UEFA Champions League Preview

UEFA Champions League Preview

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On February 22, 2010
  • 0 Comments
  • Barcelona, Bordeaux, Christian Gross, Geoff Reid, Jens Lehmann, Markus Babbel, Olympiakos, UEFA Champions League, VFB Arena

By Geoff Reid

Stuttgart vs Barcelona from the VFB Arena, Stuttgart

This tie will have the defending champions as overwhelming favorites, especially with the difficult season the Stuttgart have had. The Germans changed managers replacing former national team full back Markus Babbel with Swiss boss Christian Gross. Gross, knows all too well he has a tough job on his hands, but understands that if his team can be compact and smart, then they can certainly give the world club champions a run for their money. The goalkeeper, German international Jens Lehmann, was on the losing side of the 2006 final against Barcelona when he minded the net for Arsenal. Also, Belorussian midfielder Aliaksandr Hleb is on loan to Stuttgart from Barcelona, and at this point we’re not sure if the loan agreement will allow him to take part against the Catalans.

Lehmann will anchor the back line, and Gross will be counting on all his experience to lead the younger players against the best of the best. Ivorian defender  Arthur Boka will be missing due to an injury he picked up in training before the club’s 5-1 win away to FC  Cologne. This will mean Dutch defender Khalid Boulahrouz and Mexican full back Ricardo Osorio will play vital parts against Barcelona’s lethal attack. Stuttgart’s main weapon in attack is Romanian striker Ciprian Marica. He should be partnered up front by Brazilian born German striker Cacau who scored four goals in the 5-1 victory at Cologne. The German side are in form at the moment winning six out of their last seven games, however keeping one clean sheet in nine outings. Confidence is what will be needed and they got plenty of it currently.

The giants from Catalonia just continue to be on another planet after thumping Real Racing Club 4-0 on the weekend. The previous week however, they suffered their first defeat of the season in La Liga by Atletico Madrid, and only manager Pep Guardiola’s 10th defeat overall as boss having played 101 matches. For Barcelona, Seydou Keita (right hamstring tear) and Eric Abidal (groin strain) are definitely both out, while Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic (ankle), midfield anchor Xavi Hernandez (right thigh) and full back Danny Alves (right calf) all look doubtful. These players being out of the lineup should give Stuttgart a chance, but there is far too much cover for the Spanish champions. In goal will be the ever present Victor Valdes, while captain Carles Puyol will anchor the back line next to Gerard Pique and Rafa Marquez. With Xavi being doubtful, look for Sergio Busquets or Yaya Toure to slide in next to Andres Iniesta in the center of midfield. Out wide and up front will be Argentinean wonder kid Lionel Messi and Frenchman Thierry Henry. Depending on Ibrahimovic’s status, Guardiola could go with one of two Spanish young sensations in Bojan Krkic or Pedro Rodriguez.

Prediction: 2-0 Barcelona. It would be foolish to bet against the Catalans here, even with several injuries to top players. If Stuttgart can hold them to no goals then anything can happen.

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Olympiakos vs Bordeaux from Georgios Karaiskaskis Stadium, Athens

This tie won’t be on the neutral’s radar, but will be one of the most evenly contested on the last 16. Both sides will fancy their chances at progressing to the quarter finals, especially Bordeaux because the second leg will take place in France. Olympiakos boss Bozidar Bandovic is relying on “passion and the will to win” to be the key to his side progressing which tells us he thinks his squad hasn’t got enough talent to win on talent alone.  Bordeaux on the other hand are managed by former national team center back Laurent Blanc who seems to be one of the top up and coming managers in world football.

The Greek’s will be anchored by veteran goalkeeper and captain Antonios Nikopolidis. The back line for the Athenian club will consist of Frenchman Didier Domi, Spaniard and former Real Madrid man Raul Bravo, and Swedish international center back and former Aston Villa defender Olof Mellberg. The Brazilian pair of Diogo (torn hamstring) and Dodo (right foot) are out for this one. The midfield will run through Argentinean Luciano Galletti and Spaniard Oscar. With Diogo out injured for this one, this should give Englishman Matt Derbyshire his chance to prove his worth up front.

Lorient Blanc will be without club captain and French international Alou Diarra (hamstring) and Jaroslav Plasil (ankle) is doubtful. Cedric Carrasso is expected to take up his position in goal with Michael Ciani and Carlos Henrique leading the defense. The midfield will be built around Yoann Gourcuff who has drawn comparisons to none other then Zinedine Zidane and can play either as a withdrawn striker or playmaking midfielder. Argentinean international Fernando Cavenaghi will lead the line with possibly former Sunderland and Manchester United striker David Bellion as his partner depending on whether Blanc prefers one striker or two up top in this away tie.

Prediction: 1-1. Not much separates these sides on paper, and with what’s on the line expect a cagy first leg in the Greek capital. Most of the attacking will come from Olympiakos. If Bordeaux can snatch an away goal, that’ll be just what they asked for as Laurent Blanc has usually had his teams well organized and hard to beat.

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

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