Date:Thursday March 13 2014
As I watched PSG coast to the quarter finals of the Champions league earlier today it occurred to me that the quarter finals this year will be full of marquee teams. Gone are the days when the quarter finals could involve two to three dark horse teams who every one else wanted to play. If we manage to do the business against Galatasaray essentially this years quarters will have only one team that all the other 7 will be hoping to draw and without a doubt that team will be the team that emerges from the ManU-Olympiakos tie. Frankly and with all due deference to ManU and Olympiakos the truth is that those two are a cut significantly less than the rest. Right now the first four are set; Barca, Bayern, PSG and Atletico Madrid. Of the remaining 4 spots we all know that two are forgone conclusions; Real and Borrussia Dortmund can essentially be penciled in. The only questions to be asked for next week are if Manu can somehow managed to score three against a very stubborn Olympiakos side while not conceding (i doubt it but time will tell) and whether we can do the expected and dispatch Galatasaray despite the presence of king Drogs and Roberto Mancini.
Without looking beyond Gala as I look at the remaining 7 potential opponents I would be lying if I said I wasn`t hoping that we end up being the lucky team that draws either ManU or Olymipiakos because none of the other teams will be anything short of an absolute battle Royal to advance. Of all the other possibilities though the one that scares me the most if the prospect of being picked to play Atletico Madrid.
This side scares the jibbers out of me and reminds of how Borussia were last year. I know that all the other 7 teams especially Real and Barca will be praying and fasting hard not to meet Atletico. They have seen enough of them in La Liga and the Copa Del rey experiences and playing Atletico whether you win, lose or draw is never fun because here is a team that is an oddity. You come away after a match aginst Atleti win,lose or draw knowing you have been in a match with bruises,scars and so=re muscles as testaments to that. This is a side that will fight you tooth and nail for the full 90 minutes of the encounter. no quarter will be given or expected. They are a La Liga team built with the discipline and work ethic of a BPL team. They are that exception in La Liga that actually know how to defend and can do it not be starving the opponent of possession ala Barca style but with the backs against the wall, defiant bunker mentality double banks of 4 system that we made famous in our own champions league run. This is a team that can park the bus with the best of them and are demons at the art of counter attacking footie. They are masters at transitioning from deep defense to attack and goals scored in a twinkle of an eye. This is a team with a deadly and complete striker on a hot streak of form in Diego Costa as well as a wily old veteran goal scorer in David Villa who despite losing a step is still a very dangerous goal scorer if underestimated. This is a team with a manager who reminds me in many ways of a younger Jose,.. Charismatic, shrewd, a master motivator and a deft man manager, a tactician per excellence and one who appreciates and understands the art and importance of defense as a football art form and a means to winning games. This side like us can play some pretty footy but are quite capable of grinding out ugly wins. Beyond all this though another serious source for concern for me if we get drawn to play Atletico is the man child Thibaut Courtois.
Honestly I don`t know what if anything the UEFA regulations have to say in this situation regarding his eligibility to play. If this had been an FA sanctioned tie since he is our player on loan to them he would be ineligible to play against us. I don`t know how this applies in the Champions league though and anyone who knows for sure should be please chime in here. IF in fact as with our ill fated supercup encounter a few years back with the Roji Blancos the choice of Thibaut`s participation in such a tie is left to us his parent club I will say it right now; we would be absolutely crazy to allow him play for them in that tie. The super cup is one thing..many view it as a glorified friendly match (I don`t happen to be one of those who hold that opinion BTW), but this is the champions league we are talking about. This is access to the Semis that would be at stake were we to be drawn against Atletico. If the choice is left to Chelsea FC by UEFA we must absolutely put the foot down and insist Thiibaut does not play in that tie because trust me against a side the quality and nature of Atletico Madrid we will need every advantage we can get.
I really could care less what the media narrative is, how Atleti whine, how Thibaut feels or how other fans would castigate our club..our first priority must be to win by any means necessary that remains within the written law and regulations. The few games this year that Thibaut could not play for Atleti because of back injury showed just how important he is to that side and how dependent they are on him. They floundered badly in those games as their back up goalie makes Fabianski of ~ 3yrs ago and Huerelho Gomez look world class. That guys gaffes cost them heavily in the Copa del Rey and in the critical losses in La Liga that saw them lose their top spot in La Liga a few weeks back. In essence thus if we have the chance and option we absolutely want that guy manning their posts rather than Thibaut and I could care less how thibaut would feel about this. We are not a charity organization but a pro footie team that is greedy for trophies and addicted to winning.
Now if as I suspect as per UEFA rules thibaut can feature against us his parent team you can be certain the guy will be super motivated and may turn in man of the match blinder performances in the two ties of the series. Jose knows how that can look as he was a first hand witness when Thibaut almost singlehandedly ensured Atleti`s Copa Del Rey Victory last year against Real at the Bernabeu. He will doubtless want to send a loud message regarding how he compares to Petr Cech and I for one have never doubted the lads ability. This is one duel i dont want to see. Frankly I don`t look forward to having to face him or that side.
Finally if by some good fortune Atleti run into a buzz saw like Bayern or PSG and meet their waterloo there I will feel sad for them but relieved that we didn`t draw them in the quarters (hoping DV that we get past Gala). The final question I have for the VC faithful is this; If we are unlucky not get the winner of the ManU-Olympiakos tie and fortunate not to draw Atleti in the quarters who would you rather have us face? PSG, Bayern, Real, Barca or Borussia Dortmund?
Call me mad but of that group honestly I would rather face Dortmund at that stage than any of the others. I don`t think we will win the Champions league this season but it would be nice to have some of the big boys paired to play each other in the quarters to clear the field before the semis. With a little luck and good fortune we could actually reach the Semis or even the finals. If we manage to get to the finals in a one off match at the neutral ground of Lisbon (which will have a home feel because of the Jose home factor) and with the 'happy one' managing us I would fancy our chances against any of these other teams but in a two legged series home and away that would be a totally different proposition. I just feel that right now we match up best against a team like Dortmund than any of the others. Your thoughts and comments are all welcome. KTBFFH!!!
Date:Thursday March 13 2014
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