Monday, October 20, 2008

Champions League, Round Three

pics from Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul

Arsenal visit the Sükrü Saraçoglu Stadium in Istanbul on Tuesday to take on Luis Aragonés’ Fenerbahçe side. While Aragonés may be credited as the architect of Spain’s Euro 2008 triumph, he will forever be associated in my mind as the man who destroyed any chances of a healthy partnership between Henry and Jose Antonio Reyes. But personal dislike aside, he has largely inherited Zico’s team from last year garnished with a good slice of Brazilian flavoring in the form of 4 players. The most well known of those Brazilian players is ofcourse Roberto Carlos, who at the tender age of 35 still continues to play at the highest level.

By their usual high domestic standards, Fenerbahçe are currently struggling in the Turkish League. Out of 7 rounds, Fenerbahçe have already lost 4 games and lie in 10th spot. In the Champions league, they are also bottom of the group with a point to show from round 2’s 0-0 tie with Kiev. Considering that Fenerbahçe’s home form in Europe is better than their away form, they will be looking to get something against Arsenal on Tuesday to keep their hopes of progressing out of the group stage alive. The 0-0 draw with Dynamo Kiev halted Fenerbahçe’s run of 8 successive home wins in the Champions league, including last season’s wins over Chelsea (2-1), Seville (3-2), Inter (1-0), PSV (2-0), CSKA Moscow (3-0). The last away team to register a Champions league win (including both the group stages and qualifiers) in the Sükrü Saraçoglu stadium was AC Milan in the 2005-06 season with a 4-0 win. Fenerbahçe did not make the group stages in the 2006-07 season but returned for a surprize quarter-final run in the 2007-08 season.

Worthy Test

Fenerbahçe provide a good test for Arsenal’s current injury riddled squad as they are neither light weight nor too difficult. The current Fenerbahçe team is beatable provided the Gunners can cope mentally with the intimidating atmosphere in the Sükrü Saraçoglu and put away their chances. The absence of Toure, Gallas and Sagna will leave Arsenal weaker at the back, but Fenerbahçe are not that much of a defensive force either. In his youth, Carlos was known to be a tad slow in returning to his defensive role after his forays up the field, so it remains to be seen how much slower he is now in getting back and if Arsenal can make him pay for that.

Those other games on Oct 21, 2008

There are seven other games on Tuesday as well, with the Man Utd vs Celtic and Juventus vs Real Madrid games getting top billing. These two games may look mouth watering on paper but in theory the on-field action might not match the high anticipation because Celtic have an awful away record in Europe and stand very little chance of putting up a fight in Manchester; Juventus, on the other hand, are going through a mini-slump in the Italian league and face a must win home game against Madrid. Real Madrid have still not impressed me enough even though they continue to churn out results.

Bayern Munich are another team who are struggling this year and their home fixture against Fiorentina should be an interesting attacking battle. It remains to be seen if Luca Toni regains fitness to start for Bayern in what would be an emotional fixture for him given his successful past with Fiorentina.

Overall, this year the Champions League has still not impressed after the first two round of games. Round Three should hopefully change that as some teams cannot afford to fail this week as that would severely dent their chances of advancing to the next round.

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