13 December, 2007

Champions League – Group Stage 6

Hello then faithful following, and welcome to the end of the Champions League group stage. The wheat has been separated from the chaff, and we now know the final 16 that will go forward into next Friday’s draw for the knockout stages after Christmas.

So first, a quick review of how the English teams did and what you might’ve missed this week. Headline is that Liverpool, Manchester United, Celtic, Chelsea and Arsenal are all through, with Man United and Chelsea emerging as group winners and thus in perhaps the strongest positions. Rangers unfortunately fell at the last hurdle at Inbrox on Wednesday night, going down 3 – 0 to a Lyon side who could not have been further removed from the tepid amateurs that the Scottish side beat in the competition’s opening round all those weeks ago now. While still just 1 – 0 down, supersub Jean-Claude Darchville missed an open goal from about 2 yards out, and from then on Rangers’ heads dropped, conceding two late strikes from the excellent young French prospect Karim Benzema. The Scots should keep their heads high though with the UEFA Cup in mind; not finishing bottom in the ‘group of death’ was good enough, but giving the French champions, the German Champions and Barcelona a game or two should be something they are very proud of.

Elsewhere last night, Manchester United and Arsenal both gave their youth teams a run-out, facing Roma and Steua Bucharest respectively. In a more than credible performance, United’s young guns (and Rooney) were more than a match for an impressive looking Roma side, with 1 – 1 on the night an accurate reflection, leaving the British champions 2 points short of the perfect 18. Arsenal had slightly more success, winning 2 – 1 at the Emarites in a game that saw the long awaited return on Robin van Persie. However, as Seville were also winners last night, the Spanish side finish top of the group, with the early drumming by Arsenal their only blemish.

With Celtic already assured qualification last week, despite losing to a Milan side that pretty much just went through the motions, it was down to Liverpool on Tuesday night to prove their worth against a Marseilles team who had humiliated them in Group Stage 1. From the whistle it was clear Liverpool meant business, and the French side barely had a kick. Gerrard and Torres were exceptional, both scoring for the Scousers in a first half they dominated. Team Holland (Kuyt and Babel) bagged their own pieces of the action after the break to round off a truly comprehensive victory. Chelsea had little to play for, but performed excellently themselves against a hapless Valencia side who have been nothing but a disappointment this year. In a game reminiscent of Arsenal vs CSKA Moscow last year, Chelsea must’ve had about 20 shots on target but still failed to find the back of net in a game that amazingly ended 0 – 0.

Breezing quickly through the results of the non-English teams then and we find few surprises, with the majority of the traditional big hitters ensuring qualification a couple of games ago. From Spain we have the two usual suspects, both looking as threatening as you’d expect, plus an ever-improving Sevilla side that might well be a dark horse in this season’s competition. From Italy, the two Milan’s are also in ominous European form, with Roma too looking like they might cause a few teams problems in the next stage. Finally, outsiders this year include French champions Lyon, German underdogs Schalke, Brazilian-sponsored Turkish champions Fenerbahce, Greek side Olympiakos and Mourinho’s home favourites FC Porto.

Goal of the Round – Surely Fernando Torres doesn’t need any more press on this site, but his goal on Tuesday night just oozed class -

Julio Baptista and Ferenbahce’s Alex also scored long range crackers though.

Surprise Package of the Round – Olympiakos, who found their way into the knockout stages for the first time in their history after celebrating the 100th game they’ve played in the competition with a comprehensive 3 – 0 win over Werder Bremen on Tuesday night.

Player of the RoundKarim Benzema for Lyon was everything you want in a centre forward, linking beautifully with wingers Ben Arta and Govou, as well as playmaker Juninho. Highlights and goals here -

So where do we go from here then? Well, here’s how STT (and the bookies) see it:


Odds – 4/1

Players to fear: Ronaldinho, Messi, Eto’o, Henry, Xavi, Iniesta, Deco, Zambrotta, Sylvinho

Manchester United

Odds – 11/2

Players to fear: Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez, Anderson, Nani


Odds – 8/1

Players to fear: Drogba, Shevchenko, Cole, Malouda, Essien

Inter Milan

Odds – 9/1

Players to fear: Ibramhimovic, Figo, Crespo, Adriano, Suazo


Odds – 10/1

Players to fear: Fabregas, van Persie, Hleb, Adebayor, Rosicky


Odds – 11/1

Players to fear: Torres, Gerrard, Kuyt, Babel, Benayoun

Real Madrid

Odds – 11/1

Players to fear: Raul, van Nistelrooy, Robinho, Gago, Baptista

AC Milan

Odds – 12/13/07

Players to fear: Kaka’, Pirlo, Seedorf, Gatuso, ‘Big’ Ronaldo


Odds – 18/1

Players to fear: Luis Fabiano, Kanoute, Daniel Alves, Renato, Enzo Maresca


Odds – 25/1

Players to fear: Totti, Mancini, Guily, Cicinho, de Rossi


Odds – 40/1

Players to fear: Juninho, Fred, Govou, Ben Arfa, Benzema


Odds – 50/1

Players to fear: Quaresma, Lisandro Lopez, Lucho Gonzalez, Lima


Odds – 66/1

Players to fear: Er Lovenkrands?


Odds – 80/1

Players to fear: Alex, Deivid, Appiah, Roberto Carlos


Odds – 80/1

Players to fear: Luciano Galletti, Konstantinou, Stoltidis, Darko Kovacevic


Odds – 100/1

Players to fear: Nakamura, Jarosik, Vennegoor of Hesselink