Our European guru educates and enlightens
Mumsy Scottish troubadour Lena Martell’s philosophy was “one day at a time, sweet Jesus.”
Football managers officially take one game at a time. Yet after this week’s results, some coaches are privately spinning different scenarios.
Marseille’s Eric Gerets has already revised his team’s target: this season it’s the UEFA Cup. I would bet anyone a fiver that the words ‘squad rotation’ have flashed through Rafa Benitez’s mind. And Cluj manager Maurizio Trombetta wouldn’t be human if some part of him wasn’t fantasising about returning to the Stadio Olimpico next May.Matchday two has already whittled down the 32 contenders. Aalborg, Bordeaux, Marseille, Panathinaikos and PSV need a miracle to progress. My thoughts on Group A-D are here. Here is how I see Groups E to H.Group EScott McDonald struck the near miss of the season against Villarreal, a wondrous volley from a brilliant lay off from Aiden McGeady that just failed to dip under the bar and earn Celtic the away point their 55 minutes of good play deserved.The Bhoys away record since 2003 – in the tournament proper – now reads Played 16, W0, D1, Lost 15.
Although Gordon Strachan tried to deny it, this record must weigh on players’ minds. On the road, they have lost to FC Copenhagen, Shakhtar, Benfica (twice) and Artmedia. And against Villarreal, their defensive wall seemed to have forgotten how to jump. The funny thing is I wouldn’t be surprised if they grabbed their next away point at Old Trafford.
Celtic's wall forgets to jump... Senna scores
Villarreal are, for me, the new Liverpool, the team nobody wants to meet in the knockout stages. It is now 11 years since Borussia Dortmund became the last team to win the UEFA Champions League for the first time. Villarreal and Chelsea look the teams most likely to rewrite history this season.Deeply trivial bonus: the last team Celtic beat away from home in the UEFA Champions League or European Cup proper was Shamrock Rovers in 1986. The Bhoys beat the Irish champions 1-0 in Dublin.Group FSometimes, deciding what’s really going on at a football club is a matter of reading signs. For those who like to notice such things, the joy with which Bayern’s players ran to the touchline to celebrate Ze Roberto’s equaliser with under fire coach Jurgen Klinsmann suggested that, whatever else is wrong with Bayern, it has nothing to do with team spirit.It might have to do with strikers who can’t score goals. Although Miroslav Klose’s cross made the equaliser, he hasn’t scored from open play in the Bundesliga since March. (And the goal before that was last November!)
Pile on! Nirvana for Bayern as Ze Roberto levels vs Lyon
Luca Toni has scored consistently in the Bundesliga but against Lyon showed the kind of form that undermined Italy’s cause at Euro 2008. The commentators took the view that his desperate lunging, jumping and stretching meant he was destined at some point to score.
To me, it looked more like a striker who had lost the art of timing his runs. Ruud van Nistelrooy’s goal against Zenith was a masterpiece of anticipation. Against Lyon, Toni never looked like he was anticipating the play, or running into space where the ball might fall.Bayern should have won 2-1 – Klose was denied a certain penalty in the first half – which would have been good for confidence. But Klinsmann, with four points from two games, is in a better place than Claude Puel, Lyon’s new coach, who has two points from two games and needs at least four points from the next two against Steaua who, as they proved against Fiorentina, are no mugs. Cesare Prandelli’s analysis of his team’s performance was fair. As he admitted, the Viola were so frustrated by Steaua’s ability to keep possession, they often reverted to inaccurate long balls. Fiorentina looked tired and Prandelli will hope that, like most Italian teams, his side becomes sharper as the group stage progresses.Group GLucky, lucky Arsenal. Could they have asked for an easier group?
Fenerbahce are still regrouping after Luis Aragones replaced Zico, Dinamo Kiev’s record on the road is almost as dismal as Celtic’s (in their last nine group games away from home they have drawn two, lost seven and shipped 18 goals) and Porto have defensive frailties which Theo Walcott ruthlessly exposed on Tuesday.The Arsenal game inspired the best post-match interview of the week. Asked what the 4-0 win said about Arsenal’s ability to win the tournament, Robin van Persie’s reply was succinct, sweet and sensible: “Nothing.”
Walcott runs Porto ragged at the Emirates
Group HWith no points from two games, Zenit St Petersburg are down but not out. Only an Arsenal-style profligacy in front of goal deprived them of victory against Real Madrid.
That was Real’s first win on the road in the tournament since October 2006. But Zenith seem perfectly capable of winning in Madrid and Turin so, for me, this group is still wide open. BATE look least likely to progress but could still have a huge influence, if they take points off Real or Zenit in Borisov. Dubious statistical bonus: if BATE striker Gennadi Bliznyuk scores in any game, he will become Belarus’ record goalscorer in UEFA club competitions. He has already scored 10 – seven in Champions League qualifiers – to equal Georgi Kondratyev’s record.
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I do hope Celtic's drought continues a little while longer. Villareal look like they could provide a few surprises. A dark horse in my eyes.
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