Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Champions League: Pick Your Pair

With the Champions League semifinals beginning this afternoon, the four remaining sides offer four potential Final match-ups with compelling story lines. Which of the following will we see in Rome May 27?

The 2006 Re-match: Arsenal vs. Barcelona: Arsenal rode the goaltending of Jens Lehmann to the 2006 Final with 10 consecutive clean sheets. Despite Lehmann's red card, 10-man Arsenal fought bravely against Barcelona, even taking the lead, before two goals in the final 15 minutes denied the Gunners. While Lehmann is gone and Thierry Henry has switched kits, there are plenty of Arsenal players and supporters who would love another crack at the Spaniards.

The 2008 Re-match: Manchester United vs. Chelsea: A Final settled on penalty kicks is never satisfying (just ask John Terry), so Chelsea would gladly take another fixture against their neighbors to the north. With Manchester United out of the FA Cup, the end of their bid for the quadruple takes some of the sizzle out of this match-up. But the showdown would be a historic first; two teams have never met in the European Final in consecutive seasons.

The All-London Final: Arsenal vs. Chelsea: No London side has ever captured the European Cup, but a showdown between the North London Gunners and the West London Blues would send the capital city into a frenzy.

The Dream Final: Manchester United vs. Barcelona: Ten years ago, Manchester United met Bayern Munich in a classic final in Barcelona. That match marked the last time that two teams that won their domestic leagues faced off for Europe's top honors in the same season. With both Barcelona and ManU in comfortable position atop their leagues, we could see that scenario repeat itself. These two sides have been Europe's best all year; a match-up of the two giants would be a fitting end to the season.

Prediction: ManU's form has slipped of late, while the fortunes of Arsenal have improved along with the team's health. Look for Arsenal to pull the upset and earn another date with Barcelona in the Final. 

The New York Times and Chicago Tribune have their takes on the semifinals as well.

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