The First Leg Matchups of the Champions League have proved exciting and very close, and thruthfully, in effect they have gotten us nowhere. Both semifinals are level (Barca - Man U 0-0 and Liverpool - Chelsea 1-1) with the only club having an aggregate advantage being Chelsea, who scored an away goal in their meeting with Liverpool at Anfield. Let's review...
Manchester United 0 - 0 Barcelona
Christiano Ronaldo reacts after narrowly missing putting the Red Devils ahead in the 3rd minute.
The atmosphere was fantastic at Camp Nou, with one of the biggest stadiums in Europe being filled to its capacity, 98,000, to witness one of the most exciting meetings in European soccer this year. The game started off fantasticly, when Christiano Ronaldo immediately got a chance to put Man U ahead with a penalty kick in the 3rd minute, but his shot went wide, something rarely seen from CR7. With the scores still level Thierry Henry and Bojan came on late to look for a last-gasp goal. Henry came close with a surprising shot from just outside the box, but Edwin Van der Saar grabbed it and the game finished level at 0-0.
Liverpool 1 - 1 Chelsea
Both sides fought desperately in the last 10 minutes for a goal, and it finally arrived in the 94th minute when John Arne Riise headed in an own goal, which put Chelsea on level terms.
The details of this game do not match the outcome, which is horrible news for Liverpool fans and irrelevant news to Chelsea fans. Throughout the match Chelsea looked to be content with holding the ball and doing nothing with it, while Liverpool pushed forward heavily and came close to scoring on several occasions.
Chelsea played ugly football for the first 70 minutes or so, and the only reason they stayed a goal down was Petr Cech's amazing leadership and authority between the pipes. Cech made several key saves and stops from Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso that kept Chelsea one down for most of the match.
It looked as though Liverpool were heading to the second leg at Stamford Bridge with a 1-0 aggregate and a pretty big advantage, which is what I expected, until the 94th minute, when Liverpool defender John Arne Riise headed the ball into his own goal, changing the meeting into a whole different ball game. 1-1 draw.
1. No goals in Camp Nou?
What happened? CR7 looked to be getting things off with a bang in the 3rd minute, but his penalty goes wide. No problem someone will break through in 20 minutes. It wasn't meant to be, however, and Manchester United and Barcelona finished with a 0-0 draw at Camp Nou. It turns out as quite a surprise because both sides have some of the most dangerous attacks in Europe, if not the world, with world class players like Christiano Ronaldo, Leo Messi, Wayne Rooney, Samuel Eto'o, Carlos Tevez and Thierry Henry on the pitch, it's always surprising when nobody scores.
It was a combination of great defense, bad mistakes and luck that the scoreline finished the way it did. The defense was strong and unevasive on both sides of the ball, with plenty of fouls and two yellow cards being handed out during the game.
The 98,000 in attendance didn't get their money's worth in goals, but they did see one exciting contest.
2. Chelsea has the advantage, amazingly.
My jaw dropped when Riise knocked the ball into the back of his own neck. I had to doubletake to make sure I didn't imagine it, actually. We couldn't even pay someone to write a more shocking outcome.
Riise came on early after Fabio Aurelio came off with what is believed to be a hamstring injury, and for the main bulk of the game he played well. However, the own goal arrived in the 94th minute when Riise dove towards a low cross from Salomon Kalou that bounced once quickly right before him and amazingly headed the ball past Pepe Reina, producing a shocking change of events that silenced the cheery Anfield crowd and sent the good sized Chelsea crowd into a frenzy. Why Riise dove when he could have easily just booted it out of the danger area is beyond me, but the major surprise is that Chelsea are now heading to the second leg with a bigger advantage.
For what I saw, Chelsea looked weak in attack and gaping in defense, while in contrast Liverpool looked more energized and determined to come away with a win. Didier Drogba, a lumping piece of horse-dung, did absolutely nothing and squandered many chances that Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack gave him throughout the match. As I said earlier, he reminded me of a student waiting desperatly for summer vacation to arrive, sitting around with his head in the clouds, doodling on a notebook, or in Drogba's case, the pitch, and failing to do anything productive whatsoever.
In fact, Ballack and Cech were the only men in blue who actually impressed me.
Though the details of the game prove that the Reds are the more capable team, the outcome is what matters, and now the Blues enter the second leg with a big advantage. Eventually, though, Liverpool's time will come, and they will be pressing for goals from the starting wistle. I still expect Liverpool to win.
Didier Drogba is a bum
3. Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi all have yet to make a mark.
I had wrongly assumed that at least one of the preceding world-class stars would have been on the scoresheet after the first leg, and it's a surprise that none of them are yet. Ronaldo leads the pack with 7 goals in the Champions League this year, quickly followed by Gerrard and Messi with 6 and Torres with 5.
Another top scorer, which comes as a surprise to me, is Dirk Kuyt with 5 goals. Kuyt has had a spectacular performance as of late and has really been on mark for Liverpool lately, scoring for the Reds in their game against Chelsea on Tuesday.
These four are some of the major reasons why their teams are still in the tournament, and should all make a difference in the second legs coming next week. You could say all four put out good performences, with Gerrard and Torres coming close for Liverpool on several occasions, but none have been able to "put the ball in the back of the ol' onion bag" as Tommy Smyth would say.
1. Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Christiano Ronaldo and/or Lionel Messi will make their mark.
See Surprise #3 as to why I expect them to score.
When you're a top player, at a top club, in the top competition in the world, you need to not only play well but you need to score. People will expect it of you and rely on you to carry your team and produce. As of yet, none of them have yet in the semifinals.
2. Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford will be the most electric places in soccer next week.
No one has a definite advantage in the semifinals yet, though if Liverpool fail to score next Wednesday Chelsea would advance to the final, so all four squads will bring out full lineups and be looking for oppritunities for a full 90 minutes. With some of the best players on the pitch and some of the best fans in the world, complete with the eyes of Europe and the rest of the world upon them, Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, the destinations of the return legs next Tuesday and Wednesday, will be amazing. Fans will come out in full force and the Final of the Champions League will be decided. So much at sake and so much on the line, these matches will prove to be amazing.
Old Trafford, Manchester United's 76,000 seat home stadium, will be an amazing sight to see on Tuesday
3. Look for some players who have been lacking lately to step up their game.
In a manager's perspective, your star player needs to bring his "A" game on the biggest stage in Europe. Players who have been lacking lately like Didier Drogba, Peter Crouch (arguably) and Thierry Henry (who has spent some time recently on the bench) or want to fight for a spot in the starting XI like Bojan, John Obi Mikel, Anderson and Gio dos Santos will be playing their hearts out for a shot to win the favor of their coach, or in Crouch's and Drogba's case, increase their Transfer Potential.
Overall, though, these first legs were pretty amazing and set up for two fantastic return legs. Undoubtedly I will be faking sick on Tuesday and Wednesday next week when the two face off again and the two clubs in the final will be decided. The race for Europe's Elite Trophy is now in full swing.
The UEFA Champions League Trophy is one of the most coveted trophies in all of Europe.