Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Champions League: The Good, the Bad and the Shrewd

Arsenal lost 0-2 in the UEFA Champions League, and they were at their worst against a Braga side that were determined only to play well. The hosts got rewarded with the points for that effort. It was Arsenal's 2nd defeat on the trot. There was never a clean final ball for a finisher, save for one that Theo Walcott received from captain Cesc Fabregas, a frame late, and the goalkeeper rushed out to collect the ball. Carlo Vela was brought down in lightning fast circumstances that the referee and the 5th official missed the action thinking the Mexican fell into a diving swimming pool. At least he was rewarded with a yellow card, which infuriated his coach, Arsene Wenger.

I underestimated the weakness of a great team composed of inexperienced skilled youngsters. They also did. It was not a case of Braga playing very well, but surely, they did, but rather a case of how badly the good Arsenal team played. Pity that those goals had to go throw Lukasz Fabianski's jealously guarded goal. No matter the size of the mountain rock, if you know constantly for extended periods of time, it will crack, as did the Gunners in the dying minutes of their fatal fixture.

Arsenal were just never penetrative enough, maybe expected, given they did not use their giant arsenal to overpower and subdue Braga. Braga were out passed immensely by almost a ratio of 3 completed passes to 1. That is not football these days. Chelsea had 27 attempts at goal against Birmingham City in the Barclays Premier League against 1. They lost the match by a single goal. Efficiency counts but of course, effort should be rewarded if we are to coach our children well.

 Chelsea were just as bad and made a meal of Zillina at home. They had to come from behind from the bottom placed team and scrap a late winner from Flourent Malouda who was set up by Didier Drogba. Daniel Sturridge had equalised at the far post for the Blues. Chelsea are dogged by unclear inhouse issues that make it hard for the team to do the job. They began the season with a steel attitude bullying teams to submission in the first 20 minutes. Their demise has given yet another dull team, monied Manchester City, a glimmer of hope in the championship. It was a boost that they will play their last Champions League match with a relaxed attitude after topping the group.

Real Madrid once again produced a scintillating performance that has confirmed to many that Jose Mourinho may be on his history making journey for a record 4th title in different league and countries. He did it with FC Porto that had Benni McCarthy, the Chelsea and more recently, Inter Milan. Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice. Karim Benzema, who may play at White Hart Lane next year, opened the floodgates after a cool move that involved Mesut Ozil. The 4-0 scoreline would be expected for Real, but that against Ajax of Amsterdam away, is a huge result.

While Jose Mourinho is a good coach, I think he went over board when he did what I reckon to a scheme to have a full squad for the knockout stage. His combative defensive link, Xavi Alonso was yellow carded fro needless and childish delaying tactics with the team already 4-0 up, picking a 2nd yellow and eventual red. Sergio Ramos did exactly the same thing and was also happy to be given marching orders. This makes the 2 available when Real need them the most in the knockout stage. The Special One did not need to carry liability when he is gunning for his glory. He is likely to field not one he intends using later in the last group stage matches.

In a special interview earlier, Mourinho just underlined the well know fact of the competitiveness of the English Premiership as very demanding and physical. He pointed out the tacticallity of the Serie A, proclaiming much thinking and preparation as the strength of the league as one had to scheme and outwit the opponents with preparation. He was at pains in explaining the technical aspect the players in La Liga make all the difference in Spain. The Special One underlined the gift of technicians of the world being assembled in that league, given Ronaldo and Lionel Messi just for an e.g.

The core of his message came back to give the English Premiership a big pat on the back, given that teams have an equal chance at the start of each league natch and that is evidenced by the fact that the top team, Chelsea, had already lost 15 points in the league. His Real Madrid won 11 of their 13 encounters and drew twice. They lead their bitter arch rivals, Barcelona, by just a single point. I guess with that, one has to make a personal assessment of the extent of the competition in each league.

Other results, AS Roma had to draw on their best performance to come back and win 3-2 against Bayern Munchen. Basel beat Cluj 1-0 at home while AC Milan won 2-0 away to Auxere in France. Shakthar opened their chances with a 3-0 away win over Partizan. Spartak Moscow lost Marseille who produced a first class performance in dispatching their hosts to stay in the picture of the knockout stages.

Tonight will see Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Inter Milan and Barcelona in action. It will be interesting to see the final shape of the groups but, there will be some that will go to the wire. It is expected that Spurs will continue with their Europe form. Barca will be favourite to wrap things up, but I have no confidence to say the same about hot and cold Man U.

Which is the strongest league in the world and why?