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Breaking down the UEFA Champions League Contenders July 24, 2007

Posted by Soccer Current in AC Milan, Barcelona, Champions League, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Liverpool, Manchester United, Real Madrid, soccer, sports, UEFA, Uncategorized.
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Last week I read a statement made by Barcelona captain Carlos Puyol that stated that all of Europe’s top sides should be terrified of Barcelona this year as they posses the best attacking 4 in the entire world. While it is way too soon to tell who the real contenders for the Champions League will be this year I decided to take a quick look and give my prediction on who I feel will be the top teams in Europe‘s biggest club competition so without further ado here are the challengers: 

  • AC Milan – Any list of top contenders must include last years champion and finalist in 2 of the past 3 Champions League’s. While they have not added any big names to their roster they are going to be adding Ronaldo to their Champions League roster which will bolster an already dangerous attack that includes country man and current favorite for FIFA World Player of the Year Kaka, as well as Alberto Gilardino and Filipo Inzaghi from Italy’s World Cup Winning squad. If Alessandro Nesta can get back to 100% and Maldini decides to return and continue his spectacular displays along the left flank then the defence will be as good as always. Their midfield will continue to be their strength with Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo, and Gennaro Gattuso supporting Kaka. If Milan are able to sign either Samuel Eto’o or Andrei Shevchenko then I expect them to become the first repeat champions of this competition if not they will do no worse than become a Semi-Finalist. 
  • Barcelona – While I can not disagree with Carlos Puyol’s statement above that an attacking four of Messi, Ronaldinho, Henry, and Eto’o would be the most terrifying in all of Europe, Sky Sports is reporting that Milan officials are preparing a bid of up to 50 million Euros to bring Samuel Eto’o to the San Siro. Without Eto’o I would rate their attack even with Milan’s especially if that is where Eto’o winds up. Their midfield will continue to be solid if unspectacular with the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, and Deco. The back four for Barcelona I would rate as probably the best and deepest in the world, they are led by Captain Carlos Puyol and he is supported by new signings Eric Abidal and Gabriel Milito, as well as Lilian Thuram, Gianluca Zambrotta, and Rafael Marquez. If Barcelona is able to keep their attacking four together then they will be the team to beat heading into the Champions League Final but even without Eto’o they should be good enough to pull out a victory.

  • Real Madrid – Real Madrid is a team that is blessed with tremendous talents but also unlike the Madrid teams of years past they are young and hungry. The team is still being led by Spanish Internationals and Madrid stalwarts Iker Casillas in goal and Raul up top in the attack. Aside from Raul the Madrid attack boasts Ruud van Nistelrooy, Robinho, new signee Javier Saviola, teenage sensation Gonzalo Higuain, and the always temper mental but talented Antonio Cassano. The midfield is probably where Madrid will struggle most with no spectacular players, but they do have solid veterans like Guti that will pair up with young guns like Fernando Gago and keep Madrid in most games. The defense will again be anchored by reigning FIFA World Player of the Year Fabio Cannavaro, and he will be helped by new signing Christoph Metzelder as well as Spain Internationals Sergio Ramos and Michel Salgado. While Real Madrid does not have the depth at most positions like a top club would like they are one of the better sides in Europe and should be capable of a top 8 finish in this tournament.

  • Inter Milan – After 2 Scudettos in a row (They were awarded the 05/06 title after the match fixing scandal), Inter is now looking to stake a claim as one of Europe’s top sides with a big run in this years Champions League. Inter does not have the offensive firepower of some of the other teams in Europe but Hernan Crespo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are no slouches and if Adriano can return to his form of 2 years ago Inter will not be short of goal scoring options. The midfield is getting older and slower but with Patrick Viera and Esteban Cambiasso anchoring the middle this team should be in every match. The defense is led by captain, and one of the many Argentinean players on Inter, Javier Zanetti and he is helped in the back by Zidane head butt victim Marco Materazzi as well as Walter Samuel, Nicolas Burdisso, and Ivan Cordoba. An improvement of last years exit in the first knock-out phase will probably land Inter in the Final 8 of this years event but to make it any further they will need to improve the depth of their midfield as well as get consistent scoring from a erratic front line.

  •  LyonLyon makes this list based solely on the 6 consecutive French Ligue crowns they have won since 2001. While Lyon has a great squad compared to all of the teams in France, but once you begin to compare them to the teams from all over Europe you begin to see all of the deficiencies the team has as well as its general lack of depth. Lyon has become a training ground from which all of the top clubs come to pillage their best players. Over the past 3 years they have lost the likes of Michael Essien and Flourent Malouda to Chelsea and while Lyon has still been able to sustain those losses and win their domestic league, but when it comes to Europe’s top club competition you need to be able to replace your stars with players of similar or better quality to have a chance to compete year in and year out. I don’t see why Lyon shouldn’t make it out of the group phase and into the knock-out round of the Champions League but unless they get a great run of luck I don’t see them making it into the Final 8 of this years tournament. 

  •  Man Utd – Any doubts that Manchester fans had about the Glazer family not being willing to spend money on the transfer market when they first bought the team should all be erased by now. Not only have United been active in the market they actually outspent rivals Chelsea which a few years ago would have been unheard of. The final piece to United’s off-season spending spree, Carlos Tevez, should finally give Wayne Rooney a fierce partner up top that can finish and make game changing plays. The attack has focused solely on Rooney since the departure of Ruud van Nistelrooy and while he has been superb a partner that can keep opposing defenses honest should help him become one of Europe’s most feared strikers. The midfield is the strongest and deepest part of the United squad with eight players looking to play regular minutes. They are led by Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, United icons Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, and a trio of new signings that include Owen Hargreaves, Nani, and Anderson. The defense will continue to play solid if unspectacular along the back line and the top players should be Rio Ferdinand, Gabriel Heinze, Wes Brown, John O’Shea, and the steady veteran presence of Gary Neville. If United goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar can keep from having any collapses like the one he had last year in the semi-final in Milan then I don’t see why United should not be playing in their first final since they won the treble in 1999. 

  •  Chelsea – Since Chelsea started their wild spending ways a few years ago I always held a notion that they would become the Real Madrid of England, a club that would win many championships but eventually combust at the seams because of having to many stars and not enough places on the pitch to put them in. Now while I still stand by what I said I just don’t think this team will be able to win any hardware outside of England. The problems with Chelsea have nothing to due with the quality of play but more with the media attention they get because of the players they posses and the attention their coach, Jose Mourinho, loves to have. These days it seems Mourinho is just as happy when he gets quoted in the papers as he is when his team wins and that is fine if your team is winning like it did in years past. With all of Europe’s top clubs getting better and Chelsea’s only major addition being another midfielder to add to the already growing stable of center men on the team I just feel they took 2 steps back this year. Flourent Malouda is an excellent midfielder but Chelsea already had a cramped midfield with 9 other players trying to gain a place in the 5 midfield starters, so with 10 players trying to fill 5 spots there are going to be many unhappy players at training and on the substitutes bench. This squad is way to strong and potent to not be among the final 8 this year but until they are able to add a few more role players and have a better over all squad depth I just cant see them being a serious contender for this illustrious trophy. 

  • Liverpool – We have now made our way to the Champions League version of Cinderella. Every year Liverpool surprises us, even though they have lacked a first class striker since Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen were scoring 20 plus goals a year for the club, they always seem to make a deep run in Europe’s toughest club competition. Well the wait for a bona-fide goal scorer is over as “El Nino” Fernando Torres has joined from Spanish side Atletico Madrid to improve an attack that also boasts 2006 FIFA World Cup veterans Peter Crouch, Dirk Kuyt, and new signing Ryan Babel. While these forwards might not be as gaudy a collection as some of Europe’s other top clubs, you better believe that with Torres on the field opposing defenses will be way more leery of the Liverpool attack. The midfield will once again be anchored by the unbelievable Steven Gerrard and with the superb depth that Rafa Benitez has been able to bring to the middle of his field, this should be Liverpool’s strongest point. Jamie Carragher will lead a solid Liverpool back line that will have this team in the final 8.

Those should be the final 8 teams on the quest to the grand finale in Moscow on May 21st, 2008.  While each of these teams’ posses the quality to win this prestigious tournament I believe that Manchester United will come out with their first Champions League trophy since 1999 after a hard fought match against Barcelona. I feel that their depth at every critical position as well as the leadership and stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson will be too much for the rest of the competition.    

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Comments»

1. estoverao - July 25, 2007

Solid picks, I think Sevilla will be the surprise team of the tournament(if they can keep ALVES)by going deeper into the knockout rounds than expected but in the end I think it will be AC MILAN, MAN U, REAL MADRID, BARCELONA as the FINAL FOUR with a MAN U vs. REAL MADRID final game. REAL MADRID as champions 3-1, Robinho(2) & Saviola(1) while C.Ronaldo scores for MAN U. Obviously it all depends on how they are seeded as well.

2. Soccer Current - July 26, 2007

Sevilla is definitely in the second tier of teams that could make a nice run in the knock out stages of this event. I put them in the same category as Roma, Valencia, Arsenal, PSV, and Ajax which are teams that could make a big run in the tournament if the seedings work in their favor. I really cant see Madrid being able to win the championship this year with so many holes in their team and barely any depth but as we know anything can happen in this game so i would not be surprised if they can pull through and win. We have the same final four i just feel that Manchester’s team will be tough to beat because they have the perfect blend of Defensive midfielders and defenders to beat the other attacking teams in the final four.


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