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Monday, August 10, 2009

Manchester United vs FC Porto Champions League 08-09 Preview

(This entry was originally published on Saturday, March 21st, 2009)

Defending Champion Manchester United is going to take on Portuguese champion FC Porto in the quarter final match of Champions League 08-09. Both the teams are defending champion in their respective domestic leagues and both sides are currently leading their domestic leagues this season too. From this point of view, both Manchester United and FC Porto seem to be equal in terms of strength and the quality of players. But the reality is totally different. Manchester United has been excellent form both in premier league as well as in Europe, though their recent 4-1 thrash at the hands of premier league rivals Liverpool would suggest something else.

FC Porto has a balanced squad, but Manchester United seems to be too strong for the Portuguese side. The kind of depth Manchester United squad possesses does not match with any other European club. For Manchester United, they have a squad which features quality players in almost every position and that is one of their big strengths. Porto also has some strong sides and their biggest strength lies in their ability to cause upset and bringing out shocking results in their favor. If you do not agree with me, I would like to remind you the 2003-04 season in Champions League when Porto unexpectedly clinched the European title only for the second time in the history. So, given Manchester United’s humiliating recent defeat to Liverpool, and Porto’s reputation for causing upset, it seems to be a hard-fought clash.

Manchester United

Except the recent 4-1 thrash by Liverpool at home, Manchester United has been in sparkling form since the turn of the year. However, the humiliating defeat at the hands of Liverpool, one of their fierce rivals, comes in the forefront when considering the very recent form of Manchester United because the defeat in such a manner came as a big setback to their pursuit of winning five titles in one season. The Red Devils have already won FIFA Club World Cup and Carling Cup and they are already through to the semi final in FA Cup, and despite losing to Liverpool in their recent premier league fixture, Manchester United is still leading the premier league by 4 points with a match in hand.

Manchester United started off poorly to this season, but Ferguson boys returned to their top form gradually with veteran Ryan Giggs started playing some of his best football for United. Cristiano Ronaldo has also got his rhythm back recently, while versatile forward Wayne Rooney has continued his dedicated form for United. In the presence of Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez, United’s attacking line up is very strong.

Manchester United midfield features young talented players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Anderson, Park Ji-Sung and Nani as well as veteran players like Owen Hargreaves, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick. I think, the midfield is one of the biggest strength of Manchester United. Having said that, Manchester United’s defense has been instrumental behind their success so far this season. In fact, Manchester United went 14 games without conceding a goal in all competitions recently.

Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in the middle of the defense have been a lethal combination for the opposition team, though they were not as effective in the recent defeat against Liverpool as they had been this season. Besides Ferdinand and Vidic, they have a number of quality defenders like Patrice Evra, Wes Brown, John O’Shea, who are very talented and effective while playing at their best.

The biggest advantage of Manchester United is their big squad. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has a number of quality options in each and every position on the field and thus, he can rotate the squad, giving necessary rests to some of his top guns. In this way, Manchester United can get their star players fresh for the big games and this is very important when it comes to bringing out success consistently in almost every competition.

Manchester United is the defending champion in Champions League and they are one of the hot favorites for this season too. The Red Devils defeated Inter Milan 2-0 on aggregate to reach the quarter final of the tournament. Manchester United has three Champions League titles to their credit so far and they can make it 4, if they can defend their title this season. In that case, Manchester United will be just one title short of Liverpool who has highest 5 titles in Europe among the English teams. Despite the recent setback against Liverpool, I think, Manchester United still has a very good chance of defending the title in Europe.

FC Porto

FC Porto is one of the big clubs in Europe at this moment. The Portuguese outfits have two Champions league titles to their credit. Last time, Porto won the European title came in 2003–04 season when they defeated Monaco 3-0 in the 2004 final. No doubt, they are now gearing up to bring back their 2004 success this season, though I do not think that they will be able to add another Champions league title to their credit this season. Even if Porto can reach the final, it would be a big shock for the football world, considering their high-flying form of some other clubs. They defeated Atlético Madrid 2-2 on aggregate; in which Porto drew 2-2 at Atlético Madrid in the first leg and then a goalless draw in front of their home fans in the second leg, and thus, qualifying for the last eight on away goal advantage. Though Porto is already through to the quarter final, their performance was not impressive at all.

However, you should remember that when Porto won the champions league title in 2004, hardly anyone had expected that the Portuguese giants would be the ultimate winner in Europe. So, you can not just rule out Porto considering their average form and excellent form of others because this is the game of football where anything can happen any day. Well, Porto has a balanced squad, though not as strong as other European giants. However, you must know that they are still leading the Portuguese league by 4 points and they are the defending champions in the league.

They have defenders like Bruno Alves, Rolando, Cristian Săpunaru, Pedro Emanuel and Aly Cissokho who are all full of talent and knows how to defend keep the clean sheet against big clubs. Porto recently came up with a goalless draw against Sporting Lisbon at home. In the midfield, Porto features some quality players like Raul Meireles, Lucho González and Fernando, while their attacking line up boasts of players like Cristian Rodríguez, Lisandro López, Hulk. They also have a very good goalkeeper in Helton. Overall, they have a very good squad to fight against other European clubs.

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