Wednesday, May 21, 2008

UEFA Champions League Final Preview

Young Swole has been out of action recently, criss-crossing the nation to drink with friends and remember what 50 degrees feels like. There hasn't been much time to post on here, but today's momentous soccer final appears a good time to jump in. For the first time in Champions League history, two English teams will face off in the final, which will feature Manchester United and Chelsea. Not only will this game feature two extremely talented squads, it will also speak loudly on the general condition of English soccer. With so much on the line lets jump in and see whats in store for us at 230 this afternoon.

How Man U got here:
Manchester United has been the best team in Europe all season. This sentence made me sick to type because usually English club teams are vastly overrated compared to other teams from across the continent. However you can't overlook a team that won its league, and scored the most goals in the Champions League tournament in the run up to the final. Thanks to the wonderful talents of Cristiano Ronaldo, the tireless work ethic of Carlitos Tevez and a skillful defense led by Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, Man U has been able to play an aggressive style that incoroporates the blinding speed its attacking players possess.

How Chelsea got here:
Chelsea was supposed to have reached this point years ago, but finally with Jose Mourinho quitting the team last fall did Chelsea break through to this point and validate the hundreds of millions of dollars that Russian oil baron (tyrant) Roman Abramovich has thrown into the team. With arguably the most talented roster on the face of the planet, Chelsea caught fire in the winter months and continued that into the spring, where it dispatched Liverpool in a classic semifinal matchup in the CL and very nearly caught Man U in the EPL. Chelsea has a fantastic midfield led by Michael Essien, Michael Ballack and Claude Makelele, a solid defense and a ruthless striker in Didier Drogba up front. It finally seems that Chelsea are playing more forward as well and are willing to take more chances in order to score, which has been a problem in the past. This freedom may be the reason why they have gone further this year than in the past.

Man U Probable Lineup
G - Edwin Van Der Sar
D - Gary Neville
D - Rio Ferdinand
D - Nemanja Vidic
D - Patrice Evra
M - Owen Hargreaves
M - Michael Carrick
M - Paul Scholes
M - Cristiano Ronaldo
F - Carlos Tevez
F - Wayne Rooney

With Vidic healthy and anchoring the defense, Man U's attacking options have the freedom to move forward and pressure the Chelsea defenders. If Carrick and Scholes can handle the Chelsea midfield and thus control the ball and the pace of the game, Man U will have an excellent chance to win. This will not be easy because neither player is as physical or talented as Essien is for Chelsea. Keep an eye on Evra, who has been a revelation since joining Man U from Monaco and has the speed and talent to support and augment the Man U defense while being able to keep up with Chelsea's attack.

Probable Chelsea Lineup

G - Peter Cech
D - Michael Essien
D - Ricardo Carvalho
D - John Terry
D - Ashley Cole
M - Claude Makelele
M - Michael Ballack
M - Frank Lampard
M - Joe Cole
F - Didier Drogba
F - Salomon Kalou

Chelsea does not have the firepower of Man U, which means they will have to rely on their midfield more to create a more deliberate pace of play. They definitely have the ability to do so, and if they turn the game into a physical affair then their size and strength advantage could stifle Manchester. Whoever plays right back will have the task of slowing down Cristiano Ronaldo. Paulo Ferriera may have been able to in the past, but Ronaldo is just too fast for him now. That means that the sublime Essien should be the man with the task, and with his talent he may do better than anyone else has at stopping the Portuguese Metrosexual.

One note on the state of English Soccer
Its funny how so many soccer fans think England plays the best soccer in the world and this all-English final will probably be more ammunition in the minds of the dim-witted humans who support this fact. However, if we look at these two squads in addition to the other powerful English club teams Arsenal and Liverpool, we see teams full of players from other countries. Man U will likely only start 4 English players at the most, Chelsea only two. Liverpool has a Spanish coach and their best players all come from different countries. Arsenal doesn't even have an English born player in its starting 11. What this shows is that not only do English clubs have the most money to spend on foreign players, they also realize that the players from England simply cannot cut it for their teams. This is reflected in the shambolic state of the English National Team, which failed to qualify for the Euro 2008 tournament that begins in a couple of weeks because they could not beat Croatia at home in the final qualifying game. When coupled with the fact that England also failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1994 and haven't made it past the quarterfinals in any tournament since, its obvious that English soccer deserves none of the hype that is still somehow bestowed upon it.

Prediction for the game
The key in any champions league final is for an early goal to be scored. If one team scores early than the game is forced to be opened up out of sheer desperation for an equalizer. If not, then most of the time teams grow fearful of allowing a goal and play it very close to the vest. With both sides almost completely healthy, there will be no temptation on either side to try and play for the inevitable penalty kicks. And with Chelsea's newfound desire to actually try and score goals and Man U's attack minded style of play, this game could become wide-open similar to Chelsea-Liverpool in the semifinals. Every soccer fan obviously wants this, and I think the trend of English teams shitting the bed in big games will be offset since thankfully there are very few English players in the game. Chelsea is going to try very hard to control Ronaldo and i think they will be effective. However, Carlos Tevez is one of the most underrated strikers in the world and has the speed and ability to elude the Chelsea defense and finish his opportunities. I have a feeling he is going to have a huge game today while Chelsea tries to stop "The Fruity One". Chelsea is not that good at playing from behind, and will struggle to open up Drogba from Ferdinand and the excellent Vidic in the center of the field. I think Man U will tack on a late goal and celebrate deep into the Moscow night with a 2-0 victory.

1 comment:

Young Knuckleballer said...

I've got Man U: 3-1. Ronaldo with a goal and an assist. Essien with the lone score for Chelsea.