We called it foolhardy when Rafa Benitez sent his squad a week before the game against Barca in the first leg, knowing the combustible nature of some of his players. And it was as all the critics feared, true, as after a drinking binge, a sozzled Bellamy decided that Riise was a giant golf ball worthy of launching into the green. Some of his equally addled team mates cheered on his under par performance. It all became a matter for the police blotter. Of course, there were consequences to be paid and the question was would Bellamy be included in the squad. Benitez kept faith. In hindsight, it was the best thing that happened to this Liverpool team. That and the return of Momo Sissoko. Bellamy sparked off this Liverpool team scoring a goal and setting up Riise to score the second. Again, Liverpool did what it does best. Rousing itself against adversity. Although, they lost the return leg at Anfield, Liverpool kept Victor Valdes on his toes. But this Liverpool team is finally playing as a team minus the finger pointing and head wagging earlier in the season. Plus, Sissoko's return has helped immensely.
In contrast, Man Utd look sluggish and with Larsson's departure, Saha and Solsjaer injured, they look pretty thin upfront with just Rooney. Sir Alex might comfort himself that he has Giggs and Ronaldo to land a strike. But if the only goals that they can get are Giggs sleight of foot against no name Lille then they are in deep trouble. They did not look particularly impressive against Lille in the return encounter even with the win. Larsson scoring the winning goal proving that they need someone like him to progress deeper. Chelsea managed to eke out an unconvincing win against Porto, a grudge match in which Mourinho's former club did almost enough to prove that they were better than the man who put them on top in 2004. Helton's poor decision making let them down in the end. Chelsea's defensive problems should get sorted out with Terry's return. But Chelsea's problem is that every club knows the unbelievable pressure that they are playing under, in their desire to stamp themselves as Europe's best team. The cracks were evident in their match against Porto as Chelsea came under pressure and looked ragged. So much so that Mourinho had to remind his players at halftime to "enjoy that pressure."
I see Liverpool return to the finals as they did in 2005. And surprisingly, I would pick Bayern Munich or Roma to meet them. Bayern has slipped in under the radar as all the prattle has been about plebian Schalke and Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga. But they played the most entertaining soccer against Real. Podolksi is back. Roy Makaay was quicksilver with his 11 second goal. Bayern's attack was pugnacious and unrelenting as Poldi hit his stride. And if Mark Van Bommel can pull out a Cesc Fabregas performance consistently then he can burn everyone with his crisp passing. Roma's biggest advantage is that they sense their moment in the sun after years of being bundled out. Totti has served notice to Gattuso, bring it on if the draw indeed pits the country bumpkins against patrician Milan. Roma has the right man in Totti, who always plays big in the matches that count. And Doni is undoubtedly the best goalkeeper so far in the Champions league.
Arsenal and Arsene. Again one pretty pass too many. Tele Santana would have been proud because even with all the injuries and suspensions, the Gunners still played the most pleasing but in the end, ineffective soccer. Alex giveth and then taketh right back. It has been that frustrating a season for them.