UEFA Champions League Preview

UEFA Champions League Preview

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On March 17, 2010
  • Barcelona, Bordeaux, Geoff Reid, Olympiakos, UEFA Champions League

By Geoff Reid

Bordeaux vs Olympiakos From The Stade Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux (Bordeaux leads 1-0 on agg.)
This tie is still on a knife’s edge and while Bordeaux should be favorites to go through ultimately with their 1-0 lead on aggregate, an away goal in the bag, and playing at home against a side that has just five wins in 13 matches. This however doesn’t mean the French champions will be expecting a cakewalk with Olympiakos having some very dangerous players in the final third. A prize of being in the top eight teams left in Europe is on the line, and Laurent Blanc has called on his squad to recapture the spirit of 2009 which brought them domestic glory in France to see them through, while Bozidar Bandovic believes cohesion mixed in with a little bit of luck can be enough to see the Greek’s through.

The only injury news for Bordeaux is Marc Planus (knee) is definitely ruled out. Key man Alou Diarra was recently troubled with a hamstring injury but played 45 minutes versus Auxerre last Wednesday, and then followed that up with a 90 minute performance versus Monaco on the weekend. Having Diarra fit is a big boost for Blanc’s men and he should compliment French international Yoann Gourcuff who is tabbed to be the next Zinedine Zidane. The question here will be should Blanc go for the killer second goal early and attack or sit back and try and soak up any pressure the Greek’s throw at them while playing counter attack? If anything, it’s about finding the balance and picking the moments when to go forward, and breaking quickly. If the French side gets that second aggregate goal, it will make things that much tougher for Olympiakos.

On top of being a goal down on aggregate, Olympiakos have Diogo (torn hamstring), Dudu (right foot), and Didier Domi (foot) all ruled out with injury. They do however have some experienced players to be called upon starting with goalkeeper and Greece international Antonis Nikopolidis. Former Aston Villa and Juventus defender Olof Mellberg should lead the back four and both players experience will be needed in this second leg. The Greek side also have former Newcastle United striker Lomana LuaLua up front who has never been the most prolific of goal scorers, but is also capable of the unpredictable. It’s pretty obvious that Olympiakos have no choice but to go forward and look for that crucial first goal. The question will be, are Bandovic’s men going to be patient like Lyon did against Real Madrid? Or will they attack from the start? Since they’re only a goal down on aggregate it would be smarter to play the patience tactic here.

Prediction: Bordeaux 1-0 Olympiakos. I fully expect Bordeaux to be very well organized and Blanc has proven to be very good tactically. Overall, the French champions have more quality in the side then Olympiakos, but with all these predictions leaving me with egg on my face so far you just never know.

Barcelona vs Stuttgart From The Camp Nou, Barcelona (1-1 on agg.)
Not only will this tie be very intriguing for the level of talent on both sides, but Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola has said he will set his side out to attack the German club even though a 0-0 draw would send the Catalans through on the away goals rule. He firmly believes if they sit back and defend that that will be the end to their title defense. That right there just shows how much he respects the Bundesliga outfit and rightly so who have some very fine players. Christian Gross knows that Stuttgart have to play a lot more intelligently and disciplined then in the first leg. The most important thing for Gross is that he installs his players to play without fear and enjoy the experience of playing in one of the world’s most amazing stadiums.

Barcelona do have two key players out injured for this one with Eric Abidal (groin strain) and Xavi Hernandez (calf) and will be big blows for the Catalan giants. Xavi suffered a right calf tear in training on Tuesday. Club captain Carles Puyol (back) is listed as doubtful right now, but will go through a late fitness test. That alone should give Stuttgart an optimistic outlook. Seydou Keita has been passed fit after recovering from the right hamstring tear that has ruled him out for the past month. Regardless if Barcelona have a few injuries at the back, their attack is still lights out with players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Thierry Henry and young guns Bojan Krkic and Pedro Rodriguez is frightful for any defense.

Stuttgart to have some injuries with Martin Lanig (cruciate knee ligament), Arthur Boka (dislocated shoulder) and Sven Ulreich (knee) are all ruled out although Lanig has been training this past month after being out since August. Ulreich who is Jens Lehmann’s understudy has been ruled out for six weeks. Gross believes the former Arsenal shot stopper’s experience will be key in Camp Nou although he has never looked totally convincing in all of his career, and especially lately with goalkeepers the standard has gone down it seems this season in Europe. If Stuttgart can manage to keep the ball and find in form striker Cacau on top of the injuries to Barcelona’s defensive part of the side, the German side will be in with a real shout of getting something from this tie. The big x factor could be Belarus midfielder Aleksandr Hleb who is on loan to Stuttgart from Barcelona. You have to think that he has a lot to prove to Guardiola and Barcelona and what’s more perfect then doing that in Camp Nou in the second leg of a Champions League last 16 tie with the score tightly balanced at 1-1?

Prediction: Barcelona 2-1 Stuttgart. You just can’t bet against Barcelona at home with the attacking players they have available. However, do not be surprised if Stuttgart can pull this one off because we’ve seen some upsets so far in the last 16 these last two weeks with Real Madrid and Sevilla getting knocked out. It’s up to Barcelona to carry the flag now for Spain.

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