Apr 7, 2009

Iberian clubs cause shockwaves on first day of Champions League quarterfinals

It was a day of upsets in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals and Premiership clubs Arsenal and Manchester United were on the receiving end. Of the four quarterfinal match-ups, perhaps none were seen as one-sided as these two. Yet both clubs drew their games--Man. U at home against Porto and Arsenal at Villareal--and are now in very real danger of exiting the competition earlier than anticipated.

The danger is particularly acute in Man United's case. Sir Alex' men will need to win the return leg at Estádio do Dragão (Dragon Stadium?), a feat that has only been accomplished twice so far this season, and not since October. Arsenal at least can advance with a scoreless draw in the return leg at Emirates.

How could this happen? It makes perfect sense, for a few reasons. In Man U's case, the team has hit a morose stretch of form dating to the March 14 beatdown at the hands of Liverpool. This was masked by Red Devils' fortunate comeback against Aston Villa last weekend, where they scored twice in the last 10 minutes to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Had United lost that game (as they very nearly did) would anybody be surprised by today's result? Perhaps, but less so. Let's also not forget that Porto, while maybe not as good as its 2004 incarnation (or even close, then again who is?), are still a very good team. They are currently sixth in our Top 25 (a remarkably prescient call there if we dare say so ourselves; Man U. are second). We're talking about a team that has not lost a game since November--in any competition. That's a stretch of 26 games by our calculations. One of its three strikers, Argentine Lisandro Lopez, has six goals in nine Champions League games this season. Another is named Hulk. We're not making this up. Point is: These guys are good. Man U. will have their hands full in the return leg. They may yet pull it off but it won't be easy.

And Arsenal? Even easier: they just aren't that good. Today's result is only a surprise because Villareal aren't either. Like Gunners, they sit fourth in their domestic league. They too are only a few spots behind today's opponents in our top 25 (well five spots; Arse are ninth, Villareal 14th). Throw in the fact that Arshavin can't play for Arse and, well, you do the math. Arsene Wenger's side is still in a good--albeit by no means comfortable--position to advance, but we really don't see how they can go any further after that.

So we really don't see this as a huge surprise or "wakeup call" for the Premiership or anything like that. More like there are clubs outside of England that can still play the game at a very high level. And still, we could very well see three Premiership sides in the semifinal. So in the long run this may not even mean that much. Let's wait to see what happens next week.

1 comment:

  1. There are some interesting matches on for the return. Manchester will have to work hard for a win in Portugal. If I'm correct, Porto was the team with the least goals against last year.

    Arsenal did good things against Villareal, but they're not there yet.

    After tonight, I'm really impressed by Hiddink and Chelsea. Torres and Gerrard didn't play their best match. And Barcelona has nothing to worry about.