Friday, September 7, 2007

The European Draw

The Champion’s League draw for German teams was not easy as all three clubs found themselves in hard groups.

Schalke 04 drew Chelsea, Valencia and Rosenborg in Group B

Chelsea and Valencia are both stacked squads. While any expectation of going to Stamford Bridge and getting three points should be quickly dismissed, Chelsea have never faired will at Anfield, which is a poor-man’s Veltins Arena. Also, recently Chelsea have shown some susceptibility along the wings, and if Slomka can deploy Ozil, Pander, Jones, etc along the touch, they could spread the field and provide room for Rakitic and Kuranyi. Krstajić will have to be at his best to deal with Didier Drogba, but I think he’s up to the task.

Valencia have started out poorly in La Liga, but are still a great team with the likes of David Villa, Morientes and Zigic up front. The team boasts arguably one of the best midfields in the world with the likes of David Silva, Joaquin, Albelda, Gavilan, Marchena and Angulo. Their defense is solid but is adjusting to life without Roberto Ayala, so it is better to face them early as Moretti and converted midfielder Raul Albiol form a partnership that may be exploitable.

Roseborg are a decent squad, but just do not have the talent to compete in such a stacked group. All teams will need to take six points off them and make sure they make sure their homes are a fortress. I expect this will give Schalke all the advantage they need to sneak past Valencia for the second spot.

Predictions: Chelsea, Schalke, Valencia, Rosenborg

Werder Bremen drew Lazio, Real Madrid and Olympiakos in Group C

Lazio are no longer the giants they once were, and have become a selling team after financial scandal. They are a team that likes to get forward; thus, they are susceptible to the counter, especially now that goalkeeper and excellent organizer Angelo Peruzzi has retired. Goran Pandev is the man to be scared of and Naldo will need to be at his best to slow this emerging star down. The absence of attacking mid Stefano Mauri will help a Bremen side that is missing its best midfield man-markers.

Real Madrid are playing for fun and have started the season with a similar air as Bayern Munich. A team that refuses to sit back typically gives Bremen a hard time, and I expect their two matches will be two of the most entertaining of the group stage. Olympiakos is a team quite capable of causing problems for any of these sides, especially at home. They will undoubtedly surprise at least one team at home and that could be the crucial decider for the top two. Bremen’s backlog of injuries doesn’t bode well; however, if Martin Harnik turns out to be the real deal, the Klose cloud could be lifted from their forward line.

Predictions: Real Madrid, Lazio, Werder Bremen, Olympiakos

Vfb Stuttgart drew Barcelona, Lyon and Rangers in Group E

Barcelona and Lyon have been strong teams for the past few years in the Champions League; however, they are facing troubling times. Barcelona’s fantastic four are already causing headaches for manager Frank Rijkaard and the stagnant form that plagued them towards the end of last season, seems to be present still as Rijkaard’s tactical choices get more and more criticism. Barcelona’s defense, while better than last year, is still a concern with a goalkeeper (Valdez) who is prone to gaffs and a central back (Milito) who is prone to reds. While not an ideal draw for the reigning champion’s, they are capable of playing with the Catalan giants.

Meanwhile, Lyon is suffering from years of success. Their team has been picked apart by richer clubs and now they face the group stage without keeper Gregory Coupet and captain Cris, both suffering long-term injuries. They also enter the contest with a board that doesn’t have full faith in new manager Perrin. Once again they are not a team to take lightly, but Stuttgart are capable of playing with them in both legs. Rangers are a much improved side this year, and are blossoming under Walter Smith, but they do have the air of a team that consists of far-too-many EPL castoffs, so Stuttgart must take six points off the Scottish giants, if they want to get through the group. Much will depend on Cacau's injury for the champs.

Predictions: Barcelona, Stuttgart, Rangers, Lyon

The UEFA Cup draw was much easier for German teams.

Nurnberg takes on Rapid Bucurest of Romania, who finished 4th in Liga 1 last year. Nurnberg has the hardest draw of the three sides as Romania has coefficient rating close to the Netherlands. It’s a good league and Rapid could cause problems for a Nurnberg side that has struggled at the beginning of this season. If new boy Cesinha is allowed to run at the defense, Nurnberg could find themselves up against the wall.

Hamburg takes on Litex of Bulgaria, who finished 4th last year. Newcomer Cedric Cambon anchors the back line while Fabien Boudarène is the defensive linchpin in the midfield. If these two Frenchmen can clog up the space that Rafael van der Vaart typically inhabits, they could provide problems during the away leg for HSV. There should be little problem when the home leg takes place at the Nordbank Arena.

Bayern takes on Belenenses. Belenenes finished 5th last season in the Portuguese Superliga. Had they won it, it is still doubtful that they could muster a positive result against the Bavarians. As it stands, this was a team that needed legal technicalities to avoid relegation and sits bottom of the table currently. Bayern will be able to field the reserves to deal with this team.

Bayer Leverkusen face U.D. Leiria of Portugal. Leiria, a former haunt of Jose Mourinho, and the youngest team in the Superliga, finished last campaign in 7th. Having made few changes, they will come into the tie with good chemistry and a bit of belief as they made it to the competition via the Intertoto Cup.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this.