March 21, 2011
Posted: 1310 GMT
The draw for the quarterfinals of the European Champions League, according to many pundits, has set Barcelona on a collision course with arch-rivals Real Madrid for the final four. Some even suggested the winner of this explosive, if mooted, semifinal would go on to lift the European Cup at Wembley on May 28.
I would like to offer a different opinion.
While there is no doubt in my mind that Barca and Real are the world’s two best teams, but there are factors that lead me to believe the winner of the Champions League may actually come from the other side of the bracket. Yes, the side containing Inter Milan and Chelsea.
Why do I believe these two teams have what it takes to win the title? Two words: momentum and drive.
Let’s start with the defending champions. I was fortunate enough to be at the Allianz Arena when the Nerazzuri knocked Bayern out of the competition in the round of 16. After a tumultuous first half, featuring some kamikaze defending, Inter showed the passion, drive and discipline that characterized the side’s victorious march to the European crown last year. This was a very similar team to the one commanded by Jose Mourinho last season, and it will be a dangerous proposition in this competition. It still has a lot of talent and a lot of experience.
Following a disappointing start to the season with Rafa Benitez, who made all the wrong moves trying to change what had been a successful blueprint with Mourinho, Inter have stormed back. Since Leonardo became coach, the Nerazzuri have won 14 of 19 games in all competitions. That is a success rate of 74%. Impressive.
I believe the momentum gained since the Brazilian coach’s arrival will help catapult Inter to the semifinals of the competition. And if momentum is the force that drives Inter, then it is drive that will fuel Chelsea’s fire.
This is a team that was assembled by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho with one goal in mind: to win the European Cup. The Blues came close twice. They reached the semifinals in 2005 and the final in 2008 when they agonizingly lost on penalties to Manchester United.
If you compare the team that lost three years ago in Moscow to the one that is lining up currently, you will find that not too much has changed. The spine of the team is still the same. Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba are all still leading the charge.
This is a side that has had to live with the frustration of missing out on football’s top prize and can’t wait to lift the European Cup. The fact the final is in London, is another reason why in my mind, they are a very dangerous team to face in this competition.
You are probably thinking that if I am picking Chelsea as a title contender, then I am assuming they will beat Manchester United in the quarterfinals. The answer to that question is yes.
Just like I predicted at the beginning of the season, United will go on to win the English Premier League title, but they are not strong enough to beat Chelsea in a two-legged tie right now. Their midfield is not good enough to win Europe’s top prize and whoever lines up in the middle of the park for them will not be able to deal with Jon Obi Mikel, Michael Essien, Ramires and Lampard. That is a fact. Add to that Wayne Rooney’s struggles and you find that the three-time European Cup champions will be no match for Carlo Ancelotti’s boys.
So, on we go. Imagining I am right and Chelsea and Inter meet in the semifinals, what do I expect to happen next? Well, I without wanting to dodge the question, I think Chelsea will go through and face Barcelona in the final.
And then … then anything can happen, because as dominant as Barcelona have been this season, I believe they are tired and won’t be at their best in two months’ time. Pep Guardiola hasn’t rotated his squad enough to guarantee they will be fresh at the end of May when the trophy is decided. Chelsea’s physical style could rattle the Spanish giants just like it did two seasons ago in the semis. And in one game on English turf, the Blues could upset the almighty Barca.