Champions League elite follow script
Europe’s top teams on course for semi-final spots in Champions League
This week’s Champions League quarter-final, first leg ties went very much according to the script.
Real Madrid, one of Spanish football’s powerhouses, were always expected to breeze past surprise package Apoel Nicosia, and they willingly obliged with a comprehensive 3-0 victory in Cyprus.
The stats are even more worrying for Ivan Jovanovic’s side, not managing a shot in the 90 minutes as Kaka and Karim Benzema (2) proved the difference on the scoresheet. What the score might be at the Santiago Bernabeu is anyone’s guess.
There was another away win at the Estadio da Luz, as Chelsea produced arguably the shock of the week with a 1-0 win against Benfica.
The Portuguese outfit, so impressive in the competition thus far, were very disappointing against a Blues side with their backs against the wall. Salomon Kalou slotted home the only goal of the game in the second period.
Wednesday night saw more of the same for away teams, with Bayern Munich taking advantage of some poor Marseille defending to secure a 2-0 win in France.
Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben scored the goals, and whilst the Bundesliga giants didn’t make a sack-load of chances, they looked capable of cutting through Didier Deschamps’ side at will.
Last, but by no means least, we come to the stalemate at the San Siro, as AC Milan and Barcelona shared a goalless draw in Italy. The pick of the last eight ties, it was a match not short on chances, and it’s almost certain that the Rossoneri will pay for their inability to take some big chances.
For many, Pep Guardiola’s side has already won the tournament. Undoubtedly the best club side in modern times, the only thing potentially missing from this great Barca side is a killer instinct.
In Spain the La Liga champions have no problems dismantling lesser teams, and always raise their game against Jose Mourinho’s Madrid. But last night, the perfect goal wasn’t forthcoming, and AC defended well in large periods to stop the Barca bandwagon from rolling.
It’s an Achilles heel that ‘the special one’ found so well whilst in charge of Inter Milan back in the 2009-10 season.
The big question is – can AC Milan repeat such a defensive feat in the Nou Camp. Probably not, but they showed enough of an attacking threat to suggest scoring away from home is not impossible. The fact they drew 2-2- in the group stages in Catalonia would also suggest that this isn’t a done deal.
That said, anything other than Barcelona getting to the next stage would be a major surprise.
You’d have to say the same about Bayern Munich too, with the German side simply better than their rivals from Ligue 1.
Lucky to escape from Arsenal’s group, L’OM scraped through their last 16 clash against Inter Milan on away goals. They’ve shown nothing to suggest they will do the same here.
In contradiction, Jupp Heynckes’ side look like genuine contenders to the Spanish rising, with a stringent defence and plethora of attacking option.
After navigating the preliminary rounds in the summer, Bayern look like a different animal compared to 12 months ago, when they lost the domestic title to Borussia Dortmund.
The real test will come in the semi-finals against Madrid, who can rest some of their superstars for next week’s second leg. The one negative from such an easy passage is that the Los Blancos superstars haven’t been tested to the limit – something that will come against Bayern. That semi-final will be worth a watch.
Finally, the pieces to pick out of Chelsea’ win in Portugal are relatively small, with neither side looking like world-beaters.
For Di Matteo, an ability to win ugly has to be the most pleasing factor, with a mix of long ball and counter attacking play helping the Blues open up their opponents on a couple of occasions. Had Daniel Sturridge’s final ball been better, this tie would be over.
Luckily for Benfica, it wasn’t and isn’t. The away goal also becomes irrelevant, as Jorge Jesus’ side have to score to cancel out Kalou’s strike. If anything, it favours the Aguias and forces them to play on the front foot at Stamford Bridge.
They also have a number of individuals who can hurt any team, although Nicolas Gaitan in particular failed to show his very best against the 2008 runners-up.
In short, Chelsea should make it through in the capital on Tuesday night, and have found a renewed spirit, which could also push them towards that all-important fourth place in the Premier League.
However, they are underdogs to make it further than the last four in the competition, with Barcelona lurking in wait. Patriotism aside, Chelsea look like the weakest of the perspective last four.