The Champions League group games started this week and languagecaster takes a look at how teams from la Liga and the Premier League fared.
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Damian – The Spanish Teams
Spanish teams usually feature among the favourites at the start of every Champions League campaign, even though they’ve only provided one winner in the past six years: Barcelona in 2006. And the Catalan side will be hoping for a repeat performance this year. Though few in Spain think they have the necessary tools to do so. This is surprising when you think their team boasts such Xabi, Iniesta, Eto’o and Messi. Yet there are doubts about their coach and former star, ‘Pep’ Guardiola, due to his lack of experience. A 3-1 victory over a weak Portuguese side Sporting eased some of the pressure after a poor start to La Liga. And they should qualify from a group that also includes Shaktar and Swiss team Basle.
Real Madrid also started with a comfortable home victory 2-0 against Belarus side Bate, but they know there are tougher tests ahead in the form of Italian giants Juventus and UEFA Cup holders Zenit St. Petersburg. Madrid failed to make the knock out round last season, and another failure to do so could cost their manager, Bernd Schuster, his job. He relies on a strong Dutch presence in his team, with Robben, Sneijder, van der Vaart, and Ruud van Nistelrooy. Though injuries are never too far away from those players. If they get through the group they may well go all the way.
One team that won’t go all the way but will have lots of fun is Atlético Madrid, back in the Champions league after an eleven year absence. They are wonderful going forward, with the likes of Diego Forlán, Luis Garcia, Portuguese winger Simão, and the Argentinian star ‘Kun’ Agüero, but defensively they are suspect. And they are frustratingly inconsistent. They started this season’s campaign with a tremendous 3-0 away victory against Dutch side PSV, but regular watchers of ‘Atléti’ know that they could well lose the home leg by the same score. Group qualification at best.
Villarreal deservedly finshed second in last year’s La Liga race and they’ve started off this season’s Champions League by battling for a nil nil draw at Old Trafford against Manchester United. Cilean coach Pellegrino has a good mixture of South American and local players and their short passing game will frustrate many teams this season. They will surely qualify from a group that includes Aalborg from Denmark and Celtic from Scotland. Villarreal could well be the dark horses in this year’s competition.
Damon – The English sides
While Spanish teams may be thought of as favourites at the start of the Champions League English teams have dominated the last four with 9 out of the 16 semi-finalists being English teams. The same faces are here again at the start of the 2008/09 campaign, 2005 winners Liverpool, losing finalists from 2006 and 2008 Arsenal and Chelsea, and the current champions Manchester United.
Both Liverpool and Chelsea, the English teams with perhaps the most consistent recent record in the Champions league, both got off to good starts. Liverpool played away to Olympic Marseille, a team they are familiar with from last year. They didn’t match their 4-0 destruction of the French team this year, but neither did they lose – painful memories of losing to Marseille at Anfield remain on Merseyside. Thanks to their inspirational star Gerrard, who scored two goals, they overcame a skillful and stubborn Marseille 2-1. They will be glad of the away victory but will have an eye on Atletico Madrid who blasted out of the blocks with a 3-0 victory away at Dutch champions PSV. This group is not the easiest but Liverpool should progress.
Chelsea, also facing French opposition, continued their impressive league form with a 4-0 home victory over Bordeaux. While the players must have been happy with the solid win, their Italian coach, Scolari was less than impressed criticising his side for giving away the ball too much – perhaps the Chelsea players felt sorry for their opponents and wanted to give the a chance. This group looks a breeze for the Blues, especially given that Roma, the big name on paper, were upset by minnows Cluj 2-1 at home. Expect Chelsea to win this group at a canter.
The other two English clubs didn’t have such an easy time, and this perhaps reflects their erratic European form of recent years. Remember it was only two years ago that Manchester United failed to get out of their group. And the team from the North West of England were given a stern test at home by Villarreal. Both sides didn’t field their strongest sides from the start and Manchester United found it tough going and should have been behind by the 60 minute after a beautiful move by the Spanish side ended in a back heel hitting the post – it would have been goal of the tournament and the Yellow Submarines may be kicking themselves they didn’t go all out to beat a dour United side. Celtic and Aalborg also drew in their group leaving all four teams on 1 point each. But again this is one of the easier groups and Manchester United will make it to the knock out round.
Arsenal on the other hand may be worried after drawing with Dynamo Kiev away. They were lucky not to lose and with Fenerbahçe and Porto in the group nothing can be taken for granted. They should make it, but don’t be surprised to see Wenger’s team crash out in the group stages.