From a footballing point of view there isn’t much left to look forward to as far as Arsenal fans are concerned . The couple of games left are mostly academic in nature. The season-end autopsy and transfer madness will get into top gear only after these games and that puts us in a state of limbo.
At such a time this Champions League semi-final clash comes as a respite. What can be more exciting than the battle of Good vs Evil on a football pitch when you have the luxury of watching as a neutral!?
With due respect to Bayern, I feel this game is potentially the title decider. The Germans proved me wrong when I thought United will get past them with ease and they might prove me wrong again by winning at the Bernabeu, but somehow, I just can’t see it happening.
The Catalan attack is too strong for their defence and the Italian defence is too strong for their attack. Of course, a moment of magic from the supremely talented wingers in the German side could make a difference but the odds of that are slim.
I’ve made no secret of my dislike, bordering on hatred, for the Dark Lord of Anti-Football and his tactics and this game will be no different. I normally support any team that plays against the manager who must not be named and Barcelona are my second favourite team anyway, as I assume is the case with many Gooners who don’t live in England. Nothing against English Gooners but the assumption is that they might have another local team that they support.
In the group stages the Catalans won 2-0 at the Camp Nou and a similar score line should see them through. Easier said than done, I know. It gets progressively tougher against the master of the dark arts once he gets time to study a team’s style and devise his negative tactics to counter them. Result – a nil all draw at the San Siro in the first meeting but a 3-1 win for the home side in the game that mattered a lot more.
It’s ironical that Barcelona conceded three for the first time this season against a team that is amongst the most defensive in the world. But more than ironical, it’s insightful as it revealed inherent weaknesses in the Catalan midfield and defence. Once their all conquering attack was blunted by intelligent and diligent defending, their vulnerabilities came to the fore.
This is quite simply the biggest challenge that Guardiola has faced in his illustrious but young management career. At the same stage last year, Guus Hiddink asked some serious questions and was helped by the referee but a profligate Drogba and an injury time strike saw his team through. This year he will need a lot more than that and I’m really looking forward to the Spanish Wizard’s tactics for this game.
Inter will be happy to sit deep with their lines close together. They will allow the hosts to have the all the possession in two-thirds of the pitch, knowing fully well that chances of conceding from such a range are freakish at best. At the same time the Italians will be ready to pounce on any mistake by the Spaniards. As we saw in the first game, the likes of Eto’o, Milito and Sneijder can really hurt a team if they slip up.
In effect, this is the first time Barcelona will be forced to attack while keeping guard on the back door. It’s something we have struggled with this season so there’s an added bit of intrigue involved. Will Guardiola have a trick up his sleeve, will Messi rise to the occasion and slay the demons from Italy, or will the forces of evil thrive on a gloomy night?