Pep’s Luck Holds…For Now

Head-On-The Block Predictions

  • Bayern and Barcelona will be too strong for Sevilla and Roma
  • Juventus will run Real Madrid very close
  • Manchester City should see off Liverpool

If the second round of the Champions League told us anything, it was that Spurs remain Spurs, Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluigi Buffon won’t go quietly, Jose Mourinho is a man out of time, Eden Hazard is second rate, and Pep Guardiola is very lucky.

While Tottenham are undoubtedly a very good side in English terms – and especially so in relation to their own club history – they remain a work-in-progress in a European context. If Daniel Levy, the chairman, can keep this team together – and given his relative parsimony, that’s unlikely – then Spurs could yet win a Premier League title and progress in Europe. But for now, they are on a learning curve. One wonders if coach Mauricio Pochettino justifies the hype, though. Against Juventus, he was found out by the tactical ingenuity of Massimiliano Allegri. For all his pretty triangles, he’s won nothing.

If Spurs remain Spurs, then Juventus remain Juventus – and crucially alive in this year’s competition. Is there one more push in them when they meet Real Madrid, seeking some measure of revenge for last season’s final defeat? Buffon and Chiellini seemed to be playing for their lives in those final minutes at Wembley, totally lost in the zone whilst taking immersive joy in the art of defending. Spurs, by contrast, had none of that.

Neither did Manchester United. For such an expensively assembled side, United are tediously ponderous. Mourinho has no excuse. Sure, they are better domestically than they were at any time since the departure of Alex Ferguson, but that’s not a great bar to jump. Surely people are entitled to expect a little bit of excitement and style from such a financial outlay. Sevilla, propelled by Ever Banega, deserved their win. That’ll surely be as far as they go, however, with Bayern awaiting in the last eight.

Thomas Müller is coming back into ominous form and Jupp Heynckes has got the Bavarians purring again. Barring complacency (always a possibility with Bayern), there really can only be one winner here. The same probably applies in the Barcelona-Roma clash. For all the talk of Eden Hazard being the heir to Lionel Messi, Chelsea’s Belgian was anonymous when it really mattered at the Camp Nou. You don’t win Ballons D’Or for hat-tricks at Burnley.

All of which leaves us with the all-English clash of Liverpool and Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s luck has held. A handy draw in the last 16 against the mighty Basel and then the avoidance of the Spanish, German, and Italian giants gives him no excuses now. Liverpool would be dangerous in a one-off game – and if they can keep a clean sheet at Anfield could well be serious opposition in the return – but over two legs City really should progress. His cheerleaders tell us that he’s a genius, so this is the least we should expect of Super Pep. After that, all bets are off, though. Then, he faces the moment of truth.

 

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Filed under Champions League, Soccer Scribe

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