t’s back on, the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s most prestigious club competition is back in full swing. After a dull international break, with little to no real surprises, some surprising developments in the domestic leagues we are finally treated to top class continental football again.
While the Chelsea FC/Manchester United match-up might be the most interesting one, in terms of media coverage, it is FC Barcelona’s game against Shakhtar Donetsk that interests US the most.
1. FC Barcelona now has a firm and commanding lead over Real Madrid, do you think this will impact the games in any way, shape or form?
Shehryar Khan: No it will not. Real Madrid dropping is a bit of relief to Barcelona who are currently struggling with injuries but besides that Barcelona are most likely to play the strongest line-up available. We might see a bit of playing time for Dos Santos, Thiago and Fontas in the last few games if the title is in the bag.
Bostjan Cernensek: It won't, at least not until Barcelona actually clinch the title, only then we will see a lot of youngsters on the team.
Arron Duckling: The slip-up in the capital could alter Barca's approach to the league, but make no mistake; it could be the worst thing to happen this season. A lead like this could allow complacency to creep in, but I imagine the players will remain as focused on the end goal as ever, the Treble. The second leg has probably been made easier though, as resting players against Almeria is certainly a possibility, especially as the result is not too important.
Gabriel Roberts: Barcelona's newly extended lead is great news for their Champions and Copa campaigns. I think we'll see some serious rotations from Pep in remaining league play—especially between Champions League ties like this weekend against Almeria. Messi, Xavi, Villa, and Iniesta especially will be rested. But Pep will not leave anything to doubt—if the game is close in the second half, he won't hesitate to send the big guns back in.
Adi-Oula Sebastian: Since Real Madrid is all but out of the title race, there’s no reason for Jose Mourinho not to allocate his focus & resources to the Champions League. Perhaps the youngsters will get a run of games once the title is mathematically out of Madrid’s reach. Until then, Pep Guardiola will continue to field his best XI.2. Looking at the remaining teams in the Champions League is the draw favorable for Barca or not?
Bostjan Cernensek: It's hard to say the quarter-final draw wasn't kind to us, but it could have been better as I see Schalke as an easier opponent. I would prefer to face Tottenham in the semi-finals, but if we must face Real Madrid so be it. Mourinho showed with Inter (against Barcelona) that his team can exploit any weakness and if they can get the lead, they know how to hold onto it and I think he would be able to do the same thing with Real Madrid.
Shehryar Khan: A two-legged tie against Mourinho would be tricky. We know the guy loves to play mental games and since the defense is kind of thin, it would be a hard game. Mourinho is also a very tactical manager and a two legged affair would certainly suit him.
Arron Duckling: No. Shahktar are an unknown at this level, meaning they will either perform brilliantly or be swept aside. Either way it is a bad situation for the Blaugrana. Win and everyone will say it was expected. If they lose, well, all hell would break loose. Same with any potential semi-final opponent, as neither will have anything to lose against a team that is widely perceived to be the best.
Gabriel Roberts: I think it is favorable, yes, though certainly not easy. Shakhtar will be very tough, but meeting Madrid or Tottenham in the semis I think is preferable to Chelsea or Inter.
Adi-Oula Sebastian: I would have rather preferred an attacking team like Tottenham Hotspurs. Shakhtar are a tough team to beat, especially at home. Besides, Barca’s away record in the Champions League under Guardiola is horrible, the team has yet to register an away victory.
3. Since it can be expected that Shakhtar will confuse the Camp Nou with a landing strip, how likely is a progress? Keep in mind that Barca has never won an away tie in the CL under Guardiola.
Arron Duckling: Depends on the first leg. If Shahktar can get an away goal and "keep the score down" then it could be catastrophic for Barcelona. All in all, after watching the Blaugrana under Pep one thing is obvious to me, and that is the performances in the top games. When a result is needed, this team delivers, and therefore I think progress is likely.
Shehryar Khan: It will be a hard game. Shahktar is a team that is not afraid to express themselves and we might be vulnerable on the break. I though believe we'll progress. Let’s just hope that Barcelona do not try to end the game at Camp Nou, a 2 nil win would be enough.
Bostjan Cernensek: Considering the fort Shakhtar play in (at home), the most important thing will be to get a favorable result in the first game. I think it will be a more difficult game than (almost) everybody is expecting. The Ukrainians won their group and they pretty much destroyed Roma, so there is a reason they got this far. I am confident that we will advance, but it won't be easy, but if it will be I don't mind.
Gabriel Roberts: I don't think Shakhtar will play as defensively as some are predicting. Their squad is full of attacking players, and they like to move the ball around much like Barcelona. It's going to be an extremely exciting match, and if Barcelona can win by two or three, they'll stand strong in Ukraine and advance. It's going to be tough, but my money's on Barcelona grabbing some goals in Camp Nou and going through narrowly on aggregate.
Adi-Oula Sebastian: Lionel Messi & David Villa have been guilty of wasting sitters in the last couple of games; it is time that these two become more clinical in front of goal.
Click here for Part II