Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Thoughts on the Champions League

The Champions League Round of 16 draw
NOTE: Due to a technical snafu, this post wasn't published yesterday morning (despite my scheduling it).  The post below was written on Sunday, prior to any of the Champions League games.  I must say, I hope I predict the outcomes of today's (Wednesday's) games as well as I did Tuesday's.

Embarrassing.  It has to be the first word that comes to the mind of any Arsenal fan or player after the Gunners' poor showing against Milan.

Impressive.  The only word that can describe Barcelona's run of dominance in Europe's most prestigious club competition.  Winning 3-1 on the road against an opponent (Bayer Leverkusen) from one of the top 5 leagues proves the Catalans' pedigree.

Hope. APOEL and Benfica have it despite narrow losses away from home.  The Cypriot side is down just 1-0 to perennial French powerhouse, Lyon, heading back to Nicosia. The Portuguese leaders may be in the driver's seat despite a narrow 3-2 loss to Zenit in St. Petersburg.  With two away goals in their pocket, much will be expected of the Eagles when the teams face off in Lisbon on March 6.

Looking ahead, there are 4 games on tap this week: CSKA Moscow hosting Real Madrid and Chelsea at Napoli on Tuesday; Basel at home against Bayern Munich and Inter travelling to Marseille on Wednesday.

CSKA Moscow v. Real Madrid C.F. - Another match pitting an Iberian side against one from Russia.  What makes this match interesting, and the same was true of the Benfica-Zenit match, is the climate.  Playing soccer in February in Russia is not easy, especially for clubs from warmer climates.  The average high in Moscow in February is only 22°F (-5 C), for St. Petersburg the average is 26°F (-3 C). Beyond the temperature, Russian clubs are typically in their preseason when Champions League knockout round matches take place.  This year is no different, with CSKA playing their last league match back in November.  The Russian league has traditionally run from March - November, putting Russian clubs at a disadvantage in terms of match fitness.  The Russian Football Union has addressed this, and the Russian Premier League will be switching to the tradition UEFA calendar for next season.  Result: Expect Madrid to walk off with a win, though don't be surprised if CSKA pull off a draw. Playing in Russia is tricky for non-Russian squads.

S.S.C Napoli v. Chelsea F.C.  - The intriguing storyline from this match - Can André Villas-Boas right ship? Chelsea have suffered a poor run of form, squandering a 3 goal lead against Manchester United, losing 2-0 at Everton and settling for a draw against 2nd tier Birmingham City in the FA Cup on the weekend. Already in danger of losing his job, will a poor showing in Naples send AVB packing?  On the other side of the pitch, Napoli is coming off a 3-0 drubbing of Fiorentina and hasn't lost a Serie A game in February.  The Azzurri have lost just 2 games at home all season with wins over Manchester City, Inter and AC Milan.  Result: Given the poor form shown by Chelsea and Napoli's recent run of success, Napoli wins.

F.C. Basel v. FC Bayern Munich - These two clubs have a bit of history between them, at least recently.  Basel and Bayern were drawn together in the group stages of the Champions League last season with Bayern winning both matches.  Beyond the pitch, the two recently struck a deal that will see Swiss starlet Xherdan Shaqiri move to Munich in the offseason.  The announcement of the move mere weeks before the matchup seems odd.  Bayern have been enjoying a decent run of form, last suffering defeat nearly a month ago. Basel has had to settle for a string of draws recently, though the Swiss side has lost just three matches all season.  Basel does have a home win over Manchester United under its belt; will they be able to replicate that success? Will nerves affect the first Swiss club to ever make the knockout stages? Result: Basel have been difficult at home, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Swiss club pull out a draw.

Olympique de Marseille v. F.C. Interazionale Milan - Two teams headed in the opposite direction.  Marseille haven't lost a league match since November.  Inter can't seem to do anything right.  The Nerazzurri haven't won a match since late January, including three straight defeats. The last two may be the most humiliating, a 1-0 loss to lowly Novara and a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Bologna both at the San Siro.  Result: It's hard to see Inter turning it around away from home (though a respite from the San Siro might do them some good). Marseille wins.

1 comment:

  1. well when I i saw the arrangement of the games and groups, I thought that it was too easy for Barcelona and too difficult to others, but a friend of mine who is also a sports pay per head writer said to me that Barcelona did not have it easy