Editor’s Note: Geoff Reid appears on WVHooligan.com weekly, typically every Monday. He continues his look this week at the UEFA Champions League.
FC Barcelona (ESP) vs Chelsea (ENG) at Camp Nou Tuesday
If the Chelsea vs Liverpool tie the previous round looked to be a bore at best on paper, certainly this tie looks a classic. However, the last round showed us that on paper, it doesn’t matter.
The Catalan giants are the most feared attacking team in the world and why wouldn’t they be with players such as Messi, Eto, Henry, Iniesta, Dani Alves and Xavi Hernandez. They wrapped up their tie against Bayern Munich in the first leg, this time Chelsea will be a much sterner test and especially against Guus Hiddink who is one of the best managers around and certainly is not lucky in any way. He knows how to get the best out of his players and his players respond every time.
The key for the whole tie, not only this first leg, will be how Chelsea will try to combat Barcelona’s free, flowing football. Forgotten in all of this hype is that Pep Guardiola is only a rookie manager so it’ll be interesting to see what his tactical and strategical plan will be.
Chelsea will be missing Ashley Cole due to suspension which is not a loss defensively at all since he doesn’t do any defending, but going forward is where he will be missed. Ricardo Carvalho is injured and that will be a loss but the good news in skipper John Terry returns from suspension. The other question will be which Petr Cech will show up since he’s had consistency problems this season. Chelsea’s midfield and strike force is as good as anyone’s with Lampard, Ballack, Kalou, Anelka and Drogba all a scoring threat. Look for Ballack to be sitting back a little to slow down Barcelona’s midfield and stop through balls being played to their strikers.
Barcelona will always be Barcelona and Guardiola will let his side play at free will and with an attack like that, why not? The fullbacks will be pushing forward in the first leg, however, the key for the Catalans is how will they combat the deep runs of Lampard and Ballack? Xavi is very capable of doing that, but he will need help and the back four will be tied up with trying to keep Anelka and Drogba quiet.
This first leg will be an open, lively encounter. Barcelona will win and take a one goal lead heading to west London for the second leg. That will please Chelsea and give them a quiet confidence going into that match.
Manchester United (ENG) vs Arsenal (ENG) at Old Trafford Wedneday
A trip back to the late 90’s and early 2000’s sees Ferguson vs Wenger in its prime. These two clubs in that time span before Roman Abramovich showed up in the summer of 2003 always took up the top two spots in English football. The mind games were just as intense with Sir Alex Ferguson going as far as saying Arsene Wenger had a mental problem with Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Then there was the egos of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira going head to head and the battle of Old Trafford.
Times have changed a little with Chelsea becoming the richest club in the world before the summer of 2008 and Liverpool having success in Europe. This tie will bring two new sides locking horns in the latest chapter of United and the Gunners.
With Arsenal missing Almunia in goal is a big loss as they have been shipping in goals since he went on the injury list while the back four have had a loss of form in recent weeks which is no different compared to the other “big four.” The key for this one will be the midfield battle and Arsenal will be without Andriy Arshavin due to being cup-tied. The leadership will be on the shoulders of the gunners captain Cesc Fabregas who keeps the Arsenal machine ticking. Theo Walcott will be a key figure also to try and open up United in the back to create space for Emmanuel Adebayor up front who will shoulder the responsibility up top with Robin Van Persie out injured again.
For United, their defense has gotten rid of the invincible tag after giving up four at home to arch rival Liverpool. That still doesn’t mean that the partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic lost its solidarity because it’s still one of the best around anywhere with Edwin Van der Sar behind them. Expect Park Ji-Sung to do a job on Walcott and probably either Abou Diaby or Gael Clichy to do the same on Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney since Wazza’s been playing on the left of midfield recently.
I fully expect United to win the first leg at home because simply they have just too much fire power for Arsenal. The second leg at the Emirates could be different, but in order for Arsenal to get a result they will have to score early which teams have shown in the last few weeks it can be done. Before Liverpool knocked United for four, the best that teams would have hoped for was for United to have an off day and the opposition to play out of their skin. Wenger knows now that this is the time to catch United with the games coming in thick and fast this time of the season.