Sep 18, 2012, 11:11 PM EDT
Over the last four years, it’s been title-then-semifinal for Barcelona in UEFA Champions League. Having moved on to a new coach, the four-time champions will look to continue that trend, starting Wednesday against Spartak:
Barcelona vs. Spartak Moscow
Camp Nou, Barcelona, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Barcelona seems have recovered from their Supercopa loss to Real Madrid. Perfect through four league matches, Barça has a two-point cushion at the top to La Liga’s standings. More important: The 2010-11 champions have an eight point lead on Real Madrid, having already picked up a key two-point edge versus common opponents.
That’s as smooth a transition as you can imagine from Pep Guardiola to Tito Vilanova. The change has been so seamless, few outside Cataluyna are talking about its implications. There’s less formation changing and more squad rotation, but with the team perfect in Spain, there isn’t much to talk about. All the Vilanova era has brought us thus far is the feeling the Blaugrana will not miss a beat.
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That’s bad news for Spartak, of course. Last year’s RPL runners up are big underdogs heading into Wednesday’s match, even if Russian teams have had relative historical success at the Nou Camp. Barcelona’s welcomed Russian squads five times and allowed two of them to leave winners: CSKA Moscow in 1992 and, more relevantly, Rubin Kazan in 2009.
Even though it was three years ago, the Rubin result actually matters, and it’s mattered to a number of teams since Barcelona’s era of dominance started in 2008-09. That’s when Barcelona started the greatest team of all-time discussion began, back when it was unclear there was a plan to beat Barcelona that didn’t involve hoping they had a bad day. Rubin, however, showed you can allow Barcelona to bring the ball onto you, stay deep and compact, and beat them by counter attacking. José Mourinho varied this approach the same year with Inter, eliminating Barcelona on the way to his second European Cup, but the overall theme was the same: You could snap back at Barcelona.
Not having to play that way in Russia, it’s unclear whether Unai Emery’s team can execute that plan. But the coach, having just moved from Valencia, will be very familiar with what needs to be done, and with the likes of Emmanuel Eminike, Romolu, Rafael Carioca and Juan Manuel Jurado, Emery has some interesting pieces. Whether they’re enough to beat Barcelona probably depends more on Barça’s play than Spartak’s.
Celtic vs. Benfica
Celtic Park, Glasgow, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Let’s start with something controversial (that shouldn’t be), something that might look incredibly stupid a few hours from now: Celtic may be the worst team in this tournament. Just saying.
Evidence, you ask? That’s difficult considering they haven’t played a group phase match yet (this is also why my view could turn out to be very wrong). There is a strong circumstantial case, though.
- First, Scotland has proven very week in European play in recent seasons. The league rarely busts a team into the knockout stage of Champions League or Europa. The last time an SPL team made the Champions League group stage, Rangers finished last with a -9 goal difference.
- Second, the league continues to get weaker, beyond just the Rangers situation. Their television deals aren’t keeping up with their former competitors, and (as a result) they’re drawing fewer name players north. Celtic just lost their best midfielder (Ki Sung-Yueng) to Swansea without being able to pick up a comprable replacement.
- Third, consider the seemingly regular struggles Scottish League players have adapting to places like the English Championship. (Though former Ranger Nikica Jelavic at Everton? Good on you.)
Tomorrow Celtic has a chance to offset the SPL’s descent when Benfica visits Glasgow. In three previous trips to Celtic Park (1969, 2006, 2007), the Eagles have three losses, shut out each time. If the present’s working against Celtic (including their worst league start in 13 years), the past couldn’t be more in their favor.
Benfica, on the other hand, sit first in Portugal, scoring 10 goals in their first three league matches. This comes off a quarterfinals run last season, one which saw them eliminate Zenit St. Petersburg before losing to would-be champions Chelsea.
Jorge Jesus’s side is without Javi García (sold to Manchester City), Axel Witsel (Zenit), and Javier Saviola (Málaga) – three huge losses. In their place, Benfica’s gone young. Rodrigo Moreno’s scored three goals in as many games, while Ola John (FC Twente) and Eduardo Salvio (Atlético Madrid) were brought in with a combined 42 years between them.
After being drawn at home by Braga in the season opener, it looks like Benfica may have taken a small step back. If it’s not a step back, then it’s a reset while the youth beds in. It may be enough of a reset for Celtic to scrounge a point off Portugal’s leaders.
May 23, 2013, 11:24 PM EDT
Manchester City overcame a 3-goal deficit at Busch Stadium in St. Louis as Edin Dzeko bagged a brace to beat Chelsea 4-3.
May 23, 2013, 11:03 PM EDT
Just days after Jose Mourinho mutually parted ways with Real Madrid, he will be completing a deal to become Chelsea’s next manager, says Martin Rogers of Yahoo! Sports via Twitter.
May 23, 2013, 9:54 PM EDT
Roberto Martinez has given himself more time to decide on his future at Wigan, and also gave them a wish list.
May 23, 2013, 8:44 PM EDT
Asmir Begovic is apparently intending on showing up at the door of another club to start training.
May 23, 2013, 7:16 PM EDT
AS Monaco, rich with the injection of money from a Russian tycoon, are set to make a huge splash, possibly as much as €70 million.
May 23, 2013, 6:35 PM EDT
The United States U-18 squad drew with the hosts in the middle of three group-stage matches during the 19th Annual Lisbon International Juniors Tournament.
May 23, 2013, 6:05 PM EDT
20-year-old Jonathan Osorio picked up his debut call-up to the Canadian national team along with three other Toronto FC teammates ahead of their friendly against Costa Rica on Tuesday.
May 23, 2013, 5:11 PM EDT
“Football clubs live on and we’ll live on, we’ll move on.” They’ll move on, they have to. But will they effectively?
May 23, 2013, 3:56 PM EDT
With the upcoming Champions League final this weekend featuring an all-German cast, Germany secured another massive Champions League achievement today.
May 23, 2013, 3:33 PM EDT
Anyone else bothered by the way Bayern Munich have conducted themselves ahead of this Saturday’s Champions League final?
May 23, 2013, 2:39 PM EDT
Sunderland’s central defender will say goodbye to the English Premier League in exchange for a switch stateside.
May 23, 2013, 2:00 PM EDT
Chelsea fans will be delighted, while those supporting Manchester City are sure to question who’s on their team’s mind.
May 23, 2013, 1:37 PM EDT
Should the champions of the Europa League be awarded a spot in the following season’s Champions League?
May 23, 2013, 12:07 PM EDT
The city’s decision to permit Columbus to wear angers Espanyol fans, who believe Barca receives too much support from local institutions.
May 23, 2013, 11:22 AM EDT
Despite notching an impressive 104 goals in 185 matches since moving to the Bernabeu in 2007, Higuain has struggled this season.
May 23, 2013, 10:04 AM EDT
With Arsenal rumored to be courting Swansea center-back Ashley Williams, Thomas Vermaelen has some decisions to make.
May 22, 2013, 11:51 PM EDT
Serie A’s two Milanese clubs have yet to move for new head coaches.
May 22, 2013, 11:06 PM EDT
Over the last three months, Rafa Benítez has reignited a floundering career.
May 22, 2013, 10:14 PM EDT
The hits just keep on coming for the NWSL’s hard-luck team.
May 22, 2013, 9:20 PM EDT
The U.S. Open Cup draws sometimes need a decoder ring to decipher. Here’s a quick-and-dirty look at the MLS teams’ futures.
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