Chelsea to finally lift ol’ Big Ears

by admin

Monday, September 13th, 2010

The holders, the favourites and a smattering of newcomers will welcome the sound of the Champions League anthem tomorrow night when the ‘World’s Greatest Club Competition’ kicks-off in earnest. That moniker seems justified when on Wednesday you throw Real Madrid, Chelsea, AC Milan and Bayern Munich (to name just a few) in to the mix. They, along with Man Utd, Barcelona, Arsenal and Inter Milan, will view anything but victory as a failure. Unfortunately for those eight, only one can walk off with the big shiny pot, and I reckon it will finally be Chelsea’s turn.

Having been beaten by the eventual winners in five of the last six years, the West London outfit are due a small change in fortune. Avoiding a side like Inter Milan in the second round would be a good start, so topping the group will be of paramount importance to Ancelotti. (This doesn’t guarantee an easier route, but it can’t do any harm!) Although the trips to Moscow and Marseille will be tough, the way they’ve kicked off their Premier League season suggests that the other teams in their group will be battling for second place.

Inter Milan’s campaign will be fascinating following the departure of Jose Mourinho. Their success last year was as brilliant as it was unexpected, the 3-1 win over Barcelona a particular highlight, and Rafa Benitez has a very tough task in replicating such glory. Despite his flaws, Benitez’s European record is very good and having kept hold of their 2009-2010 squad they’ll expect to come through a group that includes two Champions League newcomers in Spurs and FC Twente.

Bookies’ favourites Barcelona look even stronger on paper this year than they did last, with the additions of David Villa and Javier Mascherano. However, neither of those give them a ‘plan B’, and Inter demonstrated last year that ‘plan A’ can be stopped. It’s mighty hard work, but it can be done. Fellow Spanish giants Real Madrid have been left lagging by their Catalan neighbours in recent seasons, but Mourinho won’t rest until he claims his third Champions League title. He’ll ignore the caterwauling of the Madridistas and set up the team in his own, winning way. But turning a team that hasn’t even made the quarter-finals since 2004 into champions this season is, I believe, beyond even the ‘Special One.’ Maybe next year.

Man Utd and Arsenal will think they’ve got a chance, but I can’t honestly see them doing much better than they did last year. I’d like to think that Wenger wouldn’t be so naïve as to try and out-football Barcelona again – though I wouldn’t rule it out – but many of the flaws that were there last year haven’t really been addressed. If they come up against Chelsea, for example, I’d imagine they will simply be over run by their power. The Red Devils similarly just look a little short. Seeing their two best centre-backs together is becoming a rare site, and good as Johnny Evans may be, I know who my money would be should he face someone of the calibre of Villa, Drogba or Milito. Right-back would also be an area of concern, with the still raw yet talented Rafael, the aging but slowing Gary Neville, or the uncomfortable hybrid John O’Shea.

So, Chelsea it is. In fact, I reckon a European Cup and Premier League double beckons. If you want a dark horse though, I’d go with Shaktar Donetsk. I saw them play Fulham at Craven Cottage last year in the Europa League, and they were brilliant for large spells. I’m still not sure how Fulham got through that tie. They’ve got a bit of European pedigree too, winning the UEFA Cup in 2009, and lovers of clichés will know that nobody likes away days in the Ukraine. Will they win it? Probably not, but I fancy them to get out of the group, then maybe cause an upset in the knockout stages. And with odds of 125/1, I can spare a pound!

As for Spurs, getting out the group stage would be great, and four points from the opening two games would set us up nicely for the Inter Milan matches. The mere idea of Spurs playing in the San Siro is exciting enough for the time being! I remember watching Spurs play Slavia Prague in the 2006 UEFA Cup with a Man U supporting friend of mine. He was stunned at my excitement over the game, because for him European games were just part of the season – they were always there. For me they were still a novelty, and something to get truly animated about. Now, four years down the line, we finally have a crack at the big boys, and I can’t wait.

Bring on Zadok!

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  • cezan1afc

    correct me if im wrong (not having a dig here) but are you suggesting shaktar have a larger chance of winning the Champs Lge Than Arsenal???

  • sam

    I think you sound like a bitter little yid.

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