Monday, December 27, 2010

La Liga Lowdown—Champions League draw

Champions League draw - First Round

AS Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk

AC Milan v Tottenham Hotspur

Valencia v FC Schalke

Inter Milan v Bayern Munich

Lyon v Real Madrid

Arsenal v Barcelona

Marseille v Manchester United

Copenhagen v Chelsea

Arsenal v Barcelona

Arsenal managed to hold their nerve against Sparta Praha to finish second, while FCB got a nice result on Match Day 5 versus Panathinaikos FC to ensure qualification.

There are two factors to this tie: 1) Will FCB still be in El Clasico form? If so, 2) what did Arsenal learn from last year, won’t matter. Let’s say that the Blaugrana are only mortal. What will the Professor do to keep them getting run off the park? Play a deeper line? Play more defensive minded outside mids to help double team and track the Barca attack? Remember, the only reason they were in the tie last year is because they grabbed 2 late goals at the Emirates in the first leg, before getting absolutely destroyed at the Nou Camp.

Prediction: A tighter series but having the same result. A small part of me actually fancies Arsenal if they can keep at a clean sheet at the Emirates.

Lyon v Real Madrid

Lyon started with maximum points in their first three matches and then crawled over the finish line to finish behind Schalke. Real Madrid owned the supposed group of death, winning five and drawing one.

Where to start on this match up? Revenge? Pressure? Recent History?

Last year a thunderous strike from Makoun gave Lyon the edge going to the Bernabeu. CR7 quickly erased that but a scrappy goal from Pjanić knocked Los Merengues out at the round of 16 for the sixth straight year.

Make no doubt about it. This is the trophy Jose was hired to win. A failure in this competition and another second place finish in La Liga will take some gloss off the Special One and will make for an interesting summer. As for Lyon, they may have righted the ship in Ligue 1 but Puel could win the Double and still get run out of town.

Prediction: As long as Real Madrid wear their finishing boots, they should make easy work of this tie, possibly winning 1-0 away and 2-0 at home.

Valencia v FC Schalke

Schalke are slowly coming around after losing their first four Bundesliga matches and first Champions League match. They are now up to mid-table and qualified as group winners with a match to spare, and the Royal Blues will be counting on veterans Raul and Huntelaar and German national keeper Neuer.

Valencia, on the other hand have been slipping since their wonderful start to this campaign. Once FCB punched them in the mouth in mid-October they have gone maddeningly inconsistent, finally settling in fourth place at the break. In the Champions League, they beat Bursaspor like the proverbial step child to set up a clash with United on the final day. They were 30’ away from winning the group, but Anderson’s equalizer caused Los Che to finish second.

I see very few goals in this match, only because I am not convinced by Soldado and Aduriz of Valencia. The Spanish contenders will hold on to the ball but don’t see them doing enough to really create havoc. If they can get out of the Mestalla with a scoreless draw or 1-0 victory, I see them progressing. An away goal and they are toast.

So I see at least two of the Spanish contingent making it through. I'm sure UEFA is already rigging the draw to separate FCB and Real Madrid to create the anticipation of a final between Spanish giants.

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