Thursday, February 21, 2008

Champions League Round of 16: February 20

Lyon 1-1 Manchester United
United lined up in the same 4-5-1 that they always seem to use in Europe, but the cautious formation, with Wayne Rooney alone up front, really didn't test the rickety Lyon defence enough. In fact, Lyon started stronger and had a good spell at the beginning of the game before United settled down and got themselves into it. Sir Alex also opted for experience over youth in the starting lineup, with Scholes and Giggs brought back into the team after being left out for the FA Cup win over Arsenal. But although the veterans were enjoying an Indian summer last year, they just don't seem to be up to it this season. Cristiano Ronaldo had a quiet game too, and although United were edging the possession stats, they hadn't created many clear shot -- aside from a good chance that Wayne Rooney missed when clean through on goal in the first half.

Lyon took the lead early in the second half, against the run of play, with Karim Benzema grabbing a goal out of nothing -- three defenders around him, he found space for a powerful shot that was well placed in the corner past Van der Sar. You can certainly see why United might be interested in buying him -- provided he's a bit less fragile than Louis Saha. Sir Alex responded to going behind by replacing Giggs and Scholes with Nani and Tevez, and that made the difference in the end, as Tevez snatched a late equalizer. Overall it was a fairly even game, but United were the better team, and the scoreline should position them well for the return leg at Old Trafford.

Arsenal 0-0 Milan
This was the perfect example of why a scoreless game doesn't have to be boring. It was fascinating to watch, with Arsenal's energy and flair neutralized by Milan's guile. Arsenal's best chance came in stoppage time, when Adebayor headed a cross from Theo Walcott onto the crossbar. Adebayor was the focal point of their attack throughout, with perhaps more long balls forward than we're used to seeing from Arsenal, in hopes of catching the Milan defence off-guard. Milan, meanwhile, started with Pato on his own up front, somewhat surprisingly -- I would've thought that Pippo Inzaghi was made for nights like this, but maybe he's not quite fit? -- and although the duckling showed flashes of his potential, ultimately it was a frustrating night for him.

Both teams lost key defenders to injury -- Toure in the 7th minute, Nesta in the 50th -- but although Toure's absence could be a bigger blow to Arsenal in the long run, they coped better here than Milan did. Milan's strength, as usual, was their midfield, but Flamini nullified Kaka & co. quite effectively. Arsenal should be happy to have kept a clean sheet but regret not winning the game outright. Now they have to go to Italy and get something from the San Siro. In other seasons you might say that's a tall order, but it's less daunting when you consider Milan's home form this year.

In any case, it will give me another opportunity to partake in the Milan Drinking Game, the most important part of which involves taking a drink every time the commentators mention Maldini's age. Guaranteed to get you drunk by halftime.

Celtic 2-3 Barcelona
Barcelona went behind to Celtic twice before finally coming back to win with two goals from Lionel Messi and another from Thierry Henry. It was a very back-and-forth game but Barcelona had the majority of the possession and shots and thoroughly deserved the win. So much for Celtic's excellent home record in European games -- and now they have to hope to win in Spain which is, shall we say, not bloody likely.

Fenerbahce 3-2 Sevilla
Another five-goal game, this one decided by a goal from substitute Semih Senturk in the 87th minute to give Fenerbahce the win. The Turkish team took the lead initially, with Sevilla equalizing a few minutes later through an own-goal, and Fenerbahce going ahead again in the second half before Sevilla levelled things up once more. I'm still deciding whether to bother watching this later.


Vedran Agovic said...

keep up the great work, sorry but you cannot root for both those squads, errrr.

Jen said...

And yet, I do. :)

sf2007 said...

"So much for Celtic's excellent home record in European games"

I think that Celtic still have an excellent home record in European competition...Barcelona are still the only team to win at Celtic Park, which they've now done twice, on Wednesday + in the 04/05 Champions League. In the 3 times Celtic have visited Camp Nou, Barca won 3-1 (1964 Fairs Cup), 0-0 draw (03/04 UEFA Cup knockout stage) and 1-1 draw (04/05 Champions League). So although it's highly unlikely Celtic can go there and win by 2 clear goals to go through, i'd say Celtic still have a fantastic record at Celtic Park in European Competition, and there was no shame in getting beat 2-3 by a Barca side who were on top form on Wednesday.