The knockout stage continues with the rest of the lot matching up in the jostle for glory.
[Editor’s note: Edhino, although a supporter of Arsenal (since around the time of Fever Pitch) and Leeds (since watching them during their heyday on the sole televised match of the week as a boy in Singapore), scored tickets to Chelsea-Fulham for his extended London layover last weekend. Certainly he couldn’t support the Blues–hence the headline.]
But before I disparage Fulham, first let me say that Chelsea pies are terribly disappointing. All those millions spent on players and they can’t muster a decent pie?!? (Pies: a quintessential part of the footballing experience. To date, the pies at the Joburg stadium still the best in my limited experience…)
My 1st row seat turned out to be upper tier but awesome nevertheless a mere 30 feet from the goal posts so close I could smell Petr’s deodorant when he raises both arms up in that surrender pose that keepers do at corners. Unfortunately I was at the wrong end and got to watch Chelsea attack impotently in the first half and then get both goals on the other side in the second. It also meant I didn’t get a close view of errant Darren miss his one-on-one with Čech.
Chelsea looked miles better than Fulham, as they should, and that is just in simple things like ball control and sensible movement in support of each other. Fulham on the other hand played like a middling Singaporean league team – heavy on their touches, giving up balls even when Chelsea didn’t want them, and running far from each other so that the player with the ball had to try to beat 2-4 Chelsea players on their own. Much as I sang along to the spirited Fulham chants of “stick your blue flag up your arse”, “John Terry your mother’s a ho” “Mourinho you’re not so special anymore”, etc, it was downright depressing after the tenth time Sidwell loses the ball, or Parker or Duff run themselves into blue cul de sacs or Dent huffs his way after balls headed for the touch line. I could only think – how horrible to be a Fulham fan to have to watch this drivel weekly? Berbatov wasn’t playing so perhaps he makes a difference but on other hand how horrible for him to have to play with such drivel??
Some CultFootball roundtable reactions to a Telegraph piece on Ba leaving Newcastle for the money (and why shouldn’t he?):
Roman and Demba, cut from similar cloth?
The Cunning Linguist:
That article reeks of the old love of the game mentality and “where are English players in the EPL” rant. Ba went to a club that may play Champs League and will get paid more money while slotting into the lone striker role in a 4-2-3-1 set up as opposed to the 4-3-3 of Newcastle.
Football’s a business, a money business. 7.5mm quid for a 13 goal scorer is good business. That said, I’d have preferred to see a recall for Lukaku as I think he can spell a clearly tired and out of confidence Torres.
Also, Newcastle put the release clause in the contract whilst not guaranteeing him money if he didn’t play because of his suspect knees. He didn’t engineer the move, merely agreed terms when Chelsea matched the price Newcastle had set for him.
I agree with Cunning Linguist that football is a money business, up to a point. If we can get all Clintonian up in here, it depends on what your definition of “is” is. (This also recalls, I think, a class THC & I took together at UofC in analytic philosophy…remember that Tyler? More on that topic to come soon.)
I’d agree if you say professional club football at this moment in time (what some people call “modern football”?) is a money business. but certainly we can agree (can we?) that it’s not been true of club football at all times, and certainly not of our Saturday morning “Mario’s Incredible Liga Fabulosa” matches.
So actually I suppose it depends on what you mean by “football.”
“Of sense and reference“, Frege I believe. Can’t recall the course title.
No arguments against any of the above. Could have easily replaced “Roman” with Walcott/RVP/Nasri. Ba seems risky to me but I think that’s due to his poor form second half of last season. It’s certainly not a bad deal given the relatively low price for him (depending on one’s definition of “low”).
The link was in an Arsenal blog about transfers and I had only skimmed before posting it. After reading further, there seems to be a decent amount of conjecture about team dynamics at Newcastle. Not mentioned in the piece, unfortunately, was that Ba reportedly has 5 agents that will benefit from the deal, which I think was the “what the fuck” moment that made me want to send the link to begin with.
That’s actually a pretty fair point. The side “business” of holding shares in an individual and multiple business consortiums engineering moves to churn fees is pretty disgusting. Remember the Mascherano and Tevez deals that were churned through West Ham by Kia Joorabchian? Wasn’t Pardew boss at WH back then, or am I misremembering? That agent shit is outta control. Didn’t Big Sam’s son have some involvement with agent fees or some shit?
Arseblog has mentioned repeatedly that Theo is being led astray by his agent. He’s getting everything he wants, he’s been the striker and scored or assisted in each of the last four games, he’s the team’s leading scorer, and he’s paid pretty well. But still no new contract. No legit title contender (Manchesters) will sign him, he probably wouldn’t start for Chelsea, and Liverpool will barely miss out on the top four this season. So it’s not about trophies, it’s about money. He’s a decent and honest guy it seems, but he’s young and marketable, so the money-grubbing agent influence is believable.
Digress… I like the Lukaku idea, and I will be paying attention to Ba’s integration into his new team. After all, isn’t Chelsea the soccer world’s favorite science experiment?
Gu, I think the course was actually called, “Introduction to analytical philosophy”. Is the morning star the same as Venus, unicorns do and don’t exist, etc.
The deal with the agents is that there’s not much incentive in them telling the player “you’re happy here, there’s no reason to move and generate a fee from which I’ll take a nice 10% cut.” They can’t do it so often that they run afoul of the player through particularly bad advice, but the move argument is certainly good for a couple paydays.
Then with Ba and others where there may be more than one agent (he’s the only one I’ve heard of, but I imagine there are others), one is a family member, one is the guy they brought in because what real experience does the family member have except for the ear of the player, and so on–I can see where it gets really convoluted really quickly.
Then for Arsenal players, they bring on Darren Dein (of Henry, Cesc, RvP & Song departure fame, and son of someone or other), and it’s history.
Piggybacking on what Cunning Linguist said earlier about an old view of club loyalty vs. a modern view, when it comes down to it the globalization of the Premier League in terms of audience, but especially in terms of talent pool, it means that few of these guys are playing for their boyhood clubs. They won’t be retiring after many years of service and reentering the town community, running into fans at pubs for the rest of their lives–or running the pub–as once it may have been. Ba is from Senegal, he’s probably supporting/subsidizing a huge contingent of family, he grew up neither a West Ham nor a Newcastle fan, and if his knee had detonated on him, he would have been cut loose on the spot. I get wrapped up in my hopes for what certain players will do for Arsenal, but with Adebayor, for example, I now respect the fact that he refused to lower his wage demands or fall for any sympathy plays. I think he’s delusional on some levels, but on a money level, he’s right on. I didn’t like it when he did it to us, but I understood his position more when he messed with City (which, really, was just awesome to witness). He wasn’t going to make it easy for them, because he knew he didn’t have to. He has a couple years to make cash, his country is a mess, he knew his negotiating position. Even if he’s not a grade-A humanitarian, building hospitals around Togo (although I think he did fund one), he knows where his allegiances lie: to himself, his extended family, and then far later in the list people like Wenger, Mancini etc.
I used to really dislike Drogba until I learned more about his off-the-field persona. He’s actually an awesome dude. And then I could see how awesome he was on the pitch after shedding my dislike of his diving or continual single-handed reaming of the Arsenal defense year after year.
Anyway, this is a rare moment of perspective. I’ll be fuming about how disloyal some departing player is soon enough, I’m sure.
One quick note–the bit about “few of these guys are playing for their boyhood clubs. They won’t be retiring after many years of service and reentering the community, running into fans at pubs for the rest of their lives, as once it may have been” echoed, ironically, Jonathan Wilson’s column about the Zenit fans’ open letter.
The opening paragraphs, in case you didn’t read it before:
Let’s imagine that fans of Sunderland (and I use the example purely because that is who I support), tiring of the constant churn of the transfer market, decide that enough is enough and they want their team to do things differently. They get together and hammer out a manifesto which they then post as an open letter to the club hierarchy. Among a number of points about the need for absolute commitment and an abhorrence of cheating, they suggest they would rather the club focused on local players.
How would the world regard that? Some might argue that is not the most efficient way to run a club in the modern game but most would surely accept that, if nothing else, a strong local identity can help foster a sense of common purpose. Athletic Bilbao select only Basque players while Barcelona are proud of their Catalan core; why shouldn’t Sunderland fans dream of a team built around half a dozen Wearsiders?
I have just one question. Without Ba’s presence already at Newcastle, does Cisse sign there?
Y’all can think wishfully all you want to, hark back to the good old days of club and community loyalty, but the political economy of modern football will ensure a tiered class system of wealthy clubs amassing known talents, mid-level clubs with canny ‘value’ hunting managers (like Wenger) punching above their weight, and the rest pitifully swearing to virtues of local talent as an excuse for their empty coffers. But rather than lamenting this unequal state of football affairs, I forfeit bourgeois sympathy for the underdeveloped clubs and embrace the opportunity for beautiful football that unfettered markets create in the elite level. Who cares about Leeds role in Yorkshire talent development – I wish a rich sheikh would buy it and fill it full of Drogbas and Messis so I can watch the best football that money can buy.
You guys did that. It was called the 2000/2001 season. Fat Aussie wanker.
But does a class system not truly offend us at some level? Yes, sport is not intended to celebrate mediocrity. As much as the super rich clubs have injected quality into the game by assembling an array of talent until then only imagined in school yards (or fantasy soccer leagues), the gulf between the haves and have nots is so large that it’s a fantasy to think someone other than the big 3 will win it. “Hey, you never know”. That tagline sells a lot of tickets–and I guess the EPL hopes so too.
I don’t know what happened/went wrong with the likes of Preston North End and Huddersfield Town. Perhaps this current crop of champions will be a memory in years to come. I can only hope.
Without going back through each and every post, I don’t think there has been much yearning for the good ole days in our posts. Cunning Linguist and Rob have made valid points with regard to agents and self-preservation/securing one’s and one’s family’s future.
I too used to HATE Drogba the Gunner Killer, then read about what he’d done for his country, saw him mature on the field, watched him beat Munich, and now he’s a sporting hero of mine. The only problem I have with him moving to China is that now I can’t watch him. Maybe I’d be more upset if I supported Chelsea, but I doubt it. He left at his peak.
That says something about loyalty, I suppose. I shouldn’t like him, right? But at the end of the day sport is, among other things, entertainment and glory and he provided ample amounts of both.
What is loyalty? I chose Arsenal because I discovered FSC and the first thing I saw was Henry change direction and cause two defenders to lose their footing and fall. Then I saw that year’s squad was Invincible. I rooted for France and recorded every WC game of theirs because of Henry, I had recently been to France, I watched more Arsenal the next year and loved what I saw. I know nearly nothing about North London; the most time I’ve spent in England was sleeping on the floor of Gatwick airport, but that’s my team and it always will be.
(I’ll pause and wait for the scoffing to end.)
When some of us complain about player loyalty in this era, we might feel scorned because we expect that the player knows us like we know him. We forget he’s not our buddy, we spend money and set aside our time to watch him while he makes more and more money and has so much time to enjoy a rich and famous lifestyle while never knowing us. We think he should repay our loyalty but he has his own loyalties.
So I sent the Ba link with no comment save for a comparison between him and Abramovich. At least we know where they stand as individuals who want to be successful financially and competitively no matter who gets in their way. The issue we Gooners have with Nasri is that he used the team to get where he is then trashed the team and its fans. So he’s a disrespectful juvenile who we thought was our buddy but he wasn’t, and we moved on (but we love that he was ejected last game because we thought he was once our buddy). Our problem with Adebayor is similar; he has character and temperament flaws and he really provided a reality check for sure–oops, not our buddy! We moved past it and now he just seems sad.
RVP, Theo, Wenger, Arsenal as an organization, the problem we have with them is that they say one thing and do another, but they want us to stay their buddy. Or, they actually say nothing and let us guess, pretending to hope we are their buddy while secretly not caring? Yet they give us just enough to hold on to and because we want entertainment and glory we put up with it, rationalize it, and somehow love it no matter how dysfunctional it gets. We hope!
The reason we’ll never question Cesc or have a problem with him is that we knew where he stood. He proved his loyalty by chastising Spanish press for misquoting him against Arsenal. Henry won everything he could with Arsenal and left to win that one last trophy. We understood and he proved loyalty by returning. They gave us beginning and end and were a bit clearer about it than the others.
Years ago I decided, only half-jokingly, that for fairness and entertainment’s sake, the MLB and the Olympics should offer two separate competitions, one for the purists and one for the dopers. Entertainment and glory would abound, and we would know where they, and we, stand.
A “super fantastic Blatteristic Euro league” full of the big money teams? Why not? (Ahem, next roundtable topic?) Entertainment and glory for sure, talent and competition through the roof. Just don’t expect anyone you’re watching to be your buddy.
Loyalty… I once hated Peyton Manning simply because he was THAT good, a Broncos killer. (For the same reasons as Kobe to the Nuggets but not nearly as vile. Sports heroes are villains because they’re heroes to someone.) But now Peyton is totally my buddy! He’s curious about what I’m having for breakfast and I’m pretty sure we’re going to see “Les Mis” after the Super Bowl. I’m sure of it!
It was quite an exciting first half to Champions League Matchday 3 yesterday. We watched at Woodwork again, which was nicely mellow, with 3 different matches on their 3 screens–from left to right: Shakhtar-Chelsea, Juve-Nordaelland, and Barcelona-Celtic, with the house sound system tuned to the Barça match for the first half, and the Juve match for the 2nd. (One Manchester United fan showed up too late to claim a TV, and so was reduced to streaming the match against Braga on his laptop.)
For a while it looked like we were headed towards upsets at the Camp Nou, at Old Trafford, and at Nordsjælland. But while the “big” club escaped in each of those matches (although Juve only with a point, thanks to a fantastic late goal by Vucinic), our attention was primarily on the Shakhtar-Chelsea match, and out in far eastern Ukraine the upset held. As the Mirror cheekily put it, it was “A Shaktar the system: Champions Chelsea outclassed and outplayed in Donetsk.”
And although yesterday was good, today just might be better. Of the eight remaining Matchday 3 fixtures, the ones to watch, IOHO, are Arsenal-Schalke, Málaga-Milan, and of course the two matches in the Group of Death—Ajax-Man City and Borussia Dortmund-Real Madrid this time around:
The culmination of the European club season is upon us. Bayern Munich takes on aging interlopers Chelsea in the Allianz Arena–which happens to be Bayern’s home ground. (For US viewers: kickoff is at 2:45pmET, and the match will be televised on Fox’s main network. In fact, the Fox networks are going full bore with almost-Super Bowl levels of TV coverage–see below for the full schedule.)
And what a season it’s been–especially the past month. Recall that it was just (over) a month ago that the Champions League semifinals started, with Bayern defeating Real Madrid at the same venue, and with Chelsea shocking the world with a 1-0 win over Barcelona at Stamford Bridge. The return legs the following week were even more dramatic. Chelsea even more unbelievable result at the Camp Nou, eliminating the defending Catalan champions; and the next day Bayern downing Madrid in PKs at the Bernabéu.
At some point we’ll have to revisit those extraordinary matches, as well as the ensuing events (Pep Guardiola’s announcement that he will step down, and the dramatic events in the various domestic leagues and cups).
But with kickoff just hours away, here’s a pregame reading/listening list to get you ready for today’s match:
- ZonalMarking’s tactical match preview: including his probably starting lineups:
If Chelsea did an ‘Inter 2010′ in the semi-final against Barcelona, they need to repeat the trick here – Inter went onto beat Bayern in the final that year.
Jose Mourinho’s side played extremely defensively in the final two years ago, essentially continuing the strategy they’d used at the Nou Camp a few weeks earlier, despite the fact they were playing a much more attacking game in Serie A at the time. Will Chelsea do the same?
Broadly the same approach makes sense. No-one plays quite like Barcelona, but in terms of ball retention, Bayern are the closest thing. Barca lead the way in terms of average possession and pass completion rate across Europe’s major five leagues, but Bayern are second in both categories. Though they’ve always been a side with fine passers, they’ve become even more about retention since the final two years ago – then, they mixed possession play with direct play down the flanks from Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. Those two are still in the side, of course, but tend to find themselves trying to break down packed, deep defences more frequently.
- FourFourTwo’s Professor Champions League Paul Simpson sounds similar themes in his column on the “Fascinating final clash of styles which echoes down the ages“:
The 2012 UEFA Champions League final isn’t just a contest for the greatest prize in club football; it is the latest instalment in a never-ending tactical argument.
Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern belong to the grand tradition of Bill Nicholson, Jock Stein, Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola in which teams dominate possession, take the initiative and feel obliged to win in style, as Danny Blanchflower once put it.
Roberto di Matteo’s Chelsea stand for a different, no less valid, tradition in which teams seek to draw the opposition out and punish them on the counter.
- Our friend PoliticalFootballs caps off this season’s last installment of his “This Week in English Football”–following of course a recap of last Sunday’s crazy final day in England–with a quick preview of today’s match (http://politicalfootballs.com/2012/05/17/this-week-in-english-football-city-champions-of-england-chelsea-of-europe-next:
With the game being played in Munich, and the home side having the duel threats of Ribery and Robben to throw at Chelsea, Bayern are clear favourites to win the trophy. But they are susceptible to teams who counterattack well – as last weekend’s 5-2 defeat to Borussia Dortmund proved in the German Cup final – and they will be wary of the English side who knocked out Napoli and Barcelona in previous rounds with the odds stacked against them. There is bad news and good news for Chelsea in terms of player availability – both Ivanovic and Ramires miss out through suspension; but so too does John Terry.
- Following Chelsea’s defeat of Barcelona, Jonathan Wilson detailed the remarkable historical coincidences between Chelsea 2012 and Leeds 1975:
The team in white celebrated wildly. Reduced to 10 men in their semi-final second leg on 24 April at the Camp Nou, they’d held on for an improbable 3-2 aggregate victory over Barcelona to reach the European Cup final.
Earlier in the season they’d looked in disarray. An upstart young manager who was supposed to oversee the rejuvenation of the squad had been ousted after alienating a core of senior players, but a safe pair of hands everybody assumed was a short-term appointment had arrived, soothed egos and reawakened some of the old fire.
The league was beyond them, but doggedly they’d scrapped their way through to within one game of the prize – the greatest prize – that had eluded them through all their years of success. In that final that side in white faced Bayern Munich. Undone by some scandalous refereeing, they lost and were never the same again.
The similarities with Leeds United in 1974-75 and Chelsea’s success at the Camp Nou 29 years later are striking.
Here’s the full day’s US televeision schedule, via WaPo’s SoccerInsider:
1 p.m. ET: Pregame show on Fox Soccer and Fox Deportes
2 p.m.: Pregame show on Fox’s main network
2:30 p.m.: Match coverage on Fox’s main network and Fox Deportes
5 p.m.: Postgame show on Fox Soccer and Fox Deportes
5 p.m.: Match tape on foxsoccer2go.com
8 p.m.: Match tape on Fox Soccer
10 p.m.: Match tape on Fox Deportes
Sunday at 3 a.m.: Match tape on Fox Soccer
Sunday at noon: Match tape on Fox Soccer
Sunday at 5 p.m.: Match tape on Fox Soccer Plus
A few picks for today, Saturday May 5:
FA Cup Final: Liverpool vs Chelsea (12:15pmET, FSC & Fox Deportes): Two teams that have been underwhelming in the league but surprisingly successful in cup competitions. Liverpool has already won the League Cup, while this is the 1st of two cup finals Chelsea will be competing for this month.
As outlined in this Telegraph column, these two clubs developed a heated rivalry over the past decade, playing in each other a remarkable 39 number times in the aughts:
One club was a product of its time, the other traversing a long road of redemption towards former glories.
Chelsea had Abramovich’s millions and the charismatic and calculating Jose Mourinho. Liverpool the tactical nous and organisational skills of Rafael Benitez that had been missing under the admittedly exciting stewardships of Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans.
Liverpool had capital-h History. Chelsea were rich upstarts. The pair were never likely to get along.
Their rivalry was ignited by ignited by Luis Garcia’s phantom goal at Anfield in 2005 [pictured above] which sealed qualification for the Champions League final. Jose Mourinho is still whingeing about it.
La Liga, Atlético Madrid vs Málaga (3pmET, ESPN3.com): Málaga sits in the crucial 4th place in the league, which would lead to Champions League qualification. That is one of primary goals of the ambitious–although so far somewhat rocky—Qatari-funded Málaga project. They’ve spent a fair amount of petro-euros on transfer fees over the past couple years–most prominently the €19m they spent last summer to lure Spanish international midfielder Santi Cazorla away from Villareal–“the crowning moment in Málaga’s transformation” Sid Lowe wrote at the time. Other Málaga players who’ve caught our eye: Venezuelan striker Jose Rondón, attack-minded Portuguese fullback Eliseu, and two young attacking players in Argentine Diego Buonanotte and Spaniard Francisco Román Alarcón, aka Isco. The former is a 24-year-old who starred for River Plate as a teenager, before he barely survived in a horrific car crash 3 years ago–see FiveInMidfield’s account. Isco, who just celebrated his 20th birthday a couple weeks ago, was born in Benalmádena, just outside Málaga, but came up through Valencia’s youth system. He made just four La Liga appearances for Valencia last season before Málaga paid €6m last summer.
Atlético–who will be travelling to Bucharest this coming week to take on Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League final on Wednesday–still have an outside chance of catching up with Málaga. Los Colchoneros (“The Mattress Makers“) sit in 6th place, 5 points behind Málaga (with Levante in between in 5th place). The player to watch on Atlético is without a doubt Colombian striker Falcao, who has ably replaced Kun Aguero. One of Atlético’s challenges this summer will be to keep richer clubs from luring him away after just a year in Madrid. Falcao also starred for River Plate–he played for the Argentine giants from 2001-2009, including under current Atlético Madrid manager’s Diego Simeone‘s stint as manager there in 2008.
La Liga, Barcelona vs Espanyol (3pmET, ESPN3.com): The Derbi barceloní, and Pep Guardiola’s last match at the Camp Nou. Espanyol held Barcelona to a draw on their ground in January, after which Sid Lowe wrote:
Created as a conscious rejection of Barcelona – not, as is often assumed, of Barça’s Catalanism but of their foreignness, founded by Hans Gamper, who was Swiss, and full of British ex-pats – Espanyol’s identity has shifted over the past century. So, even, has their name. From the consciously Spanish club they became, rejecting the growing identification of Barcelona with Catalanism, to their recent reinvention, staking their own claim to being Catalan, there has been a constant: they don’t like Barça. Just as Barcelona’s narrative evokes their status as a kind of resistance to the state, so now does Espanyol’s – only this time the “state” is the Catalan one. Barcelona is more than a club; so too, as the banner at Cornellá pointedly put it on Sunday night, “is Catalunya”.
We took a look at Espanyol’s youthful talent in a previous what-to-watch feature, here.
It’s the post-Easter bank holiday in England, so there’s a full slate of Premier League games today. But we choose just the late game in London, and from further south on the Continent another derby from another great European footballing capital. Both featuring Champions League sides (the London one having beat the Lisbon one just recently, in fact) against local rivals that are a bit further down in the table:
Fulham vs Chelsea (3pmET; ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3.com): Fulham, in their usual mid-table inconsistency (#11), host local rivals Chelsea (#6). Story at Fulham has been American Clint Dempsey, who by all accounts is having the best season of any American soccer player ever. But as we’ve said before, Fulham is more than the Deuce–we like Costa Rican playmaker Bryan Ruiz as well as young Belgian Moussa Dembele. For Chelsea, the storyline of the season has twisted close to 180˚ (π radians, if you will), with the sacking of Andre-Villas Boas and their resurgence–at least in the Champions League–under iterim Italian Roberto di Matteo. That said, their chances of requalifying for the Champions League are growing hanging by a thread. They’re on 56 points, 3 behind both Newcastle and Spurs–so with a win here, they’d merely pull even in a tie for 4th. It could very well come down to goal differential between these three, with Arsenal seemingly consolidating their claim on 3rd following yesterday’s stunning memorable win over Man City (more on that match to come).
Sporting CP Lisbon vs Benfica (3:15pmET): The heated and long-standing (dating to 1907) the Derby de Lisboa—“also known as Derby Eterno, Derby da Segunda Circular or Derby da Capital”: Sporting Clube de Portugal versus Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Leões contra Águias. Unlike the London derby, this one actually matters for the domestic title race–Benfica is 2nd in Liga Sagres with 59 points, and needs to win to keep pace with 1st place Porto (their other big domestic rivals), who beat 3rd place Braga on Saturday to go up to 63 points (leaving Braga stuck on 58). Benfica’s got a fun squad to watch, and they very well could have pulled off the upset at Stamford Bridge last Wednesday to eliminate Chelsea from the Champions League. From our preview for that matchday:
Ben Shave‘s list of 5 Benfica players to watch, published prior to the 1st leg, consisted of a Brazilian (goalkeeper Artur), a Uruguayan (defender Maxi Pereira), a Spaniard (holding midfielder Javi Garcia), an Argentine (aging semi-legendary playmaker Pablo Aimar), and a Paraguayan (striker Oscar Cardozo). You can add to that list two more young Benfica players we’ve been hearing a lot about: Argentine Nicolás Gaitán and afro’ed Belgian Axel Witsel (attacking midfielders both).
Barcelona beat Milan 3-1 in yet another controversial Camp Nou Champions League result, while Bayern finished off Olympique Marseille with another 2-0 victory, for an aggregate score of 4-0.
Wednesday, April 4 (both kickoffs at 2:45pmET):
Chelsea vs Benfica: The match to watch on Wednesday. Chelsea pulled out a 1-0 victory at the Estádio da Luz in Lisbon last week–continuing a remarkable turnaround from when they were down 3-1 after the first leg in Napoli in the Round of 16. We’ll be rooting for the Portuguese.
Well, turns out there aren’ aren’t many actual Portuguese in Benfica’s squad. For instance, Ben Shave‘s list of 5 Benfica players to watch, published prior to the 1st leg, consisted of a Brazilian (goalkeeper Artur), a Uruguayan (defender Maxi Pereira), a Spaniard (holding midfielder Javi Garcia), an Argentine (aging semi-legendary playmaker Pablo Aimar), and a Paraguayan (striker Oscar Cardozo). You can add to that list two more young Benfica players we’ve been hearing a lot about: Argentine Nicolás Gaitán and afro’ed Belgian Axel Witsel (attacking midfielders both).
And on the other side of the ball, Chelsea’s Brazilian duo of David Luiz and Ramires both started their European club careers with Benfica (whereas Chelsea’s Portuguese players–Raul Meireles, Jose Boswinga, Paulo Ferreira–broke thru domestically with Porto. Not a coincidence, as all three played under Jose Mourinho at Benfica’s northern archrival before eventually following him to Stamford Bridge.)
Listen to CNN’s Pedro Pinto sitting in on this week’s Guardian Football Weekly podcast for more on this depressing aspect of Portuguese football. In fact, listen to the whole thing–includes a preview of this match, and then at the end Sid Lowe and the rest of the pod also previewing Barcelona-Milan.
Real Madrid vs APOEL: If Bayern-OM is medium-well, this one is completely well-done. Madrid won 3-0 in Cyprus. Only reason to watch this one is to see some of the talent that’s been wasting away on Mourinho’s bench all season–players like last year’s Bundesliga player of the season Nuri Şahin, who finally got a start in the 1st leg.
(It’s a shame Sahin didn’t stay with Borussia Dortmund. We’ve been seeing reports that Madrid (Morinho?) don’t think he’s made the transition–maybe we can hope for a loan back to Dortmund next season? Dortmund’s chief has called the transfer a mistake (on Sahin’s part?), but seems to be ruling out a return.)