Let me start by saying I’m pretty happy with myself right now. If you checkout my previous post from 04/06/2010, titled “champions-league-prognostic”, you’ll notice that I had all my predictions correct as far as teams that would make it to the semis. The toughest call was definitely putting Bayern past ManU. That’s what I did, and I was right about it. Let’s talk a bit about what stood out to me in each game.
Barcelona vs Arsenal: I had tipped this one to be a Barcelona victory. I anticipated potential defensive vulnerability from Barca since their center back pair was unavailable for this game, but I also said in my previous article that with Song out of this contest nobody would be able to stop Messi. Therefore, even if Barcelona conceded 9 goals, they would score 10 and move on. This is pretty much what happened .. except I underestimated the impact Messi would have without Song to man-handle him. Nobody could have imagined the little Argentine would turn up this big, he is supposed to get even better with time but I can hardly imagine that. Barcelona indeed had issues at the back and even conceded the first goal, but once Messi reestablished the order, they tied things up in midfield. Their midfield was the key, they held possession like only Barcelona can and made Arsenal chase the ball all night long. One thing to notice though they were not forcing for more goals like they usually do. After scoring 3, they were done and tied things up considerably. They made obvious defensive moves by playing Busquets, Yaya Toure and Keita in midfield. This is the most defensive midfield they could align, and they rarely do so. Part of it was to avoid the slip-up that happened in the first leg, and second part is they Pep wanted to control the game and limit fatigue in vue of the upcoming Derby away to Madrid.
CSKA vs Inter – I said Inter would advance, and I anticipated they would not sit back in this game but attack and probably create the best chances. They just needed one away goal to kill this tie, and that’s exactly what they did. After Sneider scored a free-kick 6 mn into the game, you knew this one was over. I have to say Inter has been the most impressive team defensively in the CL. Lyon is probably right behind them in that department. Mourinho has been surprising me and opposite teams though by aligning a surprising number of offensive players in his lineup. He is so confident of his back line and 2 defensive midfielders that he is willing and able to align a record 4 attacking players by playing Sneider, Pandev, Etoo, Milito. This puts so much pressure on the opponent that they are unable to develop their plays as they wish. Thanks to Mourinho’s tactics , Inter is the team that travels the best in this tournament.
ManU vs Bayern: I predicted Bayern would move past ManU. This was the toughest one to call. People I talked to thought I had this dead wrong, especially since ManU was playing the return leg at home. 2 reasons why I tipped Bayern for success: 1) Roben, 2) Ribery. After the 2-1 advantage for Bayern in the first leg, what they had to do was attempt scoring an away goal and controlling play in midfield. After the quick startup by ManU which saw them lead 3-0 in first half, things didn’t look likely to happen for them. They completely failed to win the midfield battle and got slapped by both pacy winger from ManU (Valencia and Nani). Bayern was able to get back in the game thanks to loss in concentration from ManU and tired legs from their aging players. After Olic pulled one back for them, everything was possible because players like Ribery and Roben can make something out of nothing. Roben was actually below par in this game but once he had his chance, he didn’t miss it. His volley was just perfect technically.After this goal, Bayern’s midfield did the rest. They played exactly as they should have from the beginning. They held possession, and their coach even gambled by taking out his lone striker to reinforce his midfield. From there on, they didn’t allow ManU to play anymore.
Bordeaux vs Lyon – I predicted Lyon would move to the next step. Having to preserve a 3-1 advantage in this game, I really favored Lyon in this tie. I think they have the best defense after Inter and know how to preserve a lead as they showed against Real and their galacticos. Lyon didn’t care to attack in this game, they just relied on their defensive capabilities and ability to hold the ball up in midfield. Their midfield is the only reason why the game didn’t look 150% one-sided. However when they had the ball in midfield they didn’t try hard to build offensive plays, they looked more concerned about mantaining possession, slowing down the tempo and preventing Bordeaux from playing. Bordeaux’s goal via Chamack right before the half time meant more pressure on Lyon’s defense in 2nd half, but they did very well not to fold under that pressure. Tactically, this was a very well played game by Lyon.