Studs Up


Boring and Predictable?
April 8, 2009, 9:55 pm
Filed under: Football

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When the draw was made for the quarter finals of the Champions League, my response to it was negative. Firstly, it seemed to me that we were set for a repeat of last year’s competition, in which the semi-finals were overloaded with English teams. And in addition to this, even as a Liverpool fan, I could barely be bothered with yet another clash with Chelsea. “Here we go again” I thought, as I turned my focus towards the failings within FIFA and UEFA that were eating away at the fabric of the game. But, with the 1st round of ties now completed, things are not panning out in as routine a fashion as I’d expected.

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Last night, Porto surprised everybody by coming and having a really good go at Man Utd, and it paid off for them quite handsomely. It’s unfortunate from a Porto supporter’s perspective that Bruno Alves’ horrific back-pass gifted Utd a route back into a game that was running away from them, but with their 2-2 draw they remain in with more than a shout of progressing to the semi-finals. This comes as a big surprise for me, as I’d expected Man Utd to completely roll them aside at Old Trafford. Now Utd must win at the Estádio do Dragão, a feat yet to be performed by any English club. So, while it would be absurd to write off Utd, at least you can say that the tie is exciting and difficult to predict, which is more than many would have been expecting.

And then there is the all-English tie. Amazingly, Rafael Benitez has prepared his Liverpool side for no less than 21 encounters with Chelsea since he came to Liverpool in 2004, with another to come next Tuesday. The majority of these matches have been cagey and boring, and I feared more of the same tonight and next week. However, while tonight’s game with Chelsea did not make pleasant viewing for me at all (I’ve not seen a worse Liverpool performance at Anfield on a European night in years), I have to admit that it seemed at least like it must have been a great game of football for a neutral to watch. And not only was it a good game, it was also a major upset that will have raised eyebrows across Europe. In their last European game, Liverpool inflicted the heaviest ever defeat on Europe’s most successful club, and since then they have rattled 4 goals past Man Utd at Old Trafford and 5 past Aston Villa at Anfield. So anyone who was predicting that they would be out-passed, out-muscled and outplayed by Chelsea tonight is a shrewder reader of the game than most.

So, does this represent another victory for football? Well, not for me. Obviously it is hard for me to sit back and objectively analyse a game that also happens to be a crushing defeat for Liverpool, so perhaps I am a little biased in taking little pleasure from a game that certainly seemed to be played in the right way. But even if the score had been 7-5 to Liverpool, I would still be finding it totally absurd that Liverpool are playing Chelsea yet again in the Champions League. To put it in perspective, the last time a season went by during which Liverpool and Chelsea did not meet in the Champions League at some stage, Liverpool had not qualified for the competition at all. So while tonight’s open and reasonably attractive encounter may have been a real relief from the usual drab games between the two sides, wouldn’t it still have been much more exciting for a neutral to watch two much more unfamiliar European sides battling instead?

In fact, the vast majority of neutrals will not have been watching Liverpool vs Chelsea tonight, and quite rightly so. If I were not a Liverpool fan, I would most certainly have been watching Barcelona destroying Bayern Munich in the other quarter final. Bayern knocked 12 goals past Sporting Lisbon during their encounter in the 1st knock-out stage, and were therefore considered to be a formidable and dangerous opponent for Barcelona. However, although I have only seen highlights, it would appear that Messi, Eto’o, Henry etc have swept them aside with the same attacking force that has seen them score a massive 85 goals in La Liga. You can always rely on Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side to entertain, and if they keep getting the ball to their front 3, they will keep winning games.

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Before anyone gets too carried away with a set of quarter-finals that have so far been unanimously attractive and exciting whilst producing a couple of unexpected results, it is important to note that we could still very easily see another semi-final draw containing 3 English clubs. Moreover, the dismal nightmare scenario of a repeat of last year’s final is still horribly possible. But, I do think that the approach that has been adopted by all of the teams so far has been excellent, and the result has been 4 excellent games. So perhaps it is not all doom and gloom for European football… perhaps.

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1 Comment so far
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There is no question that Chelsea played well, but for 25 minutes or so they were the lesser side. I think Liverpool’s defeat hinged more on the recurrence of the injury to Gerrard, which restricted his mobility and left him unable to support Torres as effectively as recently, together with the absence of Mascherano which probably added 20% to Chelsea’s midfield possession. Lucas was a frail and ineffective replacement against the muscular presence of Ballack and Essien. It also didn’t help that our left side, Aurelio and Riera, were both woefully ineffective on the night. I have a sneaking feeling, though, that it is not just bravura when the players are saying today that the tie is not over. I expect them to win at Stamford bridge — though by three goals seems a distant call.

Comment by JimmyBags




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