Sunday, April 09, 2006

Champions League and the last 4

We’ve reached the last stages of the champions league and for my money, I hope its ArsenalBarcelona in the final. I think it will be.

Arsenal have to face a stubborn Villareal team which has been underestimated time and again. Barca face AC Milan, who I still can’t believe won against Lyon.

Milan won as much because of Lyon’s tactics as their quality of play. Milan looked beaten and uninspired even thought the first goal in the match was theirs. Lyon had the better of the match and evened the score only 6 minutes after Milan’s opener. Starting in the second half, Lyon decided to hang back and soak up pressure. What a stupid move. I watched the tactics devolve and thought to myself ‘this is just what Milan want’. And boom, minutes before time Milan scored and then again seconds before the end.

I really believed this Champions League could have been won by the French side. They showed flair, grit and class throughout the entire tournament. They lost it all in the final stretch because they chose to punt the ball out of their own end rather than play to their strengths.

Milan, last year’s finalists, like so many Italian teams are lucky to join the club of 4. They hang around until a break appears and take it. I can’t see this AC Milan defeating Barcelona. This is not the Milan of the early 90’s.

Barcelona defeated Benfica to reach the last 4, a stubborn team who held the Catalan side to a goalless draw in the first leg. At home Barcelona won an admittedly ugly and sloppy affair. Sometimes you have to win ugly which is probably what they will have to do again.

As for those Gunners, what can you say? All season, all those commentators saying Arsenal are easily roughed up and break down when in a physical game were wrong. Its true, Arsenal had been weak early in the season under physical pressure but the team has evolved in leaps this season, a team now unrecognizable from the ballerinas which started the campaign.

The first leg again Juventus was a brilliant performance. The second match was ugly, but enough to win. 3 sending off’s did nothing to help the Juventus cause. In the end, Arsenal showed that Juventus was in fact an Old Lady.

Villareal are about 2 players: Riquelme and Diego Forlan. If Arsenal can shut them down they will win. Arsenal will have trouble with them at home but have a better attack than any team Villareal have faced.

In conclusion, has anyone else noticed the shift in European football towards England? Last years Cup was Liverpool; this year could very well be Arsenal. Last season saw Liverpool and Chelsea in the semi’s. Juventus, leaders by a mile in Italy, were taken apart by a team that sits 5th in the Premiership, Liverpool finished last season in 5th, outside of the Champions League placement. Could we see Arsenal win and also finish outside the qualifying 4? If we do it shows how tough it is to win the Premiership and just how many strong sides are now in England.

Could it finally be that the quality and pace of play in England is beating out the old style of grind and foul until you win? Are players going to Italy later in their careers (Figo, Vieira) and leaving in the primes (Shevchenko)? I think so.


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Anonymous brookster said...

Strange how one team in the UK comes through and does well is usually the one team that is struggling domestically: Arsenal haven't hit top form this year in the same way that Liverpool didn't last year.

And not forgetting Middlesborough, who are now in the semi's as well, but for the UEFA: they were also struggling domestically at the turn of the year.

You're right: Arsenal would do well not to believe that Villareal will be a pushover.

4/09/2006 1:11 PM  
Anonymous Pratyush said...

Go Barca!

4/10/2006 6:35 PM  
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4/11/2006 3:24 PM  

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