The Champions League Primer 4/20/10 – Semifinals (Leg 1)

One would argue that the contests forthcoming in the UEFA Champions League are a bit obscure. For starters, no English side is involved. Considering that in the past three years that three of the four sides each time in had been English and it looks mighty different than usual.

Of course, it is probably a relief to the rest of the European nations that the semifinals include four different national sides, two of whom lately seemed unable to figure out the way past the knockout and quarterfinal stages. One broke it’s Champions League duck against English sides and must figure out how to do it against Spanish opposition. Oh, and the holders are still kicking about.

It is enough to say that the four sides still remaining have earned their stripes on the way through to the semifinals. All four have knocked off significant opposition (and an English side) on the way to getting to this point. Bayern Munich eliminated Fiorentina and Manchester United; Barcelona dispatched Arsenal; Lyon undid Liverpool in the group stage and Real Madrid later; Inter Milan broke the aforementioned duck against Chelsea.

Now, of course, there is something to be said for being the home side in this particular tie. With travel restrictions forcing sides to take the highways instead of the airways, both Barcelona and Lyon are going to be at something of a disadvantage going into the first leg. Lyon didn’t have that far to travel, but the Spanish champions had quite a haul to get over to Milan. Whether or not that affects the teams in question remains to be seen, but it will be seen sooner or later.

Tuesday

Internazionale Milan v. FC Barcelona

2:45 EST @ San Siro

A rematch from the group stages, Inter are playing a bit better than they were back in September and December, the months in which they played the  mighty Catalan side. A0-0 tie at the San Siro was the order of that particular day, a result today that would do little to enhance the chances of the Italians moving on to the final.

What to watch for: Whether or not Barcelona has any travel lag. Any advantage at this stage is critical and if Barca are not at their tip top best, they may give Inter some sort of opening to exploit. Oh, and that Lionel Messi fella is playing again. Might keep an eye on him.

Prediction: Inter 1 – 1 Barca. Barca have had issues with teams willing to shut the door on them with the kind of class players that Inter have. Should Inter take an advantage to the Nou Camp, it would make that match a desperate and drab affair. Barca figure out a way to keep it from going that way.

Wednesday

FC Bayern München v. Olympique Lyonnais

2:45 EST @ Allianz Arena

Lyon are probably out of the running for the Ligue 1 title considering the molten form that Marseille have had over the last month. Third place is also not secure with three teams within two points of them for that last Champions League spot. Bayern are coming in off a 7-0 mauling of Hannover 96 at the weekend and are two points afloat at the top of the Bundesliga. Somehow, getting seven against a surprisingly mobile Lyon side seems a bit of a stretch. The French outfit may have benefited from the continuing self-destruction of Bordeaux, but are still plenty dangerous on the counterattack and make things miserable for attacking outfits.

What to watch for: While we could offer up some usual suspects, I would place the Bayern defense in the crosshairs. Demichelis, van Buyten, Lamm and Contento will have to be ready for the 100 m.p.h. counterattack that Lyon have used to savage effect in the last two stages of the Champions League. Bayern love to attack and the discipline is usually top notch. It will need to be as Lyon will be a hard defense to break down and will not be afraid to hurtle forward on the break.

Prediction: Bayern 1 – 1 Lyon. It’s hard to see Lyon breaking down very often in this contest, while Bayern will be weary of throwing too many bodies forward for Lyon to break against. A bit of a cautious opening leg from both sides.

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