Sunday, April 13, 2008

Champions League Final Four

The Champions League final four is set and, as was the case a year ago, English teams comprise three-fourths of the squads. For the third time in four years, Liverpool will face Chelsea at the semifinal stage, while Manchester United will take on Barcelona.

Neutral observers aren't exactly thrilled over Liverpool-Chelsea III. In their four semifinal matches in 2005 and 2007, the teams tallied a total of three goals. Since a humbling FA Cup loss to Barnsely, Liverpool have been in fine form, winning 10 of 13 and dropping only a visit to Old Trafford. An upset at the hands of Barnsley also sparked a Chelsea turn around; the Blues have won 7 of 8, with a draw to Tottenham the only blemish. Unlike their previous Champions League meetings, the first leg will be at Anfield, so look for confident Liverpool to come out firing in the opener.

Manchester United will head to the Camp Nou, scene of the most famous victory of the Ferguson Era, for the first leg against Barcelona. Depleted by injuries to Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho, the Catalans may not have enough horses to stay with a determined United squad.

The wild card in all this comes on Saturday the 26th during the weekend between the two legs. ManU and Chelsea meet at Stamford Bridge that day in a match that may settle the Premier League race. With less pressing matters in the league, Liverpool and Barcelona should benefit from a more restful weekend.

Manchester is the team to beat at this point, while Liverpool plays with unmatched confidence in European ties. Look for those two squads to square off in an all-red Moscow final on May 21.

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