footy musings from a (relative) newbie

Posts tagged ‘benfica’

Champions League Returns

Whenever this tournament starts a new season, it feels as if it never left. Sure it’s been 116 days since Real Madrid snagged their 10th European Cup in Lisbon. But that was last season. Thirty-one teams are now on a mission to dethrone the reigning champions and grab the cup themselves in Berlin on June 6, 2015.

The longer I watch this competition, the more it both frustrates and delights me. I love the Cinderella stories like Bulgarian champions Ludogorets’ remarkable run to this year’s Group stage; and the return of Cypriot team Apoel FC, after their own heroic run to the quarterfinals in 2012. On the other hand, it’s disheartening to see the latter stages of the competition become more and more of a closed shop.

I’ll still totally be watching, though, because it is some of the best football you’ll see anywhere on the planet. And that means I’ll also be making predictions about which teams will be celebrating passage into the round of 16 after Matchday 6. Cuz my prediction skills rock. Not.

Group A:
Atletico Madrid
Juventus
Olympiacos
Malmo
Winners: Atletico Madrid, Juventus

Group B:
Real Madrid
Basel
Liverpool
Ludogorets
Winners: Real Madrid, Basel

Group C:
Benfica
Zenit
Bayer Leverkusen
Monaco
Winners: Benfica, Zenit

Group D:
Arsenal
Borussia Dortmund
Galatasaray
Anderlecht
Winners: Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund

Group E:
Bayern Munich
Manchester City
CSKA Moscow
Roma
Winners: Bayern Munich, Manchester City

Group F:
Barcelona
PSG
Ajax
Apoel Nicosia
Winners: Barcelona, Ajax

Group G:
Chelsea
Schalke
Sporting Lisbon
Maribor
Winners: Chelsea, Schalke

Group H:
Porto
Shakhtar Donetsk
Athletic Bilbao
Bate Borisov
Winners: Athletic Bilbao, Porto

Group C and Group H are pretty wide open, so I reserve the right to change my mind on which teams will advance from those groups.

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Finals…finally!

Welp! Here we are. After 9 looooong months, the finalists for the two European competitions are

Champions League: Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid

Europa League: Benfica vs. Sevilla

I need to get this out of the way: I do not understand how the Europa League final will be contested in Juventus Stadium, but not by Juventus other than to once again lament my terrible prediction skills.

As for the Champions League, the road to Lisbon apparently goes through Madrid.

With Real and Atletico advancing to the Champions League final, it’s that time of year where football pundits declare this or that footballing approach to be dead. Because football pundits apparently have the attention span and perspective of over-caffeinated teenagers.

Can we just say that the footballing approach that is deemed superior is usually the one that is currently being employed to win? Can we also admit that different approaches to the game can win in different circumstances?

When Barcelona was cleaning everyone’s clock a few years back, tiki taka was all the rage, and folk were falling over themselves to praise it. Fast forward to 2013, when Bayern Munich was winning everything in sight, and their brand of football – counter attacking, with a focus on physicality – was being lauded as the best EVAH!

I’d love it if everyone – pundits, fans, players, managers – just owned that they were reacting to who and what was winning in a given moment.

And failing that, it really is ok to just say Team A played better than Team B on the night.

Lisbon and Turin in Sight

So, it will be Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea.

I’ll admit: these matchups do have me intrigued.

  • Will poor, sad Thibaut Courtois get to play for Atletico against Chelsea – the team that loaned him to Atleti in the first place? (Probably)
  • How will Real vs. Bayern play out after their last epic semi-final two years ago? (Hopefully without penalties!)
  • How far will Jose Mourihno get trying to gaslight Diego Simeone? (My guess is not very)
  • Will Atleti make history and get to the final 40 years after they last made it? (Possibly)
  • Or will we get a Chelsea (Mou) vs. Bayern (Pep) final (Ugh! Anything but that!)
  • Who says football isn’t soap opera, eh?

    In Europa League, it’s Benfica vs. Juventus and Sevilla vs. Valencia (all-Spanish affair alert!) Juventus is winning this, right?

    I’m not willing to predict the Champions League winner because at this level, there’s very little between the teams, which means the games will be decided by the smallest of margins and factors I can’t even begin to think of.

    The Semis are Upon Us

    The two top European Competitions have their final fours (see what I did there).

    In the Champions League, the semi-finalists are

    Atletico Madrid
    Bayern Munich
    Chelsea
    Real Madrid

    The post-mortems on the quarterfinals are as numerous as they are repetitive, featuring headlines about Chelsea’s remarkable comeback, Bayern showing their class, Atletico being the romantics/hipsters choice and Real scraping into the semi-final round.

    There are things I love about this competition, but when it gets to this stage, it often feels anti-climactic, probably because it’s usually the same 3 or 4 teams competing for the trophy every year. And as I’ve said before this is my least favorite part of the tournament because the stakes are so high that it makes the actual games fairly dull (though that doesn’t mean I won’t be watching).

    In the Europa League, Benfica, Juventus, Valencia and Sevilla have made the semi-finals, with Valencia coming back from 0-3 down to beat Basel. Kudos to Valencia, but I would have liked to see Basel in the semis.

    I’d like to get excited about the draw on Friday, but I know UEFA’s going to drag it out.

    The Road to Turin

    So, we have our Europa League quarterfinal matchups.

    Juventus v Lyon
    Benfica v AZ
    Porto v Sevilla
    Valencia v FC Basel

    I stick by my prediction that Juventus will win this tournament. They’re still the best team left in the draw, and the final will be played at Juventus Stadium. How could they NOT win this?

    How Europa League is like the CTA Brown Line

    It eventually gets to its destination, but it sure does take a damn long time to get there.

    That’s right, as the Uefa Champions League is working toward its last 8, the Europa League is just getting to matchups for its last 16. This is why the Europa League gets a bad rap. With other competitions beginning to wind down, it seems annoying that there’s still SO MUCH left of this one.

    AZ Alkmaar vs. Anzhi Makhachkala
    Basel vs. FC Red Bull Salzburg
    FC Porto vs. Napoli
    Juventus vs. Fiorentina
    Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Valencia CF
    Lyon vs. Viktoria Plzen
    Sevilla vs. Real Betis
    Tottenham vs. Benfica

    I’m actually looking forward to quite a few of these matches: Basel v Salzburg, Porto v Napoli and Tottenham v Benfica all have potential to produce thrilling games. And that’s before we even get to Juventus vs. Fiorentina.

    Another international break beckons next week. You know my feelings.

    And So the Group Stage Ends

    After six matchdays, the UEFA Champions League has whittled to 16 the 32 teams that began the Group Stage in September. Along the way, some groups threw up surprises (Ciao, Juventus), while others stayed tight until almost the last kick.

    At the start of the Group Stage, I made my picks for winners and runners-up. So, how did I do?

    In Group A, I picked Manchester United and Bayer LeverKeusen to prevail, and they did – though not before putting out some lackluster performances. Group B was supposed to yield Real Madrid and Juventus as winner and runner-up, respectively. But while the Spaniards did their part (progressing through the group undefeated), Juventus started the competition playing badly and were eventually eliminated on this last matchday by Galatasary. Likewise, in Group C, Benfica, my pick for runner-up to Paris Saint-Germain, are out of the tournament; Greek team Olympiacos is going to the round of 16 instead.

    Group D proved to be status quo as defending champions Bayern Munich and Manchester City are on to the next round – the latter for the first time. No doubt Man City will take confidence from their defeat of Bayern on the final matchday.

    Despite twice defeating Chelsea, Switzerland’s FC Basel are out of the competition after losing to Schalke 04. Honestly, this is surprising to me. Basel played Chelsea off the park TWICE, and Schalke have been weaksauce in this competition and in the Bundesliga. Yet Chelsea and Schalke are the teams that ended up going through from Group E. At least I got the winner and runner-up right for this group!

    As advertised, the Group of Death (Group F) showed no mercy, as Napoli were eliminated despite beating Arsenal 2-0 on Matcday 6. Borussia Dortmund squeaked into the round of 16 with just about the last kick of their game against Marseille. Seeing Gonzalo Higuain cry reminded me of why a Group of Death stresses me out. Inevitably, hearts get broken.

    Zenit St. Petersburg followed Atletico Madrid out of Group G, giving me a perfect record in this group and ensuring that I get to continue ogling the pretty that is Anatoliy Tymoshchuk in the next round.

    Finally, in Group H, Barcelona won the Group and AC Milan did just enough to come out runners-up. But I ran out of fucks to give about this group when I saw that Barca and Milan were drawn together again.

    So, another Group Stage ends, and draw day for the round of 16 awaits on December 16. I’ll be up bright and early for it.

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