Date:Monday November 3 2008
Manchester United take on Arsenal on Saturday at the Emirates Stadium in a game that could kill off any lingering title hopes that the Gooners may still harbour. However, the preceding Champions League game might be even more important.
Sounds stupid? Well, the reasoning is quite simple: whatever happens in the Arsenal game, we'll still have a very good chance of landing the title. But by losing at Celtic our Champions League chances could be severely damaged.
As United could only draw with Villarreal at Old Trafford, despite playing the Spaniards off the park, we are now level on points with them, with a visit to Spain still on the horizon. If we can't defeat Celtic then only a victory at Villarreal will make sure United finish first in the group as we will not know what the Spanish team achieves at Parkhead on the last day of the group stages.
To put it simple: if we draw both at Celtic and at Villarreal then the Spanish team can get top spot by winning at Glasgow on the last day (assuming the beat Aalborg in Denmark on Wednesday which they will). And why is that bloody first spot so important? Well, as you know every first-placed team play a second-placed team in the first knockout round, with the second-placed team playing the first game at home. Let's have a look at the group leaders.
Group A: Chelsea - we can't get them, thankfully.
Group B: Internazionale - do we want to meet Mourinho's Inter in the last 16? Don't think so.
Group C: Barcelona - 11 competitive games won in a row, with a stupid amount of goals scored. No thanks.
Group D: Liverpool - I'd love to play Liverpool 'This is our year' FC but we won't at that stage.
Group E: that's our group.
Group F: Bayern Munich - their defense is rubbish, without Ribery they have no creativity and Klinsmann is not in the same league as Fergie. But they are still bloody Germans and Lineker had a point about them... so no thanks.
Group G: Arsenal - I'd love to meet them, too, but it can't happen.
Group H: Juventus - possibly the best option of all these as their squad is mediocre but they will have their injured key players back for February. So no thanks. And in all likelyhood they will finish second anyway, Real Madrid will take top spot.
Anyone fancy a duel with Barcelona, where we have to play the first game at home? No thanks, if it must happen then let it happen in the semi-finals.
By contrast, these are the second-placed teams at the moment: CFR Cluj, Anorthosis Famagusta, Sporting CP, Atlético Madrid, Lyon, Dynamo Kyev, Real Madrid.
It's much prettier, with the obvious exception of Real Madrid, who, as I said, will probably win their group anyway as Juve are yet to visit St. Petersburg and Madrid. And even if they'll be second, it's still better meeting them than any first-placed team: we would have the advantage of playing the second leg at Old Trafford.
What I'd like to get across is that it's no time to rest players. Get the job done in Glasgow and we'll be much better off for it. We can rotate against QPR as much as Fergie wants. He can play a Reserve XI for all I care. If we crash out of the Carling Cup - big deal. The Champions League is a shade more important for me.
Date:Monday November 3 2008
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