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Champions League Preview

April 22, 2012

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Champions League Preview

Without getting to hyperbolic about the whole thing, Chelsea (BlueSquare, 2/1 to qualify) and Barcelona played out a first leg last week so indicative, so blindingly illustrative of the current battle in Europe that it may as well have been an instructional manual. The way the home side rolled around the Stamford Bridge turf, broke up the pattern of the game and did everything possible not to take on Barcelona at football was both glorious and frustrating in equal measure.

Since Pep Guardiola came to prominence at the Nou Camp and introduced the players to the idea they could play the training style in matches there has been a race to find the antidote, and in truth nobody has succeeded. Inter Milan beat the Catalan side over two legs, but they used exactly the same tactics Chelsea employed (albeit playing with ten, rather than eleven men, and away) and stifled the Spaniards at source and at the sharp end, and this method still seems most likely to succeed.

The problem Chelsea have is that they used those techniques in the home leg, where Inter only fully committed to anti-football when they’d had a man sent off at the Nou Camp, and as a result Barcelona will feel more confident about their chances of dominating the game (6/4 to win by 3 or more, SkyBet), beating Chelsea convincingly and advancing to the final (BetFair, 27/100 to qualify). The other tie is much less easy to call, but will be just as entertaining to watch.

Bayern took on Real in Munich last week, and if the German giants can augment their 2-1 home win with a draw or victory in Madrid they’ll get to play the Champions League final at their home ground due to some serendipitous scheduling. They are perfectly suited to playing away, with pace on the break and solidity at the back, but after Real disposed of Barcelona in the Classico on the weekend Jose Mourinho’s side will have their tails up for this one.

Still, Madrid are favourites to go through (4/7, BetFair), with the bookies fancying a 2-0 (15/2, Bet365). For me the fact Bayern looked so dangerous on the break makes them a very backable underdog (6/1, BoyleSports) in what will be a lottery in truth. Whoever makes it through to the last game of the biggest cup will be a worth finalist, and the intense competition in the semi-finals is testament to the herculean effort required.

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