Oct 23, 2007

Separation Day In Champions League

The continent's big guns were able to create some distance between themselves and the also-rans in their respective Champions League groups, thanks to a matchday where nearly everything went as scripted. The one mini surprise was Rangers scoreless draw to Barcelona at Ibrox. I say "mini" because Barca haven't played very well since the internationals break and were missing Deco for today's game. And it's not like Rangers won the game (that would have qualified as a "real" surprise). Nevertheless, lets give Gers their due: the club suddenly looks right at home amongst the continent's elite and their place in my top 25 is well deserved. The next big test will come when the teams meet again Nov. 7--in Barcelona. In the group's other game, Lyon made quick work of VfB Stuttgart, who are in complete disarray and probably couldn't even beat the New York Red Bulls right about now.

The disparity between the continent's elite and its lesser powers was nowhere clearer than at Emirates stadium, where the Arse (upon whom I--begrudgingly--gave #1 honors in this week's top 25) beat up on poor Slavia Prague 7-0. That group's other favorite, Sevilla, had a tougher time with their opponent, Steaua Bucharest, but still came out on top. Believe it or not, the Czech team still has a chance to advance, as they sit third with three points. That's a mathematical chance. For all practical purposes, this group is settled; Arsenal and Seville will advance to the knockout stage and Bucharest and Prague will settle third place between them.

The separation theme also held in groups F and G, where Man United and Inter Milan didn't seem to have any real problems winning road games at Dynamo Kiev and CSKA Moscow, respectively. The two clubs are now in first place in their groups, where they will likely remain. Roma also returned to the win column and are in the driver's seat to advance out of that group as well.

Will the same pattern hold in tomorrow's games? I doubt it. For one, you have teams like Shakhtar Donetsk and Olympiakos and Marseille leading their groups. So even if the big big clubs (Real, Liverpool, Chelsea and AC Milan) win their games, they won't all lead their groups at the end of the day. And I don't expect Besiktas Istanbul (who play Liverpool) and Olympiakos (who play at Bernabeu) to just roll over like some of today's minnows. The bell may toll for others, however. Shakhtar Donetsk are coming off a loss in their domestic league this weekend and third-place Milan (whom they play at San Siro) need a win pretty badly. The Ukrainians' best hope might be if Kaka misses the game. Last I heard, he was supposed to play. That could get ugly. Not seven goals ugly, but still ugly. But we'll see. After all, they play these games for a reason!

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