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Champions League draw analysis August 27, 2009

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in Uncategorized.
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Group A (Bayern Munich, Juventus, Bordeaux, Maccabi Haifa): Haifa is the obvious outsider, but the other three teams are on reasonably equal footing. Juventus, though, is probably ahead of the rest, simply because none of the other teams come close to matching an attacking arsenal that includes Diego, Alex Del Piero, Amauri, Vincenzo Iaquinta, David Trezeguet and the promising young sprite Sebastian Giovinco. Between the latter two, I’d spring for Bordeaux because the way Bayern Munich is set up seems to be hampering a team that should be performing. Franck Ribery is a consummate winger. He loves to beat his man and send the ball in. But Bayern coach Louis van Gaal loves crushing spirits and it appears the craggy Frenchman is his next target.

  • Key player: Yohann Gourcuff. If a team can stop him, it can stop Bordeaux. And the flipside to that is that if he manages to slip into gear for even a second, it only takes one surge or sleight of foot for him to upset a big team singlehandedly.
  • Laughingstock: Mark van Bommel. Loves a good dive and a good moan. Unfortunately, considering he fancies himself a consummate allrounder, he’s not such a fan of a good tackle or deadly pass.
  • Poised for the springboard: Yaniv Katan. Haifa’s captain didn’t make it at West Ham, but he’s sturdy and subtle and capable of hanging with the big boys, even if his teammates aren’t.
  • Horror hair: John Culma. I’m sorry I couldn’t find a picture of Haifa’s Colombian enforcer with the scraggly beard he sported against Salzburg. He looked like the consummation of Beauty’s marriage to the Beast.

Group B (Manchester United, CSKA Moscow, Besiktas, Wolfsburg): It’s difficult to see any serious challenge to Manchester United’s progress out of this group, but they’re looking a bit ropy at the moment, while all three challengers have the men to cause them problems. CSKA Moscow has been hurt too much by Yuri Zhirkov’s departure and will probably finish a distant fourth, but both of the others are built on a solid backbone of top-class talent. I’d fancy Wolfsburg to finish first, since there are few teams out there with three strikers as brilliant as Obafemi Martins, Grafite and especially the terrifyingly complete Edin Dzeko.

  • Key player: Nihat Kahveci. Nihat can beat any team singlehandedly on his day, but he struggles mightily with injuries. If he can be fit enough to figure, he can propel Besiktas forward.
  • Laughingstock: John O’Shea. The Irishman finally found consistency last season, but you always have the feeling he’s going to fall flat on his ass and concede a last minute goal. Wolfsburg is also replete with hapless defenders (error-prone Ricardo Costa and Cristian Zaccardo come to mind).
  • Poised for the springboard: Alan Dzagoev. The gifted 19 year old is likely to want a move sooner rather than later if CSKA coach Zico keeps playing him on the left, rather than behind the strikers (maybe he should trade for Ribery).
  • Horror hair: Vagner Love. If Love’s reputation is well-founded, these grotesque neon tendrils do not scare women away from Russia’s deadliest frontman, but I’m a little put-off.

Group C (Milan, Real Madrid, Marseille, Zurich): Don’t let the presence of a big name like Milan’s fool you: this is a walk for the Spanish champions. The Rossoneri are in a bad way right now, while I don’t think Brandao, Mamadou Niang and Hatem Ben Arfa boast quite the firepower to take Marseille past the Spaniards. Zurich is a non-entity, I think. On the other hand, I can see Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Gabriel Heinze going into these games for their respective sides with massive points to prove against the Spanish team.

  • Key player: Ronaldinho. If the greasy Brazilian makes good on his promise to get his stuff together, it might not matter how creaky the knees in the Milan engine room are. And he has a hell of a record against Madrid.
  • Laughingstock: Brandao. Marseille’s Brazilian battering ram is highly rated, but it will be difficult for opponents to tolerate him if he turns in performances as violent and petulant as the one he put in for Shakhtar against Barcelona last year. Of course, I’d love to see him against Sergio Ramos.
  • Poised for the springboard: Johan Vonlanthen. It’s difficult to believe the Swiss playmaker is only 23, because he’s been around forever without quite making it. But indications are the return to Zurich has finally sorted him out and he could be ready to try a stab at the big time again.
  • Horror hair: Mathieu Flamini. Grease. Thinning hair. A bad dye job. A potent combination indeed.

Group D: (Chelsea, Porto, Atletico Madrid, APOEL Nicosia): Cypriot teams have evidently been emboldened by Anorthosis Famagusta’s impressive performances last year, but Ivan Jovanovic would have to get it very right to progress from this group. The most vulnerable is Porto, a team that has lost its two key men to France without finding adequate replacements. Neither of the aforementioned will likely be a match for Atletico’s fearsome front four or Chelsea’s surfeit of gifted midfield men.

  • Key player: Falcao Garcia. Lisandro Lopez’s quality is being proven in France, leaving the Colombian signed from River Plate with important boots to fill. If he and Fernando Belluschi can match Lopez and Lucho Gonzalez, Porto might have a chance at progress.
  • Laughingstock: Florent Malouda. On his day, Malouda is a dynamic, effective winger. He also likes to pretend sometimes that he has no idea how to play the sport. He also has a fondness for the occasional dive.
  • Poised for the springboard: Sergio Aguero. It’s impossible to believe Atletico will be able to hold on to the limitlessly gifted Argentine much longer. Then again, if he continues to improve, he could make Madrid’s second club a real force.
  • Horror hair: Jose Bosingwa. That unibrow is always good for a laugh.

Group E: (Liverpool, Lyon, Fiorentina, Debrecen): Lyon has never looked so poised to actually make a big impact. Years of titles made Les Gones complacent, but Bordeaux’s success last season made them reexamine their position. Lisandro Lopez has begun taking the league by storm, Miralem Pjanic has begun to deliver on his immense promise, and Aly Cissokho and Michel Bastos are a formidable left side. Liverpool and Fiorentina, meanwhile, look worse than last year. Of all the minnows in this year’s pond, I fancy Debrecen looks the likeliest to perform an upset, but not enough, surely, to bet Liverpool.

  • Key player: Alberto Aquilani. Lucas Leiva is manifestly not the one Liverpool needed. With no financial room for error at the Kop, England’s most storied side needs the oft-injured Italian to carry the mantle left by departed Xabi Alonso gracefully.
  • Laughingstock: Alberto Gilardino. Leiva’s hapless performances put him in the running, but it’s difficult to forget the Italy frontman’s disgraceful dive against Celtic all those years ago, not to mention the general haplessness of his spell at Milan. Of course, there’s also Per Kroldrup, the 6′ 3″ Fiorentina center half who’s afraid of heading the ball.
  • Poised for the springboard: Stevan Jovetic. I’m not inclined to argue with my colleague’s assessment of the Montenegrin attacker.
  • Horror hair: Sebastien Frey. Fiorentina’s goalkeeper has run the gamut in his time from hidden messages in his 90’s-style curtains to these truly regrettable sideburns.

Group F (Barcelona, Inter, Dynamo Kiev, Rubin Kazan): This is one hell of a difficult group in terms of talent. Inter Milan is likely to top it, simply because I can’t see Samuel Eto’o not scoring bucketloads against Barcelona (and Thiago Motta will also be itching to prove a point), while I fancy Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s response will be more muted. The Russian season makes the Champions League difficult for the country’s clubs, while Dynamo lost its best player over the summer when Ishmael Bangoura went to Rennes, but both are still dangerous. Barcelona will be the second to qualify, but it will be close-run.

  • Key player: Artem Milevskiy. Dynamo’s principal striker and captain will need to step his game way up to compensate for the loss of Guinean star Bangoura.
  • Laughingstock: Dani Alves. A very talented player, to be sure, but also a bit of a diving scumbag. I’m a Barcelona fan and I’ll admit that.
  • Poised for the springboard: Alejandro Dominguez. The Argentine playmaker has hit an insane number of goals since switching to Rubin from Zenit St. Petersburg. If he can do that in the Champions League, he’ll probably be able to book a ticket to South Africa, assuming Diego Maradona’s men head there at all.
  • Horror hair: MacBeth Sibaya. An interesting merger of the dreadlock and the chomage.

Group G (Sevilla, Rangers, Stuttgart, Unirea Urziceni): Unirea is the littlest minnow in this year’s pond, without the oil money to match last year’s impressive performance by compatriots at Cluj. The other three are no more than middleweights. Rangers knows how to grind out results, but even the lightest of blows in the right place could shatter their confidence and puncture their wafer-thin squad. Sevilla and Stuttgart are both solid and probably good for progress, if little more.

  • Key player: Kris Boyd. The only way this won’t become a two-horse race early is if Rangers can suckerpunch Stuttgart and Sevilla after soaking pressure. The team’s creaky spine will be instrumental, but so will the limited but effective goalhanger Boyd.
  • Laughingstock: Jens Lehmann. Stuttgart’s demonstrative goalkeeper is prone to entertaining antics. Alex Hleb’s cowardice is also laughable.
  • Poised for the springboard: Alvaro Negredo, Jesus Navas and Diego Capel. The three Sevilla attackers are looking to make the Spain squad in South Africa, but they’ll need their biggest seasons yet if they are to convince Vicente Del Bosque.
  • Horror hair: Romaric. He makes Djibril Cisse look like Forrest Gump.

Group H (Arsenal, AZ, Olympiacos, Standard Liege): Olympiacos has a curse over it when it comes to European competition, so the teams from the Low Countries will probably vie with one another for passage into the next round with Arsenal looking strong. It’s dificult to choose between the Dutch and Belgian champions. Both are talented, young squads full of invention which have lost key players in the summer. But AZ is the only one to have lost a coach, and Ronald Koeman’s performance at Valencia leads me to believe that he’ll be no match for Laszlo Boloni, one of the most underrated managers of all time.

  • Key man: Alex Moraes. Standard’s fortunes will rest on how the Brazilian replaces departed defensive lynchpin Oguchi Onyewu.
  • Laughingstock: Raul Bravo. Despite error-strewn spells at Real Madrid and Leeds and half a year of being frozen out at Numancia, he still finds himself in a job.
  • Poised for the springboard: Mounir El-Hamdaoui. There are half a dozen outrageously gifted young men at AZ and Standard, ones whose names will be sung from the tiers of elite stadiums in coming years. AZ’s Moroccan, though, is probably the most talented man at either club, a f0rward in the Ibrahimovic/Berbatov/Kluivert mold.
  • Horror hair: Bacary Sagna. There is no explanation or excuse for the lengths of rope tied to the Arsenal right-back’s head. His is easily the worst hairstyle in the sport.
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