Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Champions League gets "interesting"

When the draw for the first knockout round for the Champs Lge was made back in December we licked our lips in anticipation of some spellbinding ties. Form lines may have flipflopped since then - look at the ups and downs Real and Liverpool have encountered for one example - and some of the sheen may have gone off the initial buzz, but there's a serious amount of interesting football to be played in the next couple of weeks. We use the word interesting deliberately - these games almost certainly won't be crackers of the 4-3, all-out attack variety, but for anyone who enjoys their tactical match-ups and spends nights wondering about the pluses and minuses of the 4-2-3-1 against the 4-3-3, this could well be tactical porn.
So let's have a peek at the different fascinations...

Inter v Man Utd
Jose v Fergie both tickles the immediate senses and lingers as a real issue here. Mourinho WILL have his team both set up perfectly tactically and up for this mentally, they'll believe they have the beating of the European champions, something they never really did under Mancini beforehand. He'll most likely sit pretty deep even at home and hope to draw United out, leaving very little room for the likes of Rooney and Ronaldo to get on ball or run at defences. The full-backs, Maicon and Santon, will bomb forward if given opportunities though and of course, Ibrahimavic will look to step out of the big-man-for-small-occasion box media like to put him into (much like Francesco Totti's rep around European football). Inter have some decent ballplayers in midfield - Muntari, Cambiasso, Stankovic - though they lack a bit of legs perhaps.

Ferguson might well, depending on having Evans/ O'Shea to call on, go for three central midfielders in Carrick/ Fletcher/ Giggs with Park and Rooney supporting Ronaldo up top, sacrificing Berbatov's presence and Tevez's energy for an extra body and more control away from Old Trafford. I can't imagine either team killing themselves going all out for goals here or the game being anyway open or end-to-end. Inter have played 12 league games at home - they've had four 1-0s, four 2-1s and three 0-0/1-1 draws. United aren't conceding or scoring an awful lot.
Expect a stalemate 0-0,a 1-1 (I'm inclinced to think it may be similar to Lyon-Man Utd last season with United grabbing a lateish equaliser) or maybe a 1-0 either way. It won't be pulsating or edge of the seat but it will be tense and interesting, more The Sopranos than Lost if you will.

If you like passing football, you'll love this. Roma started off the season in pathetically poor form but have been quite brilliant recently, thumping goals, spraying the ball around with pacy, one-touch, attacking brio, all flowing moves and interchanging positions under Luciano Spalletti. They're easy on the eye, no doubt, with Perrotta and Totti (if fit) supporting Mirko Vucinic and Daniele De Rossi, Aquilani patrolling midfield - they'll line out in some form of 4-3-1-2 or 4-3-2-1 depending on personnel. Arsenal, we all know at this stage, like to pass the ball but have had as much penetration as a lonely old spinster in recent times. Arshavin is cup-tied so matchwinning deeds need to come from Van Persie and Nasri. There'll be plenty neat, pretty triangles from both teams, but if Roma come with some real cutting and can shrug off their horrible form against Man Utd of the past couple of seasons, they'll cause problems. We'll go with a draw perhaps.

Elsewhere, we've got the form team in Europe - well, until Saturday evening - in Barcelona, visiting Lyon, who might well be past their best at this level by a year or two. Lyon were the thinking guy's favourites there for a time - the team the guy who was trying to be clever down the pub always referred to as ones to watch - but they never really convinced against the genuine top sides. They'll give Barca a fright or two alright, but Messi and co ought have too much in the end.
We'll be back tomorrow with some reaction and preview of tomorrow's games.

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