The European Hangover - Hangover Binge 16/3/19

 

The draws for the Champions League and Europa League Quarter Finals have been made and we now know every teams potential path to Madrid and Baku respectively. Among many football fans there has been a lot of cynicism surrounding what they deem the competition of cold hard cash, but one cannot deny that this has been a truly amazing Champions League up to this point, with comebacks and drama that we have not seen in the European Cup for a long time, and yes, VAR has added to the drama no question, even if it takes way too long. So let's look through the ties and judge what seems the most likely final.

To the Champions League first, and after we heard at great length what Julio Cesar remembered about his triumph with Inter in 2010, we got down to business. It's unfair to say it, but every team wanted Porto, and the lucky lads were Liverpool. They played Porto in the last 16 last season and destroyed them, I don't think we would expect anything less than that again. The other feel good story of the previous round were Ajax, with young starlets ready to take the world by storm. To advance they will need to knock out one of the current kings in Juventus and more specifically, Cristiano Ronaldo. Can these prince's make a serious claim for the thrown now? The inevitable all English tie saw Man City draw Spurs. I can't see City being overly troubled if I'm honest, I would imagine Spurs will be more cautious in their approach and that would likely suit City, but will this be the time where Kane and Alli can best Citeh? I believe the hardest tie to call is Barcelona against Manchester United. With Solskjaer, United play a much more aggressive, counter attacking, pacey style which you don't really see in Spain. And when you do, Valencia probably the best example, Barcelona struggle. It would be easy to say that Barca should be victorious, but that's a tie that I'm rather interested in. That said, Messi. So my semi finals would be Man City v Juventus and Barcelona (just) v Liverpool.

And of course, let us not forget the Europa League, which had it's own late drama in a few of the ties, not least a last minute Valencia equaliser which saw them through and Slavia Prague's heroics in, well, Prague. Pierre van Hooijdonk helped conduct the draw, having clearly just been electrocuted by the state of his hair, and some excellent games were produced. Napoli were given the task of overthrowing Arsenal, a tie that they will fancy, but this will produce a lot of goals. Lacazette & Aubameyang v Milik & Insinge? Ooft!

A Spanish derby was drawn next as Villarreal take on Valencia. If league form is anything to go by then this will be straightforward, however both of these sides knocked out Russian opposition and Villarreal were much more comprehensive in defeating Zenit than Valencia were with Krasnodar. You always get a team in the semi finals of the Europa League that surprise you, and the next tie will produce that team as Benfica were drawn against Eintracht Frankfurt. Benfica needed extra time to get past Dinamo Zagreb whilst Frankfurt got an early away goal (and the only goal) in the San Siro against Inter. I'd fancy Frankfurt, Jovic is making this tournament a wonderful advertisement for himself. And if anyone from Chelsea is reading could they please give me this weeks lottery numbers? Slavia Prague in the Quarter's, either Benfica or Frankfurt in the semi finals, you can't buy that kind of luck...or can you? I can see the semi finals being Napoli v Valencia and Eintracht Frankfurt v Chelsea, and a Sarri reunion with Napoli in Baku looks very much on!

But those ties are a while away, what is on offer for us this weekend, the final one before those pesky international breaks, so we must be sure to make the most of what is available to us.

On Saturday at half past 5, so this should be good viewing after a nice straightforward home win for Rangers against Kilmarnock (PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD LET THAT BE THE OUTCOME!!!!!) (can you tell I'm confident?), Athletic Bilbao host Atletico Madrid in La Liga, a game you can watch on Premier Sports 2. Atletico must have thought it would be a simple task for them to defend a 2-0 lead in Turin, but the Portuguese man for such an occasion ruined the chances for Simeone's men to contest the final at their home ground, leaving many to believe that El Cholo is coming to the end of his cycle at the Wanda. Athletic will not make it easy for them either, they have a set way of playing and their key is speed, Iñaki Williams to be precise, and Los Rojiblanco's should be there for the taking should the Basque side wish to take it. Fun fact, Atletico Madrid were formed by three Bilbao fans who wanted to use the team as a capital based feeder club, hence why Atleti play in the same red and white striped shirts.

Two games catch the eye for Sunday viewing. At half past 5 on Premier Sports 1, Valencia host Getafe in a game that could prove key in the race for Champions League football. Getafe hold the advantage as they are 4 points clear of 5th placed Alaves, but Valencia have the best looking squad of all the teams in the fight, and the psychological advantage Los Che would gain from a win over Geta would put them in pole position to usurp their opponents to 4th. However, if the team from the Madrid suburb could pull off a result (even a draw) then they would really fancy their chances of seeing it over the line. People keep waiting for them to falter, but time and again they prove they are made of much tougher stuff, and are so hard to play against. Intriguing doesn't cut it!

And you might as well stay on Premier Sports 1 as right after that you have a tasty derby clash when AC host Inter in the Derby della Madonnina. Inter won the reverse fixture with a late goal from Mauro Icardi, and really this next clash of the two Milan giants is a tale of two strikers, one who is flourishing, and one who isn't playing. Inter have been a basket case of late, the well publicised situation regarding Icardi has seen the club lose their leader on the park, and however unpopular he may have been in the dressing room, he dragged that club to some victories and was key to their apparent resurgence in the earlier part of the season. Swap blue for red, and Krzysztof Piatek continues to amaze and is a real symbol of that clubs rehabilitation of late. The squad looks settled, players who had previously looked like they'd rather be anywhere else are suddenly enjoying their football and are actually doing well. Most observers will expect an AC victory, and if that were to happen, the shift in power of the city would in my opinion be complete. And would anyone deny that Rino Gattuso is doing a brilliant job by the way?

As always, happy watching!

James Forrest

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