Nov 4, 2009

Liverpool's Champs' League hopes hang by a thread and a dogfight in Group F

Liverpool's chances of advancing to the UEFA Champions League knockout stage are on life support after the team's 1-1 draw at Olympique Lyon earlier today. With the point from the draw, Lyon become the first team in the group to advance. Likely to join them are Fiorentina, who sit second on nine points. Liverpool are third with four points. Debreceni take up the rear with zero points, which means Reds will in all likelihood have a chance to salvage their season in the Europa League.

Rafa Benitez' men visit the Hungarian side on the next matchday, which is Nov. 24. They'll need to win the game and hope Fiorentina are defeated at home by Lyon. The first should be simple enough. Debreceni are horrible, having posted a goal difference of 5 for, 14 against in their four Champions League games. They're not even good in Hungary, where they sit sixth (albeit with two games in hand on most teams). This is not a team that should be in anything called a "Champions" league.

Then again, neither should Liverpool. Their record this year is an even .500 (it's an American term. Don't worry if you don't understand it) in all competition. When they met Debreceni at Anfield in September, a first half stoppage time goal by Dirk Kuijt was all that separated the two sides. So who knows they'll even be able to win the game? It's Debreceni's last chance to get into the Europa League and Liverpool are wounded, perhaps mortally. Maybe the Hungarians will pull it together and hand Reds another loss?
Assuming Rafa Benitez' side win at Budapest Nov. 24 (and assuming they're still Rafa Benitez' side) and assuming Fiorentina lose at home to Lyon, Liverpool will then need to defeat the Florentine club at Anfield on Dec. 9, the final Champions League matchday. If they get there, we like their chances. But Lyon has not been on form lately and will probably not be favored to win in Florence.

But all this Liverpool talk is depressing. Let's focus on the most exciting Champions League group, the one with four (count 'em!) Top 25 clubs: Inter Milan (ranked second), FC Barcelona (third), Rubin Kazan (11th) and Dynamo Kiev (13th). No pundit had anybody but Inter and Barca advancing out of that group but now there is a (at least somewhat) realistic chance neither will make it. Today Milan finally got their first win of the group stage, coming back from a 1-0 halftime deficit to win at Dynamo Kiev and take first place in the group. Rubin Kazan and Barca, who played a scoreless draw in Russia today, are tied for second with five points each, one fewer than Inter. Dynamo sit fourth, on four points. So absolutely anything is possible. Inter play at Camp Nou next and then finish up the group stage with Kazan at the San Siro. Having lost to Rubin Kazan previously, Barca needs to post a better result than the Russian champions the rest of the way (by virtue of the first tie-breaker, which is head-to-head competition). The Spanish champs finish up group play at Dynamo. Chances are good that all four teams will still be alive after the next matchday. In fact, the only club that can be eliminated is Dynamo, and for that to happen they need to lose at Rubin Kazan and Inter will need to win at Barcelona. Then again, if that happens, Barca will be eliminated as well. Madness!

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