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Ferguson faces huge task in Europe

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Phil McNulty | 10:07 UK time, Monday, 14 September 2009

Sir Alex Ferguson bristled with defiance in the steamy heat of Rome's Stadio Olimpico after Manchester United's Champions League crown had been stripped away unceremoniously by Barcelona on the banks of the Tiber.

Ferguson was respectfully asked by an inquisitor to reaffirm his hunger to return the giant trophy to Old Trafford. The response, which almost came coated in caustic soda, closed the debate as swiftly as it began.

Manchester United embark on the journey to reclaim the Champions League crown against Besiktas in Turkey on Tuesday - and if Ferguson pulls off the feat it will sit easily alongside his greatest achievements.

Whisper it quietly, but even reaching this season's final might be regarded as a victory of sorts for the old master given the change in European football's landscape since 10 minutes of United domination were followed by 80 minutes of ball chasing in Rome.

Where there is Wayne Rooney there is always hope, but if United can be outmanouevred technically and tactically so completely by Barcelona with the weapon of Cristiano Ronaldo at their disposal, do they have a chance without him?

United's outstanding display at Spurs on Saturday erased any suggestions that they may be reduced to the margins of the Premier League title race - but winning at White Hart Lane and securing victory over two legs at the sharp end of the Champions League are very different tasks.

Sir Alex FergusonFerguson and his players reflect on last season's defeat by Barcelona

Pep Guardiola's artists will start as favourites to retain their crown, while the arrival of a "Who's Who" of world football at Real Madrid means much of the smart money is already on an all-Spanish Champions League final at the Bernabeu on 22 May.

Real, for all their attacking riches, are still a guarantee to concede goals and this is where their claim to the trophy they once called their own may falter.

Ronaldo's loss is a grievous blow to United's hopes, especially as he can count Kaka, Xabi Alonso, Karim Benzema and Raul Albiol among his new colleagues as part of president Florentino Perez's "scorched earth" transfer policy to recruit a new era of Galacticos.

Ferguson, you can be sure, will not be daunted by this renewal and nor should he be - in fact the prospect of a meeting with "that mob" at Real Madrid and his former protege later in the Champions League will get the juices flowing inside Old Trafford.

United, winners and runners-up in the last two seasons, will lead the Premier League's assault - along with Scottish champions Rangers - to win Europe's elite tournament.

Chelsea will be convinced the appointment of a two-time past winner as coach in Carlo Ancelotti can change their fortunes in a competition they almost appear doomed not to win.

Various forces have raged against Chelsea in the past, from Claudio Ranieri's tinkering in the 2004 semi-final against Monaco, Luis Garcia's "ghost goal" at the same stage against Liverpool a year later and John Terry's slip in the Moscow rain in the 2008 final penalty shoot-out when the Champions League was theirs for the taking.

Last year it was a bald Norwegian psychologist by the name of Tom Henning Ovrebo who was the villain in the eyes of those gathered on Stamford Bridge's grassy knoll after failing to make all the big calls for Chelsea in the semi-final against Barcelona.

Liverpool will fancy their chances, simply because they always do. Manager Rafael Benitez has not yet been able to master the Premier League, but in Europe he is the shrewdest of operators - especially at the knockout stage - and he always starts the Champions League convinced his team are potential winners.

Such is Liverpool's bulletproof confidence in Europe that they almost had the audacity, even without injured Steven Gerrard, to retrieve a 3-1 deficit from Anfield when they travelled to Chelsea in last season's quarter-final.

Arsenal, as they tend to be, will be the outsiders of the English pack - but a final in 2006, a quarter-final in 2008 and a semi-final last year will hardly dent Arsene Wenger's confidence.

Ferguson still regards his two Champions League wins as a poor return on the quality he has had at his disposal, and there is little doubt Ronaldo's move has robbed United of an extra dimension that served them well in Europe.

This deal had to be done - the timing, the fee and the player's disaffected mood dictated it - but make no mistake Ferguson would rather have had Ronaldo than Real's £80m.

And this is one of the key areas where I feel United will come up short in the Champions League this season. Ronaldo was a proven match-winner and players like Dimitar Berbatov have yet to convince as an inspiration on the big occasion.

Rooney's importance cannot be over-estimated. He is the one X-Factor that has the capacity to reduce all predictions (including this one) to rubble and he will not shrink from the challenge of picking up Ronaldo's mantle.

United also have concerns about a lack of a creative central midfield player. How long can the enduring and wonderful talents of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes be seriously expected to shape games in closing stages of the Champions League?

United should negotiate the group phase in relative comfort, although the draw provided an unwelcome punch on the nose when they drew Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg, easily the most dangerous fourth seed in the draw.

Besiktas and CSKA Moscow, who have appointed former Spurs and Real Madrid boss Juande Ramos as coach, may prove more arduous in terms of travel than football. The true tests for United will come once the two-legged affairs kick in.

Carlo Ancelotti and Ray WilkinsChelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti (left) has tasted Champions League glory in the past

Chelsea, as ever, come well-equipped to tackle the Champions League course and in Ancelotti have a coach who knows who to navigate it. They will not be affected by a potential transfer ban in January because it is not the time Chelsea invest in players for the European campaign.

Of course, adversity will be a driving force and none of us who were present at Stamford Bridge last May to see Andres Iniesta's goal prove the catalyst for heartbreak and Didier Drogba-inspired chaos will ever forget it.

Chelsea have the strength of squad to master most challenges. They were seconds away from sending Barcelona out and the bitter memories will act as inspiration once more.

Of course, as with others, keeping key men fit is pivotal. Ancelotti will hope no mishap befalls John Terry, Frank Lampard and the currently awe-inspiring Drogba. Chelsea have real chances of arriving in at least the last four once more.

Porto will provide testing opposition at Stamford Bridge, but the loss of Lucho Gonzalez, Aly Cissokho and Lisandro Lopez has taken away real quality. Atletico Madrid are unpredictable with Sergio Aguero a world-class talent in tandem with Diego Forlan, but they should progress without serious problems.

Liverpool will share Chelsea's confidence - and it is accepted that once Benitez has placed his side in the last 16 they are one of the teams no-one wishes to draw, especially with the prospect of a potentially defining visit to Anfield.

Benitez will lean heavily on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, and the worry for Liverpool is that while their first-choice 11 can confront any challenge in the competition without fear, they have a very long tail to their squad.

Their group has a tricky appearance, but hardly offers an insurmountable challenge. The Hungarians of Debreceni are unknowns, while no trip to Florence to face Fiorentina is easy. Lyon may not be the force they were under those coaches of repute Jacques Santini, Paul Le Guen and Gerard Houllier and they have lost Benzema and Juninho, but Claude Puel has invested heavily this summer.

Ex-Porto striker Lopez and Bafetimbi Gomis will provide the firepower, but Liverpool should prevail.

Arsenal cannot be regarded as serious contenders to win the Champions League, especially after the defensive vulnerability that resurfaced ominously at Manchester United and Manchester City, but Wenger will have been happy with their draw.

Standard Liege are tough opposition on their own ground, but Arsenal will be pleased that they start the campaign on Wednesday without outstanding young captain Steven Defour, who could be out for three months with a fractured foot.

AZ Alkmaar must be treated with the respect afforded to any winners of the Dutch title, but with the departure of the master coach Louis Van Gaal they may pose less of a threat. And while Olympiacos will also be another hazarous assignment on their own turf, Arsenal can be backed to reach the knockout stage once more.

Rangers were never going to get an easy draw but they could have done a lot worse, and the wise management and experience of Walter Smith will harbour genuine hopes of finding a way out of a group that pits them alongside Sevilla, VfB Stuttgart and the splendidly-named Romanians Unirea Urziceni.

In reality, a place in the last 16 must be the extent of their ambitions - not so with England's four Premier League contenders.

For Ferguson and Manchester United, it offers the biggest stage on which to prove there really is life without Cristiano Ronaldo. And the doubters wrong.

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    I serously hope united have got what it takes in the champions league, if i saw ronaldo destroy us i think i would cry.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    My money is on Barcelona to win again, i think real have a wider varietys of attacking options but barcas midfield and defense seems to be unstoppable.

  • Comment number 4.

    simply put the tactics united employed in last seasons final were wrong. Fergie wanted the ultimate victory, to beat barca by playing the 'right' football. in other words he wanted to pass and move the ball better than barca.
    if they had employed similar tactics to chelsea in the semi final, defense, defense, defense, then they could have fared much better. it is uniteds strongest suit (defense) and if they had concentrated on that, and countered with the pace and energy of ronaldo and rooney, they could well have won it. (just look how close chelsea came!)
    instead united set about to beat barca in style, and while it worked fro ten minutes, conceding the first goal, against barca, was the moment the game was lost. it was then impossible to get the ball, impossible to entice barca to attack in numbers, and impossible to expose their back lines.
    i think fergie has learnt from this, and hopefully in future he will learn that uniteds midfield cant really combat the likes of barca, but with the power of the defense and the pace and precision of the forwards, they are capable of beating anyone...even without ronaldo ;)

  • Comment number 5.

    Phil,

    Any chance you could remember you work for the British Broadcastng Corporation and also give an opinon on rangers? (Who are a British team!)

    I'm not a rangers fan but they deserve more consideration than a brief mention as to their being in the competiton.

  • Comment number 6.

    the champions league certainly is going to be an interesting affair.how will real's obscene spending impact? will barcelona be the force they were last year? and what of the english teams...can we bring about another all english final?

    I think if money had to be placed on two english teams reaching the final it would be man utd and liverpool. Man utd seem to continuously go against the flow of opinion and have a knack for popping up in the 90th minute to secure that heart breaking goal that destroys their opposition.

    Liverpool for all their failings in the premiere league seem to have a golden shine in europe. if their big players stay fit, they will be one of the teams to fear. especially if torres inds his goal scoring form!

    For me, personally i think real will falter. i think they will reach the dizzying height of a semi final, something they havent done in a while. here it is i think they will fall. I dont think they will have the mental power to push through, especially if their opponents snatch an early goal.

    barcelona. enough said. potential winners and an almost certainty to at least reach the semi's...

    Chelsea. tired legs after the african cup of nations and a tranfer ban will mean a team with tired legs and no hunger.

    arsenal. consumate under achievers the last four years. last 8. no better than that unless wenger makes some shrude transfers...

  • Comment number 7.

    I think it could be Chelsea's year. They seem to possess a good amount of luck, form and class whilst the transfer embargo will only create a seige mentality.

    However I think you're a little too quick to rule out Arsenal Phil, especially considering their run to the final in '06 came outa the blue and against the predicitions of many top pundits!

  • Comment number 8.

    Strangely, the bookies seem to have Liverpool as 4th favourites from the English contingent, despite them having a good record in Europe, and finishing as runners up in the Premiership last season. I think that everybody is playing on the loss of Alonso too much - the team will adapt...and probably better than Utd will adapt to the loss of Ronaldo.

    http://sportales.com/soccer/ucl-uefa-champions-league-200910-draw-preview-and-odds-groups-a-c/

  • Comment number 9.

    All four English clubs will progress from the group's with such ease, that the Champions League isn't really worth watching until the knock-our rounds, although Barcelona v Inter Milan looks tasty.

    Barcelona, as reigning champions, are rightly favourites, but retaining the trophy has proved very difficult in recent years and, with Real Madrid very poor defensively, it is the four English teams who will provide the sternest competition and I can't see a winner coming from outside these five sides.

    The law of averages means Chelsea must win it soon, having come so close in recent years.

    http://sportingchameleon.wordpress.com/

  • Comment number 10.

    Possibly the second greatest side in ECL history Milan, won all their Trophies with an ageing side. Maldini, Tassoti, Baresi, Cafu, Inzaghi etc etc. What's to say that the experience these playes have in winning these ties does not completely outweigh the fact that may run the 100m 2 seconds slower than 10 years ago?

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    As a United fan its lovely to be written off again. Is there some kind of prize for Phil being the 1 millionth journalist to underestimate Fergie?

    OK so United do face a huge task in Europe. But isn't that the same for every club, every year? he level of quality is always high and the fact that no team has retained the CL tells its own story. Phil concentrates on Ronaldo, but the key to winning it in 2008 was the defence (who shut out Barca twice and then hung on in the 2nd half of the final against chelsea) and it was the defence that failed against Barca.

    If United can provide a solid back 4 with Fletcher protecting them, and either Foster or VDS doing the business in goal, they will be very hard to beat. And that is what tends to win the CL.

  • Comment number 13.

    I think we (utd) will give it a good go this season, after all, in 99 we didnt have 1 stand out player like ronaldo, it was a team effort. Likewise we could do it again this season, but one thing Phil touched on was that Berbatov is not a go to guy when the going gets tough. In fact i recall him only being used as a sub for most of the latter stage games last season - as so often we started ronny up front with rooney and some one else flanking - so it will be interesting to see how fergie changes his tactics this season.

  • Comment number 14.

    I have a question for you Phil, what do you make of Ibrahimovic's move to Barca? Over the last few years he has been a huge disappointment against English opposition, could his presence at Barca make them weaker - when so often Samuel Etoo was a bogey man of sorts against Chelsea, and last season against United.

  • Comment number 15.

    Moderation is so slow!

  • Comment number 16.

    I really think the days of 3 PL teams in the CL semi-finals are well and truly over.

    I actually don't think there will be a PL team in the CL final this season, and I certainly don't see Man United going that far, unless they get a very favourable draw. As well as Real Madrid, both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan look improved from last season, and I think both these teams have a good chance of displacing PL teams in the latter stages of the CL this time round.

  • Comment number 17.

    "What chance do they (United) have without him (Ronaldo)"?

    Well, if you look at United's results this season, they are an improvement on last season. They beat Arsenal at home and Spurs away when they drew both 0-0 last season. They improved on last season's 2-1 at Wigan with a 5-0 victory this time round.

    I think a lot of the press all-too-easily forget that United did lose matches with Ronaldo. I for one thought that United carried him for a lot of away matches last season, when he was in 'sulky mode'. Plus, great player though he undoubtedly was, Manchester United had to accommodate him. Rooney played a more defensive role, Berbatov was often relegated to the bench and Ronaldo had the monopoly on dead-ball situations (already this season Nani and Giggs have scored from free-kicks).

    I predict another dominant campaign from the four English clubs. And brilliant as they were, we shouldn't build up Barcelona as 'untouchables'. Remember, they were outplayed by Chelsea in the semi-final and had a catalogue of dubious decisions to thank for their place in the final.

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    Liverpool will fancy their chances, simply because they always do. Manager Rafael Benitez has not yet been able to master the Premier League.

    -------------------------------
    Hmmm, I'd say finishing second with a points record not matched by any other Liverpool manager in the Premier League, the highest number of points a runner up has ever accumulated. I would say Rafa has a pretty good grip on the premier league there phil. But, you Journos love your lazy throw away remarks don't you.

    Phil what basis do you have to say Rafa has not mastered the Premier League? Has Harry, has Allardyce, Moyes? Of course they have! What you should have said is Rafa has yet to win the Premier League, no?

    I'm also fairly sure if you take Berbatov and Roone out of the Utd side, they will struggle too.

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    No .4

    Let me start with a Yawn!!!! and then a congratulations for another excuse from another MUFC fan for why you didnt win the Champions League. Fergie tried to beat Barca by playing the right football? Did he? Or where MUFC just out classed by a far superior Barca side. Why would your great leader not play to his strengths? Poor attempt at an excuse. And as for MUFC strength being in defence, not from what I saw last season when Fernando Torres made Vidic look like a boy against a man.

  • Comment number 22.

    Haha nemanjawillkillya! Sorry pal, but the script is almost predictable. Ronaldo to get Rooney sent off, a cheeky wink and an even cheekier goal to knock Man U out! And to add further salt to the gaping wound, Benzema with a sublime finish! No wonder Sir Alex chased him for so long!

    Liverpool are fearless and no team, not even Barca will want to face them at the knock-out stages.

  • Comment number 23.

    Maybe i could concur with the idea that the teams mentionned are.. the... candidates for the Champions...with one proviso: Inter. Why and how does the columnist mention all those team and miss out in perhaps the most improved (fine tunned is the more likely expression) in Europe... beats me. Real Madrid has exponentially increased the quantity and quality of players...but watching their game -for the time being- does not overwhelm me with the awe their potential suggests. Whereas Inter with Snjeider and Eto have acquired a different dimention.

    Finally, lets not forget that Barcelona got to the final via a series of gross and remarkably disgusting decisions by a Platini backed servant...sorry referee...who has yet to be punished for his mismanagement of a Champions semi-final...mind you not a first round local regional 4th division game. Also the fact that Barcelona did not take to the final three of their first team players forced them to play in the only way they could....no decisions in choice...Manchester on the other hand was hurt by the lack of a quality holding midfielder such as Hargraves(Fletcher was also absent)....and the presence of midfield creative options (start Tevez or Giggs or Scholes)...first you control the oponent...then you create your own game...i feel more comfortable with the team now with the next inclussion of Hargraves than without this last and the presence of Ronaldo...of course i would like to see them both play together but that...is day dreaming.

    Finally, i just hope that Platini will have to witness in disgust as two English teams again get to the final at Bernabeu!

  • Comment number 24.

    @ fivegoldstars who wrote:

    Strangely, the bookies seem to have Liverpool as 4th favourites from the English contingent, despite them having a good record in Europe, and finishing as runners up in the Premiership last season. I think that everybody is playing on the loss of Alonso too much - the team will adapt...and probably better than Utd will adapt to the loss of Ronaldo.
    ____________________________________________________________________ /

    Funny that. So who's how's that going to happen then? The loss of Ronaldo at United has released and will continue to release the awesome talents of Rooney, Berbatov and Anderson who have been sleeping giants in Ronaldo's shadow just due to the nature of the man. His departure has woken some sleeping giants. Who has woken up in the wake of Alonso leaving Liverpool?

  • Comment number 25.

    winning the champions leauge is the most un predictable trophy, because every team canot be 100% in every match...barcelona should not have even been in the final last year...

    united have had an excellent europian record in the last few seasons. it shows they are starting to adapt to the bigger games.

    it is unlikely they will win it, reaching the champions leauge final 3x in a row is going to be a big feat.

    however sir alex ferguson is already in legend status, he does not need to proove himself he is already the best.

  • Comment number 26.

    Phil, I can safely say that Liverpool will have no problems against Debrecen, home or away. Having lived in Hungary for 5 years, if there is one team guaranteed to get themselves into a good position and then snatch defeat from the jaws of vistory its Debrecen.

  • Comment number 27.

    #5 - 5. At 2:01pm on 14 Sep 2009, RosemountArab wrote:

    Phil,

    Any chance you could remember you work for the British Broadcastng Corporation and also give an opinon on rangers? (Who are a British team!)

    I'm not a rangers fan but they deserve more consideration than a brief mention as to their being in the competiton.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------

    Why?

    They got a mention commensurate to the length their stay in the competition will be. Brief. What do you expect him to write? Rangers will struggle because.....or, Rangers won't progress because......?

    There isn't a lot more he could have said about them, being fair!

  • Comment number 28.

    Too much as been made of Barcelona's victory in May. Yes, they deserved to win but it was more an example of how goals change games than of Barcelona's dominance. Had the same two teams played again the following night you could easily have seen United winning.

    As for Ronaldo, it's funny how the same journalists that lamented his inability to perform in the big games now fear how United will face the knockout rounds without him.

  • Comment number 29.

    Sorry Phil I don't think SAF's and Man Utd's task in the Champions League is anymore difficult this year than it has been previously. If you recall in last year's final Utd had two clear cut chances to score in the first ten minutes, which had they taken them, would undoubtably have changed things - but they didn't and there was a slip up on the right and Eto was in on goal, thereafter Barcelona's 'carousel' took over.
    This year Barcelona will still be playing the same way ( why should they change); however all the other clubs now know how overwhelming they can be, hence not only Man Utd but also others, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Milan, etc will all have developed strategies to counteract the threat posed by Barca's midfield in particular, just in case they should they come up against them. It's true without Ronaldo (who did have some influence in Utd progressing in the CL last year) Utd will appear (on paper at least)somewhat weaker - lets hope some of the other CL teams start to believe this! There are signs already even this early that things are coming together post CR and Tevez ( who had only a bit part in Utd's CL adventures last year anyway), Fletcher is showing last year was no 'flash in the pan' and he has has been man of the match (or close to it) in at least 3 of Utd's PL matches - Rooney is 'on fire' and revelling in his new role up front and even Anderson has started scoring! - so it may well be a new look Utd that is competing in CL this season.

  • Comment number 30.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 31.

    we all have our own opinions. mine is that man utd is easily the best team in the world.
    players come n go van nistel,beckam,ronaldo etc
    but the red machine keeps on moving.
    SAF always knows best in the long run.
    as usuall all we have to do is sit back and watch the silverware come in.

  • Comment number 32.

    Good blog, despite the consistent ramblings of ronaldo which i am oh so tired of.

    United are going to be just as strong this season as they were last season, honestly, they may even be stronger. Ronaldo had glances of individual brilliance but no one man can conquer the champions league. United will now play more as a team and this is exactly what is needed to win. No more playing rooney on the left, no more chopping and changing peoples positions.

    What i saw in the final last year was one man trying to take on 11, ronaldo wanted the glory for himself, not for the team. Every time he got the ball, no matter how far out he was he just tried to shoot. Awful. I'm not saying he's not a brilliant player, i am saying united may be a better team without him and i for one feel like we have our team back.

  • Comment number 33.

    Barcalona are probably the obvious favorites but I still maintain that a side like Chelsea or Liverpool will fare well against them moreso than an Arsenal or Man Utd who'd (within a few tactical tweaks) will look to go head to head and invest more effort into the their attacking endevours than defensive. Possibly throw in Mourinho's Inter and I don't think it'll be an all Spanish final and would still put healty money on all the English sides making the last 8.

  • Comment number 34.

    Yeah same old spin at the start of the champions League games, of course it's going to be difficult to get to the final that's why it's called the champions League!

    Just get past the group stage then the analysis can begin proper, roll on February.

  • Comment number 35.

    Watching Man Utd playing Spurs, I could not help noticing they look more and more like Mourhino's Chelsea, They seem to play as a team unit now, Ronaldo's individuality seems just a distant memory. Even as a Chelsea fan I like Fergie, he learns by his mistakes, which I think is admirable.

    As for my Lot, Chelsea, well if we can keep on the good side of the officials for once, we may have a good chance. There some great football coming.

  • Comment number 36.

    Hi Phil,

    As a Liverpool fan, I would swap the Champions League any time for the Premiership crown, however, I think that if we avoid English opposition until the semi-final, we will win the Champions League, even if it is the dreaded Barcelona in the final.
    I believe that benitez has the measure of ANY spanish team and he seems to be able to read what they will do, and then set Liverpool up to counter that. Just look at what Liverpool did to the in-form Real Madrid last year.
    Benitez's problem seems to be the English teams, and lately Chelsea. Both teams are so equally matched, that nothing separates them, and the annoying part for Benitez is his innability to find a way of dominating them.
    I do not believe that United will go all the way this year, because I feel that Barca, Real and Inter would have a genuine chance of beating them.
    Chelsea will again go the whole way because they are a team that can play europeanly effective football without having to re-adjust.
    Arsenal will provide the entertainment but they are the team that will fall away first.
    Liverpool Barca final, Liverpool winning 2-1

  • Comment number 37.

    Ronaldo's move has robbed United of an extra dimension that served them well in Europe

    -------

    Slight understatement - against the teams like Barcelona, Porto and Arsenal in the competition last year he was easily their most dangerous player.

    I think Liverpool can do well in Europe, and hopefully improve on the poor defeat to Chelsea last season. People go on at length about the importance of Gerrard or Torres to the team, but any team would struggle without its two best players - take Terry and Drogba out of Chelsea, take Arshavin and Fabregas out of Arsenal, take Rooney out of United and none of them will be likely Champions' League winners.

    Gerrard, Torres, Carragher, Reina and the others are all used to long European and home campaigns, so should be able to stick it out. Without Gerrard and Torres, our strikeforce is clearly the problem, but with a midfield of Aquilani and Mascherano, with Kuyt and Benayoun as the major goalscorers, we may be short of goals but shouldn't struggle in other aspects of the game - and in the knockout stages scoring is a lot less important than not conceding.

  • Comment number 38.

    I think the writer of this blog is right, no one can match the confidence of Liverpool in the champions league. One look at their body language in any of the matches confirms it. And yes even without Steven Gerrard then can knock the hell out of their opposition even if the end on the loosing side. Chelsea would know a lot about that.

  • Comment number 39.

    Lots of moderation today?

  • Comment number 40.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 41.

    United would never have lost at Burnley with Ronaldo in the side. yadda yadda yadda.

    More money for old rope. What is the point of this blog exactly? All we get is a load of old news about how Barcelona dominated the final last season, about how Benitez is so astute in Europe that his team threw away a 2-0 lead at Stamford Bridge last season when they were on the verge of a remarkable comeback, and about how the knock-out rounds will find United out.

    How about employing a proper football journalist who can actually write a blog about the variation in tactics, the personnel, and the psychology the top sides will be using in this season's group phase. You have 48 matches to choose from. It shouldn't be too hard.

  • Comment number 42.

    zainzero........

    Chelsea. tired legs after the african cup of nations and a tranfer ban will mean a team with tired legs and no hunger.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    You may be right about tired legs, but I really don't think the transfer ban makes a jot of difference to this season's campaign, and the idea that this Chelsea side would ever lose its hunger, when it hunger and self belief has been its core trade mark eva since the Mourinho era is hard to believe.

  • Comment number 43.

    The European X-factor for United; Michael Owen.

  • Comment number 44.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 45.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 46.

    45 comments, 19 stuck in moderation.

  • Comment number 47.

    Phil, in case you need something for your next article, the 'splendidly-named Romanians Unirea Urziceni' are worthy of a few blogs all of their own, and for much more than their name. What's more, they could well prove more than a match for Rangers, particularly at Ibrox, as they're build perfectly to get results away from home - coached in what my Romanian friends call an Italian style, build by Dan Petrescu into a formidable defensive force with fast counter attacks to hit the opposition where it hurts.

    A few years ago they were in the lower divisions of the Romanian leagues, had never played in the top flight before a couple seasons ago, and won their first championship last year - all this from a small town just outside Bucharest, with crowds up until a couple of years ago that would have barely reached 1,000. Theirs is one of the most romantic stories in European football over the last few decades - and one which my Romanian friends say is based on football, not money, something very rare these days.

    Do a little research, have a little fun, and you could have quite an article. You could at least learn more than their splendid name......

  • Comment number 48.

    Actually, I hope MU do not go onto the CL final. I hope Lpool do not go on either.
    We need all English players, fit, and uninjured for a good WC 2010 campaign.

  • Comment number 49.

    So..... The 4 English teams will progress through the group stages and then it is down to form and a little luck? And United will miss one of the best players in the world..... Insightful stuff!

  • Comment number 50.

    i have the feeling it will be a chelsea barca final this year, chelsea has come close these last couple of seasons and they'll probably win it sooner rather than later.

    not a huge fan of ibrahimovic but so far, hes scoring goal albeit being at the right place at the right time. plus, barca still has the holy trinity of xavi, iniesta and messi.

    http://wdkf.co.uk/

  • Comment number 51.

    I have a feeling that this season English teams will not doing that well. There are many factors against them. And it will not a bad thing considering a world cup year. No point to see the likes of Rooney, Gerrard or Lampard got injured during the CL quarter or semi finals.
    While many under-estimate Italian sides, I predict either Inter or Juventus will win it.

  • Comment number 52.

    some people fight to prove a point. some people let results prove their point.
    i like the idea of putting money where your mouth is.

    i challenge anyone who does'nt think man utd will win the
    pl or cl to put a bet on it. a bet that will hurt when you tear up your coupon next year!

  • Comment number 53.

    From a United POV, I never count chickens with the CL, not at this tage of the season. I'd be very dissapointed if we failed to qualify from the group we're in but other than that, it's one stage at a time.

  • Comment number 54.

    To RosemountArab...Poster 5 - our Scottish office deals with all things Rangers, and obviously Scotland, so I kept it brief.

    I am happy to give a synopsis of how I feel they will fare. If they get out of the group stages it will be a great achievement - if they get beyond the last 16 it will be their equivalent of actually winning the tournament. I genuinely believe that.

    I still do not believe Walter Smith got enough credit for getting Rangers to the Uefa Cup final - but I think even their biggest supporters would regard the last 16 as their realistic aim.

    And to DevilOfRed and his post re. Ibrahimovic. I have to say I have hardly ever seen him have decent game in the flesh - unlike Samuel Eto'o, but if Jose Mourinho rated him and Pep Guardiola felt he was good enough to bring to Barcelona that's good enough for me.

    And to the United fans who understandably feel they can win it again this year, let me know why you think you can do it without Ronaldo?

    It is simply my personal opinion that I do not think they will win it, or maybe not even reach the final this year. I think they have lost too much with Ronaldo's departure, even though I totally accept there was no way they could have kept him this summer.

    And poster 45 suggests Michael Owen could provide United's X Factor in Europe? Do Manchester United fans agree?

    Let's hear from Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal supporters. Let me know your thoughts on your club's prospects.

  • Comment number 55.

    m1ke068.
    why not just give them the rest of the season off then.
    duhhhhhhhh
    playing against the best is what improves high quality players.
    sitting on your backside wouldnt work or else owen and beckam would be first on cappelo's starting 11 list.

    on saturday i heard all kinds of commentry regarding spurs
    players being tired from the wednesday game! really.

    was rooney catching sun in spain cause that guy ran his socks off.
    lucozade got the wrong guy. rooney would be a better example of energy and drive than gerrard anyday.

  • Comment number 56.

    Committed ManU supporter here......however, I do not see us winning anything this season......it's the mid-field that'll do us in. Even when Ronaldo was around, we lacked a creative midfielder

  • Comment number 57.

    I was in Moscow and Rome, and many places inbetween, including Porto in the QFs, so I know how valuable Ronaldo can be to United. I don't think many United fans ever felt he was indispensable as the media generally did however.

    Ronaldo's performance in Rome was dreadful. Yet some journalists actually considered him to be our best player on the night (interestingly few in Spain did, and that's part of the reason there's so much scepticism about him right now in Madrid before he's even had a chance to prove himself). In Rome Ronaldo proved what he had shown many times last season - in his mind he was far more important than the team. His tactical discipline was gone, he was shooting from long range at every opportunity rather than holding the ball up, and he never assisted his midfielders in closing down Barcelona. Believe me, few United fans in the Stadio Olimpico had complimentary things to say about him.

    I'm not saying United will necessary reach a third final in a row, that's hard to do whatever team you are - and a lot depends on Rooney staying fit - but the loss of Ronaldo will not be the reason why we don't should we fail.

  • Comment number 58.

    Crystal-gazing is a mug's game, unless you own the magic sphere and marquee and collect the price of entry from the wishful-thinkers queuing up outside the Preposterous Predictions Teapot Emporium.

    Still, you have to know what went wrong before you can set it right next term.
    The hard fact is that United suffered from tactical paralysis in Rome. The gaffer and his aides simply did not know what to do to recover the game, with or without Cristiano or Carlito. United, more than anything else, need fresh faces to gee-up their backroom staff.

    Rooney can not perform in game after game without a productive midfield behind him. His tireless performance against Spurs can not be repeated throughout a season without burning him out - witness the effect the One-Man-Show had on Gerrard over the years, until his coach began to support him with superior players.

    United's present squad is transitional and Nemanja Vidic's inability to compete against pacy forwards remains a liability that has undermined the side in too many key games.

    The idea of Dame Fortune smiling maliciously upon Chelsea is pernicious nonsense and it is hard to imagine Ancelotti tolerating belief in such mind-rot - yet such pre-emptive excuses may be precisely what has infected Chelsea's collective attitude in Europe.

    Arsenal remain superbly equipped to prosper in the Champions' League and, sooner rather than later, Arsène will find himself able to watch an entire competition without missing a single moment through selective amnesia, because his team are capable of producing the same sublime play as Barça - but they need to learn to sustain it through a tournament.

    Although their great teams of the 80s are long behind them, Liverpool retain one thing from that epoch, a staggering self-belief in Europe. For those who still bemoan the vanished Alonso, the passing stats reveal that it was Carragher who launched the majority of the team's attacking moves, which is, presumably, the reasoning behind Fabio Capello's attempt to coax him out of international retirement. Only when Standard Liège man-marked Carragher, in last season's qualifying round, did Liverpool's game stutter, almost to disaster.

    Predictions ? It is almost as difficult to imagine any of these four not making the knock-out as it is to conceive that Chelsea and Liverpool will avoid each other during the tournament, but here comes (if your name is Beckham, duck now) the tea-tray. And the leaves say.....

  • Comment number 59.

    Phil, I can completely agree that SAF would rather have Ronaldo than not but I need to take issue with your comment that if we "couldn't win the CL last year, with him, how can we win it without him".

    It does not need to be reiterated how brilliant Ronald can be and yes, we may well miss those flashes of brilliance that can turn a match - but the fianl last year wasn't lost up top, it was lost in the midddle (Fletcher's absence was felt) and at the back with some very uncharacteristic mistakes. As someone else said, if we had set out to play Barca as Chelsea did in the semi it might have been a different story.

    Your own words in synopsis of last season:
    "but he was not the same influence and was betrayed by his obvious body language.
    Ronaldo was too often prone to the pout, waving his arms impatiently when team-mates did not serve his needs. He even indulged in the hazardous occupation of a public show of dissent when he was, with every justification, substituted by Ferguson against Manchester City at Old Trafford late last season.
    And Old Trafford was not slow to show its discontent on these occasions. Ronaldo was regarded as a lavishly-gifted drama queen by many supporters and the groans told the story.......
    .....Ronaldo's posturing did not paint him as a team player, and this is central to all of Ferguson's work."

    Now Ronnie did run around a lot in the CL Final - but you couldn't help but think it was for his own ends; very often he ran and got mugged / shot when a lay off was the less selfish and, possibly, better option. Don't get me wrong, I don't condemn Ronaldo - he never made a secret of wanting to play for Real and lit up many fans' (not just Utd's) Saturday afternoons. But our team - THIS YEAR - isn't built around him like last year's. Last season, if he didn't perform, it could make the team look ordinary - so it could be said that the removal of Ronnie won't condemn the other 10 to mediocrity if he doesn't have his twinkle toes on.

    I have no idea if United will do well in the ECL this season - but I certainly think we have a squad to do well. Throw in some luck and we could make a good show. It is too easy, if we don't, to suggest a 'Ronaldo-factor' but you well know that there is far more to it than that. Bring Hargreaves back in and get one of Owen, Berbatov, Wellbeck or sometimes Scholes backing up Rooney and 'my' team could go a very long way. And I'd be delighted to read your blog if that happens!

  • Comment number 60.

    he will loose fittingly tis time.he has to pay for his arrogance.

  • Comment number 61.

    The problem with Phil's point of view is that it is so predictable because in England we have this crazy lack of pride in our own teams and implausibly certain belief in the overwhelming talents of foreign teams.

    Any statistical analysis of the CL should show that England's Premiership produces a consistently higher quality of teams. This is a recent phenomenon, but it is there! Please stop denigrating our teams and the individual players performing in them.

    Any genuine neutral would admit that Barcelona shouldn't have been in the CL Final last year. Chelsea are critised for being too old, but their record is superb. Any genuine neutral would have been surprised at how poorly Manchester United played in the Final. Real Madrid have some wonderful players but they don't have a team yet.

    The reality is that nobody has a clue which team will win the CL. It could be Barcelona, but I'm willing to bet they lose plenty of games in La Liga this year and some of those games will be against far less talented teams than Barca will face in the CL.

  • Comment number 62.

    And poster 45 suggests Michael Owen could provide United's X Factor in Europe? Do Manchester United fans agree?
    ---------------------
    No. He might score the odd goal against Galway Ladies when 8-0 ahead but he won't be as decisive as some are making out.

  • Comment number 63.

    Hi Phil,

    To know the answer of your question, "And to the United fans who understandably feel they can win it again this year, let me know why you think you can do it without Ronaldo?"

    You should have seen United play against the Spurs with 10 men for 30 minutes last weekend at White Hart Lane. It is always better to have a group of above average players in your team than a sulking superstar. United would be the team to beat this season, Ferdinand is back and van der Saar is on his way. United for EPL and CL.

  • Comment number 64.

    "And to the United fans who understandably feel they can win it again this year, let me know why you think you can do it without Ronaldo?"

    Yes!

    Ronaldo, by his high standards, was poor last season. He was not United's best player throughout the season and we were very much tailoring the side to bring out his strengths. Ronaldo was by no means carrying UTD!

    What we lacked in Rome was a player in midfield who could really get stuck into the wonderfully talented Barca midfield. In other words... Fletcher or Hargreaves. More and more often we've seen Fletcher really rise to the big occasions and he was dearly missed from the final.

  • Comment number 65.

    BigLRed
    "Benitez's problem seems to be the English teams, and lately Chelsea."

    Possibly one of the greatest comments ever :)

  • Comment number 66.

    Besiktas might be a hard place to travel for Man Utd, Liverpool lost there on their travels, but then, they did distroy them 8-0 in the next game.

    All English clubs, should get though to the last 16, but must not under estimate their oppments

  • Comment number 67.

    Really good article. Not sure I agree with everything but I think this season could be the 'revival' of the CL as it has become a little dull with our teams winning (if not in the final) all the time!

    One of the English teams will go out in the group stages this year though and I don't think it will be Arsenal....You heard it here first!

  • Comment number 68.

    Said it time and time again, the best holding midfielder that was available to buy over the summer was Wes Sneijder. He could have been that middle link for man utd, to replace Scholes and provide the delivery for the strikers. He's got a hell of a strike, can tackle, run with the ball and is great going forward. Inter got a bargain at 16ml euros. He also has CL experience and has played for two top class sides (Ajax & Real Madrid), which is more than can be said for Antonio Valencia who cost the same amount. Im not going to doubt Fergie, because his trophy cabinet speaks for itself, but I think Sneijder would have been that link that allowed Rooney to roam as a striker, whilst keeping the midfield under control.
    I could still see United turning Real over if it came to it. Liverpool destroyed them last season, and Madrid were only saved from total humiliation by Iker Casillas.
    Ronaldo will never shine at Madrid like he did at Man utd, but Fergie was a champion before Ronaldo, and he will be after Ronaldo.
    Liverpool need to start getting the best out of Babel, and they need much more depth than they have now. They arent strong enough without Torres or Gerrard, and Aquialani isnt going to just hop in to replace Alonso without a bit of time to adjust.
    Chelsea are nearly-boys, and they will be this year. Semi finals maybe, but no more than that. Although, if anyone is going to win with a group of ageing stars it Ancelotti - just look at his Milan side!
    I'm not a top-four, or even a premier league fan, so this is simply an outsiders opinion....

  • Comment number 69.

    perhaps the moderator is taking a sick leave and Mr.Phil himself is doing in part-time for now. Sorry for the trouble in moderating this post.

  • Comment number 70.

    im sorry but the man utd fan who suggested welbeck as a possibility up front is in dreamland if he thinks that rookie youngster can win them the CL. Liverpool are the masters of defeating foreign teams. the only foreign team to outclass us in europe in the last 5 years was benfica and that was wivout liverpool's famous number 9. We love it when we're written off. I also believe chelseas narrow diamond formation will prove very succesful in europe as they pack the midfield and i expect them 2 go al long way in the competiition. YNWA

  • Comment number 71.

    "if United can be outmanouevred technically and tactically so completely by Barcelona with the weapon of Cristiano Ronaldo at their disposal, do they have a chance without him?"

    A very good chance to be honest, Ronaldo leaving will give some of the other players to shine in their own right, most notably Wayne Rooney, who I think when he gets into his stride is a much more important player than Ronaldo. As long as Rooney is in his favoured position he will provide goals, assists, space and moments of almost absurd genius, but whilst doing this will not take away from any other player. To get the best out of Ronaldo required too many players to sacrifice their own ability and chance to shine.
    Man Utd have lost big players before and have always remained competitive and amongst the very best in the game. I am a Liverpool fan so I am not just lavishing praise upon them for fun, but to suggest that one man will make that much difference in a team of such quality is, in my opinion, a huge oversight. Liverpool on the other hand, have lost Alonso who was a player who allowed everyone else to play with abandon. He is a big loss for us, I think we can hope for quarters at best unless Aquilani gains and retains fitness and form.

  • Comment number 72.

    HALA MADRID! HALA MACRID! HALA MADRID!

  • Comment number 73.

    Oh and surely the fact that the CL is a cup means that Arsenal should be taken much more seriously as contenders for that than the title? The less games you play the more chance you have of winning them surely? Id give it a bit of time before judging Arsenal. Just a thought...

  • Comment number 74.

    Some friends and I are running a book on when Phil will write an article featuring Man Utd without mentioning the loss of Ronaldo. Most optimistic bet so far: next January.

  • Comment number 75.

    All of those comments waiting to be moderated must be Arsenal fans venting their fury at your terrible comment about dismissing their chances.
    I don't think anyone can write Arsenal off. They're not as consistent as a lot of the top teams in the competition, but that means nothing in such a competition, where anything can happen.
    This year Arsenal have got Arshavin on the team and if he stays fit, they will always prove a threat and can beat any competitor. I haven't met anyone as of yet who say they weren't unlucky against utd and this season has showed they are a force to be reckoned with. a 4-2 loss to city away and the first 2 goals city have conceded also show theyre not a team you can just write off like that.
    Typical though, seems like most BBC pundits are quick to put them down and write off their chances. I wouldn't bet against them.

  • Comment number 76.

    I am a big fan of man united. I still remember, 10 years ago I went to bed and almost cried in my sleep because I couldn't bear to see Man U lost to Bayern. I didn't even hear the winning goals because I closed my ears from listening the rest of the game.
    I actually quite happy to see Ronaldo moved away, some times I don't like his gesture (well, I felt even more happy when I saw Tevez left). Rooney is more down to earth and Man united needs more people like him: some one who plays as a team and sit back despite his great achievement. Rooney and Ronaldo are just like Giggs and Beckham: they are both great but one thing distinguishes them: simple footballer vs celebrity. Fergie kept Giggs and let Beckham moved (now Rooney and Ronaldo); he probably had a same reason. Well, look where they (Giggs and Beckham) are now.
    As for champions league, I agree that reaching the final will already be a great achievement for Fergie and Man U. For the other english teams probably the same; just being realistic on how the italian and spanish clubs perform. Barca and Madrid are obvious threat, Inter and AC Milan could also be. We'll see.

  • Comment number 77.

    I'm afraid with this team there wont be a long run in the Champions league for us this year. Chelsea will win the league comfortably. We might have a shot at the FA Cup.

    Whoever thinks we can win the Champions league again should take a quick look at our squad and then look at Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, etc. Our squad it's just not good enough this year and that is thanks to SAF.

  • Comment number 78.

    Rangers fan here. Well done Phil for clearing up your thoughts regarding Rangers chances, I have to agree 100% with you, it would be a massive achievement for Rangers to advance out of the group stages. Reaching Quarter Finals truly would be our Holy Grail. However I am not optimistic with how the fixtures have came out, I feel we may well play well in Germany but ultimately (as seems to be the Scottish trait) I feel we will lose that game, a draw would be a tremendous result. With Seville next up at Ibrox I again fear for this game as Rangers historically (home and away do not do well against Spanish opposition) and again I feel the best that may be achieved is a draw, giving us 1 or 2 points from first 2 fixtures would immediately be putting us on the back foot. Time will tell.

    As for how English teams will fare I genuinely do believe 1 of them will win it. History shows that retaining the trophy is extremely difficult and for this reason I cannot see Barcrlona retaining it and as another poster pointed out I feel they are going to get more of a challenge this year in their own domestic league which could hinder their chances. Man U to get to a third consecutive Final would be a remarkable achievement and one that may possibly be beyond them (but never rule them out). I personally think best chances for success may come from Liverpool or Chelsea. I feel the hunger and desire in the Chelsea squad this year will be immense coupled to the fact they have a coach who knows his way through the tournament. With Liverpool (for me) it depends on how they are doing domestically in their own league. If they are doing well I feel they may struggle to compete on two fronts, as was ultimately shown last year. If however they do not genuinely believe they can win their own league they will then be primed for an all out assault on Champions League. Arsenal I believe will maybe reach Quarter Finals but then fail, especially if they draw an English side (as defeats to Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd in last 5 seasons will prove testament to). I feel if Arsenal could add a player with the combative qualities of a Patrick Viera (in his prime) they would go further but this is the type of player they are genuinely missing.

    I'm alreading looking forward to it and one thing is for sure, you can bet there will be at least one all English tie. As an outside speculative bet I would say Liverpool v Chelsea in Final.

    Man U and Arsenal fans please do not take offence as it could easily be one of your teams in Final as they also have genuine quality.

    Let's see what will come next May :)

  • Comment number 79.

    "And to the United fans who understandably feel they can win it again this year, let me know why you think you can do it without Ronaldo?"

    Said it before and i'll say it again, Ofcourse we can.

    Ronaldo showed a lack of team spirit in the final last year and wanted to win it by running a one man show. This season united will be a better side because they will be a real TEAM. Once we hit top form (which we are a long way off despite being brilliant last weekend), i honestly believe we will be unbeatable.

    Fletcher is one of the best midfielders there is and he will be a massive factor in winning trophies this season.

  • Comment number 80.

    I would love to see Arsenal win the champions league that is my ambition now,

  • Comment number 81.

    re #54

    Phil,

    The Cristiano of 2008/9 was a pale shadow of the Cristiano of 2007/8. The petulance, moaning to the ref, eyes raised to heaven etc were all back. He played for himself, not the team. His selfish play in last year's CL final has already been described by many posters here.

    Post-Cristiano Man Utd are beginning to show the same encouraging signs of England under Capello: the team matters not the individual player.

    Hind-sight or wishful thinking ? Neither. Regular readers of 606 last season will know that I was always apologising for Ronaldo's petulance AND moaning that the team was suffering 'cos it was being forced to pander to his whims. Giggs tongue-in-cheek comment about free kicks carried an obvious barb.

    Don't write us off BUT injury to Rooney might prove more serious than the loss of Cristiano. We can't play him every game and SAF will have to try the Owen/Berbs combination more often. Macheda and Welbeck must play more than Carling Cup. The gamble on including Hargreaves in the CL squad at the expense of Tosic is, forgive the impertinence SAF, a tad unwise.

  • Comment number 82.

    Post number 4. PERFECT!

  • Comment number 83.

    As a Liverpool fan, I would swap the Champions League any time for the Premiership crown, however, I think that if we avoid English opposition until the semi-final, we will win the Champions League, even if it is the dreaded Barcelona in the final.
    I believe that benitez has the measure of ANY spanish team and he seems to be able to read what they will do, and then set Liverpool up to counter that. Just look at what Liverpool did to the in-form Real Madrid last year.
    Benitez's problem seems to be the English teams, and lately Chelsea. Both teams are so equally matched, that nothing separates them, and the annoying part for Benitez is his innability to find a way of dominating them.
    I do not believe that United will go all the way this year, because I feel that Barca, Real and Inter would have a genuine chance of beating them.
    Chelsea will again go the whole way because they are a team that can play europeanly effective football without having to re-adjust.
    Arsenal will provide the entertainment but they are the team that will fall away first.
    Liverpool Barca final, Liverpool winning 2-1

    -----------------------------------------------------------------

    You are really narrow minded for a football fan, liverpool do not even compare to chelsea, i dont even have to explain why the statistics tables, and players say it all. And you really think liverpool can beat barca? pmsl!



    ---------------------

  • Comment number 84.

    Four British teams in the semis (as long as United are one) would be extraordinarily satisfying. And Platini would weep.

    Wonderful

  • Comment number 85.

    bigEPLfan wrote:
    I am a big fan of man united. I still remember, 10 years ago I went to bed and almost cried in my sleep

    ------------------------------------------------------------

    Were you breast fead?

  • Comment number 86.

    #85

    You obviously weren't. Mine were - and they can both spell.

    The above is as rational as your post !

  • Comment number 87.


    2 things in sport that are very dangerous to under estimate: England at rugby, and the remarkable Sir Alex Ferguson.

  • Comment number 88.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 89.

    The points in thbis article are poorly made
    Last season most commentators were saying Ronaldo was not at his best, yet nere it's stated that we lost the CL with Ronaldo as our main weapon.

    So Madrid have bought the finest attack in the world but they are not convincing in the league so far. Granted this seasons final is in Madrid so they will have extra desire...BUT it's never made a difference for sides in teh past

    It's my opinion that UTS, Chelsea & Barca are the teams to beat this season in europe.
    All 3 have excellent managers who have built balanced sides with class players in each key area:
    Barca have Puyol & Pique at teh back Iniesta & Xavi in the middle & of course messi up front
    Chelsea have a top keeper in Chech, The england skipper in Terry, Lampard in the middle & Anelka/Drogba up front.
    For the mighty red devils UTD have 2 genuinely top keepers in VDS/Foster, possible the best back 4 in europe (last season final excluded) great experience in Scholse & giggs and the one point I did agree with ...where there's Rooney theres hope!
    For UTD the key is not Ronaldo or his absence but getting owen hargreaves back later in the season to plug the gap between defence & midfield.
    This season is certain;y full of challenges but the display v spurs showed UTD at their best, defensively strong, quick to attack, creative and determined to the last.

    It's been said before but it's so so true.....write Manchester United off at your peril

  • Comment number 90.

    Milan is gonna wish they had settled for Europa League cuz Marseille and Real will be asking a lot of questions of them. (In the end they will end up going into the Europa League as a result of 3rd place)

    The favourites are the two Spanish giants of course and Chelsea has the best chance amongst the English contingent followed by L'pool, ManU and Arsenal in that order. However Chelsea and Liverpool will have it tough in the group stages.

    Inter has a good squad and has one of the best managers in the world in Mourinho and Juve are gonna be the dark horses of the tournament. Bayern I guess is the only team outside the top 3 nations to stand any chance at all of lifting the UCL trophy.

  • Comment number 91.

    Unirea Urziceni toured Spain earlier this year during the Romanian mid-season break and looked a rugged, strong side with technique and talent.
    Walter Smith may need to use all of his experience and guile, qualities Unirea coach Dan Petrescu possesses in abundance. Not many people had probably heard of the Romanian league winners until the Champions League draw, they won't win it but for sure Rangers can look forward to a couple of tough games.
    Of the English contenders, I have a hunch Carlo Ancelotti might trump the Premiership competition and go all the way. Sir Alex Ferguson really needs to find a way to get the best out of Dimitar Berbatov, fits and starts isn't enough against Europe's very best. What chance a fit Michael Owen making an impact?
    Liverpool are again going to rely heavily on Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, The Reds don't appear to have the depth of squad to compensate for the loss of key players through injury or possible suspension.
    Arsenal look to have a comfortable qualifying group from which they should progress via first place. In my humble opinion though, they'll make the last eight where the quality of opposition, whoever they face, will have too much for them.
    The two games between AC Milan and Real Madrid might be an accurate early indicator for one of the eventual semi-finalists.
    Intriguing already isn't it?

  • Comment number 92.

    Both United and England are missing the complete package that is Hargreaves at his best. Why do we hear nothing of his progress; or otherwise? Has injury dealt a devastating blow to English soccer?

  • Comment number 93.

    1. At 3:27pm on 14 Sep 2009, Champions2010 wrote:
    No .4

    Let me start with a Yawn!!!! and then a congratulations for another excuse from another MUFC fan for why you didnt win the Champions League. Fergie tried to beat Barca by playing the right football? Did he? Or where MUFC just out classed by a far superior Barca side. Why would your great leader not play to his strengths? Poor attempt at an excuse. And as for MUFC strength being in defence, not from what I saw last season when Fernando Torres made Vidic look like a boy against a man.

    ............................

    United finished above liverpool I recall or are liverpool current EPL champion? I can't remember when you last won the premiership

  • Comment number 94.

    Barca will do well to progress past semi final this season. Last season they only made it with a massive help from UEFA. Incompetence is when referees falter at difficult decisions, none of those at Stamford Brigde that night falls into that category. Building a team around Ibramovic is a nonsense. It has really exposed Guardiola's deficits in judgement. Barca are weaker than last season for that, definitely.

    Real Madrid have a totally unbalanced team - I can't see them even getting to semi-final

    Chelsea like last season the most composed of the English lot, and the most tactically sound. Problem is, when is Drogba going to deliver a massive semi or final CL performance that we have waited for over the years, I mean with the ball, (not in front of post match camera)

    Liverpool can progress to semi,and if they can navigate their way round English opponents they can even reach final

    Arsenal - can't see them going anyway. They still look like a bunch of school boys waiting for instructions from their teacher. Their body language, their demeanour, everything about their looks just tells me these guys cant win a thing.

  • Comment number 95.

    Even without ronaldo, i think this will be united's season. With Ferdinand and Vidic fit, they have the best defence in europe. We have seen what Berbatov can do against spurs and Rooney is in the greatest of forms. With Hargreaves and Obertan to return along with the current midfield, United have the prefect balance to win the cup. The challenge for both Champions League and Premier League come from Chelsea. I just hope the African Nation's cup stops the blues.

  • Comment number 96.

    united vs real madrid final. rooney scores hatrick ronaldo gets sent off 4 diving perfect end 2 another old trafford season..

  • Comment number 97.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 98.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 99.

    31. At 3:55pm on 14 Sep 2009, hisroyalredness wrote:

    players come n go van nistel,beckam,ronaldo etc
    but the red machine keeps on moving.
    SAF always knows best in the long run.
    --------------------------------------------------------------------
    the difference with Ronaldo is that SAF didn't want to lose him; Van Nistelrooy had major problems playing with Ronaldo, Becks had Become bigger than united in the eyes of the media, and had no place in the "team"... even though they were obviously still world class players, it would improve the morale and performance to lose them:
    With Ronaldo, it's the opposite.

  • Comment number 100.

    Ok first off, in my opinion two, perhaps three English teams will do well in the CL. But I don't see any one of them making it to the final itself. Arsenal are being written off too soon, I think they are always a team to contend with, and when they get into stride during a match, they can be unstoppable. Liverpool are also a threat in Europe, but I don't see them going too far if they are matched up with Inter, Barca, Real, or even Bayern in the finals. MAnchester United will feel the loss of Ronaldo, not because of his individual contributions, some people seem to forget the psychological boost he gave United whenever he played, That was the biggest difference he made. But anyway he will not be the sole reason should United fail. They (Man U) look like a shadow of the team that won the CL, key players have left, and there is a lot less organization. Man U fans bring up the win against Arsenal as an example for some optimism. Any neutral spectator would tell you that Man U was outplayed for much of that game, and it certainly wasn't a clear cut win. Chelsea are the team i see doing the best in the CL, tired legs or not. Now for the rest of the teams, Barcelona obviously come to mind first, they have pretty much the same team that they had last year, with a new foreward, who may or may not workout for them in the CL. Real got the big name signings, but it still remains to be seen if they can get them all to gel together as a team. Inter are a much different team this year and may even reach the final. And last but not least, FC Porto to me are still very much in the running, people immediately write them off because they lost some big name players, well i have news for you, Porto loses big name players almost every year, and have been since they first set foot in Europe, It's their ability to bounce back that set's them apart, and I guarantee that even if they don't make it to the CL final, they will break a few more hearts this year ;)

 

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