Well, I must admit I’m excited about the second legs of this season’s Champions League semi-finals. The first legs, granted, weren’t quite the classics that we perhaps anticipated, but you have to admit that they are now nicely set up for some pretty tasty second legs. So who’s going to fight on through and have the honour of playing for European football’s biggest prize?
Arsenal vs. Manchester United (Agg. 0-1)
Manchester United take a slender one goal lead into this second leg after completely outplaying Arsenal at Old Trafford last week, and arguably they should have wrapped the tie up already. Only a fantastic individual performance from Manuel Almunia really kept Arsenal in the game, that and the fact that United seemed unwilling to really go in for the kill.
Wenger though, seems confident. He believes that Arsenal have a really big team performance in them and has said that he expects them to progress to the final. They are without Gael Clichy, Eduardo and Mikael Silvestre though, but are boosted by the return of Robin Van Persie, who should give them a bit more firepower after a fairly lacklustre attacking performance last week.
For Manchester United, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra are expected to shake off minor injuries to be fit to play and so Sir Alex has all but a full squad to select a team from. And the legendary Scotsman is also in confident mood too, believing that they will only need one goal to progress, and he certainly feels that they have a goal in them.
Most interesting will be the line up that Ferguson puts up. He may be tempted to go for a repeat performance from last week, putting out an attacking line up to keep Arsenal on the back foot, or attempt to contain and frustrate the home side and perhaps hit them on the break if they get the chance.
I have to say, I think they are both right to a degree. Wenger is correct in saying that it will take a huge team performance to progress and Ferguson’s assertion that one goal will see them through is also on the money. For me though, I think that United will have too much attacking quality for Arsenal to contain for ninety minutes, especially as the Gunners will have to go after United.
If Arsenal are to triumph I think Fabregas, Adebayor and Van Persie will have to play out of their skin, but to be fair I think that going the other way, Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez will probably be too much for what is a fairly disrupted Arsenal defence to cope with.
Prediction: on the night, 1-1; aggregate, 1-2.
Chelsea vs. Barcelona (Agg. 0-0)
Well this was a pretty unexpected stalemate last week, and Guss Hiddink will have been very pleased with the way his side defended at the Nou Camp. However, he will know that his side are going to have to throw caution to the wind a little at the Bridge, and that could expose them to the famous Barcelona attacking potency.
However, as I looked at the other day, Barcelona do have a definite weakness, in that though they are extremely strong going forward, they can be really shaky defensively on occasion, and this is what will give Hiddink hope. Barca’s emphatic 6-2 win over rivals Real Madrid at the weekend sent out a warning to Chelsea about how devastating they can be, but did also showcase their weakness.
Chelsea welcome back Ashley Cole for the second leg after he was suspended for the first, but Pep Guardiola has some defencive headaches, with Rafa Marquez injured and Carlos Puyol suspended after picking up a booking in the first leg, likely to further weaken their defence. Meanwhile at the other end of the pitch, Thierry Henry is a doubt after missing Monday’s training session, but with their attacking wealth, he may not be too sorely missed.
As I suggested in the article I mentioned above, I think Hiddink will again attempt to be quite cautious and won’t risk over-committing when going forward so as not to leave his team exposed to the threat posed my Lionel Messi and his comrades. If they can prevent Barca from scoring, I have every confidence that they can score at home, with set pieces, as they were against Liverpool, the key.
As for Barca, they will in all likelihood dominate possession as they did in the first leg, but will hope to be more incisive with their attacks than they were at the Nou Camp. Chelsea did play well in Spain, but I have to admit I don’t think they were at the deadly best. If they can really get into their stride on Wednesday, I don’t know that Chelsea’s defence will be able to hold out against them.
However, I have a sneaky feeling that Chelsea will win through this leg. I really, really rate Barca’s team, and am constantly drooling over some of their attacking play, but I’m also a firm believer in a solid foundation being essential for success and I don’t think Barca have that, with Valdes and his defence looking just too shaky for my liking.
On the other hand, Chelsea can look to Drogba, Anelka and Lampard for their attacking inspiration while safe in the knowledge that Terry, Ivanovic and Alex, as well as the revitalised Petr Cech give them every chance of keeping Barcelona quiet; they’ve done it once, so why couldn’t it happen again?
Prediction: on the night, 2-1; aggregate, 2-1.