing idea. First of all, the only time I watch French teams is in the Champions League, so I really don't feel qualified to speak on them. Second, intra-country ties in the Champions League always end up kind of weird (like the Liverpool-Chelsea goalathon last year -- 12 goals??). I think Bordeaux are the better team overall, but simply on the basis of the last knockout stage, where Lyon dominated Madrid and Bordeaux barely squeaked past Olymiakos, I'm going with Lyon.

Prediction: Lyon win 3-3 on away goals

45 comments:

Ali said...

:( I hope Arsenal can cause an upset.

Asfandyar said...

Part of me wants to see Arsenal raped, cause I'm sick of their self-flagellation. Part of me wants them to at least stay alive till the second leg, cause depending on what happens in the weekend (Man Utd v Chelsea), Arsenal might be in with a shout for the title - and the longer they're in the CL the better the chance that they'll trip up in the league.

I'm with you on Inter v CSKA, though I think Inter will go through by more than 1-0. I think it'll be 3-0 on aggregate.

Lyon v Bordeaux = Bordeaux. Blanc's done an amazing job, and despite Lyon having Lloris I think they'll get beat.

No idea about Man Utd v Bayern cause I don't want to tempt fate. United would be going in as favourites (especially if Robben is out for Tuesday), but you can never really tell. First leg will matter a lot, cause regardless I fancy Robben to create some magic at least in one of the legs.

Anonymous said...

i seem to remember someone (me) telling you that lyon are the dark horses for this year's competition, not sevilla. i believe your exact words were: "sevilla are better than lyon, its not even close."
bazinga!

karachikhatmal said...

superb post ahsan!

i mean the football analysis is wonkish as one expects from you, and thorough. but what a way of weaving in the history - ces't magnifique!

that said, are you implying that arsenal are going to be the prussians? if there is any team akin to the germans right now, it has to be man u. like the prussians, you admire their strength and tactics, and yet you despise everything about them. and as you say, unlike arsenal, they are the only team capable of beating barca, on paper at least. arsenal would be more like english teams in the CL during the 90s - brave, but ultimately valiant.

that said, i don't think man u can beat barca, but someone like the frenchies, or bayern can. barca as always are very ideological - the likes of inter and man u represent ideological opposites whom they would love to vanquish. arsenal represent a poorly articulated version of their own ideology. but the likes of bayern or the french sides, as they stand, seem to be some vague system which they can't really identify, and might struggle to overcome. considering that barca has only lost to the most faithless team in the league (at madrid), i think this theory might hold some weight.

Ahsan said...

Ali:

And I hope your hope doesn't come true!

Asfand:

Arsenal's title challenge ended yesterday, so you don't really have to worry about them anymore on that front.

Anon210:

How do I know it was you if you refuse to use a name? Very shady. But yes, if I said that (and I'm sure I did, though I don't remember), I've clearly been proven wrong. Sevilla's season has really fallen apart. Sid Lowe had a piece on them in midweek.

KK:

Well, what I am implying is that to beat the best you have to copy them, and that Arsenal's style has developed from the same Dutch/Cruyffism roots that Barca has (though in a less obvious and explicit way). So yes, for this analogy, Barca are France and Arsenal are the Prussians, with the caveat that I expect the reverse result from 1870-1871.

takhalus said...

Lol great opening paragraph love the be them then beat them..I think the Japs did much the same.

muhammad said...

why you guys are underestimating united, Last year they lost the final only coz of the mistakes, and seriously with rooney in such form they are the clear favorites, and i don think that barca is way ahead from the other teams.

Misanthrope said...

One of the worst cases of history being abused to draw parallels with contemporary events I've ever read. Bravo!

FJ said...

Lovely post Ahsan. Welcome back to blogging and what a way to make an entry. The reference to history was superb!

You would probably maul me on logic, but I'm a big fan of BOTH Barca and ManUtd. Your good vs evil post in last year's final was epic and I hope we have yet another Barca ManUtd final this year ... perhaps this year's encore post would be less polarized now that Ronaldo is not at Old Trafford anymore?

PS: Enjoy this video, its the best I have seen so far on the buildup to 31.03.10

Cheers!

FJ said...

Oops ... here the link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIEpWYBvWy4&feature=related

adeel said...

KK: glad you think bayern can beat barca but afraid the reasoning behind it isn't true. I said to ahsan last year before our mauling by barca that bayern is a poor man's barca, depending on a high possession passing game to get the ball in the net. that hasn't changed, so the last thing I want is barca in the final, or even arsenal for that matter. do see this article, http://www.goal.com/en-gb/news/2871/special/2010/03/29/1854257/meet-bayern-munich-the-dangerous-germans-hoping-to-shatter, as it says under 'Style', Bayern "are the Bundesliga’s answer to Barcelona and Arsenal. In the Champions League thus far, only the Catalan side and Liverpool have won a larger share of possession, and with a team pass completion rate that usually exceeds 85 per cent, van Gaal’s style can only be described as Dutch delight."

Undeserved flattery on the quality especially since the team is tired from some tough recent matches. It gets even tougher for the second leg with 4 matches in ten days (2 vs ManU, 1 with leverkusen and one with shalke!). I just hope we somehow play to our potential like we did against Juve.

karachikhatmal said...

Adeel:

fair point, i thought that bremen remained the bundesliga's most expressive side. didn't know that van gaal had managed to make the bayern bullies into beauties.

that said, if the article's assessment of bayern's defence is accurate, then i don't see them getting past Man U, let alone barca.

i just hope we see some one new play the final - its getting terribly repetitive. plus we've already seen the triumph of good over evil last year. don't want to see the bloody barca win at the bernabeau. can't imagine the post ahsan would come up with then.

FJ:

whatta vlad, whatta video!

Nabeel said...

Actually I don't think Ahsan is as anti-Madrid as the FCBFootballBlog community...they would absolutely go nuts if Barca were to win ANYTHING at the Bernabeu.

Anyone who thinks Bayern will beat Manchester United is only trying to be polite. Robben and Ribery have hardly been the threat they should be-it's like the Barca Fab Four from 07-08,which was only rarely fabulous and ended in more misery than I care to remember.

Ahsan,your analogy is true only until the point of battle itself-I love Arsenal,but they're not good enough to master any competition-and will never,ever be as organized and ruthlessly efficient as the Prussians! I mean,how can you imagine 'cold-blooded' and 'Arsenal' together?! Perhaps over a decade ago,not anymore.

You're spot on with Arshavin. I'm so tired of the Fabregas vs Messi debate. It's Arshavin and Nasri that we better be afraid of, and I'll be praying for Yaya if Rosicky starts too. Busquets can go to hell, Yaya does a great cleanup job too.

It won't be a cakewalk-it'll be a very nervous game for me in the midfield.Especially against Arsenal,the midfield is key.If that clicks,then we win.Like I commented elsewhere-if Barca can play to roughly 85% of their ability over 180min, they cannot get ouplayed. Luck might come,like you say it is a knockout,but they won't get outplayed. Hell no.

zeyd said...

Actually looking forward to being a neutral for once. Damn the last decade or so has taken a lot out of me.

Gonna be interesting, especially the Arse/Barca first leg. Arse need to win to have a chance of going through and have to do so either by keeping a clean sheet (unlikely) or by a two goal margin. Either way they have to go for it.

Barca won't sit back and attempt to hit Arse on the counter, which is probably the best way to play them, other than kicking them all over the field which, to be honest, is a lot of fun. I think Arse will actually enjoy the challenge of having to play their way out of trouble, whether they're good enough to come through, well I have my doubts.

Man U will sit back and counter, as they always do away from home in Europe. Bayern has to come out blazing (much like Milan did) and hope they can score a couple early (much like Milan didn't). I expect this one to be a feisty affair with a bit of bad blood. Also expecting Rooney to be targeted in an effort to put him off.

Bordeaux for me over Lyon. They've been the best side in France for almost two years now; I expect that to show when it matters.

CSKA still being underestimated I see. Wouldn't surprise me at all if they go through. They're a resilient side with a lot of talent and a manager with a legendary name. Slutski to pound The Special One? Inter may well go through but it'll be close, very close.

Oh and how nice for the games to be starting at 11.45 p.m here in PK. Won't be a fucking zombie at work for once.

adeel said...

not that anyone here seems to care but can i just say that bayern played fantastically today :)

except for some schoolboy defending in the first 20mins and an unlucky slip by dimi to let rooney score we dominated possession (60-40), had some great shots on goal and did all this without robben and schweini. ManU were also rolling so it really was a good fast paced match with some great end to end stuff thrown in....kinda like the holland-czech game in euro04.

looking forward to the second leg which will be tough for both sides (especially is utd lose rooney to injury) but if bayern do come through....i dont think people should doubt their ability to go all the way....

Ahsan said...

Haha Adeel, I was counting on you to come here and gloat a little bit, and you didn't disappoint. Well done to you and your team, deserved result (though I only watched the 2nd half).

Umair J said...

Off Topic (since Liverpool play in the Europa League)...Clausewitz also said War is an instrument of State Policy...in this statement lies the theoretical premise for why the military has to remain subservient to civilian leadership....i propose a few hundred copies of 'On War' be circulated in the GHQ complete with a show and tell

karachikhatmal said...

Umair J:

which begs the obvious question - which team would the GHQ support in the Champs League? I think Real's fascist past might inspire them, but like every other dickhead in the world, they would probably root for Man U. Of course, the sugar daddy system at Chelsea also works well for them.

Asfandyar said...

kk:

fuck you man. fuck you.

I think the GHQ would be Liverpool fans, complete with characteristic delusions of grandeur, paranoid victimization complexes, and an affinity to look towards historical 'victories'.

karachikhatmal said...

Afsand:

haha i stand corrected

Umair J said...

@asfand: hahahahaha...bitter bitter truth...good analogy...(i should stop supporting liverpool now)

JJY said...

since i'm already reconciled to arsenal's humbling at the hands of barca, i'm going to take this opportunity to point the finger and laugh at United instead. The following is from today's Fiver:

United fans were, however, aghast to learn that one prong of their team's deadly attacking duo will feature neither in the second leg nor in Saturday's much more difficult clash with English opponents Chelsea. Because scans are likely to show that Wayne Rooney will be out of action for two to four weeks with a crocked ankle, all the onus will be placed entirely on the other one: Own Goals.

HAHAHAHHAHHAAHHAHAHAHA.

Ali said...

Waiting for the post-match post.
2-2.

F.F said...

Wow .. I was expecting a romping but it was a good performance in the end .. 38 % pocession .. was as expected. I love to see Arsenal fight back and a fair result in the end. Camp Nou will be an entirely different story especially with the way Barcelona played away from home. Sucks it finished with a disadvantage.

What do you guys think will be the impact of no Fabregas in the second leg? New score predictions?

F.F said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JJY said...

Haha - hardly a fair result, F.F., but I'll definitely take it.

Fabulous fightback spiritwise for the Gunners, but Barca were beyond wasteful.

Am a little concerned about Fab - hope his year isn't over. That pretty much hands the title over to Chelski then.

Intel said...

that was a bad bad game. It was a shame for all the people who were anticipating a beautiful game. Shame for messi shame for the fabulous fab. I mean what the fuck was arsenal doing? The only thing that saved them was bendtner and theo. Arshavin has been a total dick this season ducks out at worst moment. I forgot almunia, he was there too. And messi insinuated thy was jerking off the whole day. Players like these are no good who fail, majorly fail at such games. So Ronaldo is still my worlds best player fuck messi fuck fab

karachikhatmal said...

intel:

i think you had the wrong channel on. the teams in white and blue and black were inter and cska. the argentinian who failed to impress you was perhaps milito, not messi.

if you were watching the same match as the rest of the world, you would have realised that bendtner's major contributions included missing two gilt-edged chances the geoffrey boycott's mother would have put away a coma.

as for major games, last year two teams played the final of a major trophy in europe. one team won, the other lost. the winning team had a player who scored on the big occasion. the losing team's major player sulked and didn't do jack all. try and remember who they were, and if you do, yeh elektra fan aap ko hua

Smci said...

Any FIFA 10 fans here?

And no offense to anyone, but Manny U played like hot garbage the other day.

And the Puyol red card made me wanna throw up.

Ali said...

Bendtner was beyond shit, but i must say he assisted in both the goals, so fair play to him.

Theo and Song gave their all, and ofc Almunia kept us in the game apart from that one mistake.

intel said...

what the fucj is wrong here? Bendtner was the only guy with unshaky legs out there if you noticed. and song was shit man, his yellow was so immature.let me clear this ; Arsenal only survived because they were playing on the legs so barca had to retreat and they were so pissed that they lost concentration and all that.

FJ said...

hey intel:
good to know that you see things differently then perhaps anyone else on the planet. but heck, lets celebrate diversity!

i am assuming you are referring to the champions league as a big occasion. right? fyi, ronaldo didn't show up at the quarterfinals this year. to make an impression on big games, you need to be present in the first place. oh, KK just gave you a short lesson in history, would be wise to jog your memory before making comments that make no sense. but yeah, to each his own ... [logic]

Arsenal played like 'Barcelona made in China' ... a cheap imitation. they played like that for the majority of the game. In fact, if this were a road race it would be BMW vs. Hyundai.

the scoreline is a different story altogether, and there will be a million and one angles on why and how it was 2-2 at FT and I ain't wasting time on that.

But I will tell you about Messi's contribution to the game:

Total shots on goal: 7
Shots on target: 4 (6 min, 15 min, 37 min, 76 min ... the first two were when Almunia was being superhuman)
Shots blocked: 2 (29 min, 53 min FK into the wall)
Shots wide: 1
Fouls committed: 1
Fouls suffered: 1
Passes: 38/45 (84%)
Distance covered: 8.9 km

By comparison, Bendtner just had a single shot on goal (which was on target). His passing was only 57%
(source: UEFA)

so please, next time you wanna throw some dirt on the best player in the world, don't. seriously.

intel said...

yea good thing you made me aware of these statistics but seriously dude the irony is that you tell me that score doesnt count but these bullshit numbers do. thats fucked up you know.

If anyone saw the match and has a critical eye he knows messi was shit, bendtner was good im not talking regardless of the teams they played for or ceteris paribus.
History can suck on it.

W said...

You gotta give Messi a break. He is insanely good most games. Bendtner will mature.. he is a promising talent.. He doesn't use his size and strength to his advantage though... i

Remember the first leg of the Roma Man U last year ? Roma won 2-1 in the home leg i think and then Man U romped them 7-1 away. Well thats what i expect for the second leg. Only plus is no Puyol and Pique but then no Fabregas and Gallas either...

Rahima. said...

Why Arsenal will win this week?
Because we just can.


Okay. Not a good enough reason. But still :P

Okay honestly, i am FREAKING out about tonight's game. We couldn't win at home, winning at Barca's stadium will be tough, and almost impossible.

Major eff up for us: Cesc Fabregas out :/

Idk why, but he just evokes some brilliance in arsenal's game, that evokes the sense of WINNING in other players.

Last week, i was almost about to give up hope, but we managed to make it 2-2. As a gooner, i'm going to say that Arsenal will win tonight, because i think all of arsenal has had enough of us not winning anything, and well, we're all keeping faith.

As an unbiased person: I think this is a game to watch. Its all or nothing. One chance. That's all both the teams have

Go Gunners :)
Cheers

adeel said...

oh. dear. god. hat trick already...

FJ said...

this is an unemotional, straight faced comment to intel (after Messi's hat trick):

FUCK YOU! ASSHOLE! GET YOUR LARD ASS CARCASS OUTTA HERE AND JUMP OFF A CLIFF.

You're sooo full of shit intel.

*sigh*

PS: Messi is magical.

FJ said...

Okay, I wasn't unemotional in my response to intel. :)
Nevertheless, it makes me feel so much better to stop being civil to crapholes like him/her/it.

Viva Barca!

Rahima. said...

this.is.fucking.unbelievable.


Given.up.

actually... maybe no... 45 minutes... 3-3 would carry us through... Super Nick for a hatrick?

YEAH RIGHT. :|

Asfandyar said...

That was nice. Though I now await the more annoying Arsenal fans bitch about their injured players. As if that made a difference in the first leg when they were dry humped.

Also, I haven't seen as much of Barca over the past three years as I would've liked to, but there is no way in hell Barca remotely resemble Arsenal. For starters, they seem to be far more direct and less poncey "ooh lets just waste our time passing it around the edge of the 18 yard box for kicks" and actually seem to take advantage of their full backs for a wider game.

Anyway, Inter v Barca will be epic. It won't be as 'fun' mostly cause I doubt Inter will find themselves torn as easily as Arsenal did over two legs. Yummy tactical battle awaits.

I fully intend to come back here to get bitch-slapped when Bayern chuck out Man Utd on Wednesday though.

Ali said...

I slept through the match...!!! now as i see the score line. I think its probably a good thing.

WP Messi, WP barca.

adeel said...

phew.....dont think we deserved that, 4-4 seems to be our lucky scoreline and robben our saviour but my god we need to get rid of dimi and butt!

Asfandyar said...

@Ahsan:

^see? re: adeel?

Actually outplayed is the wrong word to use. You can't say that with a second half like that. I was pissy. You were spot on re: my pissiness (sic).

That said, Bayern still went through undeservedly on the basis of that second leg. Even with Utd down to 10 men, and with lots of posession, can you recall any of the chances they made? Robben scored a fucking beauty, but aside from that it was just Gomez's header and I think a fairly tame Schweinsteiger shot.

Now, compare that to ten men United's chances in that second half (forget the fact that Bayern should've been done and dusted in the first half!):

Nani's chance. Carrick's chance. Gibbo's chance.

So a ten men team, who surrendered possession because that's what tends to happen when you go down to ten men (unless you're playing Aston Villa) still created better chances.

Overall though as much as I'd like to smash open Van Bommel's skull and break Robben to pieces, they deserved it over 180 minutes. We were shambolic in the first leg, though still almost came away with a 1-1.

Either way it wouldn't have mattered. I fancy Inter to give Barca a scare but it'll still be Barca steamrolling their way to the title.

Fucking season's been ripped to pieces in a week.

karachikhatmal said...

i used to date this guy once - smart, well dressed... he would always be very passionate - he would talk for hours about the most radical art movements, eulogize the noblest political acts, wished to spend eternity for the chance to revel in the rapture induced within him by the most sublime music.

then one day, this guy, lets call him arsenal, met a shy, young man. they began to have a conversation. the young man said very little, but he had this way which ended up puncturing the very ego of arsenal, leaving him eventually aside with as much dignity left as that within a used condom. this young man, you see, had finally exposed arsenal for just being a psuedo. as he left, it became clear to all of us that verily, this young man we had witnessed was the real deal, the true progeny of genius.

Reichenau Order said...

Wow SN

This lifespan of delayed adulthood and permanent schooling must finally be paying off. Clausewitz. I'm shocked-even more so if you actually read On War-but likely the 'short and sweet 6 page relevant summary' handed to you by the prof will suffice. Don't need to overburden the mind.