Saturday, February 19, 2011

I'll Take the Champions League for $400, Alex

photo by [puamelia]via PhotoRee

In order to mark the week on the calendar in which a computer finally beat a human in the game show Jeopardy!, I’ll begin my daily column with an answer:
A: Manchester United, Arsenal, Spurs and City.
Q: Whose headed to the Champions League Next Season?
This may be somewhat controversial, and I know I’ve previously written that I think of Chelsea in the same way that the teenager in the horror movies thinks that the “dead” guy is really dead (i.e., ignore them at your own peril), but I’ll explain my rationale below.  And there’s no time like the present to make a prediction – with the Champions League hotting up once again, the competition is top of mind .  And with no EPL action this weekend, it’s safe to say that I am anticipating United’s Champions League match in Marseilles slightly more than I am looking forward to today’s FA Cup match against the Red Devils of Crawley Town.  So with that introduction out of the way, here’s my logic at arriving in my picks:
I think it’s safe to say United and Arsenal have got two of the four spots locked up (or is it locked down?  Confusingly, I think they mean virtually the same thing in this instance).  In fact, I also think it’s safe to say that one of those two teams is going to win the League, and the other is going to finish second.  Barring a collapse of major proportions (think Chelsea, November/December timeframe), United and Arsenal are too far ahead of their rivals with only two handfuls of games lef in the seasont.  They have eight and four points, respectively, on their nearest rival PLUS a game in hand.  That’s a fairly large lead at this stage in the season.  (Ed. Note: I think it’s also safe to say that you know which team I think will win, and which will finish second, but as a formality here goes: United will be at the top of the league come May, looking down (again) at Arsenal).
Spurs look in good form to me at the moment, and although this may be somewhat of a flyer, I’m picking them to finish third for the season.  Sure, they still have to play Arsenal (at the Lane, though), City, Chelsea, and Liverpool (all away), I think they have the talent to kick on and pull through.  They survived a dogfight with City last season for the number four spot, and with the experience and confidence f that run behind them, I think they’ll do one better this year.
So that leaves Chelsea and City – I’m dismissing Liverpool’s shot at the Champions League out of hand. City host Spurs and have to travel to Chelsea and Liverpool, while Chelsea still have two massive games left against United (home and away)in addition to having to host both City and Spurs.  So that’s four “major” clashes left for Chelsea (albeit three at home) and three for City.  And while it might be facetious to categorize certain games as “major” or “minor” when Chelsea has shown little ability to dominate either type of game recently, ultimately I’m going to stick with form. 
I think it will take Carlo and the gang too long to get their mojo back.  Drogba and Anelka have been inconsistent all year long (nothing new for the Frenchman, but a different kind of season for the Ivorian), and Lampard, Terry may be lookign atthei rbest days in the rear view mirror.  Malouda and Kalou have gone cold at the wrong time, Chelsea can’t get their back line set, and on and on and on. 
Oh yeah, and I forgot to talk about the introduction of Fernando Torres into this chaotic scene.  I’m sure that helped a lot. Leave aside the fact that El Nino has been terribly inconsistent himself this season – I am certain his introduction, and the decision of whom he replaces in the lineup, cannot have helped the confidence or egos of the men in Blue – after all, it’s not like Drogba or Anelka have ever been petulant or sulky.
So in the end, I guess I’m thinking that Chelsea have an uphill battle to remain in the Champions League, which is saying quite a bit after last season’s results.  Of course, I could be entirely wrong on this one, in which case you'll have wasted the last three minutes of your life.  Only time will tell.
This is farlieonfootie for February 19.  

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