Saturday, April 12, 2008


Three Brits and the Catalans

A very familiar line-up for the Champions League semi-finals, then, with Liverpool and Chelsea again proving that their particular brand of physicality and pragmatism hits serious paydirt in Europe. Manchester United have played some of the best football in the competition and richly deserve to be there at the business end, while Barcelona, despite their mercurial form, still have the quality to be a serious threat.

Whether Barca can get past Manchester United clearly depends very much on whether Leo Messi can regain match-fitness by the time the tie comes around. Although Bojan Krkic did very well against Schalke in Messi's position (often preferring to hit the by-line rather than cut inside as Messi tends to do), he is not quite as reliable a provider as the Argentinian.

Samuel Eto'o showed only flashes of his best form against Schalke, and Thierry Henry has been a great disappointment this season. Frank Rijkaard will surely be tempted to rest the Frenchman against Manchester United; perhaps the much under-used Eidur Gudjohnsen could be given a start alongside Eto'o at the Nou Camp, to provide a bit more bite up front.

At the back Barca will be weakened by the suspension of Carles Puyol in the first leg, and in truth they have looked vulnerable at the back in general in the Champions League, even if their opponents have usually lacked the quality to capitalise. Facing the likes of Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez will be a tough ask indeed.

United are probably favourites for the tie at this point, but so much will depend on Messi. If he can really turn it on at home, Barca could gain the confidence (and the goals) necessary to progress. There doesn't seem to be anyone else in the Barca ranks at the moment who can provide that sort of one-man rescue mission, with Ronaldinho fading, Deco out of favour and the forward line misfiring.

The Liverpool v. Chelsea tie will again be ferociously tight, and probably not all that pleasing to the eye (having said that, the Liverpool v. Arsenal second leg was one of the best Champions League games in years). If Liverpool can police Didier Drogba as effectively as they did last year, then they will surely go through, but Sami Hyypia is just starting to show his age this season. Martin Skrtel looks a good long-term replacement, however.

At the other end, Fernando Torres remains an omnipresent danger, with his uncanny ability to make the most out of the tiniest chance.

And any significance to the fact that this is the second successive Champions League to feature three English sides in the semi-finals?

Only that the TV riches of the Premiership have created an unequal playing field in Europe, and that even the match-turning Latin players who would otherwise have headed for Italy or Spain are now starting to settle in England.

interesting times ... a lot of spain watchers are worried at the moment - seems like a comp that noone wants to win. when real madrid cross the line, they`ll be acclaimed as the cr@ppest domestic champs in europe.

as for italy ... inter and milan didn`t exactly shine in europe this year.

how long will we still talk about a "big three" leagues? the money and the talent flowing into the prem is changing the equation.

IF the teams that usually come in 6 to 10 in the prem can start improving, then the prem will be the competition IMHO.

for mine, i think german fans have the most to be happy about, despite not having a team good enough to win the UCL. cheap tickets, good stadiums with standing, great atmosphere, lots of footy on tv, a fairly open championship race (in recent years - this year, no), the 50 plus 1 rule keeping out dodgy rich speculators ...

The exposure of Hyypia's age in defence is only due to Agger and Finnan's long-term injuries, though.

It'll be interesting to watch whether Barcelona can hold the players together for another month, or can't and they just end up going missing against Man Utd...
I'm not a united fan but I can't see past them. With Ronaldhino unfit and moving to AC Milan he's not interest. Even if Messi is fit Ferdinand will make sure he isn't by the end of the first game. Besides the way their playing at the moment - take the first half against boro for example or coming from behind to beat arsenal...they're too good not to.

I was looking at football fiction reviews initially and ended up reading loads of articles.

This is the first time I've commented. This is a great site. Nice work.
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