Archive for the ‘Champions League’ Category

Party in Your Pants

September 19, 2007

Actually, the party is at Emirates Stadium tonight in North London when Arsenal and Sevilla get it on. For a full preview of this game from the Gunner’s perspective check out the superb A Cultured Left Foot. The comment section alone is thoughtful reading for Arsenal fans.

Throw out TTL’s (un)proven theory of 1st games in CL Group stages lacking offensive firepower. Hoping the goal-scoring carries over to tonight. But in order to look forward, we must first venture back to the past. Specifically, some TTL headlines from last night’s action.

Liverpool, were “very, very bad” in the words of their Manager Rafa Benitez. LP were lucky to draw 1-1 with Porto as the Portuguese Champs dominated the game everywhere but the scoreboard. LP conceded their 4th penalty kick of the year(!) in the 8th minute and Lucho Gonzalez converted from the spot. This was after Steve Finnan’s poor clearance almost gifted Porto a goal in the 2nd minute as only a fine stop from Pepe Reina prevented a goal. The Dutch porn-star Dirk Kuyt headed LP level after 17 minutes but that was the high point of LP’s evening. Jermaine Pennant picked up a needless 2nd yellow forcing LP to play a man down for the final 32 minutes and some staunch defending kept it tied. TTL was furious at Pennant for his ill-tempered game all night and forcing me to watch LP play with 10 men. The best one can hope for is a draw at that point. Could have just chanted “Defense, defense” for the rest of the game. Ruined a perfectly fine night of football and wouldn’t find seeing Pennant rotated out of the much ballyhooed rotation for his poor performance.

Shakhtar Donestk proved the Ukraine is strong in hammering hapless Celtic 2-0. Celtic has lost 13 CL away games on the trot and they certainly weren’t convincing last night. Realistically, Celtic is playing for 3rd in Group D as 3rd-place finishers are put into this season’s UEFA Cup. But Celtic will need a much improved performance as Donestk could easily scored 5. Every time TTL glanced at the game the Ukrainian side had Celtic under pressure.

Andriy Shevchenko rescued Chelsea from an embarrassing home loss to Rosenborg. The Blues drew 1-1 as Rosenborg put in a good performance and benefited from Chelsea twice hitting the post in the 2nd half. And things keep getting worse for Chelsea as it appears both Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba will miss this Sunday’s tilt with Manchester United at Old Trafford. TTL suggests Jose Mourniho skip the omeletes all-together and go with scrambled eggs.

Spain won their duel with Germany as Real Madrid beat Werder Bremen 2-1 and Valencia won at Schalke 04 by the score of 1-0. Always think the Bundesliga teams are slightly overrated as its been awhile since a German club made a good run in the Champions League.

Here are tonight’s games. Already covered Arsenal-Sevilla today and yesterday, so TTL sincerely hopes it lives up to my high expectations. The other two games that TTL will be watching are Sporting Lisbon v Manchester United and Barcelona v Lyon.

It’s a homecoming in Lisbon for former Sporting stars Ronaldo and Nani along with Man U’s influential assistant coach Carlos Queiroz who managed Sporting from 1994-1996. There’s a good chance Wayne Rooney will play tonight after recovering from his metatarsal injury. (Ok, it’s officially spooky that as Rooney comes back from his injury England/Wigan striker Emilie Hesky broke his metatarsal). Rooney and Carlos Tevez have yet to play together, so it’ll be interesting to see when/how their partnership up-front meshes. They’re both fantastic players but TTL is wary of their ability to play with each other since their styles are quite similar. Both like to drop deep to pick-up the ball, run hard at defenders and are not great in the air. The situation could parallel the Lampard/Gerrard situation on the English national team as that team floundered because Gerrard and Lampard were unable to play well together despite both being good/great players. Just bears watching.

As for Barcelona v Lyon need to see if Lyon’s window to win the CL has passed. The 6-time defending Ligue 1 Champs were TTL’s trendy pick to win it last season before they exited with a whimper in the 1st knockout stage at the hands of Roma. They started slow in their domestic league this season but have regained their stride winning 4 in a row. And have traditionally played well on the road in the CL the past few years. On the other side is Barca, off to a slow start in La Liga as “los magnificos” are yet to find the goal with any consistency being held to goalless draws in 2 of 3 league games. A team built for offense is sputtering as manager Frank Rijkaard searches how to array his attacking talent of Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o and new 17 year-old sensation Bojan Krkic. This could be the game of the night if Arsenal-Sevilla fails to deliver.

Until tomorrow.

Champions League Kickoff

September 18, 2007

Welcome to the 2007 Champions League. Without further ado, here are tonight’s fixtures with all games starting at 2:45pm Central for those midwestern fans. This is game 1 of the 6-game Group stages with the Top 2 teams from each group advancing to the knockout round of 16. The Group stages rarely produce too many surprises, as a smaller club may win an odd game against the likes of a Barcelona or Chelsea but won’t advance in the end. The 6 games really favor the bigger clubs whose quality/quantity of rosters help them through the grind. Normally the 1st games aren’t known for exciting football as teams usually play not to lose. But let’s hope that is not case this season.

TTL’s game of the night is FC Porto v Liverpool. Porto, the defending Portuguese champs, welcome last-year’s runners-up to the Estadio do Dragao for an intriguing game. Porto is playing excellent football while opening the season with 4 consecutive wins in their domestic league. LP is also on good form, despite being held to 0-0 draw at Portsmouth on Saturday. Steven Gerrard will play tonight and it will be his 80th European game for the Reds. Look for an edgy, tactical game as Porto has only conceded 1 goal this season and LP usually plays a counterattacking style on the road in the Group stages. With Marseille and Turkish side Besitkas also in Group A, winning away from home will be a tough task. Don’t think LP will win tonight, but a draw will suffice for their purposes.

Defending champs AC Milan welcome another Portuguese side, Benifica (and America teenager Freddy Adu) to the San Siro in a rematch of the 1963 Final. Enough said about the Italian clubs the better. And while TTL is an extremely giving mood, let’s give props to Arsenal, top of the table in the Premier League for the 1st time since 2004. Henry who? Although soon could be referring to the Gunners as the Kalashinkovs.

Chelsea hosts Norwegian side Rosenborg at Stamford Bridge without the injured Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Ballack, Wayne Bridge and Claudio Pizarro. Which lead to this typical baffling Jose Mourinho quote:

“The style of how we play is very important. But it is omelettes and eggs. No eggs – no omelettes! It depends on the quality of the eggs. ‘In the supermarket you have class one, two or class three eggs and some are more expensive than others and some give you better omelettes. ‘So when the class one eggs are in Waitrose and you cannot go there, you have a problem.”

TTL wholeheartedly concurs. After spending roughly 1 trillion assembling a roster the past 3 seasons Chelsea should be able to serve up a decent omelette.

Continuing with the food analogy, tonight’s games are some tasty appetizers before tomorrow’s encounter of Arsenal v FC Sevilla which is like steak stuffed with sushi. What a mouthwatering games as these 2 teams are simply fun to watch play. Arsenal is in full form at the moment as their short-passing game is shredding Premier League defenses. And Sevilla plays with a real spirit and commitment to attack as the 2-time defending UEFA Cup champs must win more games 3-1 than any team in recent memory. Put it on your sporting calendar.

Will be back tomorrow (no false promises) with a recap and preview of Wednesday’s action. C’mon Liverpool.

A Loser’s Lament

May 24, 2007

Ah, football the beautiful cruel game.  Honestly thought Liverpool were the better team last night, but nonetheless, AC Milan won 2-1 (TTL agonizingly predicted a 2-0 Milan win).  Two goals from from the ghoulish Filippo Inzaghi were the difference as Milan avenged their historic loss in 2005.  Cannot stomach Inzaghi, an Italian’s Italian, but he does have a habit of scoring huge goals.  Really wanted Milan’s manager Carlo Ancelotti to start Gilardino instead of Inzaghi upfront, but alas Ancelotti proved wiser. 

As for LP’s Rafael Benitez, the Spanish tactician must have spent too long in the Athens sun/smog.  Rafa out-tinkered himself, playing not 1, but 2 ineffective wingers in Bolo Zenden and Jermaine Pennant.  Amazing that Zenden is important enough to warrant a starting place in the CL Final yet LP shows zero interest in re-signing him this summer.  Countless times in a 1st half that LP controlled, their attack petered out harmlessly when the ball was played out left to Zenden.  Yes, Zenden runs alot and works hard, but all that effort is rather futile when he can do nothing with the ball.  TTL will always be grateful to Zenden for his clutch penalty kick against Chelsea in the CL semis but his time in the LP shirt is over barring a major surprise.    

Pennant played o.k., but his threats down the right-side were more due to Milan leftback Marek Jankulovski’s startling ineptitude, than to Pennant’s own skills.  Also, never see the point of playing Pennant without Peter Crouch, as Pennant’s strength is crossing balls into the box.  It’s very difficult, even for a 6’7″ robotic freak like Crouch, to get his head on Pennant’s crosses from the substitutes’ bench.  Think Pennant will remain at Liverpool, as he’s an important player for the overall depth of the team.  Meaning he’s perfect to start against the lower-tier Premiership sides during the long grind of the season while (hopefully) better players are rested. 

Overall, it was not a good game just compelling drama because it was the Champions League Final.  Surprised that Milan started so poorly and struggled for ages to get going.  Their 1st goal, right at halftime, was just plain luck as Andrea Pirlo’s free-kick deflected off Inzaghi’s arm wrong-footing goalkeeper Pepe Reina.  Even from TTL’s completely biased point of view, not sure if was a deliberate handball, but the goal could have been disallowed.  That goal erased 45 minutes of LP control and gave the (correct) feeling that it was Milan’s night. 

Inzaghi’s 2nd goal in the 82nd minute effectively sealed the game.  Kaka played a smart through pass to Inzaghi who had perfectly timed his run to beat the offside trap.  Inzaghi coolly rounded Reina and snuck a shot into the far corner sending the Milan fans into ecstasy.  Ye Greek gods those 2 sentences hurt to write. 

The Dutch pornstar, Dirk Kuyt, pulled one back from LP in the 88th minute but no miraculous Istanbul comeback was on offer.  Kuyt’s goal was super-frustrating in that it came from a corner.  It was the only corner/free kick that LP whipped into the box all game as they continued their curious season-long habit of playing cute with set pieces.  Can’t quite fathom why they don’t put into the box and let Carragher, Gerrard, Agger, Crouch etc. try to get a head on it. 

Well, that is the 2006-2007 Champions League.  Won by a team that was lucky to be included after originally being booted out of the CL in the wake of last season’s Serie A corruption scandal.  Italy is truly the country of the moment in world football with Milan winning its 7th European crown and Italy the reigning World Cup Champs.  A begrudinging congrats to Milan but allow TTL to vent.  

This blog doesn’t enjoy Italian-style football.  Abhor the fake orgasms of pain from an allegely “injured” Italian player flailing about the pitch.  The slap on the wrist punishments for the corruption in the Serie A were a joke.  There is an alarming level of hooliganism/racism still present (let’s throw some flares and coins “fans”).  Italian fans are great front-runners but seem to enjoy trashing their teams more than supporting them.  The list can go on, but the point is made.  Would like to dedicate this rant to the super-annoying Milan supporter (and his teddy bear?!??) who was standing on the roof of his car singing along to “We are the Champions” outside Fatboy’s last night.  Taking in this display TTL’s wife succinctly commented, “I hope he falls off.” 

Tomorrow will scan some various topics and do The Best of Sports.  Enjoy the games you play and watch.    

Athenian Glory

May 23, 2007

The REMATCH kicks off tonight at 20:45 CET (2:00 EDT; actually a pre-game, er match, show on ESPN2!) in Athens.  The biggest game on the European Football schedule this season it is the Champions League Final of AC Milan v Liverpool.  Most people know the overriding storyline of how Liverpool overcame a 3-0 halftime deficit to beat Milan on penalties in the best Final of all-time in 2005.   Can tonight’s game live up to the legacy? 

TTL thinks not.  Liverpool will certainly start defensive-minded in hopes to off-set the expected quick start by Milan.  The key to this tactic is not to give the ball away too cheaply to Milan, thus letting them attack at will.  The midfield anchors of Xavi Alonso and Javier Masherano need to disrupt the Milan attack and also launch the LP counterattack.  The duo have to play their defensive midfield roles to perfection like Claude Makelele, the French mastermind of this position for Chelsea.  If LP does not control the midfield, then Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo and the bearded anklebiter Genaro Gattuso will cause huge problems, and allow Kaka the freedom to make his devastating offensive forays.

Milan looks to be the aggresor tonight, not in the least part because of revenge.  Despite what they say pubicly, the Rossoneri will field 7 players who lost in that 2005 Final.  Even their inspirational captain, Paolo Maldini (who’ll play in his 8th CL Final tonight!!!) says the lose in 2005 was the worst in his career.  And he’s lost the Euro 200o Final in injury time and the 1994 World Cup Final on penalties.  Yeah, Milan will be out for blood. 

Can LP sustain the aggressive pressure from hell-bent Milan?  The key is all in the midfield.  Whoever controls it should win.  If LP holds steady against the talented 4 of Milan and LP’s talisman Steven Gerrard delivers one of his courageous performances, then LP will take home the CL trophy for the 6th time equaling Milan.  The CL Final will be compelling drama, but not necessarily a good game.  TTL just has a nasty sneaking suspicion that Milan will win 2-0.  Hope to be oh, so wrong on this.  YNWA and Enjoy THE GAME. 

We’ll always have Istanbul, err Athens

May 3, 2007

AC Milan whipped Manchester United 3-0 (TTL WRONGLY predicted a 2-2 draw) at the rain-drenched San Siro last night.  Their victory sets up the Mother of all rematches against Liverpool in the Champions League Final on May 23rd.   

Milan were masterful, almost notching the opening goal a mere minute into the game through the sublime Kaka.  He and the ageless Clarence Seedorf controlled the game and at times it seemed as if Milan were  the only team on the pitch.  As the disgruntled Man U fan at the bar kept uttering last night, “this is not United.  Where is Man U?” 

TTL didn’t think it could happen but Man U were shutout.  Only for about a 10 minute stretch in the 2nd half did they look like scoring and on the night were a far cry from the team who is in the FA Cup Final and on the cusp of winning the Premiership.  Sir Alex curiously left strikers Alan Smith, Luis Saha (2nd half sub) and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on the bench leaving Wayne Rooney solo upfront.  Ronaldo was contained by the relentless Gennaro Gattusso while old boys Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs played poorly.  Man U chose a terrible moment to play its worst game of the season. 

TTL was hoping against the 1st all-England CL Final and it is probably more interesting for casual fans to have teams from different countries.  Liverpool and AC Milan are steeped in European history with the teams having won the title a combined 11 times.  But they are best remembered for playing in the classic CL Final in 2005 when AC Milan blew a 3-0 halftime lead and lost on penalties to Liverpool.  TTL’s favorite night of football ever.  Below is a great 9 minute clip of all the madness.

Tonight brings the 2nd leg of the UEFA Cup semis:  Sevilla (0) v Osasuna (1) and Werder Bremen (0) v Espanyol (3).   Back tomorrow with a blog about TTL’s trip to Hibs-Rangers and the Best of Sports.  Enjoy the games. 

The “Little Club” that Did

May 2, 2007

Pure, unabated elation.   Liverpool goes through to the Champions League Final beating Chelsea 4-1 on penalties after the teams were tied at 1-1 through extra-time (TTL predicted a 2-0 LP win WRONG).  Pepe Reina, el maestro of the shoot-out, had 2 key saves on Robben and Geremi, while Zenden, Alonso, Gerrard and Kuyt were all on-target for Liverpool.  After a 120 minutes of butt-clenching football the better side won.  For the 3rd straight year, Rafa’s Liverpool get the better of Jose’s Chelsea in a semifinal. 

There are tons of storylines to touch upon so here are some quick comments.  Rafa again started Zenden (much to TTL’s chagrin).  But Zenden put in a gritty performance capped by calmly stepping up and knocking in the 1st penalty. 

Mascherano was fantastic in the middle for Liverpool really stepping up his play after a subpar performance in the 1st leg.  Pennant has quietly come on all year, and he provided some good thrusts down the right for LP until he went off injured.  Carragher and Agger were huge in defensive, basically reducing Chelsea’s offense to lobbing long balls up to Drogba. 

Ironic that Chelsea spent gazillions last summer on Ballack and Shevkenko to put them over the top in European competitions and both were injured.  But don’t think either player was missed as much as Carvalho who has been a defensive force all year. 

Add Michael Essien of Chelsea to the shortlist as best current player in the world.  The Ghananian Train was everywhere last night and really kept Chelsea in it. 

Would be remiss to not point out that Jose Mourinho thought Chelsea the better team.  After calling LP a “little club” that does well in “some cup competitions” it has to gnaw on the self-proclaimed “Special One” that he can’t beat Rafa in knockout games. 

Anfield is a special place.  LP and their new American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, will be building a new stadium in a few years.  But on occasions like last night, one can see how special Anfield and the rabid supporters really are.  Here’s Anfield in all its glory last night, YNWA pre-match. 

Now to tonight’s semi-final to find out who will meet Liverpool on May 23rd in Athens. 

AC Milan (2) v Manchester United (3)  (20:45 CET and 2:45 on ESPN2).

Man U continue their quest for the Treble (Premiership, FA Cup and CL titles) in Milan.   Man U have all their attacking stars healthy and will get a huge defensive upgrade if Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic can play as both have pre-match fitness tests.  Milan will not have the services of their captain Pablo Maldini but get a boost from the return of the ultimate poaching striker, Filippo Inzaghi. 

The San Siro will be rockin’ tonight, urging Milan forward to score.  Problem with committing to the attack against Man U is it leaves a team vulnerable to the counterattack.  And with Giggs, Rooney, Ronaldo, and Scholes all on good-form United is scoring goals for a laugh.  The 4 goals in 30 minute blitz they sprung on Everton on Saturday was devastating.  Don’t think Milan will be able to shutout Man U, so might have to outscore them.  Remember that a 2-1 Milan win (4-4 on aggregate) puts them in the Final due to the away goals rule. 

TTL predicts this game will be another thriller like the 1st leg ending in a frantic 2-2 tie.  Meaning United will advance 5-4 on aggregate, setting up a Dream Final.  Then again, if Milan were to win, then a repeat of the classic 2005 Final would be on offer.  Not too shabby either.  Enjoy the game. 

Liverpool (clap, clap, clap)!!!!

May 1, 2007

Hi all, writing quickly from an internet cafe in Edinburgh so don’t have much time.  Couple of quick corrections from Friday’s post:  The Cricket World Cup Final was on Saturday, not Sunday as TTL mentionend.  And kudos to the Cricketaroos from Australia for winning their 2nd straight World Cup by defeating Sri Lanka.  Also, TTL incorrectly mentioned that Man U had a 4 point lead on Chelsea going into Saturday’s matches when it was on 3 points.  Bad mistake and apologies.  Anyway, Man U pretty much clinched the Premiership title on Saturday blitzing Everton for 4 goals in the last 30 minutes to win 4-2 while Chelsea struggled to a 2-2 tie at home with Bolton.  Man U leads by 5 points with 3 games to play and certainly in the driver’s seat.  

Liverpool (0) v Chelsea (1)  (20:45 CET).

Hurts for Chelsea to lose their best defender (apologies to John Terry) in Ricardo Carvahlo for this game.  Robben is returning which should help them in attack and Essien returns as well.   Finnan returns to defense for LP which meas Zenden most likely being benched.  LP is primed for this game having rested many players in their 2-1 defeat at Portsmouth on Saturday.  This game all comes down to who scores first.  If Chelsea do, then LP will need to score 3 to advance due to the away goals.  If LP does, then game on.  

Anfield will be a cauldron of noise tonight.  If anyone saw LP beat Chelsea 2 years ago in the CL semis, then one cannot forget the atmosphere.  My credit is running low, so with the heart predict LP 2 Chelsea 0.  YNWA!!!!

Ugly Night

April 26, 2007

Chelsea beat Liverpool 1-0 last night and it pains to type this, but the best team won.  LP is lucky it wasn’t worse (TTL predicted a tight 1-1 game WRONG).  Jose got the best of Rafa, as Chelsea defended magnificently and caught LP on the counter time after time.  Drogba was sensational and linked up with a resurgent Joe Cole for the only goal.  Chelsea even managed to avoid cards, ensuring they’ll have everybody for the return leg next Tuesday.  Did enjoy referee Markus Merk giving the ever complaining John Terry the brush-off after the game. 

Where to start with LP’s performance?  Their passing and defense, particularly in the 1st half, was shaky at best.  Riise almost gifted Chelsea a goal with a horrific backpass.  Lofting the ball to the diminutive Bellamy and porn star Kuyt upfront was tactically horrible, as Terry and the world class Carvalho easily handled the high balls.  Good ploy when the freakish Crouch is on the pitch, terrible waste of Bellamy and Kuyt’s pace and movement.  Think Rafa outfoxed himself starting Zenden.  Decent enough sub but not worthy of starting the CL semis.  He brought nothing to the table despite his best efforts.  Check out this thoughtful analysis of Zenden’s performance and the game in general.

Bottom line:  LP never looked like scoring, despite dominating possession at times in the 2nd half.  Sure Cech made an otherworldly stop on Gerrard’s half-volley but that was LP’s only real chance of the game.  If Reina hadn’t played well in goal and Chelsea been a bit more ruthless might have been 3-0.  As it stands, Chelsea goes to Anfield up 1-0.  If Chelsea score an away goal, then LP need to score 3 to win it.  Behind an absolutely raucous crowd think LP will even it at 1-1 before Chelsea scores on a patented deflected goal in the 80 minute to win it in the most painful manner possible.  Just feels like the year of Chelsea. 

In other footie news, the semis of the UEFA Cup are tonight at 20:45 CET and 2:45 EDT.  Spain is mirroring England’s success by having 3 teams in the semis with the all-Spanish semi of CA Osasuna v Sevilla and Espanyol v Werder Bremen(German).  Return legs are same time next Thursday.   Quick predictions are Sevilla and Bremen which would set-up a good final in Glasgow on May 16th. 

Tomorrow will be a weekend viewing guide as the Premiership, Bundesliga, Eredivisie and Primera Division all have hotly contested title races.  Until then, enjoy the games. 

CL Semi Preview #2

April 25, 2007

Bit pressed for time today, so a just a quick word on last night’s thrilling 3-2 Man U victory (TTL predicted Man U to win 2-1 in a good game WRONG).  Great, enthralling game with Ronaldo scoring in the 5th and Rooney in the 91st to win it.   Kaka provided 2 goals of simple brilliance reducing the Man U defense to bumbling idiots on the 2nd. 

Still think Milan has a good chance to win it, but will need to score at least 2 goals next week as don’t think any team can shutout Man U right now.  But on to the main event.

Chelsea v Liverpool(20:45 CET and 2:45 EDT on ESPN 360 Online?!?!)  2nd leg is next Tuesday at Anfield (Liverpool) at same time.

Unfortunately this game probably won’t be the 5 goal thriller of last night, but most likely a choppy affair.  These clubs know each other very well.  Since 2005 they have played 11 times, with Chelsea winning 5 of 6 in the Premiership while LP has memorably knocked Chelsea out of the CL semis in 2005 and the FA Cup semis in 2006.   YES!!  (TTL is a huge fan of  LP and hope they destroy Chelsea but will attempt to write a nonpartisan preview anyway).   

Jose “The Special One” Mourinho is whinging all week about how LP is the favorite since Chelsea is rundown from playing in so many competitions.  Like so much of Mourinho’s ramblings there is a grain of truth to it.  Chelsea did look tired on Sunday in the draw versus Newcastle but when you spend 300 million pounds building a club maybe get some decent subs.  Nobody feels bad for Chelsea. 

Rafa has a whole complement of players to chose from tonight for LP while Chelsea is missing Ballack through injury and all-world Essien due to suspension.  Which leads to the interesting subplot of the night as Chelsea’s Drogba, Diarra and Cole will all be suspended for the return match if they get carded tonight.   Look for John “Captain England” Terry to be all over the referee protecting those players for Chelsea. 

Game will be terribly hardfought in the midfield with Chelsea’s Lampard and Makelele doing medieval combat with LP’s Alsonso and Mascherano, who is the steal of the year.  Amazing how a guy with 22 caps for Argentina can’t find a spot at freakin’ West Ham yet can start immediately for LP.  No wonder why West Ham is getting relegated.  But TTL digresses. 

Each team will probably only create a few good chances as the game should be very tight with guys not having lots of time on the ball to create.  Both teams are decent on set pieces and can break quickly.  Chelsea will probably attack a bit more being at home but this feels like the 1st round of a heavyweight fight.  A lot of mouthing off, dancing and clinching with the real haymakers to be unleashed next week.  TTL predicts a 1-1 draw.  Enjoy the game and YNWA. 

CL Semifinal Preview

April 24, 2007

Back from Thailand and thanks to PM for managing the site.  Lots of things have gone on in the worldwide sporting arena, but let’s focus on the future.   The semifinals of the Champions League are here.  Let’s dive in. 

Manchester United v AC Milan (20:45 CET and 2:45 EDT on ESPN2)   1st leg tonight with the 2nd leg at the San Siro (Milan) on May 2nd. 

This is a classic match-up of Man U’s youth vs Milan’s experience.  Youngsters Wayne Rooney and newly crowned Premiership Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo will battle out against the old warhorses of Milan who will most likely start 6 players over 30 including their 38 year-old captain, the incomparable Paolo Maldini.  For some perspective, Maldini played his first European game with Milan in 1985 when Ronaldo was 7 months old and Rooney was not even born.  

Manchester United is flying high coming off their 8-3 aggregate win over Roma in the quarterfinals which included a historical 7-1 stomping at Old Trafford.  But Man U are decimated by injuries, with 1st choice defenders Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic all sidelined.  Not a good sign as Man U certainly do not want to surrender a crucial away goal to Milan. 

Milan is also on a great run, knocking off Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals and on a 5 game winning streak in the Serie A.  Their only injury concern is their goalkeeper Dida who might miss the game due to a sore shoulder.  The Rossoneri have reached the CL semifinals for the 4th time in the past 5 years which includes defeating Man U in the knockout stage in 2005.  But they have only won the Final once on this run, coincidentally at Old Trafford in 2003 when they defeated Juventus 3-2 on penalties in an awful game.   

As for tonight, it looks interesting.  The onus is on Man U to go forward while Milan will try to absorb the pressure and look to counterattack through Seedorf, Kaka and their lone striker Inzaghi.  Man U certainly has the weapons to attack with midfielders Scholes and Carrick orchestrating a devastating attack featuring Rooney, Ronaldo, Giggs and Alan Smith, whose return to form following his terrible broken leg 14 months ago is remarkable.  Each team is certainly capable of scoring goals and Milan must be relishing its chances to attack United’s shaky back 4 defenders. 

TTL believes the key to this leg is midfielder Michael Carrick from United.  He’s got to play just in front of the 4 defenders and bust-up any Milan attacks at the expense of his going forward.  He’s played this role internationally for England a few times and has to succeed tonight.  If the Man U defense falls under constant pressure, they’ll be hard pressed to secure that vital shutout.  United certainly do not want to travel to the San Siro next week having conceded any away goals. 

Milan’s key is that the superb midfield of World Cup heroes Pirlo and Gattuso control the action thus limiting United’s substantial offensive threats.  Also, an intriguing subplot to this game is the battle between Ronaldo and Kaka over the mythical best player in the world moniker.  They are similar attacking players whose creativity and willingness to dribble by anyone is breathtaking to watch.  Ronaldo’s repertoire of passing and dribbling skills is circus-like while Kaka gives off the impression he can score every time he touches the ball.  Both are extremely fun to watch. 

TTL’s prediction is a 2-1 United win in a good, open game setting up Milan winning the tie next week in a nail-biter.  Enjoy the game tonight.