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Bobby McMahon

Bobby McMahon

You can see me on Soccer Central most Mondays and Thursdays on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. I write a regular column for Forbes.com and Soccerly.com and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


TANGENTS

Champions League Wednesday Previews & Open Thread

Written by on February 16, 2011 | 44 Comments »
Posted in UEFA Champions League

Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk

Roma made quite a meal of getting through to the last sixteen of the competition. They finished as runners up in Group E behind Bayern Munich with 10 points from 3 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses.

They lost their opening game 2-0 away to Bayern Munich and then evened their record with a home win against Romanian side Cluj.

With Basle the match-day three visitors it seemed as if the heavy lifting had been done. Not so as Basle beat Roma 3-1 at the Olympic Stadium. The return fixture in Switzerland came close to imploding on Roma as well despite enjoying a 2-0 lead inside the first 25 minutes.

Eventually Roma won 3-2 but the home match against Bayern Munich was to provide further evidence that Roma and drama go hand in hand in this season’s competition.

The Germans led 2-0 at half time and with ten minutes left were still ahead 2-1. Goals by De Rossi and Totti turned the game and Roma won another one 3-2.

Roma have slipped to 8th in Serie A and have only one draw in their last three league matches. The primary Roma scoring threat comes from Marco Borriello and Mirko Vucinic.

Shakhtar Donetsk won the final edition of the UEFA Cup in 2009. However, the club failed to push on a make any impact in last season’s Champions League and failed to negotiate a way past Romanian club Timişoara in the third qualifying round.

Things went a lot more smoothly this season. As champions of Ukraine they were awarded an automatic spot in the group stages. The only real set back was a 5-1 hammering that Arsenal inflicted at the Emirates although Shakhtar did win the return leg 2-1 and finished top of group H with 15 points.

Arsenal was the only team to score on Shakhtar during group play. The Ukraine league does not stay up again until early March but when play paused for the winter break Shakhtar sat top with a 12 point bulge on second place Dynamo Kiev and had taken a whopping 52 points from 19 games.

To prepare for their first appearance in the round of sixteen match Shakhtar have been playing friendly matches in warmer climes.

Coach Mircea Lucescu is vastly experienced and he has a squad that is impressive. From defenders Razman Rat and Dymtro Chygrynskiy to midfielders like Tomas Hübschman, Douglas Costa, Alex Teixeira (all Brazil) and wing back Darijo Srna there is a depth and a flair that should have Roma concerned.

Goals can come from the midfield but there is also firepower up front with players such as Luiz Adriano, and Eduardo. Bolivian Marcelo Moreno who spent time with Wigan on loan is also available.

Arsenal v Barcelona

This is a repeat of last season’s Champions League quarter final. Like last season the first leg will be played at the Emirates and Arsenal will be looking to get a kick of the ball in the first twenty minutes, something that they were not allowed last season.

Barcelona simply overpowered Arsenal last season and the tie could have been over before half time if had not been for a remarkable goalkeeping display from Manuel Almunia – his finest hour or what must have felt like an hour.

Almost a year on and Arsenal might argue that they are a better team than twelve months ago, but Barcelona could argue the same thing.

Arsenal are still in contention for the Premier League – trailing Manchester United by four points – face Leyton Orient on Saturday in the FA Cup and a Carling Cup Final appointment with Birmingham City on February 27.

All offer a substantially greater chance of success than making it through against Barcelona.

Although Barcelona was not a specific choice off Arsenal’s they were in a strong position to avoid the “heavyweights” in the round of 16.

Three straight wins to start the group stage had Arsenal cruising but two away losses to Shakhtar and Braga meant that they lost control of their destiny and a final day win against Partizan Belgrade was only good enough to finish as runners up in Group H.

Twice winners of the Champions League and twice losing semi-finalists in the last five seasons made Barcelona a favourite for the 2010/11 edition from the off.

But this isn’t a case of taking past performances and projecting continued success. Almost every time Barcelona takes to the pitch they reinforce the notion that we could be watching one of the great club teams of all time.

They lead Real Madrid in La Liga by 7 points, have to face their rivals in the Copa del Rey Final in April and are positioned to complete a second treble in three seasons.

Arsenal fans looking for hope might point to a speed bump Barcelona encountered on the weekend when they only drew with Sporting Gijon – conversely dropping two points may only add an even sharper edge to Barcelona’s play.

Messi, Villa and Pedro have combined for 51 goals in 23 league matches but nine other players have chipped in as well. Barcelona won Group E with 14 points and going unbeaten with 4 wins and 2 draws.

Something else worth noting is that only allowed 3 goals as well as scoring 14. Their best performance probably came against Panathinaikos after going behind 1-0. Five unanswered goals put paid to any suggestion of an upset.

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44 responses to “Champions League Wednesday Previews & Open Thread”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cindy Brown, bobbysoccerrep. bobbysoccerrep said: http://tiny.cc/ukt5k Champions League Wednesday and nothing here linking the words "Walcott", "Arsenal" and "secret weapon" […]

  2. Poor protocol to be first to comment on a post but I cannot help but snicker at this story. Who would have thought Gattuso was such a delicate flower.
    http://tiny.cc/0kefp

    Who knows if this story is factual or not but I will pass it on anyway. Jim Holton played for Scotland at the 74 World Cup (a teammate of Joe Jordan) and for Manchester United – he also spent some time in the NASL.

    Holton was a “basic” player and the fact that United and Scotland fans would chant “six foot two eyes of blue, big Jim Holton’s after you” sort of sums up how he went about the game.

    Anyway the story goes that in one game Holton took Mick Channon out with a scything tackle. Channon, upon recovering, screamed at Holton that he was nothing more that a big, dirty, Scottish bastard.

    Holton’s reply was “that’s right and don’t you f#@*in forget it.”

  3. Gus Keri says:

    Bobby:

    Are you saying that Jordan was actually praising Gattuso, not insulting him?

    Nice try Bobby

  4. Gus Keri says:

    I don’t want to jinx any team but there is good omen for Arsenal and Roma today.

    None of yesterday’s home team registered a win. Usually, things don’t repeat itself over consecutive days in the champions league.

  5. Bryan says:

    Jaws looks like he could still take Gattuso out round the back of the bike sheds.

    And I have a feeling Arsenal are going to dump Barcelona out on their bums!

  6. Gus Keri says:

    Interesting facts I found out about Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

    In the last 9 seasons, he won the domestic league title 8 times but has never reached a UCL final.

    He won them with 4 different clubs.

    (02, 04) with Ajax
    (05, 06) with Juvantus
    (07,08,09) with Inter
    (10) with Barcelona

    Juvantus’s titles were taken away from them but it doesn’t deminish his achievement.

    Does this mean he will win Serie A with Milan this year and not the UCL?

    We’ll have to wait and see

  7. Gillian says:

    I know that Roma vs. Shaktar is the undercard for today, but I’m so over the Barcenal hype that I will have to watch the other match. If I never hear the words “Barcelona,” possession,” “Arsenal,” and “revenge” again, it will be too soon!

  8. greg mclauchlin says:

    Obviously going to watch the big game today but I’m also curious to see Roma-Shakthar. Roma are a weird team. I’ve seen them put in some really good performances but also some truly awful ones. Shakthar are a stronger than the CSKA team last year and and have some really good players – Jadson, Adriano, Eduardo, Srjna, Rat, Chygy.

  9. Gus – not praise. Just thinking that players must have become very sensitive in the last few years if that sort of insult is being used as an excuse for nutting someone.

  10. Gus Keri says:

    Bobby:

    I think Jordan could have writen a love song for Gattuso and still get headbutted. Gsattuso was way out of control the whole game. It was unavoidable.

  11. Soccerlogical says:

    I speak a lil’ Italian. Gatusso’s language and more importantly high pitched soft spoken voice are the furthest thing from his bulldog image… kinda funny.

    Pirlo calls him a “country bumpkin” all the time.

    Take a look at what the nut did to Lippi when Italy won the WC.

    http://tinyurl.com/396qg8x

  12. Gus Keri says:

    So much for the omen.

    Both home teams are losing so far.

    The Brazilians of Shakhtar are making mockery of the Italians. The other game is a race to see who misses more opportunities.

  13. Gus Keri says:

    A great comeback by Arsenal.

  14. Gillian says:

    Interesting that a) the Barca/Arsenal game lived up to the hype, and b) Arsenal actually won. I still think my decision to watch Roma & Shaktar was the right one 🙂

  15. Wilshere looking very Xavi-like tonight. The Barcelona style brought the best out in Koscielny – his reading of the game and anticipation stood out.
    Szczesny is going to be difficult to dislodge.
    Feels a bit like the first leg of Bayern v Manchester United from last season with two late goals turning what looked to be a straight forward second leg into one in which the away team in the second leg now has something to defend.
    A fantastic spectacle from both sides.

  16. Gillian – I just saw the goals and Roma looked wretched in the first half. More teams are keying on Riise it seems.

  17. Gillian says:

    Bobby: tis true. Roma were not a pretty sight tonight. On the other hand, this was the first time I’d watched Shakhtar and I dunno, I found them kind of refreshing.

    I will have to watch the Barca/Arsenal highlights tonight on FSC!

  18. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Bobby,

    I thought Koscielny was fantastic tonight too. His reading of the game and anticipation is very good. These parts of his game are similar to the way Luis on Chelsea play. The difference, is that Luiz is far better with the ball at his feet. The downside to Koscielny is that, at times, he is a bit over aggressive and gives away fouls too easily when it would be better for him to just jockey his opponent. The first penalty given away at Newcastle is a perfect example. It looks like Le Professor has found another French diamond in the rough. The Djourou & Koscielny partnership may be the pairing at Arsenal for a long time and Vermaelen may end up being the third CB when he’s healthy. The problem for the Gunners at CB occurs when there is a Squillaci sighting on the pitch.

  19. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Szczesny looks like the solid first choice keeper too. Almunia is done at AFC and Fabianski is weak at high balls & crosses. Szczesny is much taller than Flappihanski and is strong with high balls & crosses. Szczesny is quite young, and is very commanding in the box, and may well be Arsenal’s long term keeper. He played well at Old Trafford, too, but ManU get very lucky, yet again, with that speculative header off of the Asian fella with three lungs. GK dilemma sorted.

  20. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    The game changed today due to two mistakes. FCB were in control until Pep decided to go a little conservative and took Villa off and brought on Keita. I saw no reason to make any changes and was surprised Pep took the foot off the pedal. AFC needed to make changes yes, FCB no.

    The second mistake came from Valdes’ mispositioning on RvP’s goal. Without it, the score likely would have remained 0-1.

    Now, we have a very interesting 2nd leg and FCB have that all important away goal (Messi should have had another). I doubt Arsenal can keep Barça off the scoreboard at the Camp Nou as they don’t park the bus Italian style.

  21. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Gus,

    I feel a little empathy towards Riise and his unfortunate slip. I hear he was much maligned @ LFC. What a surprise! LFC fans have never been hyper-critical of any of their players.

    The lad did have some kind of Norweigan howitzer at Anfield, didn’t he. Kaboom!!!

  22. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    The atmospheres between the two matches today was very noticeable wasn’t it? And what was the difference? A running track. Full stop. West Ham, good luck with your new future home, as you’ve obviously never heard the saying, “Be careful what you wish for!”

    Both Roma and Lazio want to move away from Stadio Olympico and Bayern Munich did the same years ago and built their own wonderful footy specific stadium (like Arsenal). Don’t people ever learn from history???

    West Ham, I’m afraid, is now compelled to re-live it.

  23. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    And finally, it’s kind of sad that AFC v FCB is a Round of 16 matchup. This tie is worthy of a semi-final pairing at the very least. Damn those ping pong balls! To think, Arsenal could have had Schalke.

    And another example that Barça aren’t the greatest businessmen in the world and could learn that from Arsenal. They got hosed on their bit of business with the Ibra/Eto’o/ +€ fiasco and they got hosed with Shakhtar’s CB Chagrinsky (sic) bit too. We’ll buy that CB from you for some ~10m € more than we sell him back to you after just one year of service. Barça can develop players and play some fantastic footy but their business acumen is downright laughable at times.

  24. Think says:

    Man of the match Laurent Koscielny. Laurent Koscielny was brilliant tonight not just his reading of the game but his explosiveness to the ball & determination to win possession. If not for the one error by clichy not holding his line the center backs were solid and the new number 1 was in a perfect place to prove his worth and he showed he is more than capable. Although Laurent Koscielny was dominant it was a team effort of solid concentration. In short, Laurent Koscielny Represented arsenal as a whole hardworking and fighting to prove he is not just a pretty player but an all around brilliant and determined player. Honorable mentions wilshere, sczesny

  25. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Gus,

    I hear LFC has a key UEL match tomorrow. I bet you won’t be able to get any sleep for that one eh? 🙂 😉 🙂

    YNWA

  26. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Bobby,

    I feel that what Joe Jordan said to Gattuso was spot on and was 100% factually correct. No court of law anywhere on this planet could find otherwise.
    1) Gattuso has always been a nutter.
    2) Gattuso is Italian.
    3) Im not sure of Gattuso’s mother’s marital status at time of birth … but it doesn’t matter.
    4) Mr. Jordan should get an MBE.

  27. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Gus,

    Your Ibra theory will not apply this year. Milan is just about done in the UCL and Inter will mow them down domestically. If it wasn’t for a certain former LFC manager, Inter might well be ahead of Milan already.

  28. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    GFYR,

    Your boys lost at the Skunks? Ouch.

  29. Gus Keri says:

    TVN:

    I like Riise. It’s very unfortunate what happened to him today. I was sad for him. he doesn’t deserve it.

    He is one of the players whom Liverpool was not able to replace. Just like Alonso.

    Unfortunately he is last remembered for the own goal against Chelsea but I have a lot of fond memory of him in Liverpool shirt.

    Tomorrow, it’s going to be a tough game with all these injuries and Suarez is not eligible.

    I am keeping my fingers crossed

  30. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Open moral hazard question for everyone.

    I know it’s only the UEL but Poulsen is missing this massive match because his wife is expecting.

    But,

    If this was a big match, and let’s say a very big match such as:
    1) UCL Final
    2) World Cup Final
    3) Euro Final
    4) Copa America Final
    etc

    And your wife’s is expecting first child.

    In the old days, it was a no brainer and would be for me too I must admit (sorry honey, I’ll watch the DVD and we’ll have another; as for another really big match … maybe never even get close). These days, it seems like it is the other way around and a lot of husbands would miss the match. Although, I would submit that, I believe, the South Americans are more old school and have more cajones to say to their honeys, “I’ll watch the DVD”.

    Opinions anyone and what would you do? Moral hazard …

  31. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    The above should be an example of a poll question for the website.

    Bobby – Why not add functionality to your site to include poll questions of various topics?

    Gus – Suarez can’t play in UEL? He played in UCL matches with Ajax. I know the other way around does not cup tie a player (Afellay was on the team sheet today but was not used). Maybe Suarez is helping Poulsen? Maybe he is in charge of the DVD footage?

  32. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Two additional thoughts on the big match today. I’m saying this before I review the PVR version:

    1) The disallowed Messi goal in the first half. Looks like they might have got this wrong. Also, Djourou appears to handle inside the box but no penalty was awarded.

    2) Arshavin appeared to handle inside the box near the very end of the match, and I thought that was an obvious call in real time, yet no penalty was awarded. The fifth official was on the opposite side of the goal. The linesman should have had a perfect view.

    Are these fifth officials (beside the goals) really helping at all? Or are they just really useless window dressing (nice in theory but in reality rather impotent)? I can’t recall one making a call of consequence yet. Somebody out there probably can recall some calls of consequence out there though.

  33. Gus Keri says:

    TVN:

    It has something to do with playing against your last club.

    Some of the UCL clubs move to the UEL during the season.
    Like Ajax for example. There is a chance that Liveprool might meet Ajax in the UEL and then Suarez wouldn’t be able to play against them.

    No such problem for playrs moving upward, from the UEL to the UCL.

  34. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Gus,

    Well, if that’s how it works then it’s dubious. For one, Suarez hasn’t played yet in the UEL, they are not playing Ajax tomorrow and may not all the way to and including the Final, and even if they were to play Ajax, so what as he is an LFC player now. Bad rule.

  35. iain brown says:

    Bobby, another Holton gem…………Due to play for Man Utd against Chelsea in the 70st the then Man Utd manager Tommy Docherty summoned Holton for his pre match instruction, ” listen big man Osgood is playing out of his skin right now so early doors go sort him out” Big Jims reply was, “boss, is that for this match or the whole season”?!!!!

  36. shmish says:

    Theo van Nasarshavregas,
    I only saw it twice but I didn’t think Arshavin handled. It looked like his arm and hand were held to his body?

    The Gunners came to play. How about Eboue? He didn’t even flop to the ground as if he had been shot. I think yesterday’s game would go a long way to easing the pain of riding the pine all year, good for him.

  37. GO FOREST YOU REDS says:

    TVN
    Yeah it was a dark night in the soccer cave the Reds threw out a real stinker.i am feeling deja vu all over again.if your boys at AFC can play like they did yesterday they will win the EPL.i agree with you why take out D Villa Pep made a bad call.so were you happy or sad since you follow both teams?

    P.S.BARCA get rid of the softball uniforms!

  38. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    GFYR,

    Kind of torn. It’s like watching two girlfriends having a cat fight. You love them both and don’t want either to get injured.

    Great night for footy though.

    Now, today, all that there is to look forward to is Liverfool and other Europa Leaguers. It’s like having a massive footy hangover. But I can always rewatch the real match on PVR.

  39. Gus Keri says:

    TVN:

    Don’t be surprised that someday I might get to the point where I won’t read your comments any more.

    Your persistence at putting down Liverpool and its fans is getting on my nerves.

    I respect your freedom in expressig your points of view. But sometime things go overboard.

    It won’t be long before I exercise my right of ignoring your comments completely.

  40. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Another camomile tea moment.

  41. Rossoneri Red Devil says:

    TVN:
    I thought Gus’s Ibra theory was spot on. I’ve been predicting the typical Ibra finish all season long. Milan, just like his previous clubs, have designed their team around his skill sets, and have become overly dependent on both his goals, and his assists. He can dominate lower Italian sides, but the best teams in Europe can always take him out of the game, which completely disrupts how Milan want to play.

    Also, a big part of success in the Champions League is catching teams at the right time, and Tottenham had to be giddy about the timing of this tie. Milan are currently racked by injuries, and 3 of their players aquired to add depth are cup tied (Cassano, Van Bommel, Emmanuelson). I don’t know how much you have watched Cassano through the years, but when he is getting along with his coach, this guy is absolutely world class. It’s a shame that the world hasn’t seen him at World Cups because of conflicts with former coach Marcello Lippi. He can be an absolute game changer in the Serie A.

    My point is this. Milan have the depth to hold off Inter, Napoli, etc in Italy, but they don’t have the depth to win in Europe this year.

  42. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    RRD,

    The Spuds had injuries too so I don’t buy your timing excuse here. Milan’s fault for getting players that are cup tied. Inter are breathing down Milan’s necks are about to mow them down. Ibra’s great against the lesser likes and has always been a lazy egotistical donkey. That’s why Barça got rid of him. A brilliant talent yes. Lazy as the day is long, will not track back, too slow, and a me first attitude. Sorry Ibra, off you go to Milan. Thank you. You can have him. Never should have let Eto’o go in the first place.

  43. Rossoneri Red Devil says:

    TVN,
    I didnt mean to demean Tottenham’s win, I’m trying to say they’re the better team in Europe, with the better squad. Strange to say about a Champions League first timer vs. one of the greatest teams of European Cup history, but true. For the first time in years it appears that Galiani has focused on building a team to win the domestic title, rather than the European title.

    Most of your scathing remarks about Ibrahimovic had some truth to them, except a “me first attitude.” You don’t win as many titles as GUS pointed out, or rack up the assist numbers that Ibra has by having a me first attitude.

  44. Rossoneri Red Devil says:

    and i don’t recall Pep ever mentioning a donkey. It was simply a style mismatch.

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