Tuesday, November 27, 2007

the night shift: champions league

Fairly decent night for Italy in Europe, you might say. Both Inter and Roma had a whale of a time seeing off Fenerbahce [that's at least one Nobel laureate you've made an enemy of, Inter] and Dinamo Kyiv respectively. It's football silly season as far as Group F is concerned, at least, now that Kyiv and Sporting have but a UEFA Cup spot left to play for [not but that it's an exciting tournament this year, for reasons that will become especially clear if Liverpool, Chelsea, Valencia or Benfica - among others - fail to rouse themselves sufficiently over this and the next matchday].

It remains to be seen what sort of sub-plots December 12 adds to the already-acrimonious story of the Roma-Man United match-up. Attentive readers will remember that United are likely to be travelling with few to no away fans to the Olimpico, since, in the wake of the riots in Rome, the club's website offered a money-back scheme for United fans who'd purchased tickets to the match, and we must assume that a fair number took advantage of it - whether out of genuine fear of violence or a chance to get back at least some of the cash of which United has been forcibly looting its season ticket holders, no studies yet made have indicated.

Arsenal, as Gooners not limited to myself have long feared, seem convincingly to have entered their traditional mid-season slump. Holding out in back-to-back games against Liverpool and United is a fair achievement, but the points table doesn't obscure the fact that the Premiership's top club took a measly two of six possible points against opponents they are supposed to outlast in the league race. Those games and an unconvincing victory against Wigan probably set this up, as well as an uncertain cast of the immediate future for the team, which did go from challenging in four competitions to none in the space of three weeks this past February. I don't mean to be a pessimist, since Arsenal have consistently succeeded in surprising people since the start of the season, but -- well, damn, no, I do mean to be a pessimist after all. Sorry.

Elsewhere, the indubitably poorer halves of Italy's great footballing cities meet their matches tonight. Given Milan's season-long attitude of not giving a frack for anything resembling football four nights out of five it's not unreasonable to expect their playing for a draw against Benfica, which, like Barca's 2-2 against Lyon last night, should be enough to see them through to the knockouts. [Full disclosure: the blogger is a Milanista.]

Lazio, who, like Milan, have been woeful most matchdays [and unlike the occasionally spectacular rossoneri, woefuller on the others], host a confident Olimpiakos in a game that, win or lose, might not do much to lift them out of the workaday office environment, corruption charges, the current State of the Ultras and all. I wish them well.

Link of the day: Brian at The Run Of Play profiles Andrea Pirlo.

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