Champions League Questions

I really should be completing my post on the excellent Walter Gordon Symposium that I attended last night, but cannot resist putting a few thoughts on Barcelona and the UEFA Champion’s League out there.

First, however, I urge you to watch this.

My favorite team was back to its flowing best today, absolutely crushing Stuttgart 4-0 in a reminder of their dismantling of fellow Germans Bayern last year. The favorites tag, firmly in place since Manchester United were comprehensively outplayed last year, is shining once again. All seems to be going well at Camp Nou.

And when you have a player like Lionel Messi in your side, who has now scored 5 goals in two games, it’s hard to feel like you can be beaten.

I mean, that second goal against Valencia simply took my breath away for a second. It was, as a commenter on the BFB Liveblog noted, the stuff of video games. Unreal. Too fantastic to be true. But there it was.

The issue here, though, is that Messi has in the past been accused of selfishness, and when he does stuff like that, no one will blame him of keeping the ball. I’m not saying he is – only that he has a tendency to go solo at times, especially when the chips are down. That’s his weakness.

And the weakness of FC Barcelona as a whole is not dependence on Messi or Xavi or anyone else, but that beast named complacency. It lost us the league in 2007 when we collectively thought the trophy was ours for the taking, it crashed the Fab Four’s first season when it permanently set in amongst some individuals, and it is the LACK of complacency that won us an unprecedented 6 titles last year. Over and over again, astute observers of the beautiful game noted that Barcelona were almost feverishly hungry for the ball, as a squad, with a workrate second to none (that often resulted in late goals when the opposition tired), and a mastery of possession that was absolute, even by Blaugrana standards.

My point? Let’s not get carried away. PLEASE. That is my one fear heading into the last round of fixtures. Real Madrid are still leaders in La Liga. And the Champions League is knockout, as Madrid and Chelsea will sullenly testify. One slip is all it takes. Let’s not make that slip. As a team, FCB has suffered a lack of hunger this year (relative to this year) and that’s why it has been only ‘good enough’ throughout the season. At times they did the bare minimum it took to win, and sometimes they played on and scored a few easy goals too. It hasn’t been like last year, where every SINGLE press conference consisted of the same line: “We haven’t won anything yet.”

On this note, fellow cules, who would you like to face in the quarterfinals?

I’ll go with Manchester United – because I think that a rematch is on the cards, and let’s have it sooner rather than later, so that we know before Bernabeu if we’re really good enough to go the distance this year. If we beat the Red Devils again, hell, we’re good enough to beat everyone and we don’t even NEED to lift the trophy to prove that we’re the best. Let’s have the two best sides go at it – Rooney has already spoken of how last year’s loss has motivated him, and I’m sure players like Alves and Fletcher would love to take part in the fixture.

And, my real question: who do you think is most unfancied yet most likely side to win it this year?

Because the favorites are Barcelona and Manchester United. Don’t want to sound pompous but they are – it’s simply a fact. Everyone knows it, and several have said it too.

For the first time, though, we have neither Liverpool (always European contenders, despite Rafa’s best efforts) nor Chelsea in the business end of the Champions League. It’s a fairly diverse lineup this year: both Lyon and Bordeaux from France, CSKA Moscow, and a relatively strong Arsenal lineup, better contenders than last season. Bayern scraped in, and Inter have impressed many – Mourinho did a great job against his old side, the defender Samuel rolled back the years with a masterclass, and the striker Samuel scored once again in a big match. Sneijder, freed of the merry-go-round at Madrid, and one of the most underrated players around in my opinion, apparently had a great game too (no, I didn’t watch it.) Inter, by the way, would be a wonderful story if they won it – Mourinho, former assistant entranador at Camp Nou, delivers a massive slap to Abramovich by winning the Champions League at last, and Samu gets to win back to back finals and scream ‘Madrid, cabron, saluda al campeon’ again! Although I wouldn’t put it past him to address Guardiola this time around…

Anyway, I’m backing Bordeaux for a surprise appearance at the Bernabeu. They were excellent last year, and they have been excellent this year, in both European and domestic competition. Amongst the quartet of CSKA, Bayern, Lyon, and Bordeaux (the non-favorites), I’d gladly cheer Bordeaux to the title. What about you?


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