For football lunatics (…And we prefer being addressed that way!), the glitterati of the Oscar night pales in comparison to what comes up 43hours after the Academy Awards event. The Champions league pre-quarters have five absolute blockbusters out of the eight ties, and its no surprise that four of them feature English teams.
A preview of the midweek Champions League action…
English teams have made such a stark impression over this premier event that pundits/betters are sure of at least one English team competing for this year’s finale, a trend continuous from the past four seasons. Not without reason.
– English teams lost only two matches during the 08-09 CL group stages, compared to four losses by Spanish teams and six losses by Italian teams.
– Between 2004-2008 CL competitions English teams have won 13 knockout ties and lost five such ties over Italian or Spanish teams. It works out to an astounding 72% success rate.
This English factor will have a huge bearing to the extent that if Inter Milan and Real Madrid are to get past this round, they would be under pressure to get a two goal margin win at home. Real’s six star performance over the weekend (their ninth straight win in La Liga), gives the confidence for such a demanding result off Liverpool. The Reds, on the other hand, have made more off-field headlines, than on-field ones, ever since they reached the EPL top spot and then gift wrapped it to Manchester United.
The Inter Milan and Jose Mourinho marriage is based on one common objective – The Champions League trophy. Chelsea sacked Jose, as he couldn’t win it for them. Inter sacked Mancini and hired Jose in the hope of winning it. This and the cunning cells between Mourinho’s ears give more hope to the Nerrazzuri supporter than their unconvincing ride to the top of Serie A since the turn of the year. Nevertheless, they still keep winning their key matches, and guess that’s what cowboy Mourinho’s all about – results!
Inter will pose a real test for the flawless Manchester United. So ruthless have the latter been that Blackburn’s Santa Cruz would have been a Santa Claus to 19 EPL managers, this Saturday. The question all over the 19 minds was no more ‘how can we beat Manchester United?’ it was and is, ‘can we score one against Manchester United?’
The two other English-Italian matches are just as even. Juventus have dropped 10 off their last 21 points, (which actually bloats Inter’s dominance, than what it actually is) and Chelsea are in a ‘transition-cum-last ditch recovery’ mode with Guus Hiddink. The Dutchman’s record with national teams is unmatchable. But its one challenge getting second rung national teams to top flight, and quite another, to deliver trophies out of a top flight billionaire club with XXXL sized egos.
Roma have leaped up the Serie A table from 15th spot to current fifth, over a steady two months. Arsenal, on the other hand, unlike of them, have managed a slew of draws lately. However Arsene Wenger’s prime concern would be the team’s poor conversion rate. At the Emirates stadium this season, the Gunners have fired just 18 EPL goals off 215 attempts.
Concerns are also there with Bayern Munich, with Villareal, with Sporting Lisbon or with Atletico Madrid. All four teams had their rhythm broken over the winter break, and have slipped in their domestic league race since. But then, when was Champions League a reflection of current form? In fact, in this century, apart from Barcelona in 2006 and Manchester United in 2008, the best team of the year has never gone on to win the CL trophy.
Haradona’s picks and decisive factors
Atletico Madrid 1-2 FC Porto (Key: Lisandro Lopez vs. a tired Atletico defence after a tough weekend away match at Seville)
O. Lyon 2-2 Barcelona (Key: Karim Benzema’s attempts to impress rival officials vs. a Barcelona defence which played most of the tough weekend derby loss, with a man less)
Arsenal 1-1 Roma (Key: Roma’s determination to overcome their poor CL record vs. English teams (read: Manchester United))
Inter Milan 2-1 Manchester United (Key: The Jose Mourinho factor vs. the law of averages catching up with SAF)
Real Madrid 2-0 Liverpool (Key – Steven Gerrard’s fitness concerns vs. Arjen Robben’s point to prove (after making little impact in Chelsea colours vs. the Reds in CL))
Chelsea 2-0 Juventus (Key – Guus Hiddink)
Villarreal 2-0 Panathinaikos (Key – Villarreal’s tight defence)
Sporting Lisbon 1-2 Bayern Munich (Key: from Ribery to Klinsmann – cometh the hour, cometh the big boys)