Posts Tagged ‘ Europa League ’

Morbo Minute–La Liga dominates Europe

The only Champions League Quarter Final I wanted to watch was FCB and AC Milan.  Two European giants, a good test for the Spanish Champions, a real possibility of elimination.  The rest of the ties didn’t get the juices following.  Marseille could only survive by digging in and making things difficult for Bayern Munich; APOEL couldn’t possibly hope to beat mighty Real Madrid; and Chelsea and Benfica was mildly compelling but I couldn’t find time.  In the end Bayern and Real cruised while Chelsea got the away goal in the first leg and then held on at the Bridge.

The confrontation between the Blaugrana and the Rossoneri was tense and exciting, filled with talking points in both legs.  Ultimately the tie was decided by finishing or lack thereof.  AC Milan could have scored several goals in each leg but Robinho and Ibra weren’t sharp enough.  If your only goal comes from Nocerino then you’re in trouble.  Having said that, what a wonderful goal it was.  But Barca were not sparkling either.  Messi in particular has set the bar so high that you expected him to score with the numerous chances he was given.  At the Nou Camp, with the tie on a knife edge, he kept firing at Abbiati or just wide, making the pit in my stomach bigger and darker.

I was very nervous for the return leg, feeling that AC Milan could score at least one, which they did, and had nightmares about Inter in 2010 when FCB needed two goals and it took forever to just get one.  So when Messi scored the first penalty, the work was only half done, because Nocerino scored, putting the pressure back on Barca.  The second penalty was dodgy.  Very rarely called, complicated by the Puyol pick, the hosts were lucky to get that one.  Plus Ibra might have had a shout early in the second half.  Iniesta’s goal was quality and put the result beyond doubt.

AC Milan were positioned to advance.  They acknowledged that FCB were better and dug in, hitting the ball early to their forwards for a moment of magic, with KPB running around as another option.  And it almost worked because Barca were in control but not necessarily sharp.

Zonal Marking examined the match and looked at how Barca’s starting 3-3-4 affected the match. Cuenca provided the width that was missing the first leg, while equal or superior numbers in midfield kept the Blaugrana in control.  Zonal Marking felt that they did not create many chances.  I disagree.  In the first half, they had chances but Barca, Messi in particular, fluffed their lines.  Robinho’s improved tactical contribution was noted, but the conclusion says it all:

Barcelona are a far better football team than Milan on paper – but over the two legs, they only looked marginally better. Milan didn’t do anything special to frustrate Guardiola’s side, but a combination of an over-cautious approach in the first leg, and a slightly confused formation in this second game meant that Barca struggled to demonstrate their natural superiority in the final third. In the tie, the goal that was most Barcelona-like was Nocerino’s equaliser.

Kxevin at Barcelona Football Blog skipped the tactics and focused on the result—victory.   He advised cules to take the high road, that no matter what FCB do, haters are gonna hate.

On to the Semis with mouthwatering matchups that could provide an all Spanish final or Bayern home field advantage or Mourinho coaching against his former club.  Real have to be a favorite because if Bayern really go at them, whatever attacking formation Los Merengues go with will tear them apart. Chelsea have a puncher’s chance and an inspired performance at Stamford Bridge could give them a platform for an upset.  Bayern vChelsea is the least likely matchup and would be a let down in most circles, but stay tuned and see what happens.

Can’t end without mentioning La Liga success in the Europa League.  Last year it seemed to be the year of the Portuguese and this year it is dominated by the Spanish.  Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid and Valencia all progressed to the semis, pretty comfortably I might add.  I didn’t watch a minute of the quarters but may have to carve out some time for the semis.

Atletico could win this competition for the second time in three years and salvage something from the season.  Valencia, who are in free fall in the league, could use a little boost that this trophy would provide heading into the summer.  (Chalk on the Boots had a nice post on the second leg at El Centrocampista.  He mentioned thatValencia are missing Banega, which could be crucial in the run-in for the league and this cup.)  As for Athletic, the Champions League push is all but over, so they are pursuing a cup double, which would be nice return from an up and down season.

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Morbo Minute–La Liga Teams in the Land of Drawings

Earlier this season I took at a stab at predicting the results for Champions League Group Stages for those groups involving Spanish teams. After six MatchDays, the results are in. Let’s see how I did.

Group A
Projection:
FC Bayern Munchen (GER)
Manchester City FC (ENG)
Villarreal CF (ESP)
SSC Napoli (ITA)

CLUB

P

W

D

L

GD

PTS

Bayern

6

4

1

1

5

13

Napoli

6

3

2

1

4

11

Man City

6

3

1

2

3

10

Villarreal

6

0

0

6

-12

0

Villarreal’s season has been a disappointment so far, with the Yellow Submarine in the bottom half of the table. The Champions League offered no respite as Villarreal played several matches that were awful. Their defense was shredded on several occasions and up top they had very little, especially after Rossi went out. The highlight of the campaign was a thrilling 2-1 defeat at Manchester City, in which they started fast, kept the Citizens at bay for the most part, but in the end fell to a late, late goal from Aguero.

As for the rest of the group, Bayern continue their march towards the final in their home arena, but Napoli were the surprise package and, if they get a decent draw, could make quarters. Manchester City crashed out and it remains to be seen how seriously they take the Europa League.

Result: Horribly off the mark.

Group D
Projection:
Real Madrid CF (ESP)
Olympique Lyonnais (FRA)
AFC Ajax (NED)
GNK Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)

CLUB

P

W

D

L

GD

PTS

Real Madrid

6

6

0

0

17

18

Lyon

6

2

2

2

2

8

Ajax

6

2

2

2

0

8

D Zagreb

6

0

0

6

-19

0

Real Madrid were magnificent and Los Blancos are a real threat to win competition. One word for their approach to the Group Stage: Ruthless.

Lyon snuck in the back door with a goal explosion, beating Dinamo Zagreb 7-1 which led to an investigation, while Ajax were supposedly jobbed by a referee corps who disallowed several goals.

Result: Spot on, thanks to an international conspiracy.

Group D
Projection:
Chelsea FC (ENG)
Valencia CF (ESP)
Bayer Leverkusen (GER)

KRC Genk (BEL)

CLUB

P

W

D

L

GD

PTS

Chelsea

6

3

2

1

9

11

Leverkusen

6

3

1

2

0

10

Valencia

6

2

2

2

5

8

Genk

6

0

3

3

-14

3

Valencia finished third. Los Che put in a good effort but went into last game under a lot of pressure, but so did Chelsea, and the Blues responded. Valencia’s failings started with opening game, a scoreless draw away to Genk. After that, they were always behind proverbial eight ball and couldn’t quite get back on track.

Leverkusen were a slight surprise but their victory against Chelsea on MatchDay Five put them in the catbird’s seat. Don’t see them doing much in the knockout. As for Chelsea, who knows? Come February, AVB may have righted the ship and they could be a factor. Or he could be fired and someone else could be leading Roman’s Army.

Result: Close but Valencia let me down.

Group H
Projection:
FC Barcelona (ESP)
AC Milan (ITA)
FC BATE Borisov (BLR)
FC Viktoria Pizen (CZE)

CLUB

P

W

D

L

GD

PTS

Barcelona

6

5

1

0

16

16

Milan

6

2

3

1

3

9

V Plzen

6

1

2

3

-7

5

BATE Borisov

6

0

2

4

-12

2

Barcelona were tested twice against Milan and had mixed responses. Milan parked the bus on MatchDay One at the Camp Nou and, while FCB broke them down, they never got the killer goal and were sucker punched at the beginning and end of the game. However at the San Siro, both teams were full of attacking vigor and it produced one of the best games of the group stage. For the rest of the campaign, they simply took care of business and got a chance to roll out the future in the last game against BATE.

AC Milan should be a tough out for whoever they draw. If they draw Bayern or Real Madrid, things could get very interesting. Don’t think they could beat them but they might weaken them for the quarters.

Result: Got 3rd and 4th wrong but I’m going to give myself a pat on the back anyway.

—————

The draws for the Champions League and the Europa League were made on Friday and produced a mixture of interesting, mouth watering and ridiculous ties:

First games to be played on Feb 14-15, 21-22

Lyon

v

APOEL Nicosia

Napoli

v

Chelsea

AC Milan

v

Arsenal

FC Basel

v

Bayern Munich

Bayer Leverkusen

v

Barcelona

CSKA Moscow

v

Real Madrid

Zenit St Peterburg

v

Benfica

Marseille

v

Inter Milan

Lyon have to the luckiest sons of a gun on the planet.  Ajax left them for dead, and not only do Les Gones sneak into the knockout, they get APOEL.  Surely they will progress just on sheer experience and then get hammered by one of the big teams.

Arsenal v AC Milan should be really good.  Both teams will probably feel they can advance and it will be interesting to see where each team is in February.

Depending on Chelsea’s form, I could see Napoli taking them out.

Marseille v Inter could be worse than Marseille against United last year.  Avoid this tie at all costs.

With the Zenit/Benfica tie, there will be at least one smaller club in the last eight.  Both teams have recent and historic pedigree respectively, and the big teams will be queuing up to get the winner of these two legs in the quarters.

As for the Spanish teams, FCB has had success against German teams over the last couple of years (sneaking by Schalke in 2008 and crushing Bayern in 2009 and Stuttgart in 2010) and I don’t see them being troubled too much this tie.  Might be tight away but the Blaugrana should take care of business at the Nou Camp.

Real Madrid will have a tough away trip.  Imagine Jose will play it tight to the vest and the carve the Russians open at the Bernabeu.

The Europa League may be considered a second rate competition but look at some of these matches (my picks in BOLD):

Games to be played on Feb 16 and 23

FC Porto

v

Manchester City

Ajax

v

Manchester United

Lokomotiv Moscow

v

Athletic Bilbao

FC Salzburg

v

Metalist Kharkiv

Stoke City

v

Valencia

Rubin Kazan

v

Olympiakos

AZ Alkmaar

v

Anderlecht

Lazio

v

Atletico Madrid

Steaua Bucharest

v

FC Twente

Viktoria Plzen

v

Schalke

Wisla Krakow

v

Standard Liege

SC Braga

v

Besiktas

Udinese

v

PAOK Salonika

Trabzonspor

v

PSV Eindhoven

Hannover

v

Club Brugge

Legia Warsaw

v

Sporting Lisbon

Valencia should get past Stoke; can’t see Atleti getting by Lazio; and Athletic will surely need to get something in the first leg in Moscow.  Guess I might have to watch this competition after all.

Morbo Minute–European Round Up

I found time to watch a Champions League game on each MatchDay and was rewarded with six goals.  MatchDay 5 approaches with several mouthwatering and do or die ties (AC Milan v FCB, Lyon v Ajax, Manchester United v Benfica and Bayer v Chelsea), but here are the scores and comments on MatchDay 4.

——————

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2011

Racing Genk                        1-1      Chelsea

Valencia                            3-1       Bayer Leverkusen

Valencia got off to a great start in this must win game with a goal inside of 12 seconds and for 20 minutes or so were in complete control, but Bayer eventually found their pressuring rhythm, and Valencia went off the rails in a hurry.  Kiessling scored after 31 minutes, and the hosts couldn’t quite get the slickness back of the opening period.  But then a surge of energy in the second period from Los Che generated a cheeky goal from Soldado.  After that, Uncle Mo switched to the Spanish side and the Germans ran out of gas.  A third goal came from Rami off a corner kick and Valencia earned three vital points.

They are currently third with 5 points, one point behind Bayer and three points behind Chelsea.  Next up is Genk at home.  Los Che will probably need all three points as they travel to Stamford Bridge on MatchDay 6.

On a sadder note, Valencia may have lost Banega for six weeks.

Arsenal                              0-0       Marseille

Borussia Dortmund       1-0       Olympiakos

Zenit St Petersburg       1-0       Shakhtar Donetsk

Apoel Nicosia                  2-1       FC Porto

BATE Borisov                   1-1       AC Milan

Viktoria Plzen                   0-4      Barcelona

FCB smacked around Viktoria Plzen but the Czech team was hard done by the ref. Plzen had a chance to take an early lead on a breakaway but VV held his ground and denied Petrzela.  Just minutes later, Messi skipped into the penalty area and was taken down by Cisovski.  The result was a PK and a straight red.  To be fair, the card was harsh. The keeper was coming to make a save, and I think a yellow would have been just.  After that, it was pretty much one way traffic with Messi getting a second before half time.  Cesc added a third before Messi finished his hat trick after rounding the keeper.

Total Barca wrapped up the game and commented on how Pep is working on developing depth in the squad.

Both AC Milan and FCB have qualified, and with the Rossoneri drawing, the Blaugrana are in control of the group.  A draw in a couple of weeks will all but assure them top spot in the group.

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2011

Bayern Munich                  3-2      Napoli

Villarreal                           0-3      Manchester City

The Yellow Submarine are out of Europe.  Period.  Watch the highlights.  Shambolic defending plus injuries to key players made this a miserable campaign.  They must now pick themselves up and concentrate on improving their place in La Liga.

Internazionale                   2-1      Lille

Trabzonspor                       0-0       CSKA Moscow

Benfica                                   1-1       FC Basel

Manchester United           2-0       Otelul Galati

Ajax Amsterdam               4-0       Dinamo Zagreb

Lyon                                       0-2       Real Madrid

For 35’ Real Madrid pinned back Lyon and battered them.  Slowly the hosts worked themselves back into the game and really should have punished Los Blancos, who became complacent and sloppy. Lyon had several quality chances but left their finishing boots in the locker room.  CR7’s sick free kick in the first half and solid penalty in the second sealed the points.

Madridista Mac was relieved that the curse of Lyon was broken and had a couple interesting player notes from the game.

Real Madrid are through as group winners and now Lyon will have to beat Ajax at home in a couple of weeks to give themselves a chance to progress.

——————

Both Spanish teams are doing well in the Europa League.  Bilbao won away at Salzburg 1-0 with a goal from Ander, which keeps them top of the group.  A point at home in their next match against Slovan Bratislava ensures qualification to the next round.  All three points and then they will only need a draw in the last match day away to PSG.  As for Atletico, they crushed Udinese 4-0.  Two draws will see them through to the next round.  Their next match is away to Celtic before finishing against Rennes at the Calderon.

Morbo Minute–European Round Up

I didn’t know how to feel about this week’s games.  FCB was playing Viktoria Plzen, who some sites were claiming are the Czech Barcelona (looked more like the Czech Tottenham Hotspur between the unis and the performance), and Manchester United was playing a Romanian team that I couldn’t pronounce.  The real action seemed to be in the Group of Death (Group A), with each team needing maximum points to give them the best chance of progressing.

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2011

Manchester City           2-1       Villarreal          

Going into this match, both teams were at the Last Chance Saloon.  City needed all three points to get their campaign back on track after a home draw with Napoli and a spanking away to Bayern Munich, while the Yellow Submarine couldn’t hope to qualify for even the Europa League with a third consecutive loss in this competition.

Villarreal got off to a dream start when a Silva turnover ended up at the feet of Rossi, who called Hart into action before Cani knocked in the rebound after only three minutes.  The conditions and aggressiveness of both sides created a scintillating opening 20 minutes with City really taking the game to the Spanish side, creating lots of half chances.  It took a while for the Yellow Submarine into the game, with the pace hard to match, possession at a premium, and Rossi on his own.  De Guzman was not quite sharp enough. Despite helping to set up the opening goal, he was just a half step too slow.  Just when it looked like Villarreal were settling into the game to grind out an away victory, an own goal by Marchena got City off the hook before half time.

Villarreal started off the second half a little more threatening with Rossi testing Hart again and Valero doing a decent job of pulling the strings.  The team seemed to have a little more rhythm and was establishing some width.  Aguero came on at the hour mark as Mancini reshaped his side, with Barry holding, YaYa starting play and Silva and Nasri dictating proceedings (although they both faded).  Dzeko was struggling and he should have done both with a couple of his chances.  With 10’ to go, Mubarak came on for Perez, and Milner came in for Nasri.  The edge had gone out of game, and it was heading for a draw with three minutes of added time.  Villarreal were dead on their feet and City had just a little bit left, but Aguero got the Citizens out of jail as Milner set up Zabalyeta who squared it across for the Argentinean to score.  In the end, it was three points for the blue side of Manchester, with Villarreal being exposed at the end of the match and Mancini getting his subs absolutely right.

Richard Thorburn from http://elcentrocampista.com/ had this recap while for a more biased view read Allen’s comments from http://www.villarrealusa.com/.

Napoli                          1-1       Bayern Munich

CSKA Moscow           3-0       Trabzonspor

Lille                              0-1       Internazionale

FC Basel                      0-2       Benfica

Otelul Galati                 0-2      Manchester United

Dinamo Zagreb          0-2      Ajax Amsterdam

Real Madrid                 4-0       Lyon

Los Merengues conquered their French opponents again, with Benzema putting his former team to the sword.  @MadridistaMac made some interesting comments about the rotation and tactics for Real Madrid, who are all but in the knockout stage.  By the way, CR7 did not score in a second consecutive match for Real Madrid.  Everyone might want to have their Apocalypse Kit in order.

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2011

Barcelona                     2-0       Viktoria Plzen   

The Blaugrana cruised past the Czech Champs, including a sick combination goal between Iniesta and Messi.  With FCB and AC Milan on seven points after three games, it looks like the match on 11/23 will decide the group.

AC Milan                     2-0       BATE Borisov

Bayer Leverkusen         2-1      Valencia                      

Los Che are in real danger of not progressing, with a defeat at the BayArena.  Based on reports they did not do enough with their first half advantage and were punished by the Germans.  However @OutsideMid took a different view on Leverkusen’s performance.  Ouch!!

Chelsea                        5-0       Racing Genk

Marseille                      0-1       Arsenal

I watched a replay of this match to get a feel for both teams, not seeing Arsenal for a while and had not seen Marseille this season.  The match was not great, with the  Gunners looking a shadow of themselves without Nasri and Fabregas.  Valbeuna looked great for L’OM but did not see much of the ball in second half.  The Professor seemed to have gotten his subs right as Ramsey smashed in the winner in injury time.  Overall this was 90 minutes that I’m not getting back.  Thank goodness I watched with some friends and had some beers.

Olympiakos                  3-1       Borussia Dortmund

FC Porto                      1-1       Apoel Nicosia

Shakhtar Donetsk        2-2       Zenit StPetersburg

——————
Europa League

Athletic Bilbao          2-2       SV Salzburg

Los Leones made two changes after having to play on Monday night.  They were stunned by Salzburg in the first half and were down 2-0 at halftime, but they picked themselves up, and two Llorente PK’s earned them the point.  They stay on top of the group and travel to Salzburg in a couple of weeks.  If they avoid a loss and get all three points against Slovan Bratislava, they should be in good shape against PSG on the last match day.

Udinese                        2-0       Atlético Madrid

Los Colchoneros suffered their first defeat of the competition as two late goals won it for the Italian side.  Based on reports, Atletico had decent periods of the match but their finishing was poor.  The return leg will be at the Calderon in a couple of weeks.  A win and the Spaniards can plan for European football early in 2012.  A loss means they will start all over again.

Spanishfootball.info has a little better summary of each match.

Morbo Minute–European Round Up

Work has been quite hectic for the last couple of weeks.  Usually I bank my personal days and use them to watch European games, but with my presence needed at several job sites, not only do I not get to go to my local pub, I can’t even watch a legal or illegal stream of the games.  Therefore, my grand plan of watching a game involving a Spanish team each day collapsed very quickly.  FCB was the only Champions League game I watched, and that was replay several hours later.

FC Barcelona 2            AC Milan 2

I was able to stay off the internet and social media and watch this game quasi live.  To say the first 30 seconds were stunning would be an understatement.  Pato’s goal was simply amazing as he blew right through the Blaugrana defense (“anchored” by Busi and Mascherano) before nutmegging Valdes.  FCB recovered and slowly turned the screws to the Rossoneri. After several half chances, Milanlet down their guard for a split second, which Messi punished.  His extra effort created a cross for Pedro who was able to tap in.

The second half started with FCB in the ascendency and Villa scored one of the best free kicks you will ever see.  From there, FCB created chance after chance but couldn’t put it away.  Seemed like they created more chances than on the weekend, but the third goal wouldn’t come.  In stoppage time, Abidal failed to marshal a ball out of bounds, which resulted in a corner kick.  Silva, who I thought was subdued for most of the match, rose to head it in, and another two points were thrown away.

In the aftermath, there is lot of finger pointing, burying of the head in the sand, and head scratching.  @espanafutbol submitted their breakdown of the game, which noted Milan’s compact shape and discipline.  They also noted that Milan attacked down Abidal’s side, a different tactic to trying to exploit the space left behind Alves.

Barcelona Football Blog tried to keep things in perspective.  I disagree with his comment that Keita blows, although I think Busquets does make a difference.  If you get a chance, read the comments that follow the post.  There are very different views out there, some well presented, some not.

This is now two consecutive games where points have been dropped because FCB threw away leads and get the third goal.  I think we will see an emphasis on finishing out matches over the next couple of weeks.  Even the best need a wake up call now and then.

A couple of injury notes:  Iniesta is out four weeks after pulling up on Tuesday and Sanchez is probably out eight weeks after his injury on Saturday. With Pique hurt and Puyol coming back from injury, we shall see if the Blaugrana can continue the magic.

The rest of the Champions League scores:

Ajax0-0Lyon

Basle2-1 SC Otelul Galati

Benfica 1-1 Man Utd

Dinamo Zagreb 0-1 Real Madrid

Most people thought this would be a struggle and the score reflects that.  Guess CR7 received a lot of verbal and physical abuse but Di Maria sealed the points.

InterMilan0-1 Trabzonspor

Lille2-2 CSKAMoscow

ManCity1-1Napoli

Villarreal 0-2 Bayern Munich

That’s gonna hurt.  @sidlowe commented on Football Weekly Extra that there is something not quite right with the Yellow Submarine.

Apoel Nicosia2-1 Zenit StP’sbg

Barcelona2-2 AC Milan

Borussia Dortmund 1-1 Arsenal

Chelsea2-0 BayerLeverkusen

FC Porto 2-1 Shakhtar Donetsk

Genk 0-0 Valencia

Don’t know anything about this match.  Los Che will have to get going in the next match to progress.

Olympiakos 0-1 Marseille

Plzen1-1 BATE Borisov

——————

Europa League

Both Spanish participants got off on a winning start.  Athletic Bilbao won 2-1 over Slovan Bratislava with a goal by Iker Muniain.  Atletico Madrid prevailed 2-0 over Celtic, goals coming from Falcao and Diego.

All highlights on 101greatgoals.com

Morbo Minute–European Preview

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

————–

Group A

FC Bayern Munchen (GER)

Villarreal CF (ESP)

Manchester City FC (ENG)

SSC Napoli (ITA)

The Yellow Submarine survived a playoff scare from Danish team OB to progress to the group stage, which promptly put them in the proverbial Group of Death.  Only Bayern were in the Champions League last year, with the other three teams competing in the Europa League.  Die Roten host the Final at the Allianz Arena next May, so there their aim is to be in it, and I expect them to progress.  As for the others, City has bought an imposing team so they will be a factor.  Could be argued that inexperience might be a factor but most of their players have been in this competition before. Napoli will be trying to build on a memorable season, but I see them struggling to fight on two fronts.  As for Villarreal, they must win their win home matches, as simple as that.  I don’t see them going on the road and coming back with points.  Do that, and they might sneak in.

Projection:

FC Bayern Munchen (GER)

Manchester City FC (ENG)

Villarreal CF (ESP)

SSC Napoli (ITA)

————–

Group D

Real Madrid CF (ESP)

Olympique Lyonnais (FRA)

AFC Ajax (NED)

GNK Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)

Real Madrid can book a spot in the Round of 16. Ajax was in their group last year and offered nothing, and, despite entering as Dutch Champions, I don’t see anything changing.  As for Lyon, los Merengues face the French power again.  These have been tight matches in the past, but the Evil Empire has gotten stronger while Lyon has had their players picked off again. Zagreb will be tough at home, but don’t see them doing much, maybe getting a win against Ajax and probably finishing with four points are so.

Projection:

Real Madrid CF (ESP)

Olympique Lyonnais (FRA)

AFC Ajax (NED)

GNK Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)

————–

Group E

Chelsea FC (ENG)

Valencia CF (ESP)

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (GER)

KRC Genk (BEL)

Valencia are back in the Champions League after another third place performance in the league.  My original comment about last year’s campaign was that it was poor, but then I did a little research.  They crushed Bursaspor and comfortably took care of Rangers.  My opinion was formed on the matches against United, in which they did very little.  Chelsea should control this group with AVB reshaping the squad and getting a shot at the top club competition.  There will be the interesting story line of Mata facing his former team and how the Mestalla responds.  As for Leverkusen, @OutsideMid offered the following comment: Weaker through the spine this season, disjointed in attack. If they go through, possibly due to hands of young GK Leno/Adler.  I’ll be honest, I don’t know anything about Genk.

Projection:

Chelsea FC (ENG)

Valencia CF (ESP)

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (GER)

KRC Genk (BEL)

————–

Group H

FC Barcelona (ESP)

AC Milan (ITA)

FC BATE Borisov (BLR)

FC Viktoria Pizen (CZE)

The defending champions have an interesting group.  Obviously there is the glamour tie against AC Milan, which according to Bobby McMahon (@BobbySoccerRep) and Anto (@rossoAnto), these two games will allow AC Milan to see where they stack up and also give the Rossoneri a “free shot” at the champs while avoiding them in the Round of 16, a la Inter of 2010.  FCB will also need to improve their performances on the road, well not performances but results, an area they have struggled the last couple of seasons.  BATE and Pizen will not offer much besides a nice trip or a chance to blood younger players.

Projection:

FC Barcelona (ESP)

AC Milan (ITA)

FC BATE Borisov (BLR)

FC Viktoria Pizen (CZE)

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EUROPA LEAGUE

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Group F

Paris Saint-Germain FC (FRA)
Athletic Club (ESP)
FC Salzburg (AUT)
ŠK Slovan Bratislava (SVK)

Bilbao were drawn against Trabzonspor in the playoff round, and, after a scorless draw at the San Mames, the return leg in Turkey was cancelled as the Turkish club got promoted to the Champions League due to Fenerbahce’s involvement in a match fixing scandal.  My knowledge of Sazlburg and Bratislava is non-existent.  Los Leones should go through with PSQatari, as this competition should give their new signings a chance to bed in and make a run in Ligue 1.

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Group I

Club Atlético de Madrid (ESP)
Udinese Calcio (ITA)
Stade Rennais FC (FRA)
Celtic FC (SCO)

Atletico beat Vitoria from Portugal 6-0 on aggregate.  And then Inter got screwed on the Forlan transfer.  (He is ineligible for the CL group stage and cannot play in the EL knockout phase if Inter qualify for that and Atleti are still in.)  Hopefully their new signings hit the ground running because they will need goals to get through this group.  Udinese will be fighting on two fronts despite losing players from last year’s campaign (Inler, Sanchez and Zapata).  At the time of this writing, Celtic is in the competition after Sion used ineligible players in their playoff tie.  The 3-1 win for the Swiss became a 6-0 aggregate win for the Scots.

I don’t know enough about the teams in this competition to really predict how they’ll finish.  I do think both Spanish teams will progress out of their groups.


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