Champions League Preview: The Road to Rome

Yahya RisasCorrespondent IApril 27, 2009

LONDON - NOVEMBER 08:  Samir Nasri of Arsenal takes on Michael Carrick, Rafael Da Silva and Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium on November 8, 2008 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Barcelona vs. Chelsea

The Barcelona and Chelsea matchup at Camp Nou promises to be a thrilling 90 minutes, as indicated by the recent form of both clubs.

Chelsea has improved since Guus Hiddink replaced Luiz “Big Phil” Scolari, and the club has already guaranteed a place in the FA Cup final.

Barcelona has been scintillating all season, booking a ticket to the King's Cup final, as well as sitting atop the standings in La Liga.

The attacking trio of Messi, Eto’o, and Henry has been lethal throughout the tournament, and Chelsea will have to deal with those three first if they are to walk away with a positive result.

Chelsea would be better equipped to handle the three-headed attack of Barcelona if it weren't for the first leg suspension of defender Ashley Cole.

Therein lies their greatest weakness: a lack of an accomplished understudy for that role.

Circulating reports indicate that youngster Michael Mancienne will be given the task of trying to keep Lionel Messi at bay.

Andreas Iniesta—a player who I believe is absolutely world class and, if given space, can exploit any team in the world—could be the difference if Chelsea focuses their attention on Messi, Henry, and Eto’o.

But when it's all said and done, I think that Chelsea is one of two teams that are equipped to handle Barcelona—the other being Liverpool. If the Blues repeat their antics in the recent 4-4 draw with Liverpool, or even the 4-3 win over Bolton, they are surely in for a battering.

Michael Essien, Lampard, and Ballack remain extremely vital for the success of Chelsea. This threesome will try to close down spaces in the midfield and limit Xavi’s influence on the game, thus limiting Barca's possession.

The good thing for Chelsea is that defensively Barcelona are not that solid, so Didier Drogba should fancy nicking a goal or two past Victor Valdes, and that should make the match very interesting.

Man United vs. Arsenal

It’s the first time that these clubs are meeting in the Champions League. There is great rivalry between both the clubs' managers, players, and fans, and it should be quite the spectacle.

Man United is the more experienced of the two in this competition and are also the defending champions. Believe it or not, it’s only Arsenal’s second Champions League semifinal in their history.

Going in, the Arsenal players are beaming with confidence, having dispatched Villarreal with relative ease and gone 18 games unbeaten in the Premiership.

The return of Adebayor and Fabregas has been vital to their resurgence. The two add different dimensions to Arsenal’s play, and they have also injected into the team some much needed freshness at the business end of the season.

Unfortunately for Arsenal, Arshavin, their difference maker at Anfield last Tuesday, is Cup tied.

With Gallas out for the rest of the season, the Gunners defense has been shaky recently. It hasn’t been helped by Silvestre’s injury over the weekend, which has ruled him out of the tie.

They should hope that Djourou and Clichy recover to full fitness to beef up that ailing defense; otherwise, they are in trouble trying to contain Rooney, Ronaldo, and company.

Arsenal looks to capitalize on Man Utd’s recently discovered defensive frailties.

In an attempt to borrow a leaf from Porto and Tottenham, United can be exposed on the flanks—in particular the left side, where Evra plays. Arsenal should put in as many crosses as possible for Adebayor. In this respect, Theo Walcott’s pace should be vital against a tired and out of form Evra.

With Van Persie out, Adebayor is more likely to be given a lone-striker’s role against Ferdinand and Vidic. This is not a simple task to accomplish, because those two can be real menaces for opposing strikers, barring their lapses in concentration against Tottenham and Liverpool.

Though many doubt his big match temperament and his attitude on the pitch, Ronaldo has not disappointed for Man United in many big games this season. His goals have helped dispatch both Inter Milan and FC Porto.

Expect Ronaldo to lead the attack, since Rooney will likely be deployed down the left flank to try to counter Walcott’s pace and involvement in the game.

I certainly feel that Anderson should start in the midfield with Carrick and Scholes in an attempt to counter Fabregas’ influence on the pitch.

How I wish Arshavin was available for this game—he would have made it even more breathtaking. Nonetheless, it should be a fantastic game of football with two teams who play attacking styles and are led by some of the world’s elite players.

To borrow Sir Alex’s Phrase, “It's squeaky bum time,” and may the best teams win!