When was the last time we failed to qualify for the knockout rounds of the Champions League? Not being a historian I cannot tell you but it was a rare occurrence and some time ago. Which is why I am not over enthusiastic about tonight, it seems a diversion from the real target of the Premiership. I realise this is a purely subjective view but I would swap the winning of the CL for the PL (both would be best but unlikely).
There will be shock and derision if we do not progress from this group, such is the level of expectation of our supporters. For us the real competition starts in February. We have become spoiled. If you don’t agree listen to the rampant excitement emanating out of N17.
My concerns are that with a thinning squad and some big PL games coming up, Braga are a nuisance, not quite on the Carling Cup level, but nonetheless another possibilty for injuries. And I am not the only one to think this way – Man Utd put out a reserve team last night in what to Rangers was a huge game. Sir Alex prioritised the Liverpool game at the weekend and was satisfied with a point knowing MU will qualify.
The fact is the Top 3 sides in the Premiership would win the title in any country other than Spain, (and probably there as well). I know, I know …. Inter beat the Chavs and Barca, but they were totally outplayed by them and inspired by Jose, – would you expect the same results with Rafa in charge?
Barring individual errors, we will beat Braga. If we don’t there will be another media investigation. Would there be the same furore had the rabble from N17 lost last night? …… I rest my case.
As to Braga. Like many I know little about them. They are a tidy outfit who have beaten both Celtic and Seville on their way to the Emirates. They finished higher in the Liga than our regular opponents Porto, but 5 points behind Benfica. Their squad is littered with Brazilians, but this is their first outing in the Champions League proper.
I hope we line up like this:
Eboue Squill Kos Clichy
JW Cesc Denilson TR
thereby giving Song (who will be vital at Sunderland), AA and Chamakh a rest. But we won’t…… I expect to see last Saturday’s team with Cichy and Sagna back, and JW losing his starting place to Eboue.
Not much to tell you about Braga. In the North of Portugal (175k residents) it is one of the earliest Christian cities in the World, having a synod established in the 6th century, and the winner of the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest, Marie Myriam, was born in Braga but sang for France.
Will we win tonight? Of course we will.