Note: Follow the 2008-2009 Champions League & UEFA Cup Quarter/Semi-Finals DRAW live here on Soccerlens
Like a broken record, the football media industry (of which we are undeniably a part of) will rotate through the following topics between today and the end of the Champions League season:
- The dominance of English sides in the Champions League in recent years and reasons behind it.
- The gap between the top four and the rest of the league in the Premier League.
- Unchecked flow of money into English football and its role in hastening society’s extinction as we know it.
Ok, maybe we’re not all going to die. Maybe football itself will not die (even if FIFA dies we have the NF-Board, beach soccer, indoor soccer, street soccer and what not. Maybe we’ll all go back to playing it for fun. Maybe we should ‘hasten football’s death’?).
But while English clubs (English by virtue of being located in England, not by virtue of their playing squads…although the 6+5 rule could change things) enjoy their time under the bright Champions League sun and while the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool fund colossal debts and transfer spendings through their Champions League campaigns, we can rest assured of three things:
Football in Europe is Changing
- Like all trends, it is a matter of time before Spanish and Italian sides catch up – the impact of the current downturn in economies will only be felt in England after a couple of years, and provided that the Big Three of Italy and Madrid sort out their internal problems they will be on a level playing field where the English teams are concerned.
England may hold the biggest purse strings but the heart of football (for most young footballers brought up on a steady diet of international and European club football, especially those born outside England) is still Spain and Italy, and the top clubs will continue to attract top players as long as they can stay within range of the English league.
- Changes in personnel and managers at the current English clubs will have an impact, possibly negative, on their regular Champions League campaigns. Stability and continuity has ensured success at Barcelona and United and even Liverpool, while Chelsea and Madrid have suffered because of the instability at both clubs.
At least one of the top four clubs will change managers in the next two years; Hiddink is not certain to stay on after the summer, Ferguson is due to retire in 3-4 years and it is not certain if Wenger and Benitez will be there at the end of 2010, let alone 2012.
- European clubs will also learn to adapt tactically to their English opposition – not just the top clubs but the second and third seeds, who have seen these same English sides struggle and falter so many times in their own leagues and in Europe on many occasions.
As Inter showed in the first half at Old Trafford, even the world, european and english champions are not infallible, and Liverpool’s problems in the league are well documented. A stronger tactical focus and the ability to hold on to quality young players (which will happen as football gets more and more money pumped into it, especially at local levels) will level the field (somewhat).
…that is, until the next hegemony by a club or a league takes shape.
So, with that dealt with, let’s NOT talk about how well English clubs are doing or how money is ruining football. Let’s just discuss football, mmmk?
The 2008/2009 Champions League Quarterfinal and Semifinal Draw takes place in Nyon, Switzerland, the UEFA headquarters, on Friday 20th March. There’s no country protection, any team can be drawn against any team and the semi-final draw will be made at the same time so we will have plenty of permutations and predictions to make from next week till April.
The quarterfinal ties will be played on 7/8 April and 14/15 April, with the semifinals being played on 28/29 April and 5/6 May. The final is to be played on Wednesday 27 May at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
Here are the teams involved:
The one match I don’t want to see is Porto v Villareal. To be fair, it’s a match that will give both teams the best chance of progressing to the semi-final, but it also means that two big teams will crash out and one of the semi-finals will end up being a relatively pedestrian affair (no offense intended to Porto or Villareal fans – after all Porto knocked out United a few seasons ago and Villareal did quite well against United in the group stages this season).
I’m all for equality in football but outside of United, I don’t care much who stays and who goes, as long as it’s a good match and having a weaker team in the semis has the potential to turn it into a one-way battle.
Other than those two teams, there are the usual suspects in the four English teams and Barcelona coupled with a Bayern blowing hot in Europe and somewhat cold in Bundesliga. On current form (European, that is) Arsenal and Chelsea are the weakest of those 6, United haven’t done themselves justice either but they have been solid overall, Bayern will be tough but the top two are surely Liverpool and Barcelona.
Liverpool will do well against any European opposition and after last season and this season in the league will be confident against English opposition as well, while Barcelona, some suspect defending aside, are simply irresistible. I don’t see Arsenal or Chelsea being able to stop either side, and it will take quite an effort from United and Bayern to deal with either of them.
A dream semi-final lineup? I can’t decide, but I’d love to see the strongest four sides on form in Europe – that is, Bayern, United, Barcelona and Liverpool – go through to the semis.
What are your picks?