Champions League close-up: who’ll win the trophy?

By on April 26, 2011

As the semifinals of the Uefa Champions League are knocking on our door, let’s have a look at the four teams left in the competition and their chances of winning the prestigious trophy.

1. Barcelona

Widely regarded as the best team in Europe for the past three years and one the best teams in the history of football, FC Barcelona are the main favorites to win the trophy.

Managed by the attacking-minded Pep Guardiola, Los Cules are playing the best free-flowing football in modern football.

Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Alves and co. have played their heart out game in and game out for the past seasons, improving from world class to supernatural.

In the summer of 2008, there were few who believed in the managerial abilities of newly promoted manager Pep Guardiola, especially after a particular press conference when Pep announced that Barcelona would have to offload Deco, Eto’o and the iconic Ronaldinho. The Brazilian magician transferred to Italian giants AC Milan, while Deco joined Chelsea. Samuel Eto’o eventually stayed with Los Cules and was one of the best players in that first Spanish team to win the Treble.

The 2008 – 2009 season was outstanding for Barcelona: 42 wins (out of 62 games), 158 goals scored (including 6 at the Bernabeu), the rise of Lionel Messi as the best player in the world.

“Harry Potter” scored 38 goals in 51 games. He also provided 18 assists for his team-mates. As a comparison, fellow teammate Eto’o scored 36 goals and provided 6 assists in 52 games.

Look at these stats: 6-1 vs Gijon, 6-1 vs Atletico Madrid, 6-0 vs Valladolid, 4-0 vs Valencia, 5-0 vs Deportivo, 6-0 vs Malaga, 4-0 vs Sevilla, 5-2 vs Lyon and a stunning 4-0 vs Bayern (home).

Barcelona completed the first ever sextuple (e.g. La Liga, Uefa Champions League, Copa del Rey, Supercopa de Espana, Uefa SuperCup and the Fifa Club World Cup).

At the beginning of the 2009 – 2010, Pep swapped his goal scorer, Eto’o for Internazionale’s Ibrahimovic (paying a whopping €49M). This was perhaps Pep’s greatest mistake as a Barcelona manager, as Samuel Eto’o was (and still is) irreplaceable.

In February 2010, Pep coached his 100th match for Barcelona: 71 wins and 242 goals scored. Fantastic, huh?

During this season, Barcelona claimed their 20th La Liga title (winning 31 out of 38 games, losing only one game in the process) and lost the semifinal of the Uefa Champions League against Mourinho’s Internazionale. Ironically, Samuel Eto’o won his second consecutive Champions League, this time with Inter, while Ibra failed to win his first.

Notable displays: 5-2 vs Atletico Madrid, 6-1 vs Zaragoza, 4-0 vs Sevilla, 4-0 vs Racing, 3-0 vs Valencia, 4-0 vs Stuttgart, 4-1 vs Arsenal (home), 4-1 vs Racing, 5-0 vs Tenerife, 4-1 vs Villareal (away).

Messi would finish the season as the team’s top scorer: 47 goals in all competitions (34 in La Liga).

Currently, Barcelona are favorites to win a third consecutive La Liga and have qualified for the forth time in a row for the semifinals of Champions League.

One could hardly forget Barcelona’s manita against Madrid in November at Camp Nou. Mourinho surely hasn’t.

Dear fans, we’re looking at one of the most competitive El Clasico’s in the history of football:

– Barcelona’s brilliant free-flowing football against Mourinho’s so called “anti-football machine.”

– the between two of the best managers of their generation – Pep vs Jose.

– the battle between perhaps the two best players in the world – Messi vs Cr. Ronaldo.

As a fact, Barcelona scored 131 goals and conceded only 28 in 49 games.

In my view, the winning key for Pep seems to be the ever-present Messi. If Messi plays his game, Barcelona will qualify. Mourinho knows that. He shackled Messi at Bernabeu and at Mestalla (as well as last year with Inter).

The Argentinian scored 50 goals and provided 23 assists in 49 games in perhaps his best season at Barcelona.  Great stuff, but, for Barcelona to qualify for the final, Messi must shine against Real Madrid, as he did at Camp Nou in November. Sure, it will be tough for the diminutive goal-scorer to unshackle himself from Pepe’s tight marking, but he is capable of doing it. Mourinho applied the same tactic to Ronaldinho in the past, a couple of times but Ronaldinho would usually outplaye his opponents. Now is Messi’s time. Should he shine, Barcelona will qualify.

Yet, Barcelona’s Golden Age could very well be ended by Los Cules’ prodigal son, Jose Mourinho.

Regardless of the result against Real, one must acknowledge that Messi, Xavi and co. have been brilliant so far. As a fan, I would send a big THANK YOU for all the wonderful memories.

2. Real Madrid

One could not talk about Barcelona’s chances without reffering to their arch-rivals, Real Madrid. And one could not talk about Real Madrid without praising the fantastic work of the great Portuguese manager, Jose Mourinho.

“The Special One” is Real Madrid’s main weapon in  their  task to end  Barcelona’s Golden Age.

Despite being named the 11th manager in the past 7 years for Real Madrid, Mourinho seems to have the upper hand against Pep Guardiola as the Portuguese general previously proved in last-year’s semifinal against Los Cules and this year’s Copa del Rey final.

The world’s greatest actor (as I like to call him) will no doubt be looking to avenge the 5-0 humiliation at Camp Nou earlier this season. His ego cannot reconcile with Perez’s statement that it was the worst game in the history of Real Madrid. He will line-up his famous machine against Madrid’s rivals.

His on and off the field antics will surely add spice to an already fiery encounter. He will no doubt use all the means, even less moral ones, to stop Barcelona from qualifying.

I would add that Jose has the chance of winning the 3rd Champions League final (with three different teams), a record in the history of football. This thought crossed his mind, I assure you.

So far, Real Madrid scored 124 goals in all competitions (42 of which were scored by Cristiano).

More than ever, football fans will keep a close eye on the Messi – Cristiano duel, as the two of them battle for the title of the best player in Europe.  Messi is currently the goal scorer of this year’s Champions League season.

In my view, Barcelona are great, but Mourinho is even greater. But will the mighty general be enough to defeat Barcelona’s exquisite football?

For now, I’d say that the winner of the two Spanish giants will also win this year’s trophy.

As a personal note, I would like to see Kaka play. Wouldn’t you?

3. Manchester United

Already tipped as one of the finalists, United will no doubt be a serious contender for the trophy.

The main favorites to win this year’s Premier League, United have four players picked in the PFA Team of the Year: Van der Sar, Vidic, Nani and Berbatov.

Now, The Red Devils must focus against underdogs Schalke, in order not to re-edit “the Leverkusen affair” of 2002 all over again.

Winning the double would be the perfect swansong for both Giggs and Scholes, one voted the greatest player and the other one of the best midfielders in the club’s history.

Portuguese enthusiastic winger Nani will no doubt be one of United’s main threats as he has already racked 18 assists in the Premier League.

Also, there’s no secret that Schalke must be aware of Wayne Rooney. Linked to a summer move to Real Madrid, Rooney (10 goals and 11 assists in the Premier League) will no doubt try to prove his critics wrong playing a major role in United’s 2010 – 2011 Double.

As I said, United are favorites to win the tie against Schalke.

Reputed to be the most popular football club in the world, with the highest average home attendance in Europe, United would play a 3rd Champions League final in 4 years should they beat Schalke. Outstanding!

As a fan of the United’s 1999 Treble winning team, I would like Sir Alex and Giggs to win a third Champions League trophy. It would be a massive feat for the fantastic Sir Alex and the best left winger in history.

Ryan Giggs, I am a huge fan!

4. Schalke

This year’s Cinderella of the competition, Schalke 04 shocked the football world during the quarter-final against Inter at Giuseppe Meazza, scoring an impressive 5 goals tally, within just weeks of the appointment of Rangnick as manager. Wtih Magath sacked, it was widely whispered that Inter would have no trouble in defeating the Germans.

Having qualified 1st in the group B of the tournament, Schalke managed to beat Valencia in the Round of 16, qualifying for the quarterfinals against defending European champions Internazionale.

Despite European succes, in Bundesliga, Schalke have been disappointing, currently lying in 10th place, scoring 35 goals in 31 games.

Schalke have minimum chances to even catch the Europa League spot, as they are 9 points behind 5th placed Mainz with 3 games to go. Nonetheless, they could win the final of the DFB-Pokal (on 21st of May), as they face MSV Duisburg.

Veteran Raul will lead Schalke’s attack against United and the player will be hoping for a place in the final perhaps against his beloved Real Madrid. Helped by Huntelaar and FarFan, Raul could upset United.

I honestly doubt that Schalke will qualify. One must not underestimate them, but I am confident that United will play the final.

 

It could very well be anyone’s trophy. United will qualify and play either Real or Barcelona. Who will win the trophy? Have your say!

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