By Osama Rahman
What a dramatic way to kick off the first edition of the Offside Cocktail. A bi-monthly dose of everything football could not have asked for a better premise than the Champions League quarter-finals. A careful dissection of the epic clashes is now the order of the day.
A mouth watering clash of Chelsea vs Real Madrid is indeed in the offing but that's getting ahead of ourselves. Every other team has as much determination as required to force their way into the finals, not least of all Manchester United who have that extra tonic of Best's memories from 43 years ago still vivid, when United defeated Benifica right there in good old Wembley. But predictions apart, it is the very clashes that inspire excitement, inspiration, hope and fear.
Let us first consider Real Madrid vs Tottenham. Harry has transformed Spurs since taking over and after their mauling of Inter and AC Milan, no questions can be asked about their credibility. But in Jose Mourinho, Madrid has perhaps one of the best tacticians in the world and this will not be the first time the two coaches meet. Of course the stage is different and both are now in charge of different teams, but neither is known to back away, either on field or when it comes to mind games. Real Madrid are giants, of that there is no question, but it remains to be seen whether they can match the pace that Spurs have to offer in the shape of Defoe, Lennon and Bale. As much as Harry depends on his midfield trio of Modric, Bale and former-Madrid man VDV, it will all result in nothing if Madrid come out with all guns blazing, letting Ozil, Ronaldo and the in-form Benzema run riot. A difficult game to call, but the odds are tipped towards the men from Spain with Ronaldo being the man to break Spurs' fragile backline. Redknapp too doesn't exactly relish the prospect of going to Madrid, not that he fears losing, but let's remember he was mugged the last time he went there. It's tempting to put this up for goals galore, but let's just say Real Madrid will push through.
Then comes the mouth-watering clash of Manchester United against Chelsea. United can never be written off and they have proven this on more than one occasion. It was best under-lined in their recent game against a compact Bolton side. As for Chelsea, many can say that the Blues have finally hit their stride. At this point, let's pause and analyse. Chelsea's resurgence can be pointed down to David Luiz's spirit, skill and valour. He was the one who broke the deadlock against City and put on a brave show against United too. So, what will become of this clash now when the fan-favourite Sideshow Bob look-a-like is ineligible to play in the Champion's League? Who will be Chelsea's saviour? Dropping Malouda, bringing in Kalou and sticking with Drogba and Anelka while allowing Ramires more attacking options is the best way for Ancelloti to go. For when it comes to playing against the mighty United, the form book should be thrown out. Alex Ferguson is a genius and United's spirit is unmatched but then again Chelsea have a wealth of experience. The heart wishes to tip Chelsea 4-2 on aggregate, considering United's deflated options at the back. But here's an update; Rio Ferdinand may well be back in the side. Still, revenge for Moscow is in the mind and yes, Torres may just score in the away leg.
Barcelona vs. Shakhtar Donetsk will not be an entertaining affair. The footballing Gods seem to have fallen in love with Pep's receded hairline. It seems unless Barca progress in all competitions, football, as we know it, will die out. Though asking Shakhtar to dominate over two legs is too much to ask for, still let's all say a collective prayer so that this is no walk-over. Eduardo, we are hoping you conjure a miracle. Messi, stay off the ball, please. Barcelona takes it away 4-1.
Schalke vs Inter however will be an interesting affair. Inter, the leakiest defense currently, having leaked 14 goals, takes on the best tacklers in the game today, with Schalke having a success rate of 82% in this field. Up front we can see Farfan taking on Eto'o, with the two having notched four and eight goals respectively. This will thus indeed be an intriguing contest. However, for a smart man, the money should clearly be put on Inter Milan. Regardless of the team's fallacy, they have mentality and they are the defending champions, plus their progression would only serve to make the tournament much more interesting. No hate for Schalke, it's just that they have never won at this stage before and considering things domestically, this may just not be their year. No barrage of goals in this game, but Inter takes it away 1-1, on away goals.
Now, here's looking forward to an exciting week.
The last topic we had was Names. A lot of entries turned up, unfortunately though, we found that quite a few of them were plagiarised. And regretfully, this week, there will be no winning entry for BetaWriters. For next week we have: See-saw. We hope you can surprise us. The rules are the usual: submissions have to be sent in before noon Sunday to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, we thought we'd reiterate, plagiarism will not be tolerated, not even when it is cleverly disguised.
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