It’s times like these that European football makes me glad. We were reminded yesterday in stark fashion that the Premier League, for all its’ self-primping as the ‘best league in the world’, is hardly as ‘great’ as us followers of the English media are led to believe.
Mind you, I know that one night (or one match) is not any reflection of a whole season, but I ask you – how would the Premier League’s Big Four (Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool) fare in a European Super League? I’d wager that an English club would definitely be in the top 3, but I wouldn’t go so far as to bet that an English club would win it. They’re not that far ahead (if indeed they are ahead) – in this prick-waving contest that the media engages in, remember that the camera adds two inches to it.
On to the matches then – first a look at yesterday’s two games and then on to tonight’s games, along with some predictions. For the record (because people always seem to question this), I was watching the Porto-Liverpool game until I realised at half-time that Chelsea were 0-1, so switched over to watch the rest of the Chelsea-Rosenborg game. There, now you know my ‘T- watching credentials’.
Chelsea 1-1 Rosenborg
I was impressed with the effort Rosenborg put in and equally impressed (I’m easily impressed, apparently) with Chelsea’s wave after wave of attack. Last season we saw Arsenal create plenty of chances and fail to win (and the year before that, lest anyone forget, it was Manchester United doing this) and as it has been in the last two years (and before that), you may create the most chances but if you’re not putting them away there can’t be any excuses for losing, nor can you claim that “but we created so many chances” as evidence of being ‘the better team’.
Chelsea are missing Lampard and Drogba badly, but this was a game that they should have won while resting those two and John Terry as well. They’ve been playing at an exceptionally high level for so long that it’s rare to see them slip and when they do so, somehow the criticism is far greater than usual. I don’t think (at least not from the second half performance) that Chelsea played poorly – it’s just that with Shevchenko not match fit (and behind all other strikers in the pecking order) he wasn’t the man to score a second and Kalou is still a few years away from pulling Drogbas.
This was the easiest game of the group, but on the positive side Chelsea still can’t be beaten at home and they’ll go to Valencia in a fortnight looking for a major improvement on this (and hopefully will have their key players back for that game). I’d back Chelsea to win if they have their players fit, but on the other hand Valencia would have learned their lesson from last season and won’t allow Chelsea to get back into the game like they did last time.
Porto 1-1 Liverpool
A tougher game than Chelsea’s, and when people criticise Liverpool for this they forget that Porto are a decent side and quite good at home in Europe. Liverpool struggled not because they played particularly bad, but because Porto were better than some thought they would be and some of the Liverpool players had a pretty average game.
It must be frustrating for Rafa to see this game – it was exactly this type of performance that he has worked so hard to eliminate from the Liverpool squad over the summer. Seeing how easy it was for Liverpool to get their goal (or was it Kuyt’s exquisite movement that made it deceptively simple?), they really should have scored more. In the first half I wasn’t happy with Pennant’s performance (and the early defending made it hard enough) and he should have been hauled off at half time and replaced.
It hardly time to panic though – Liverpool took a point from a difficult away game and considering that the other two teams in their group are Marseille and Besiktas, they should look at this as a positive result. The next 5 games of the group will be easier, and from what we saw yesterday, they have it in them to win all 5.
Arsenal vs Sevilla
Arsenal have been, defensive frailties apart, irresistible this season. They can still be outdone by a technically sound and talented squad (which Sevilla are), but have nothing to fear and the win over Tottenham on the weekend (as well as the goals Fab and Ade scored) will give Arsenal plenty of confidence and momentum. I expect Arsenal to set a high tempo early in the game, and start pretty much like they did in the Carling Cup final against Chelsea last season (except that this season this squad has the ability to continue for 90 minutes and not fade out).
Sevilla have won the Uefa Cup in consecutive seasons and as a result you might say that they have European experience, but consider this: this is the first time that Sevilla are playing in the Champions League, and regardless of how good Juande Ramos is it will count against Sevilla on the pitch when its crunch time.
But Sevilla aren’t here just to make up the numbers – they have an excellent squad (Dani Alves is still there, remember – this will be another chance to see him in action) and unlike Arsenal’s weekend opponents, are technically disciplined and professional to boot.
It promises to be ‘THE’ tie of Matchday 1 – let’s hope neither team disappoints.
Sporting Lisbon vs Manchester United
Carlos Querioz promised that Manchester United would be ‘respectful but ambitious’, a statement that leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Why must Manchester United be respectful first and ambitious later? Why are we going over to Sporting and securing that 1 point first, and then going for the other 2?
I understand the situation – it’s a tough away game, our priority is to qualify from the group and get to the 2nd round and not go down with all guns blazing. However, just once, just once, I would want Ferguson and Queiroz to put out a side that plays genuinely attacking football and takes the game to the home side BEFORE they’re a goal down.
I’m all for covering our asses and being defensively solid but there have been so many times that we’ve allowed the home side to dictate the game and get ahead and then woken up after that. For once, let’s take the game to them.
Manchester United’s injuries and poor form points to a far more cautious approach, and it’ll be interesting to see how Manchester United line up and especially, who starts up front (as this will be a 4-5-1).
I’m going for wins here – both for Arsenal and for Manchester United (and I expect both to be scrappy). What about you guys?