Archive for the ‘Uefa Champions League’ Category

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Earlier this morning I made the bold claim that Champions League semifinals were often, if not usually, better than the final itself. So for some proof, let’s look at a few CL semis from recent years.

1. 2012-13, Bayern Munich vs Barcelona (7-0 agg.)

Bayern’s incredible performance against Barcelona solidified the moment when the locus of power in European football shifted from Catalonia to Bavaria. This was even before Pep Guardiola took over as head coach, a masterful two leg destruction of one of the most legendary sides in football history. The other semi was just as compelling, as Dortmund took Mourinho’s conflicted Real Madrid by surprise.

The final? Alright, but a rote victory for Bayern over their German title race challengers.

2. 2011-12, Chelsea vs Barcelona (3-2 agg.)

A game that Chelsea should not have won, and arguably wouldn’t have if you played the game again. Outshot, hemmed in, lead by the former West Brom coach Roberto Di Matteo, Petr Cech and the Chelsea defense put in a desperate performance only to pounce on the break, setting up one of the more memorable colour calls in football history.

The final? A last minute equalizer from Drogs was fun, but Chelsea barely scraped through. Plus penalties…

3. 2009-10, Inter vs Barcelona (3-2 agg.)

Though it didn’t produce the loveliest football at times, Mourinho’s triumph over Barcelona, despite playing a man down at the Camp Nou in the second leg after the hilariously dubious sending off of Thiago Motta, was one of the Portuguese manager’s signature victories. Mourinho’s defiant celebration with the club’s supporters despite Victor Valdez’s intervention was magic.

The final? A kind of dull 2-0 Inter victory over a Bayern team in transition.

4. 2007-08, Chelsea vs Liverpool (4-3 agg.)

Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea: UEFA Champions League Semi Final from Connor Milligan on Vimeo.

Goals in extra time! Drogba scoring for Chelsea! Fernando Torres scoring for Liverpool! A questionable offside call against Michael Essien, even though his Chelsea teammates arguably didn’t interfere with the shot in question! An assist from Benayoun! Ah, those were the days.

The final? Hmm, it started slow but got going after Ronaldo’s initial strike. Still, mostly remembered now for John Terry falling on his bum.

5. 2004-05, Chelsea vs Liverpool (1-0 agg.)

A tense pair of semifinals through which Liverpool just progressed through the ghostiest of ghost goals by Luis Garcia against Chelsea in the incredible second leg at Anfield. It was the first of the infamous Chelsea-Liverpool meetings in Europe, with all the tension and controversy. This one obviously doesn’t top the Istanbul 3-3 final, but man was it memorable.

The final? Yeah, it was good.

Bayern Munich's coach Guardiola gestures during their Champions League quarter-final second leg soccer match against Manchester United in Munich

So some quick thoughts on the Champions League semis, to add to the giant pile you may have already consumed this morning.

Overview

Some, if not most, Champions League years are defined by incredible semifinal match ups. It makes sense; at this point the best of the best meet at the summit, though there is often a dark horse in the mix somewhere (I’m talking about Chelsea of course). This will be one of the years where we will hear about “the real final” being the Bayern Real Madrid semi. And so…

Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid

This one could be crushed under the weight of its own hype, but this is the price we pay for liking football. Bayern are slight favourites, but Real’s goalscoring prowess in Europe should be a warning sign for Pep Guardiola’s team, who ran into a bit of trouble against plucky Man United in 2/3rds of the quarterfinal legs.

The question for me is Ronaldo’s fitness. Though there’s no reason to think he won’t be back for the semi (he may be back in time for the Copa Del Rey final), it was obvious against Dortmund how limp Real’s counterattack is with Ronaldo sparking the movement. Bale didn’t quite seem up to the task, and there didn’t seem to be enough heft in the midfield with Modric.

Pep as Barca coach had Real’s number with Mourinho in charge…Ancelotti is a different animal.

Prediction: Real Madrid on penalties.

Chelsea vs Atletico Madrid

This should be a fascinating match, against a tactical pragmatist like Jose Mourinho and a defensive genius in Diego Simeone. There is also the matter of Atletico’s loanee keeper Thibaut Courtois, whose contract may or may not required Atleti to pay Chelsea millions of pounds in compensation should he play in both legs, though this will be a distracting and downright confusing sideshow ahead of the first leg.

Atletico aren’t the stereotypical Spanish side in many ways, playing a counterattacking style which also relies on crossing and aerial superiority on occasion. Which might play into Mourinho’s hands (he’s seen this kind of thing before). I’d put money on a tight game, but I’m just spit balling here.

Prediction: Chelsea on pens after two 0-0 draws.

Paris St Germain's Patore celebrates with team mates after scoring the third goal for the team during their Champions League quarter-final first leg soccer match against Chelsea at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris

Devang Desai and Richard Whittall sit down to discuss the U.S – Mexico friendly, this week’s Champions League action and Jose Mourinho’s striker problem.

You can download the podcast here and subscribe on iTunes here. You can also find the RSS Feed here.

Bayern Munich's coach Guardiola is pictured before their Champions League quarter-final first leg soccer match against Manchester United at Old Trafford in Manchester

What are press conferences for?

The ostensible purpose is for the media to gather information about a topic of public interest. So, ideally, when a manager or a player sits down in front of a little table facing rows of sitting reporters, the reading public have an opportunity to learn how they prepared for a match, their impressions of a game, their future plans for the squad, etc.

What has of course happened over the last, say, fifty years (an exaggeration), is that both managers and players have become adept at offering stock, boilerplate answers to various journalist questions in order to not to reveal the underlying truth of the situation—that a manager may not be happy at their club, that a player may not agree with the manager on tactics and so on. In some other cases they offer interesting answers that aren’t true in and of themselves, but rather a means to an end (see Jose Mourinho).

The purpose of the press conference, in other words, is now to provide subtext, not context. So the answers themselves become less important than the demeanor of the person doing the answering. Pressers now involve a bit of seduction between player/manager and reporter. Interesting answers sometimes make the front page, but not as often as interesting reactions.

We witnessed this last night when Guardian Man United reporter Jamie Jackson asked Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola a fairly routine question over whether he thought David Moyes’ side was tactically negative at Old Trafford. What followed was a tense exchange in which Pep demanded Jackson look him in the eye while answering.

It’s pretty funny, but the point wasn’t the answer: it was Pep’s little hissy fit, the subject of a standalone article and the front page of Bild. This is now generally considered solid gold in presser terms, and why eccentric, chatty managers tend to be beloved by the press.

There isn’t anything wrong with this, it’s not limited to football by any means, and it’s hard to see an alternative. Moreover, we still do learn a lot of important information at these regular events. Yet this little act of seduction has established an atmosphere of conflict and distrust, which arguably leads to clubs being secretive on even the most banal details. This routine bit of pantomime is great fun, but where does it end?

Paris St Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring against St Etienne during their French Ligue 1 soccer match at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris

Devang Desai, Richard Whittall, James Bigg and Gianluca Nesci sit down to talk about the Champions League quarterfinal draw. Can Manchester United channel the magic of 1999, Borussia Dortmund look to do the impossible and who is the favorite to win it all — all this and more in the latest edition of the Counter Attack Podcast!

You can download the podcast here and subscribe on iTunes here. You can also find the RSS Feed here.

Bayern Munich's Schweinsteiger celebrates after scoring a goal against Arsenal during their Champions League round of 16 second leg soccer match in Munich

So the Champions League quarterfinal draw is out:

You’re thinking you have a good idea of what this entails in terms of possible entertainment, but I’ll point out the obvious anyway.

Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid

The clear favourite for the most compelling tie of the lot, though on the evidence so far this season it could be a dirge. I’ve long claimed Atletico are a strong dark horse for a Champions League final appearance, and they are a single point ahead of them for second spot in La Liga at the moment. But their encounters this season with Barca have been dry as all get out. In the SuperCopa, a 1-1 draw over two legs, and 0-0 in their last La Liga meeting in early January. Not enough sample size to go on, but Atletico are a much more defensively stalwart team than they get credit for…unless they’re facing Real Madrid in the Copa Del Rey apparently.

Anyway, Martino needs this for a host of reasons, so this could be a bitter fixture.

Real Madrid vs Borussia Dortmund

Dortmund have been plagued with injury all season and are currently in second place in the Bundesliga, 23 points behind Bayern. They squeaked through to the quarters despite a second leg loss against Zenit St. Petersburg. They are facing a Real Madrid side which has scored 29 goals in the competition so far. I mean, miracles can happen, I suppose…maybe Ronaldo picks up a mystery injury or something?

Yet Dortmund have this way about them sometimes. Nah. Madrid are going through.

Paris St Germain vs Chelsea

A great, strong quarterfinal tie with some big, classic names. This is the FIFA 14 match up. Zlatan vs Eto’o. Big money, young talents. A real test for PSG in Europe to go one further against Jose Mourinho’s side, which he believes is now finally coming together. I can’t call it, though I suppose we could point to Laurent Blanc’s relative lack of European experience at crunch time as a manager, compared to Mou. If you believe in that stuff.

Manchester United vs Bayern Munich

Ho boy. This will be set up as the Ultimate Test for salvaging David Moyes’ season with Manchester United, and granted, beating one of the most unstoppable teams over two legs would indeed be something else. It would give Moyes’ people a “But he did beat Bayern” defense which they can cling to for the next few months before the inevitable.

In reality however, I can see this tie being over after the first leg. Despite polite, public declarations from Bayern representatives (if they exist, I haven’t read them yet), Bayern were hoping for this draw, and they got it.

Arsenal v Bayern Munich - UEFA Champions League Second Round First Leg

Devang Desai, Richard Whittall and James Bigg sit down to talk about this week’s Champions League action, including red card misery for a pair of Premier League clubs, PSG’s chances of winning it all and Adel Taarabt’s rejuvenation.

You can download the podcast here and subscribe on iTunes here. You can also find the RSS Feed here.