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Barca v Arsenal – CL 2nd Leg

Barca wins.  That’s the easy part.  Except, I have a feeling this is not a foregone conclusion.  Here’s why its obvious:

1.  Arsenal’s personnel issues: No Cesc or Arshavin to attack and no Song or Gallas to defend.  That leaves Campbell at the center of defense playing his second game in three days.

2. Barca is playing at the Nou Camp

3. Barca has better depth to deal with its missing personnel:  Assume Messi starts.  Barca then has to pick two from Henry, Krkic, Iniesta (if he’s fit) and Pedro.  No problems really there.  Yes, Pique and Puyol are missing.  But they beat United with Puyol at right back and Yaya in the center with Pique and Sylvinho playing left back!  So,in the center and Abidal or Maxwell at left back.  You could also move Abidal to the middle and use Maxwell at left.  Shouldn’t be an issue.  Then you can play Sergio, Keita and maybe even Rafa Marquez as the defensive midfielders around Xavi.

That said, Arsenal have nothing to lose, are used to playing on a big field and have skillful players to make it happen.  The key is to keep it close.  If they can get to the half only 2-1 down, they have a great shot.  Rosicky, Denilson, Eboue, Walcott, Nasri behind Bendtner is pretty decent.  Eduardo off the bench if they need another goal late.  They have a shot.  However, lots have to go their way.  Absolutely can happen.  If Messi is kept quiet again, Barca will lose – you heard that here.

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Filed under arsenal, champions league, Lionel Messi, match predictions, Predictions, Predictions on winner, Semi Finals

Chelsea v Barcelona – Post Game

Well Chelsea played it exactly as they should have and they should have won this game 2-0.  But, that’s what happens when you don’t score the second goal and have to worry about the away goal.  It happened to Man U against Porto to launch Mourinho’s career and it happened again today.

Messi and company were choked just as I said they would be.  One real shot on goal and they scored in injury time.  Doesn’t get closer than that.  Chelsea deserved this win.  They should have had two penalties.  But it was a questionable red card for Abidal.  What’s with these referees?  They don’t seem to talk things over with their linesmen for very long before handing out red cards.  It’s ridiculous.

Anyway, now it’s Man U vs Barca in the final.  Messi and Henry.  Rooney and Ronaldo.  Barca without both wing backs and Marquez, but with Henry probably back.  Man U without Fletcher.  Should be awesome.  More awesome – I will be at  the final!

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Filed under champions league, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, manchester united, match comments, post match comments, Semi Finals, SOCCER

Chelsea vs Barcelona: Semi final 2nd Leg Pre game prediction

I know what Barca did to Real Madrid on the weekend.  I know Messi is supposed to be the player of this generation.  I know Iniesta and Xavi are incredibly talented midfielders and Eto’o is one of the best strikers in the world.  But the only things that are matter are these:

Barca has the away goals shut out of Chelsea in its favor.  If Barca scores at least one goal, Chelsea needs to win the game.

Messi is going to be determined to show he is the best in the world after the performance Ronaldo put on today.

The game is being played at Stamford Bridge where the pitch feels smaller than the Nou Camp which means less room for Messi and company to play their football.

No Marquez and no Puyol in the middle.  That means Pique, who for all his game is a relative rookie, and Caceres in the middle with the mercurial Valdes behind them.

Eric Abidal got skinned by first Robben and then Ramos for the first goal.  Hiddink, if I were you, I’d start Kalou on the right.  Dani Alves on the right is at best an average defender.

Henry might not play due to a knee injury.

Hiddink is a scarily successful coach no matter the squad he has – and he has a tough, experienced, motivated squad playing at home.

Based on these factors, while I still think its going to be tight, I think Chelsea goes through.

Guus, this is what you need to do to win.  As I said in the prior post, (1) water the pitch well to slow Messi down.  (2) Start Kalou on the right and Malouda on the left.  Lampard in the middle.  Drogba up front.  Essien and Mikel holding midfielders.  If you go one down, then bring on Anelka up front in the second half for Mikel.  For now, Ballack needs to start on the bench.  (3) Make sure Cole doesn’t give Messi the sideline – funnel him inside and then have Essien pick him up.  Not Mikel who gives away too many fouls on the edge of the box.  If Messi tries to go to the middle as he did against Real Madrid, even better for you.  That’s when you have Essien man mark him with Mikel sitting in a holding position behind him.  (4) If Henry doesn’t start, I believe Keita or Busquets will play in holding midfield along with Yaya Toure to help out the two kids at the center of defense.  Resist the temptation to play Ballack even with the reduced Barca team speed if Henry is out.  Yes, he may be good for headers off set pieces, but that’s a luxury you can’t afford in this game.  (5) Make sure Chelsea pumps more diagonal balls into the box.  See how Barca was all at sea during the Real game with crossed balls – they scored both goals on balls like that.  Cech was wasteful with his long clearances straight to Valdes.  (6) Keep possession better than you did at Barca.  Don’t be so nervous.  Barca isn’t that strong at pressing.  You play in the EPL.  You can hang with Liverpool and Man U.  Why be so concerned about Barca’s pressure up the pitch.  Pass your way out.  You always have Drogba to hold the ball up.

Pep, this is what you need to do.  (1) If Henry is out, then play Iniesta down the left and start Keita and Yaya at holding mid behind Xavi, Eto’o and Messi.  Hold Chelsea first, give cover and confidence to Pique and Caceres and wait for Messi to deliver.  If it’s tough going, then bring on Bojan for Keita and push Eto’o wide.  (2) Score a goal.  In fact, score two.  Because I think that’s what you are going to need to win with the defense you have for this game. (3) Shave and get a decent tie.  (4) Start Messi going up the middle to confuse the crap out of Chelsea’s backline and then move him back to the right.

Prediction:  Chelsea 2 Barcelona 1

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How to stop Lionel Messi

Relatively straightforward in concept, but hard to do in reality unless you have the personnel.

First, water the pitch as much as you can.  That’s why Messi didn’t really get going against Chelsea at the Nou Camp in the first leg.  He couldn’t plant and cut with the pitch so wet.  Also, he couldn’t get the ball rolling naturally to use his usual feints to get the defender off balance.

Second, get a quick left back.  Messi didn’t get much change out of Patrice Evra against Manchester United last year.  He didn’t get much out of Bosingwa in the first leg either.  Quick defenders take away Messi’s main advantage of burning the left back one on one down the wing before turning for goal with the defender on his back and too many options for the center backs to deal with.  That’s when he either cuts in and blasts past the keeper or sets up late arriving Xavi and Iniesta or goes to the far post for Henry.  I bet he struggles against Ashley Cole though Ashley has lost a step since leaving Arsenal.  I’d even consider playing Bosingwa as a shadow for Messi.  He’d be more productive than Ballack was in the first leg.

Third, get him moving right to left parallel to the goal line.  Do not give him the wing and do not let him play a one two to get behind the left back on the wing.  That’s death.  As he cuts across, the defensive midfield player has to pick him up, the center half has to stay goalside of Eto’o for the diagonal run to receive the Messi reverse ball and the left back has to stay goalside and to the outside of Messi so that he cuts off the one two reverse to Messi.

Fourth, have disciplined center backs to mark Eto’o’s diagonal runs.  Let Messi have to take you on with a longer run.

Five, make him use his right foot.  He isn’t entirely left footed, but he doesn’t have long distance power in his left foot and is below average with his right foot.

If people think this is theoretical, pull out the tapes of Man U vs Barcelona from last year (yes, he was just returning from injury) and Argentina vs Brazil from the South American Cup.  That’s what happens when you put a fast marker on him and back that up with physical play on him and his teammates.  Messi doesn’t like it when he can’t blow by you.  Frustrate him and he’s easier to control.  Kicking him is not going to work.

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Group C Day 3 pre-game predictions – France v Italy, Holland v Romania

Who would have thought pre-tournament that France v Italy could have no meaning for either side? As it stands, if the two draw, Romania would go through unless they lose by more than three goals. If, however, Romania doesn’t beat Holland, the winner of the France v Italy game goes through.

France has apparently not lost to Italy in regular play over 90 minutes since 1990. While this is too close to call and Panucci and Chiellini don’t really inspire that much confidence in me, and Zambrotta is going to be struggling against Henry or Ribery, I think Italy wins this match. Buffon is going to be tough to beat and will make the difference. Also, Italy has been creating chances – they just haven’t been able to score. I think that changes today.

There have been rumblings that Cassano is going to start alongside Toni. I think that’s the right move. He’s been very creative and slippery while playing in the hole behind Toni. That’s the way we assume Del Piero would have played, but he didn’t do much in the last game. So start Cassano on the left behind Toni and keep Camoranesi on the other side to do a lot of the running. The midfield has got to start Aquilani alongside Pirlo and De Rossi. While there may be a desire to start Gattuso, given the magnitude of the game, I would not do that. Aquilani and De Rossi are more offensive minded players and De Rossi can play the holding role very well. Bring Gattuso on late in the second half if you are ahead and need to protect the lead. Aquilani has a very good shot, is good going forward and has young legs, which you are going to need today. Perrotta is not the answer for this game.

For France, it is simple. Play the best team, Domenech. Here, I will do it for you. Henry and Benzema up front. Ribery, Nasri and Malouda behind them, with Maka or Diarra as the holding midfielder. While Toulalan has played well, I think Diarra has more quality going forward. Evra, Gallas, Thuram and Sagnol at the back with Coupet in goal. If you are scared of this lineup being too aggressive in the first half, start both holding midfielders and drop Malouda. However, you need to be aggressive and try to score the first goal. You are not playing Turkey, so you should be good if you score the first goal.

Romania – everything seems to be in your favor. The Dutch will be aggressive and open but without their best players executing the total football game plan. That plays into your hands. Plus, you have taken four points out of six from them in qualifying. So you know their personnel and style. Just don’t give up the first goal to the Dutch and you will be fine. The other issue, of course, is that you are going to have to play for 90 minutes without a let up as the Dutch are going to try to score, and are capable of doing so, for 90 minutes. Don’t give in to the temptation of starting only Mutu upfront. That’s fine as far as the lone striker goes, but you have to have at least two wingers close to him and coming up with him in attack all the time. That’s how you can score against the Dutch on the counter. Looking forward to Huntelaar starting. Rat, get ready for a tough game – you are going to have to excel.

CH12 predicted that France and Holland go through. It will be interesting to see if that happens. I don’t think so, as I believe Italy will beat France.

Pre-game prediction: Italy 2 France 1, Romania 1 Holland 1

I have said Hup Oranje, Allez Francaise, Forza Italia. It’s only fair to say Hai România…

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Holland vs France – half time

Domenech – bring on Benzema at halftime for Gouvou – you need his heading ability as Henry can’t head.  Bring on Nasri for Toulalan or Maka at the 55 minutes mark if the score is still the same.  Evra needs to overlap more down the left flank.

Van Basten – get your team to counter attack with more speed.  You have to get one more soon or it’s going to be tough at the end.  France will come forward increasingly.  Bring on Van Persie or Robben.

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Holland vs France – pre game prediction

The crystal ball changes from minute to minute.  This is a tough one.  If the Dutch show up the way they did against Italy and the French show up the way they did against Romania, it’s relatively easy to call the Dutch winners.  However, I think the Dutch drop a bit, even with Van Persie possibly starting and the French do better simply because the Dutch will not have 10 men behind the ball like Romania.  There will be more space for the French midfield.  I also think Andre Ooijer and Joris Mathijesen are going to have a much harder time with Benzema and Anelka/Henry/Gomis. 

Domenech needs to start Nasri so that there is more speed and energy going forward else the French midfield will be overrun by the faster Dutch set up of Van der Vaart, Engelaar and Sneijder.   Toulalan and Maka should be enough to slow down the Dutch and give the defense numbers against Ruud and company.  Unsure of how solid Gallas and Thuram are in the middle of the park since Romania didn’t really test them.  Should be a barnstormer.

I still can’t figure out how to call it, but I think there will be goals and I think its a 2 all draw, with the French the more likely to win the game.  Will update once we know the Italy v Romania result.

Pre-game prediction: France 2 Holland 2

Ruud and Benzema will score…   Continue reading

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