Thursday, August 30, 2007

Champions' League Draw - First Impressions

I am making an effort to return to my roots a bit here and do some soccer coverage, even during football season...

Followed the draw today for the group stages of the Champions' League. Here are my first impressions:

Easiest Route for Top Seed to Knockout Round:

If AEK turns around the result against Sevilla, this category is Arsenal's without a rival. If Sevilla's result holds, it probably still is Arsenal (Sevilla are going to have trouble keeping it together after the Puerta tragedy). Other relatively clear routes are there for Liverpool and Inter Milan.

Toughest Route for Top Seed to Knockout Round:

The two Spanish giants. Barcelona get should've-been-a-top-seed Lyon, German champion Stuttgart and a resurgent Rangers team (killing people in Scotland now and hungry for CL football). Real have losable games against Werder Bremen and Lazio, and Olympiakos is not an easy place to travel to.

Easiest Group Top to Bottom:

I think it's Group G or H. Inter aren't as good as their Calciopoli-watered-down title last year. PSV are middle-of-the-pack 2 seeds. CSKA could surprise, but wouldn't in other groups. For the reasons Arsenal have an easy route above, H is easy too.

Toughest Group Top to Bottom:

Lots of choices here. Real and Barce's groups are tough, with exceptionally good 3rd seeded teams (Lazio and Stuttgart, respectively). Another group that draws my attention is Group D. Milan are defending titlists, Celtic and Benfica have lots of experience at winning games in the Champions' League, and Shakhtar Donetsk is probably as good this year as many of the 3rd seeds.

Most Likely Group to Hold Form:

Probably Group F. Man U and Roma are a good bit better than Sporting and Dinamo Kyiv (though either could put in a scare on any given Wednesday. If Sevilla hold on against AEK, Group H will have the top 2 advance.

Most Likely Upsets (bottom 2 pool team advancing):

Celtic and Shakhtar are as likely as Benfica to advance, in my mind. All three of those teams are about equal. Watch out for CSKA Moscow in Group G - it's hard to play in Russia in cold weather, and that group isn't loaded with the greatest top seeds. I wouldn't be stunned to see Schalke 04 take a slot away from Valencia either, as Valencia are off track right now.

Dodgiest Road Games:

Liverpool at Besiktas; the Real-Lazio Fascist-off; Any match in Ukraine or Russia in December.

Wait, Where are...:

Kanu mentioned it already, but it's quite possible that the best team in Europe this year isn't in the Champions' League. Bayern Munich look fantastic. Also missing is Juventus, who might put together a fine run in Italy. Only PSV from Holland? Time for Feyenoord and Ajax to return to prominence. I also would like to see champions of some lesser leagues get back in the mix of things - like IFK Gothenborg of Sweden, Anderlecht of Belgium, or FK Austria or Wien. I'm not sure if I personally like that England, Spain, Italy and Germany make up half the field. I never minded giving other clubs a prominent showcase.


Kanu said...

Dodgiest road games:

ANYONE at Fenerbache

Good luck Inter & PSV, both here and in Moscow in the winter- could be a tricky group for those top 2...

A good friend of mine from Istanbul told me that although Galatasary fans are more well known because they have had the most success in Europe, the Fenerbache fans are by far the craziest fuckers of the three, followed by Galatasary and then Besiktas a distant third.

Platini is on your side, and is trying to find a way to live up to his campaign initiative of limiting 3 teams from each country to allow more little fish in.

His latest idea was proposed this week:

It will be interesting to see if he can get this passed or if the powerful & rich G14 teams will be able to stop it from happening...

Kanu said...

My initial reaction was also that Arsenal had it made, although Slavia Prague just shocked Ajax 3-1 over two legs in qualifying, winning both matches outright, so maybe they will be inspired, but on paper they seem like a weak 4 seed.

Don't know much about Bucharest, except that on paper they look like the weakest 3 seed.

A full strength and not in disarray Sevilla {2 time defending UEFA Cup Champs, beat Barcas ass in Supercup last year, just beat Madrid ass 5-3, 3 points from winning La Liga last year, etc.} are arguably and probably a better team than top seed Arsenal. It's too bad that the death along with the Alves wanting out situation has them in a bit of disarray, but there's always the chance that they will play emotionally inspired and overachieve. Transfer deadline is tomorrow, so if Alves isn't sold tonight then he's in Seville at least until January, at which point he will surely be CL cup tied and less attractive as a midwinter overpriced signing, so the latter scenario isn't out of the question.

The other groups all look fairly balanced- really looking forward to it this year.