Archive for the ‘Champions League’ Category

Weekly Photoshop – Xavi


Barcelona’s midfield maestro (well one of them anyway) is this week’s theme. A master of keeping possession, it turns out Xavi’s pass, pass, pass approach doesn’t always work (admittedly his chosen specialist subject was something of a surprise!).


'And at the end of that round, you've scored no points and 63 passes...'


More here (this week’s winner had the same idea).





Season Predictions 09/10 – How They Turned Out


Apologies for the lack of posts recently. I’m still in two minds about whether to do season reviews for each club – to be honest I’m in World Cup mode now. Perhaps I’ll still get round to it though.

Back in August I played a mug’s game and tried to predict how everyone would finish. Here’s what actually happened:

'Expert' predictions...

Looking at the results showed I got just three clubs spot on: Man City in 5th and basement dwellers Hull and Pompey taking the bottom two places. In my defence I was only one place out with six other clubs but really this table looks like what it is, rubbish punditry.

I think if Gareth Southgate and Garth Crooks had a bastard lovechild it would look something like this predictions table (enjoy those nightmare thoughts kids).


In terms of the thinking, I had found it really tricky to split the top three when writing pre-season predictions. My loyalties to Arsenal may have played a part in placing them second while I couldn’t bear to predict Chelsea as Champions even though deep down I knew they had retained the most strength over the summer.

A similar scenario led to placing Spurs 7th – I was hardly going to predict them a Champions League spot was I?! I underestimated Liverpool’s decline and overestimated Sunderland’s improvement.


The biggest mistake was Birmingham, a full nine places out, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who had them down to struggle. Fair play to Alex McLeish (who I had as first sacking!), he brilliantly led them to a top half finish.

The bottom half was slightly better predicted clubs wise, if not positions wise. The dearth of quality is such that it’s pot luck as to where the likes of Bolton and Wigan finish. I got three of the bottom four right and on another day would have predicted Burnley to come in 18th not 17th.


In terms of the cups and other stuff it went like this:

And I thought the league prediction was bad...

Oh dear. Only Bayern Munich correct and I suppose West Brom for promotion. If the Premier League table was the Southgate/Crooks lovechild then this is the resulting mess when said lovechild had a threesome with Alan Shearer and Jamie Redknapp. I literally couldn’t do any worse at being a pundit. Like I said at the beginning, it’s time for the World Cup…



Weekly Photoshop – Jose Mourinho


In case you hadn’t realised, this week some guy is facing Chelsea for the first time since being sacked leaving by mutual consent in September 2007. Yes the Special One is back and who else could be the theme for this week’s Guardian Photoshop gallery…


Jose Mourinho Chelsea Inter Special One

The old media darling back in the country? At the same time as the new media darling?! There's only one way to settle this...


Lots more here – he certainly is a rich source material.





Weekly Photoshop – Beckham vs Man Utd


The business end of the Champions League starts this week and one of the best ties will be Man Utd vs Milan and the return of David Beckham to Old Trafford. Perfect excuse for this week’s Guardian Photoshop theme then.


beckham milan man utd

Ever the faithful lieutenant, the Neviller knew exactly what to do when Sir Alex said 'Give Becks a nice welcome back'.


Lots more to be found here, it seems everyone likes to have a go when Becks is involved.





Weekly Photoshop – Liverpool’s Europa League Adventures


What happens when you get knocked out of the Champions League group stages? Come third and you get to spend the spring travelling around far-flung places in the Europa League. Last season even the likes of Spurs and Aston Villa decided this was more hassle than it was worth so goodness knows how Liverpool will react when they have a go. Their future adventures forms this week’s Guardian Photoshop theme.


Liverpool Europa League Anfield Gerrard Torres

In the land of submarines, Captain Benítez and his crew sets sail to places unknown. Full speed ahead!


The rest of this week’s gallery is here.





Champions League Draw Reaction


Group A: Bayern Munich, Juventus, Bordeaux, Maccabi Haifa.
Group B: Manchester United, CSKA Moscow, Besiktas, Wolfsburg.
Group C: AC Milan, Real Madrid, Marseille, FC Zurich.
Group D: Chelsea, Porto, Atletico Madrid, APOEL Nicosia.
Group E: Liverpool, Lyon, Fiorentina, Debreceni.
Group F: Barcelona, Inter Milan, Dynamo Kiev, Rubin Kazan.
Group G: Sevilla, Rangers, Stuttgart, Unirea Urziceni.
Group H: Arsenal, AZ Alkmaar, Olympiakos, Standard Liege

Big ears

Big ears

Quite an interesting draw yesterday, and the British clubs on the whole will be happy with the groups they have landed in. No obvious group of death but certainly quite a few where three teams will be competing to qualify.

Group A is quite tough to call. You have the traditional heavyweights of Bayern and Juventus joined by the Ligue 1 Champions Bordeaux. The Germans have made a shoddy start under Van Gaal this year and it remains to be seen if they are preparing to sell Ribery following the arrival of Robben, Juve have bought well this summer and should be strong while it will be interesting to see if Bordeaux have the players to compete at this level. We can safely say Maccabi will be bottom.

What price Bordeaux breaking it up?

What price Bordeaux breaking it up?

Man Utd have a slightly trickier task then usual in Group B but should still comfortably qualify. The long distance trips to CSKA and Besiktas might be a drag, and they drew the one fourth pot team no one wanted in German champs Wolfsburg. Wolsburg have kept the team that took them to the title last season (bar the manager) and Edin Dzeko will look to continue impressing scouts across Europe. Fergie’s side should come top and it will be between Wolfsburg and CSKA for second.

Group C sees Kaka go back to Milan with his new side Real Madrid but they should both be qualifying. Marseille might cause a shock or two at home but will likely fall short in third place.

Chelsea face away tricky ties at Atletico and Porto in Group D as well quite a long trip to Nicosia but their experience should see them qualify. After all wasn’t Ancelotti hired to win this? Porto and Atletico will tear strips off each other and I think that the latter’s superior strike force of Forlan and Aguero will see them join the Blues in the second round.

Group E will be scrappy and I can see both Lyon and Fiorentina causing Liverpool some problems. It could be very tight between these three even though on paper Liverpool are easily the strongest side. They seem to find compact technical teams quite difficult to break down in the group stages and it wouldn’t surprise me if they went through in second.

Group F sees Zlatan and Eto’o return to their respective former clubs with Barcelona playing Inter at the San Siro on matchday 1. Both teams should comfortably qualify though Barcelona’s away games against Rubin Kazan and Kiev are not until November onwards so the weather could play a factor. In particular Guardiola’s side will not want to go to Kiev in December needing something from their last game. I’m sure that won’t be the case though.



Rangers have a fair chance at qualifying from Group G as they’ve been paired with one of the weaker top seeds in Sevilla as well as Stuttgart and Unirea. I think it will be between them and the German side for second with Sevilla’s experience at this level seeing them through in first.

The last group (H) sees Arsenal get quite a gentle draw alongside Standard Liege, AZ Alkmaar and Olympiakos. None will be easy to beat, but all should be beaten. Liege will look to Steven Defour to try and help them get second ahead of Alkmaar but I suspect it will be the Dutch champions who end up nabbing it behind the Gunners in first.

I suspect there won’t be too many shocks overall but I’m sure one or two clubs will manage to mess things up. It all starts on September 14th, can’t wait!


Arsenal 3 – 1 Celtic (agg 5-1)


A comfortable win for Arsenal this evening, and they go through into the main draw for the group stages tomorrow. Celtic might be justified in feeling Eduardo dived to get the penalty for the first goal, but truth be told they created very little in the 90 minutes to suggest the result would have been different had the spot kick not been given.

Eboue and Arshavin put a gloss on the aggregate score before Massimo Donati scored the best goal of the tie with a lovely angled volley. Despite having to come through the qualifiers, the Gunners’ recent European record means they are seeded in pot one.

Proof that Eduardo failed to clear Boruc's mini high jump.

Proof that Eduardo failed to clear Boruc's mini high jump.


The 32 teams qualified for the main draw are as follows:

Pot One: Barcelona, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd, AC Milan, Arsenal, Sevilla, Bayern Munich

Pot Two: Lyon, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, CSKA Moscow, Porto, AZ Alkmaar, Juventus, Rangers

Pot Three: Olympiakos, Marseille, Dinamo Kiev, Stuttgart, Fiorentina, Atletico Madrid, Bordeaux, Besiktas

Pot Four: Wolfsburg, Standard Liege, Maccabi Haifa, FC Zurich, Rubin Kazan, Unirea Urziceni, APOEL Nicosia, Debreceni


Some interesting teams in each pot and no doubt all the top seeds will be looking to avoid Inter, Real Madrid and Juventus in Pot two. Real especially have paid for three consecutive second round knockouts. What price an immediate return to Anfield or Old Trafford for Xabi Alonso or Ronaldo? Pot three has lots of very capable teams who could hold their own with Stuttgart, Atletico and Fiorentina particularly dangerous.

As for Pot four, Wolfsburg are German Champions no less, and have kept the strikeforce which banged in about 60 goals last season. Rubin Kazan will be a tricky side to face too, having overcome the traditional Russian powerhouses in Moscow and St. Petersburg to become Russian Champions last year. Some potentially long distance trips in that pot as well.

The draw is made tomorrow afternoon at some point and we’ll have reaction once it’s all said and done.



Barcelona vs Man Utd Thoughts


Some thoughts from tonight’s Champions League final:  


Best team in Europe. Fact.

Best team in Europe. Fact.


This Barcelona side is a great one. They may have their flaws but their midfield in attack is so good it doesn’t matter. Congratulations on their treble.

The possession football of Messi, Xavi and especially Iniesta was a joy to watch. Both sides had weaknesses going into the game, Barcelona lacking their fullbacks, United their defensive midfielders (good ones at least). The difference in the match was Barcelona took advantage of United’s flaw whereas United failed to return the favour. 

After a dominant opening ten minutes by Man Utd, Barcelona scored out of nowhere and proceeded to then control the rest of the match. In the semi final second leg, Fergie’s side had done the exact same thing to Arsenal. 

Another final, another quiet Henry performance. His chance early in the second half was reminiscent of 2006 when he had an opportunity to wrap things up at 1-0. He missed now as he did then but this time the end result was different and he gets the one major trophy missing from his impressive CV.

Iniesta – excellent.

Ronaldo peaked with his free kick after two minutes.

Vidic, Rio and Van der Sar – not so much. Vidic was turned easily by Eto’o for the opener, while 6’3″ Rio was nowhere near 5’6″ Messi for the second. I thought Van der Sar could have done better with both to be honest.

Against a team so comfortable on the ball, will Fergie regret choosing old man Giggs over the hustling Tevez?

And should Rooney and Ronaldo have interchanged a bit more? You felt Ronaldo would be a more effective winger against Sylvinho, at least for some of the game. 

In his first season as Barca manager (and only the second year in his whole managerial career) Pep Guardiola wins the lot. He joins select list (read five others) to have won the European Cup as player and manager. And to think this team can still improve.



Champions League Semi Final Second Legs


After two fairly underwhelming first legs in both the Barcelona-Chelsea tie and Manchester United-Arsenal tie, this week should see a tense and exciting finish conclusion of the semi finals. It is still all up for grabs. Here are my thoughts about how the first legs panned out and what to expect from the  sides involved in the second.



Chelsea vs Barcelona

Guus Hiddink and his team were heralded in the media for their tactical outmaneuvering of Barcelona at the Nou Camp. The stats tend to agree – not only did Barca not score but they failed to create that many good chances, with the best falling to the youngling Bojan Krkic. Credit where credit is due, Chelsea played to their strengths – very literally. The combination of Essien, Ballack and Mikel in the middle denied the engine room players Xavi and Iniesta the space to operate, while Messi was often forced inside by a unusually defensive-minded performance from Bosingwa.

Nevertheless, it was such an unambitious showing from Chelsea that I am not quite sure why anyone is confident they can beat Barca at Stamford Bridge. Failing to score an away goal puts them in the unenviable position of needing 2 should Barca score one. Guardiola’s men have scored 140 in all competitions this season, who wants to put money on them failing to score one in 180 minutes against Chelsea?

The Blues have players who have the quality to maintain possession and distribute accurately but instead they put all their eggs in the lump-up-to-Drogba basket. If he had scored the chance gifted to him by Rafael Marquez then Drogba may have vindicated the strategy. Lampard was a spectator and thus was unsurprisingly withdrawn before the 90 were up. The reality was that Chelsea did not even attempt to play any football and I think more likely than not it will be the same case in the return leg.

Barca were at their devastatingly best going forward in their 6-2 drubbing of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Saturday night. Although it is pretty clear they won’t get that kind of joy against Chelsea at the Bridge, I expect Las Blaugranas to dominate proceedings yet again. Hiddink will rely on the same tactic of frustrating Barca and hope to provoke them into a mistake by frustrating and aggravating their players, as they did in the first leg.

If Henry is injured it is a massive blow but I think this Barca team is playing with such confidence and quality that regardless of who comes into replace him, Chelsea won’t see much of the ball and ultimately the class will show.



Arsenal vs Manchester United

While Arsenal, unlike Chelsea in the other semi, attempted to play the game against Manchester United, their lineup was completely non-conducive to getting a result at Old Trafford once they conceded the early goal. Wenger tried to contain United with a five man midfield but in the end was lucky to come away with a 1-0 defeat. Ultimately, I think that Arsenal’s failure to score an away goal will come back and bite them on the Arse.

Wenger’s choice to deploy Fabregas in the advanced position, Diaby on the left and Nasri as a holding midfield was based on success against a poor Boro side the weekend before. What happened against United was that Fabregas was forced to come deep to see any of the ball, meaning Arsenal’s last third was congested and Adebayor was isolated figure struggling against the formidable duo of Vidic and Ferdinand. The threat of Walcott was made redundant through lack of distribution and space in behind Evra, while both Gibbs (who had a good game) and Sagna (who was poor) were pinned back by United’s wide forwards.

At the Emirates Wenger will go back to 4-4-2 (thank fuck), although the success of that working depends on Van Persie being fully fit to play (he was passed fit today but who knows what that means for chocolate leg). A forward line of Bendtner and Adebay plays into the hand of United’s aerially astute centre backs. Fabregas will go back to the middle and Nasri return to the left. The problem for Arsene is that United will press the Gooners the same way they did at Old Trafford, safe in the knowledge that if they go out to score early doors, Arsenal will be forced to go gung-ho in search of the 3 goals needed to overturn the away goal.

Nevertheless, the important factor for Arsenal is that they return to playing in the way they feel comfortable (4-4-2) and enjoy. Wenger’s two big matches of tactical experimentation (Chelsea FA Cup semi final and United first leg) were largely failures. Arsneal have got good results against the big sides playing their own game.

United showed why they are European champs at Old Trafford. I expect Arsenal to show that they can play on a par at the Emirates. But when it comes to the crunch, United have the confidence and experience to score when it matters. For my sanity’s sake, I hope it doesn’t come after Arsenal outplay United, leading 2-0 until the 93rd minute. If you are gonna kill my boys Fergie, make it quick and painless.



Champions League Semi Final Preview – Manchester United vs. Arsenal

Sitting comfortably gentlemen

Sitting comfortably gentlemen?

Wednesday night’s meeting between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford will be the first time the two sides have faced each other in European competition. The all English match-up of the past few years – Liverpool vs Chelsea – ,failed to inspire the European audience until the cracker of a game two weeks ago. This time around we have the two teams that have been playing the creme-de-la-creme of Premier League football for the past 10 years. In Wenger and Fergie you couldn’t have two different managers, yet both respected as the best in the business by pundits, fans, players and peers across the world. This is the all Premier League fixture the world has been waiting to watch.

As a Gooner, I must say I feel both the excitement and sickness that comes whenever we are about to face Man U in a big match. I nearly forgot how much I dislike Rooney & co. following the past few seasons of playing second fiddle to a top class Man U team that were superseded in my distaste by those bunch of shit bags over in West London. But then I remember Van Nistelrooy cheating us, Giggs showing his carpet chest, Yorke embarrassing us and the brute rubbing salt in the wounds. The satisfaction of  beating a team that has caused me such pain (1999) and is arguably the best in the world has reminded me how much we must beat them and make sure Cristiano Ronaldo cries. Amy Lawrence over at the Guardian has a decent article looking back on the hate-filled meetings of the past between these two. I doubt we will see anything like the Vieira versus Keano or Keown versus Ruud anytime soon.

Both clubs’ familiarity with each other’s players, style and tactics will make the home and away nature of the tie less important. Arsenal have recently won at Old Trafford and United have got good results at Highbury, then the Emirates, over the past few years. It is always better having the second leg at home because at least you know what you have to do in front of your own fans, but if I am honest, I will not be confident of qualifying for the final even if the Gooners take a one-nil lead from the first leg.

Tactical Analysis – Arshavin-less Arsenal

Regular readers of this blog will know how much we rate Andrei Arshavin. He has made a much bigger impact than even we could have hoped, defying Arsene Wenger’s belief that it takes foreign players at least half a year to adapt to the Premier League. Arshavin has brought much needed creativity, hunger, experience and as we saw against Liverpool – top class finishes. But come Wednesday, Arsene will have to alter the side to compensate for Shava’s cup-tied status. Here are some of the main tactical considerations for Arsene:


Angry Cesc

Angry Cesc (on a sidenote doesn't the guy behind look like a white Rio Ferdinand?)


Since the Spanish general has come back from injury, Arsene has for some reason been determined to play him in an advanced position just behind the lone striker. In his first game back Cesc assisted two Adebayor goals in this position but since then he really hasn’t convinced me. He had a pretty anonymous game against Villareal in Spain and spent huge periods of the Liverpool game being anonymous. Cesc’s two goals against Boro at the weekend will probably confound Wenger’s belief that he should remain playing there but for me that is a waste of his talents. Fabregas is at his devastating best when collecting the ball from deep utilising his full range of passing. Further upfield he can be dangerous playing in that crucial through-ball but is also more likely to see the game pass by him should Arsenal struggle to dominate possession. However, with Van Persie missing out and Arshavin cup-tied, Arsenal don’t have any better options to put in the ‘hole’ of a 4-5-1.


But mum, I am so excited!

But mum, I am so excited!

Ronaldo versus Gibbs

Kieran Gibbs has done fantastically well for the Gunners since coming in for the injured Gael Clichy. He managed to get a few Carling Cup and FA Cup games under his belt before being called on to replace Clichy and I am sure that has benefited him. Gibbs, like Ashley Cole, has moved to full back from a more advanced position (formerly a left winger) and his strengths going forward are obvious to see. His crossing is certainly better than Clichy’s, although that isn’t saying much. Defensively he hasn’t done too badly but I fear that Fergie will do the obvious and deploy Ronaldo down the right hand side. That will be a big ask of Gibbs, especially in a Champions League semi final. If he takes note from Cole’s good performances against Ronaldo, he will keep his nerve and avoid doing anything rash.

The key for Arsenal keeping Ronaldo at bay should be to attack United down the left hand side as often as possible. It looks likely that Rafael will play, who like Gibbs has an abundance of talent, yet also suffers from a lack of experience at this level. Nasri, who will start on the left, loves to come inside so Gibbs will be the threat going forward. This might leave Arsenal exposed but may force Fergie to deploy Rooney on the right to give more defensive cover.

Walcott versus Evra

Pat Rice Evra is a very good player and probably someone the likes of Gibbs would look up to. Neverthless, I think Evra is someone that can be exposed if you take him on. Walcott (Theo, Theo) is coming of age and has looked extremely confident and decisive since returning from injury. My theory is that Theo charges up like a Duracell Bunny every time he is injured and then comes back at least two times  better than he was before. Anyhow, Theo has the opportunity to a) provide Arsenal with a real threat down the flanks; b) make Evra look like a chump; and c) become such a legend that we will even consider let him grow that bum fluff beard that he likes to connect up with his sideburns to look like a proper rudeboy.


Will Nemanja be able to handle the kids?

Will Nemanja be able to handle the kids?

A test of defensive resolve

Arsenal have a defensive injury crisis that sees Gallas, Sagna, Clichy and Fish Face all sidelined. However, the last time Arsenal got to the Champions League final they were playing a midfielder at left back (Flamini), Eboue at right back, Toure and the liability formerly known as Philip Senderos. Maybe, just maybe, Arsene can replicate a similar kind of lineup with the current crop. Although Djorou’s timely return is a boost in place of Fish Face, the biggest boost is the recovery of Manuel Almunia from injury. Fabianski has had a torrid few weeks and clearly can’t handle the pressure. This has reinforced my belief that sub keepers should be experienced ageing keepers. Fabianski should be out on loan and Arsenal’s sub keeper should be someone like Cudicini.

Regardless, United are back to scoring ways and Wednesday night will be a big ask for Arsenal defensively. Song will provide much needed protection and I expect him to excel in his role as he has over the past couple of months. If the Gunners can restrict United to just a goal at Old Trafford, they can build on that defensive solifity for the second leg.

As for United, despite seeing the formidable duo of Vidic and Ferdinand return, they looked anything but solid against Spurs at the weekend. Adebayor will stretch the centre backs with his runs and Ferdinand has remarked before that Togonator is one of the trickiest players he has come up against. United’s best bet will be to snuff the Arsenal midfield out by deploying the highly charged duo of Fletcher and Park while allowing Carrick to marshal Fabregas and provide distribution. Chelsea put this tactic to great effect in the recent FA cup semi final, drawing Arsenal into their own game.

The Call

United haven’t been playing well, Arsenal have. Does that really matter? Who knows? Arsenal have a good record against the top teams this season but these two sides won’t fear each other. I hate making predictions for my own team but I reckon this will be a score draw or could be edged by United, 1-0 or 2-1. Regardless, I think it will still be all to play for in the second leg at the Emirates. The less I say the better.

What’s left to ponder?

Will Wenger and Fergie share a glass of wine after the game?

What will be Arsenal-player-that-shall-remain-unknown’s food of choice when confronting Fergie?

Will Ryan Giggs be a proper gentleman and give back his undeserved PFA Player of the Year award?

Will Fish Face Silvestre come back to haunt his former employers by coming on as last minute sub and scoring with his eight inch gills?

Will Wayne Rooney be identified as the carrier of the swine virus and be promptly put down at the half time interval?



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