Feb 16, 2010

What to make of today's Champions League results?

As you may have heard by now, Manchester United defeated AC Milan today 3-2 at the San Siro, while Olympique Lyon dropped Real Madrid 1-0 at the Stade Gerland in the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 match-ups. What do these results mean in the broader realm of European soccer?

First things first. From an Anglo-American viewpoint, the Man United result is of course far more interesting, so we'll star there. Here we saw how despite Wayne Rooney's prowess (he scored twice), Red Devils were not the vastly superior team today. In fact, you could even make the case that the home side were better. Alas, what counts are goals and Milan simply did not convert their chances. Man U, on the other hand, did. Call it a classic case of the better team finding a way to win? Maybe so. And we really don't think the Italian club have much of a chance of overcoming the deficit at Old Trafford on March 10. Three away goals are simply too much to reverse at this point. Even if Milan were to win 1-0 or 2-1 in the return leg, United would advance due to the quirky nature of the away goals rule (despite its quirks, we think the rule has its place). Still, color us unconvinced of Man U's superiority at this point. We knew this year's team was unlikely to match its predecessors from the last three seasons and Sir Alex deserves credit for even getting them this close to the silverware. But in the end, I'm sorry to say that outside of the League Cup I do not see Man U winning any silverware at this point--in Europe or England.

Now as for Real Madrid vs. Lyon, here we have a game that was not as close as the result would indicate. Lyon should have scored more but, like Milan, were unable to convert their chances. Not sure what Real's problem is exactly, but you can't blame injuries or other absences at this point. Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka were both front and center, though for whatever reason Manuel Pellegrini saw the need to make a few changes to the team that defeated Xerez 3-0 on the weekend. (Actually two changes: Albiol and Mahamadou Diarra for Garay and Lassana Diarra) It obviously didn't work because Lyon were the superior side today. And this (Real) is supposed to be the fourth-best team in the world? Lyon, on the other hand, fell off our radar completely for several months, just this week returning to the Top 25 after a long absence. No matter what happens in the return leg (which isn't for three more weeks anyway) they clearly deserve it. In fact, don't count Lyon out of the French title race yet either. At the time of this writing, they sit fourth, eight points behind defending champs Bordeaux with 14 games (including one with les Girondins) left on the Ligue Un calendar.

Photo taken from Independent.co.uk story without permission.

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