I’m not sure there as been a more damaging midweek round of football than what we witnessed this past week.
Manchester United and Arsenal both suffered damning injuries to key cogs in their wheelhouses. Wayne Rooney has an outside shot of playing against Bayern Munich at Old Trafford On Wednesday, which would be amazing at absolutely stupid at the same time. Rooney needs to keep his head in the title race, as Bayern are likely to concede on the road. Risking him this soon after an injury that was supposed to keep him out for anywhere between 2-6 weeks is just begging for a bigger injury to occur. Playing him before the City contest risks him unnecessarily to injury, especially against a Blackburn side that would probably require no reason to go into challenges with a little bit more vigor than usual. The sight of Rooney having to be assisted out of the Allianz Arena was already scary enough; having him hobble out of Ewood Park would be a travesty for United.
Meanwhile, Arsenal may have had everything snuffed out before them with the loss of Cesc Fabregas. His leg break may not keep him out of the World Cup as once feared but it will almost certainly sideline him until then. William Gallas was rushed back into the fray and was lost for the rest of term, a warning United would be wise to note. Arshavin is a bit of an enigma in that regard, as no one seems to know whether or not his injury is serious enough for him to miss the rest of the term, though he will likely be back in time to assist in the last couple of fixtures. With news that Alex Song is unavailable for the replay at the Nou Camp, there are extremely serious concerns about what kind of challenge Arsenal can offer the holders. Barcelona themselves were also cut down a bit, though that was due to a lack of discipline or some bad luck. Certainly it was a bit harsh for Carles Puyol to get marching orders against Arsenal for getting in the way of the swinging boot of Fabregas. Pique, however, was culpable for his rather yellow, forcing Pep Guardiola to more than likely be forced to use Rafael Marquez, a sign that Arsenal at least might be in line for one goal in the Catalan capital. With Zlatan Ibrahimovich and Iniesta also unavailable, both sides will approach this contest with an air of needing stretchers at the ready.
What has gotten overlooked in all of this is the contest between Lyon and Bordeaux, one in which the French Champions looked a shell of themselves as the hosts battered them over 90 minutes, taking a two goal cushion to the home of one of their many title rivals. Whether or not Alou Diarra could have made that much of a difference is immaterial at this point; what matters is that the attacking flair of les girons has suddenly dried up, seeing as they have lost three straight contests, all of which have thrown Laurent Blanc’s crew into disarray. They’ll need to pull it together if they should want to overturn their miserable round at the Stade de Gerland.
Perhaps the most puzzling contest was at the San Siro, however, as Inter was only able to get one against a less-than-entertaining CSKA Moscow side that, while looking organized early, were in no position to fight after the goal from Diego Milito. Whether or not they will be able to breech the stonewall known as the Inter Milan defense remains to be seen, though they will certainly be apt to try.
CSKA Moscow v. Internazionale Milan
12:30 PM EST @ Luzhniki Stadium
First Leg: Inter 1 – 0 CSKA
What to watch for: The playing surface. Inter, not to mention anyone wlse subjected to march to Russia, has complained of the “plastic pitch” of Luzhniki. Inter is not a side that will be easy to break down, unless they get mentally unnerved. That said, CSKA’s Krasnic is unavailable due to suspension. Perhaps key will be the health of Dutchman Wesley Sneijder, who has been key in the big occasions.
Prediction: CSKA 1 – 1 Inter. CSKA gets a fluke goal, to which Inter replies late.
FC Barcelona v. Arsenal FC
2:45 PM EST @ Nou Camp
First Leg: Arsenal 2 – 2 Barcelona
What to watch for: The defenses. Both squads are putting in second choice central defenders for this contest and, in the case of Arsenal, it remains to be seen who they are, in fact, using in defense. Thomas Vermaelen will be put to the test with whomever he is paired with.
Prediction: Barca 3 – 1 Arsenal. Barca’s replacements still scare the crap out of everyone. They can overcome what Arsenal more than likely will not be able to.
Girondins de Bordeaux v. Olympique Lyonnais
2:45 PM EST @ Stade Jacques Chaban-Delmas
First Leg: Lyon 3 – 1 Bordeaux
What to watch for: Whether or not Alou Diarra really makes that much of a difference for the home side. There were issues moving from back to front for Bordeaux at times against Lyon, more than likely thanks to a stifling defense, but if the skipper of the hosts can break down Lyon’s tight lines a time or two, he may give the hosts a shot.
Prediction: Bordeaux 2 – 1 Lyon. Bordeaux will get their chances, but they cannot find the final goal to force extra time.
Manchester United v. Bayern Munchen
2:45 PM EST @ Old Trafford
First Leg: Bayern 2 – 1 United
What to watch for: How many of the three R’s (Rooney, Ribery, Robben) take the field. Earlier, it was believed only one would make it to the contest. Now, it is possible all three might be in action. Defenders everywhere are flumoxed at the idea.
Prediction: United 3 – 1 Bayern (AET) First Extra-Time contest sees an extended Fergie Time winner from the hosts.