So fresh from entertaining and, thankfully, defeating visitors from the Stadium of Light we now step out at as guests at the Estádio da Luz. If only the task tonight would turn out to be easy as Sundays!
It’s always exciting to be involved in any cup competition as it progress’s especially the quarter finals. Win through and the final, from being something you don’t talk about through fear of getting ahead of yourself, becomes more of a reality. However, as ever, you need to clear the hurdles.
Despite all this it is still hard not to think about tonight’s game as merely a distraction to the main task of gaining fourth place, but should it be? All we get for fourth place is entry to the Champions League and the chance of earning more money than we would had we not qualified. Tonight, if we do well, we are still in with a chance of silverware. Call me wrong but I want to see my club win as much silverware as possible and as far as I know, we don’t get a pot of any kind to pi* in for coming fourth! I’m not saying Champions League is not as important as winning the UEFA Cup, and to achieve fourth and win the thing should be the goal, but let’s get a sense of priority and remember that first and foremost we are football fans and not businessmen sweating over a balance sheet?
Despite our 2006 Champions League exit, our record against Benfica in Europe is good. Prior to this we’d played them three times, all in the European Cup (for younger readers that’s what the Champions league was called in the good old days). In 1977-78 we won both ties 2-1 at their place then 4-1 at home .Then in 1983-84 we repeated the trick however, the game at the Estádio da Luz, when we were defending a slender 1-0 lead, was a classic which eventually saw us running 4-1 winners and being given a standing ovation off the pitch by the home crowd. The following year we visited Lisbon again defending a 3-1 lead (Ian Rush got a hat trick) and lost out 0-1. What would we give for any of those results tonight?
However that’s in the past and tonight we line up against a side topping the Portuguese league by six points, unbeaten at home with only one defeat away. Critics and soothsayers with a penchant for clichéd generalisation say we need not worry as the Portuguese league is supposedly inferior to the Premiership however, I don’t think anyone looking at tonight’s tie will believe that it will be anything other than a challenge for us.
Team wise and guess what, Alberto Aquilani is injured again! John Toshack described Duncan McKenzie (if you don’t know who is he is you’re too young so Google him) as like a
“…beautiful motor car – six owners but he’s been in the garage most of the time”
Aquilani is fast becoming our version of this, trouble is on the evidence we have seen so far we don’t even know if he is a beautiful motor car or an old jalopy! Aquilani was bought by Rafa as a replacement for Xavi Alonso however he has spent so much time “in the garage” that comparisons are more likely to made with Harry Kewell! It is slowly becoming very annoying. Perhaps I’m being too hard on the player but recently every time I hear he is injured I want to shake him! Maybe I shouldn’t as perhaps all his limbs and his head will fall off!
Is Aquilani that fragile? If so then something needs to be done. At the risk of sounding reactionary how about a regime that toughens him up – eight “cow pies” a day and plenty of weights and loads of runs in the driving rain following by an ice bath and rub down with a cold sponge! Not the exact antidote but you know what I mean?
All this means that because Maxi is cup tied, we have a vacancy in midfield. It would be nice to see Babel kept in to have a go at Benfica but I suspect, and no disrespect, that we will see Lucas wheeled out once more with Kuyt dropping back and Gerrard moving further forward even though he looked more at home in the central midfield position on Sunday?
Prediction? I simply have no idea. Torres appears to be coming good at the right moment and like Messi last night will attract a lot of attention possibly to the exclusion of the home side taking the initiative? I think it will be close, the margin being no less than one goal – either way.
By the way I’m stopping rounding off by saying “enjoy the game” because every time I do we play cr*p. So, have a nice evening.