Champions League Semifinals Preview

After last Wednesday’s matches, the semifinal matchups are set and in two weeks’ time we will know the identity of the two teams that will compete for Ol’ Big Ears at Allianz Arena at the end of May.  First off, let’s see how I did on predicting the quarterfinal games.  I correctly picked 3 out of 4 games, whiffing only on the Chelsea-Benfica tilt, in which I picked Benfica to advance.  Now, on to the quarters!

Real Madrid v. Bayern Munich
This is the more compelling of the two semifinal games.  Both sides boast quality at every position on the pitch, especially in attack.  Real will look, as always, to Cristiano Ronaldo and secondarily to Karim Benzema, who has been having a stellar Champions League campaign so far.  Bayern will look to striker Mario Gomez, their leading goalscorer, as well as to midfielders Ajern Robben and Franck Ribery.  Real have an important game the Saturday between their two semifinal games, traveling to the Camp Nou to face arch-rivals Barcelona.  How much of a distraction the game against Barcelona proves to be could be a deciding factor in this fixture.  Real currently sit 4 points ahead of Barcelona in La Liga, and if that gap narrows between now and April 21, Real could be forced to field a first choice XI that could leave them tired out for the second leg against Bayern.

Prediction: Real advance, 1-2 at Bayern, 3-1 at Real.

Barcelona v. Chelsea
A whoooooooooooooooole lot of history here in this one.  Here’s a quick primer.  In 2009, Barca and Chelsea met in the Champions League semis.  After a 0-0 draw at Barcelona’s Camp Nou, Chelsea looked set to advance after Michael Essien’s 10th minute strike was followed by Barcelona defender Eric Abidal got sent off for a poor tackle.  Barca battled on, and their efforts were rewarded with an injury time goal from Andres Iniesta to tie the game at 1-1 and send Barca on to the finals on the away goals rule.

http://vimeo.com/39465964

Chelsea players and fans were pretty hot and bothered over the whole ordeal, feeling that they had been denied as many as five clear penalty shots by the referee.  Three years later, and Chelsea is looking for revenge.  Barcelona is motivated in their own way, looking to prove that they can beat Chelsea without controversy.  I fully admit I am biased, but I think this one could get pretty ugly.  Chelsea has some good players, but they do not boast the talent that is on display at the Camp Nou.  Barcelona also have the Charlie Weis Schematic Advantage™, courtesy of head man Pep Guardiola.

Prediction: Barcelona advance, 3-1 at Chelsea, 4-0 at Barcelona.

I think we are going to be seeing a Clasico final in Munich in May, with eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid vying for the ultimate prize.  It would be a real “cracker of a match” as the commentators in FIFA often say.

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Champions League Last Eight Preview

Last Friday marked the draw for the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League.  The initial sixteen teams in the knockout rounds became eight after last Tuesday and Wednesday’s games, and the survivors were randomly drawn against each other.  From here on out there are no redraws, and the bracket will now look like this:

Apoel Nicosia v. Real Madrid
Apoel Nicosia were surprise winners over Olympique Lyonnais in the first stage of the knockout rounds, advancing by virtue of winning the penalty shootout after the teams were tied 1-1 at the end of the second leg.  Meanwhile, Real Madrid saw off CSKA Moscow to the tune of 5-2.  Real Madrid has all the horses, and could probably beat Apoel handily without star Cristiano Ronaldo in the lineup.  Apoel is going to have to channel its inner VCU circa 2011 to advance.
Prediction: Real Madrid advances, 2-0 at Apoel, 4-0 at Real Madrid.

Marseille v. Bayern Munich
Marseille advanced over Italian side Internazionale in the first leg, while Bayern overcame a surprise 1-0 deficit in the first leg against FC Basel to triumph 7-1 when all was said and done.  Bayern has been in good form lately, notching a whopping 20 goals in its last three matches.  Marseille, meanwhile, has been languishing at the middle of the Ligue One table.
Prediction: Bayern advances in another lopsided series, 3-1 at Marseille and 3-0 at Bayern.
 
Benfica v. Chelsea
Benfica dispatched Zenit St. Petersburg in the first round by a margin of one goal.  Chelsea overcame a 3-1 first leg deficit to move on over Napoli.  Chelsea has looked better in recent games since firing manager Andre Villas-Boas.   Benfica has secured a spot near the top of the Portuguese Liga table.  Neither team is a world beater, but Benfica seem to be the better bet here given Chelsea’s recent change in direction.  Watch out for Chelsea’s Fernando Torres though, who notched a brace in his last game out, breaking a seemingly endless goalless drought.  Will his fortunes change now that he has some confidence behind him?  Probably not, but Chelsea fans can certainly hope.
Prediction: Benfica advances 2-1 at Benfica, 1-1 at Chelsea.
 
AC Milan v. Barcelona
I reacted like the famous rage guy when I found out that Barcelona had drawn AC Milan in the last eight.  Other than Real Madrid, this was probably the hardest team for Barca to face.  AC Milan drew 2-2 at Barcelona in the group stage before falling 2-3 at home to the Blaugrana.  AC Milan forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be looking to show up his old coach, Pep Guardiola, while Barcelona’s Lionel Messi seeks to set a record for goals scored in one Champions League campaign.  Barcelona is also looking to become the only team to win back to back Champions League titles.  Both teams have quality all over the pitch, and this promises to be the best matchup of the last eight.
Prediction: Barcelona advances 1-2 at Milan, 3-1 at Barcelona.
 
Here’s how I think the bracket will play out after the quarterfinals:

Semifinals

Barcelona over Benfica: 2-1 at Benfica, 3-0 at Barcelona.
Real Madrid over Bayern Munich: 2-3 at Bayern, 3-1 at Real Madrid.

Champions League Final

Barcelona over Real Madrid: 3-2.

Bpbrady’s year in review

Top 5 Albums of the Year

5. Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar—Spank Rock: Spank Rock’s sophomore album delivered more of the same electro rock/rap goodness as his debut.  EBEFL is a good album to play at parties if you want music that is suitable for partying but you don’t want to cry after hearing LMFAO for the thousandth time.

4. El Camino—The Black Keys: While not as good as 2010’s Brothers, El Camino is another excellent effort from the Nashville based duo.  The Black Keys maintain their signature sound, while making things feel a little fresh with more upbeat, rock-y sounding tracks.  Plus, the announcement video for the album featured Bob Odenkirk playing Saul Goodman if he was a used car salesman

3. Within and Without—Washed Out: Washed Out’s first LP is going to be hard for him to top in the future.  In a year that featured a lot of good albums by chillwave artists, Within and Without was one of the best.  Washed Out is the chilliest of chillwave artists, and his music is perfect for relaxing.  He also does awesome live shows, so check him out if he ever stops by your town.

2. In the Mountain, In the Cloud—Portugal.  The Man: Portugal.  The Man has been putting out around an album a year for the past six years, yet they continue to fly under the radar.  In the Mountain, In the Cloud is probably not going to raise their profile very much, but it should, because it is an awesome album with a fantastic indie sound.  It even features a track that was deemed good enough to be included in the FIFA 12 soundtrack.

1. Era Extaña—Neon Indian: Neon Indian is also classified as a chillwave artist, at least by Wikipedia, however his (their?—Wikipedia is often vague on whether Neon Indian is a stage name for one person or for a group) music is a little more upbeat than that of Washed Out.  A lot of his music sounds like it could come straight out of an NES-era video game, which is fun.

Top 5 Sports Moments/Things of the Year

5. Dustin Ackley: When you are a fan of a team as crappy as the Seattle Mariners, good baseball moments are hard to come by.  It’s one thing when rookies are struggling to a 70 win record, but when it is a bunch of lazy, overweight vets going through the motions on the field it gets tiresome.  That is why Dustin Ackley was such a breath of fresh air—he was a rookie who came in and instead of struggling, lit up the AL for a couple months.  If he had been able to get a full season under his belt, he likely would have been rookie of the year, but Mariners fans will settle for the four months of excellent play they got out of him, and hopefully many more years to come.

4. The Detroit Lions 2011 season: Like fans of the Mariners, fans of the Lions will take whatever good they can get, and this year there was a lot of it.  Even if the Lions lose out and miss the playoffs, they will have finished with their first winning record in God knows how long.  The best thing about the Lions this season is that the players seem to finally care.  Stafford, Megatron and House of Spears have provided Lions fans with a lot of good times this season (and in House of Spears’ case a few less than good times).  If the Lions make the playoffs, I think I will finally understand what it means to be “happy to be there,” although I hope the Lions themselves aren’t satisfied with that.

3.  Michigan—Notre Dame: The first night game in Michigan Stadium did not disappoint.  Early on it looked bleak, as Notre Dame jumped out to a 14-0 lead.  ND even led 24-7 at the end of the 3rd quarter.  But Michigan would not go away, and came back to lead 28-24 with a minute to go.  The game was not over, however, and Notre Dame marched down the field to take a 31-28 lead, giving Michigan the ball back on their own 20 with 30 seconds to go.  Notre Dame then decided that covering Michigan’s receivers was overrated, and Denard Robinson lead the Wolverines 80 yards in 28 seconds, throwing a touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree to rip the Fighting Irish’s hearts out for the third year in a row.  Attending the first night game in Michigan history was a memorable experience, and I even got to see Little Aldland and  Mr. and Mrs. Aldland.

2. Michigan—Ohio State: It’s tough to lose to your rival, or any team for that matter, several years in a row.  Just ask Vandy fans, many of whom have gone their entire lives without seeing Vandy beat Tennessee.  While Ohio State’s streak over Michigan was not nearly that long, it was still annoying and OSU’s off the field troubles provided the perfect opportunity to end it.  And end it Michigan did, although not without drama, as the Buckeyes put up a fight, falling to the Wolverines 40-34.

1. Barcelona—Real Madrid/Barcelona—Manchester United (UEFA Champions League): Barcelona’s exit in the 2010 Champions League to Internazionale left a bad taste in the mouths of many fans of the club, particularly this writer who will go to his grave thinking that what would have been the winning goal by Bojan Krkic was wrongly disallowed by a handball call on Barcelona midfielder Yaya Toure.  Still, commentators and analysts around the word continued to praise the 2011 Barcelona side as potentially one of the best all time if they would be able to win the Champions League twice in three years (Barcelona also won in 2009).  As is often said, to be the best, you must beat the best and “the best” came in the form of Barcelona’s eternal rivals Real Madrid and English giants Manchester United.  The semifinals of the Champions League saw a hard fought battle between Barcelona and Madrid, with the Blaugrana narrowly dispatching the team from the Spanish capital.  Despite the talent level at Manchester United,  the final seemed like a fait accompli, and largely it was.  Barcelona dominated  possession and the run of play in a 3-1 victory over their English opposition, lifting the Champions League trophy for the second time in three years.

Related
ALDLAND’s year in review