Tim Stannard looks at six storylines that could unfold in Saturday's clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Will Messi break Zarra's La Liga record?
It's not all about Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, you know. We're talking about the pressure on Iker Casillas, Luis Suarez debuting in the big one and Isco's big chance...
If you have anything to say on any subject, mail us at email@example.com
We'll Start With A Banter
Man Utd have accepted a bid from Villa for Tom Cleverley. I thought they said they weren't going to sell to their rivals?
James Tong, GFC, Brighton
REAL MADRID... Oh yes thankyou very much. This is why i have missed the Champions League so much. We have been drawn a fairly tough group and it will be very hard to qualify although i think the we certainly have a chance of progressing. Obviously Real are favourites to top the group being the all-conquering Champions last season and Basel are a very accomplished side with a wealth of Champions League experience. Ludogorets although inexperienced will be tough away from home too. Madrid and Basel away are going to be great nights for a red fan to watch as well as the first home game whoever that may be agasint. Are we going to win it... Probably not. Am I going to savour every moment... Hell yeah!
Mark (going to enjoy this as we might not be back next year) LFC
I'm somewhat torn with Liverpool's group; having only 1 "proper" opponent means we'll likely progress to the next round with only two games to get excited about. On top of that, it'd be four games whereby we should realistically expect to get a result and Brendan needs a proper European education as it was his inexperience against Zenit that cost us our last European campaign.
I think a lot of our fans associate our involvement in the Champions League with Rafa's side, with our peak between '07 and '09 when we legitimately didn't fear going to anyone and won away at the Nou Camp, Bernabeu, San Siro and other cathedrals of football. Where as our involvement in the Champions League in the latterdays of Houllier was fumbling around in the group, not really challenging and it all being a bit underwhelming and inevitable.
Basically, what I'm saying is I'm utterly, utterly delighted and excited that Liverpool are back in the big time, but what I really want to get from this season is some more bonkers entertainment. Four games against no-marks in the group stage, and going out in the first knock out round isn't going to do that (especially if it's a battering).
As a fan, I feel it would have been far more fun to have some ding dong battles in a group of death, ultimately leading to glorious failure a la Napoli last year with 12 points and still going out, then having a run In the Europa. Group C or Group H would have been perfect. If we finish third, there'd still be the option of ties against Napoli, PSV, Lyon or Spurs, and (presumably, any of) Monaco, Ajax, Roma, or Bilbao. Not the cream of the crop, but still good teams in a competitive environment, which'd be great for us to watch and would help us and Brendan for next year. The Europa is, in my view, somewhat unfairly criticised. Our run in 2001 was brilliant, with ties against Barca, Roma and the 5:4 final. I enjoyed it again under Kenny in 2011, and the games under Brendan in the '12/'13 season were often absolutely hilarious - the final game against Zenit was great viewing.
If we're not going to win it, then I want to be entertained. This draw means it'll likely be a quick and forgetable fumble.
Not So Much
Between now and October 22nd, I am going to be having nightmares about Bale and Ronaldo attacking Liverpool's forward-pushing fullbacks. Is there any way we could borrow from American football and bring in Rafa as our defensive coordinator for the match?
A Question For The Mailbox
A thought struck me watching the mighty Spurs in the Europa League tonight.
If Spurs win the Europa League and finish 5th and Arsenal win the Champs League (stop sniggering) and finish 6th does this mean we'll have 6 teams in the Champions League next season?
I promise to try and not make this message sound like a bitter sour-grapes type thing.
But how on earth has Jack Colback just been named in the England squad? The ugly brother to Jordan Henderson in Sunderland's youth Academy set up in 2008, he properly broke into the first team in about 2011.
In the past couple of seasons, Colback has been regarded as "okay" and "average" by Sunderland fans. We knew his worth to our squad. He was a tidy midfielder who helped keep things ticking along nicely. He would play square balls, chase quite a lot and usually put a shift in.
He was quite versatile and would fill in at left-back when we needed him.
Forgetting the fact that he left to join that lot up the road, he is still exactly the same player. He hasn't morphed into Andres Iniesta in TWO games at Newcastle. He is still underwhelmingly average.
Hodgson has decided he is now suddenly worthy of being named in the International set up, despite getting nowhere near it when he played for us.
Meanwhile Lee Cattermole (A far more effective CM for our team) is still underrated and gets nowhere near the team. If this is the future of English International football, we might as well call it a day give up now.
Ginger Pirlo? My lord.
Jack (Ironically), Sunderland.
Delph Deserves It
Really glad to see Fabian Delph named in the England squad. I've watched him in Villa's opening games and he showed bags of energy, commitment and was vital in transitioning play from deep midfield to attack. He has continued his fine form from last season. He's one of those players that has you half up off your seat (you know the one, ass sticking out, back bent to an acute angle) when he is running with the ball. He's proven his goal against Chelsea last season was no fluke. It's just refreshing to see some new names that are not the obvious named in the squad. Let's hope Hodgson actually gives them game time to have the chance to impress and claim a permanent spot.
Seyi (Balotelli to score on Sunday) LFC, London.
On August 19, I e-mailed Football365 a set of predictions for the season, which you were so kind as to include in the next day's mailbox. One of those predictions (and I quote) was: "Before September 15, a journalist will begin a sentence with, 'At least under David Moyes...'" On August 25, the following paragraph appeared under Oliver Holt's byline in the online version of the Mirror:
"United were rank against Sunderland. In fact, that is being generous. They were by turns slow, ponderous, cautious, panic-stricken, predictable and naïve. At least under David Moyes, their away form was good last season. At the Stadium of Light, it deserted them."
I win the entire Internet.
PeterG, Pennsylvania, USA (Of course Oliver Holt may not count as a journalist)
Best Of The Rest
Interesting challenge posed by Danny, (I had to Google parentheses) Scotland. I'll have a go.
In goals I'm going for Stoke - Begovic had a stormer of a season last year, Butland is a great prospect, and Sorensen is a steady pair of hands should something unexpected happen to the other two.
Defence is tricky as I'd like to take Hull as well, but in the interest of avoiding repetition I end up at Palace - Hangeland would grace any back 4 in the league for my money, and the others (Dann, Delaney, Mariappa, Ward, Ramage) are all capable enough. Disappointing that Dean Moxey was released, but you can't have everything.
Midfield I think it's hard to see past Southampton - some of their best may have left but they still have Schneiderlin, Wanyama and Ward-Prowse, alongside the new buy Tadic, as well as a decent supporting cast of Cork, Davis, and the wildcard of Gaston Ramirez (if he stays / decides to play)
And then finally, "where are the goals coming from?" I think a forward line of Benteke, Weimann and Agbonlahor, with Darren Bent as backup, is actually enough to make most Arsenal fans weep considering their current lack of options. So I'll take Villa's forwards.
I reckon this lot would give Danny's team a run for their money and who knows, a late push for a Europa league spot and maybe a cup final.
Terry Hall, Switzerland
Allan Simonsen - Barcelona to Charlton wtf - and that from a Charlton fan
'I wouldn't bat an eyelid if I saw him starting up front in place of Rooney or RVP. '
More of a comment on the poor quality of Rooney and RVP than praise of welbz.