UEFA Champions League Previews

UEFA Champions League Previews

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On February 16, 2010
  • 0 Comments
  • Arsenal, Bayern Munich, FC Porto, Fiorentina, Geoff Reid, UEFA Champions League

By Geoff Reid

FC Porto vs Arsenal from Estadio do Drago, Porto

Back in 2004, these two clubs were flying with some of the best seasons in their history. Porto, under a guidance of a certain Jose Mourinho won the UEFA Cup in 2003, followed in 2004 by winning the Champions League beating AS Monaco 3-0. Arsenal on the other hand, just went through a whole season unbeaten domestically on their way to win the Premiership title for the third time under Arsene Wenger. Both squads have changed so much since then, and the remains of those two squads from 2004 are scattered all over the rest of the globe or in retirement. Heck the gunners were still playing at Highbury as Emirates Stadium was being built at this time. Today, Porto remains a power in the Portuguese Liga, with some very talented players, but not as big a player on the continent. Arsenal, haven’t won a trophy since the FA Cup in 2005 when Patrick Vieira was captain, before the move to the new stadium. However, both sides are pretty familiar with each other meeting in the group stages of last seasons competition when Porto beat Arsenal 2-0 at Drago, but in north London Wenger’s men trounced the Portuguese 4-0 with both clubs qualifying for the knockout stages.

Porto’s last line of defense is very capable Brazilian goalkeeper Helton and anchoring the back line will be club captain and Portuguese national team defender Bruno Alves. Left winger and Uruguayan international Cristian Rogriguez should provide the main supply to big Brazilian striker Hulk with club vice captain Raul Meireles will have the responsibility to hold the midfield together and contain Arsenal’s attacking threat and also has a good range of passing and shooting when getting forward which will be key in this first leg. Hulk especially will be a marked man with not only his size, power and strength, but also is quick and has an excellent shot.

Arsenal, a club I watch on a weekly basis have had an up and down season. We’ve been hearing so much about when these young kids will finally grow up for the last four years or so. The future surrounding captain and Spanish international Cesc Fabregas continues to be a distraction with a return to Barcelona likely in the summer. Still, a side that is capable of playing some wonderful football have been shaky at the back recently. In goal, Manuel Almunia will miss the trip with a hamstring injury so Lukasz Fabianski will mind the net with former club captain William Gallas also being left behind with a back injury. It looks like Sol Campbell could now make his first Champions League start since the 2006 final vs Barcelona. Another key defender will be Belgian international Thomas Vermaelen who has proven a good signing with some fine performances this season.  In midfield, the gunners will also be depleted with Russian hitman Andrei Arshavin out due to a hamstring problem. This means that joining Febregas in midfeld should be Czech Tomas Rosicky getting the start along with Abou Diaby and Theo Walcott working the wings. Up top, expect to see Dane Nicklas Bendtner to lead the line in the continued absence of Dutchman Robin Van Persie to provide a physical presence, especially if Wenger chooses to go with one up front being away from home. If that’s the case, we could see Welsh wonder kid Aaron Ramsey in midfield as well.

Prediction: Porto will take this first leg 1-0 in this very evenly matched tie. It will be a very interesting return leg in north London coming up.

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Bayern Munich vs Fiorentina from Allianz Arena, Munich

This particular match-up will be very intriguing. The Bavarians are in form after a nice 3-1 win this past weekend against rivals Borussia Dortmund, while the Voila are coming off a 2-0 defeat to Sampdoria and a bad run of form that currently has them in 11th place in Serie A. On top of the current form guide, the German giants on paper have better players available for selection so they will be the favorites, however the Voila’s manager Cesare Prandelli has been an expert in leading clubs with tight budgets and less riches to choose from having previously been Parma’s manager. This is something that Bayern’s Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal understands all too well.

Currently the Bavarians don’t have any injury worries apart from striker Miroslav Klose, who is classed as doubtful with a leg injury. Hans-Jorg Butt will be in goal with Belgian Daniel Van Buyten and Argentine Martin Demichelis anchoring the defense. Also, Philipp Lahm should be expected to go forward and join the attack to provide width in midfield. Fiorentina’s best chance of winning the tie will be to put pressure on Bayern’s defense because they have been known to ship goals in, but Van Gaal has tightened it up much better then it was under Jurgen Klinsmann. The midfield general will be club captain Mark van Bommel. The creative sparks will come from the two obvious choices in Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben and will be a handful for the club from Florence. With Luca Toni on loan to AS Roma and Klose most likely doubtful, look for Ivica Olic or Mario Gomez to get the nod up front. Either Van Gaal will go for one up top or since this is the home leg, he could go with two. Somewhere in the mix will be German international Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Prandelli has injury issues with Cristiano Zanetti (knee), Alessandro Gamberini (shoulder) and Mario Santana (calf) as well as Romanian hit man Adrian Mutu on suspension. All this doesn’t mean the Voila won’t be dangerous because they’re still a very good side. In goal will be Frenchman Sebastian Frey and who will anchor the back line. It’s unclear as to who Prandelli will put in his defense with the selection issues on hand. Discipline will be in order if Fiorentina want to get a result on the road and that will be enforced by captain Riccardo Montolivo. Up front, in absence of Mutu, Alberto Gilardino will shoulder the load and be expected to produce the goods. Gilardino has always played his best football under Prandelli and his manager hopes it will long continue, especially in Munich.

Prediction: FC Hollywood will take this one 3-1. Fiorentina are just missing too many quality players to get a result on the road and with Bayern’s attack, I can’t see them slowing down here. If the score is not run up, the second leg can prove very crucial in Florence for the Viola.

Editor’s Note: Geoff Reid appears on WVHooligan.com each week. Feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below.

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