Handily poised

Having devoted yesterday’s post to a round up of the cycling, today I felt I should turn my attention to the football. I will, of course, firstly address the two clubs closest to my heart: namely, AVFC and OGCN. The former didn’t play at the week and as their would-be opponents were involved in a replay. Unsurprisingly, they’ll be playing Manchester City in the next round of the FA Cup. My beloved boys in claret and blue are the filling in a Midlands sandwich. They’re lying in 16th place with 30 points, the same as Birmingham who are above us thanks to a superior goal difference, and a game in hand. Below us, on two points less, are WBA. To put this in perspective, the league leaders, Manchester United, have twice as many points. OGCN lost 3-0 at home to PSG. They’ve played one game less than Villa and are on 27 points in 17th place, just above Monaco, who are in the relegation zone. The similarities are alarming but I don’t believe either will be relegated.

I will now turn my attention to the Champion’s League which tends to be a bit of a closed shop. There’s 4 English sides (Man U, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal), 3 Spanish teams (Real, Barca, Valencia), 3 Italian teams (Inter, AC Milan, Roma), 2 German teams (Bayern, Schalke), 2 French teams (OL, OM) plus 2 others (Copenhagen, Shaktar Donetsk).  Following the results of the first leg, there’s only one side which looks likely to be eliminated: FC Copenhagen who were beaten 2-0 at home by Chelsea.

If we look at the results from the remaining first legs, there are at first glance some surprising results: most notably Spurs winning 1-0 away at AC Milan and Manchester United drawing 0-0 away from home at OM. In other instances,  while the favoured team lost, they do have that all important away goal as in Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona, Lyon 1 – 1 Real Madrid which should provide the platform for a home, and overall, win in the next leg.

At this stage, it’s not easy to forecast who will win. There’s so many variables not just the opponents in the forthcoming rounds, domestic situations but,  more crucially, the availability of key players. However, I’m all for sticking my neck out and I’m going to predict that the last 8 teams will be Spurs, Schalke, Shaktar, Barca, Real, Chelsea, Man U, Bayern. I would have liked to include Arsenal in that list but cannot see them beating Barcelona at home. I hope, in this case, I’m proved wrong.

 Of course, it’s difficult to work up enough interest if your own team isn’t playing, nor shows any sign of qualifying to play Champions League in my remaining lifetime. I will however always be able to treasure the moment when Peter Withe’s knee struck the ball in Rotterdam and put in the back of the Bayern net enabling my beloved boys to bring home the trophy in 1982. I watched the game after barracading myself into the tv lounge of the hotel where I was staying in Taunton while auditing Somerset CC.

Someone to watch over me

I went on a training ride with my cycling coach today and, fortunately, our paths didn’t cross with any of my team mates. So my secret’s still safe for now.  Of course, it’s very disconcerting to ride with someone whose legs are only a little larger, but less flabby (bat wings) than my arms. However, it’s much easier doing intervals when he’s looking at the stop watch and telling me when to start and, more importantly, when to stop. This was a repeat of a loop and exercise I did last week. Today, I was 2.5km an hour faster. Yes, I try that much harder when there’s someone breathing down my neck. Don’t we all?

On my return journey I popped into my usual watering hole for the newspapers and a coffee only to meet up with my sister, who was returning to the  UK later today, and her friends, who have just arrived. This gave us an opportunity to briefly catch up. I sensed she would’ve preferred to stay and work on her tan.

I had totally forgotten that the water was going to be switched off today for maintenance/essential repairs. That’s right, no shower for me after my sweat inducing ride. I therefore felt compelled to stay home. Any excuse to slob about in my favourite fleecy tracksuit and watch some cycling on the internet. This also allowed me to tackle numerous items on my all important “to do” list. Including completing my lesson plans for tomorrow’s English lesson.

My beloved is back tomorrow afternoon. This meant, for once, he was away on his birthday (yesterday). However, he put his trip to the UK to good use, earning brownie points by taking his mother (aka the outlaw) out to dinner and giving her the recently taken photo of him riding in La Louis Caput. I confess it was a really good photo of him and while I was tempted to hang on to it, I do after all have the real thing. Sadly, the same cannot be said of my photo, taken by the same photographer. It seems to focus on my left shin, not one of my finer bits, and I appear to be grimacing quite badly. So much for smiling for the camera.  The wind was obviously making my gilet billow so  I look like an elderly Bessie Bunter on wheels. Haven’t these photographers ever heard of airbrushing?

Back to the cycling: Peter Sagan, the revelation of Paris-Nice, took over the leader’s jersey in the Tour of Romandie. He’s being hotly pursued by Marco Pinotti, who was wearing it after yesterday’s prologue, and Frenchman, Jeremy Roy. On the football front, it’ll be a  Bayern v Inter final and I wouldn’t bet against “the Special One” picking up his second Champion’s League title. That man is a master strategist and tactician.

Hot money

At the beginning of the season, Martin O’Neil, AVFC’s wondrous football manager attempted (unsuccessfully) to manage the fans’ expectations. He cautioned that with the teams around us having strengthened their squads, we would do well to hold onto 6th place. We’re currently lying 7th, 7 points behind Spurs who are in 4th. Liverpool are 5th and Manchester City are 6th.

This time last year, having dallied with 4th position and the prospect of Champion’s League football, we simply ran out of steam. Sadly, we’re in danger of a repeat performance. Excellent cup runs (Final of League Cup and semi-final of FA Cup) have left us playing 5 matches in two weeks. We’ve won one, drawn three and lost on Saturday, away at Chelsea. Actually, that’s not strictly true. After a brave first-half performance(according to a friend of mine, who’s a Chelsea fan), we were thrashed 7-1 by Chelsea. An ominous portent for our forthcoming FA Cup semi-final clash at Wembley on 10 April.

On the bright side, we’ll have had at least two trips to Wembley this season our first trips in 10 years. It’s hard to see what more Martin O’Neil can do to break into the top four. Maybe, it’s simply not possible as the monetary divide gets ever wider.

Over here, OGCN, having dispensed with the services of its coach, has now won three consecutive matches and looks to have a firm grip on 16th spot. The prospect of relegation is fast receding. 

The season seems to be rushing towards a conclusion and, before we know it, the World Cup will be upon us once more. However, there’s still the small matter of the Champion’s League. It’s being contested by two English sides (Arsenal and Man U), two French sides (Lyon and Bordeaux), one Spanish (Barca), one Italian (Inter), one Russian (CSK) and one German (Bayern).  If I were a betting woman (I’m not, I leave that to my two sisters), I’d put my money on Inter, Barca, Man U and Bordeaux to reach the semis.

Postscript: Lucky I’m not a betting woman! I do hope it wasn’t the curse of the pundit but the semis are Bayern v Lyon and Inter v Barca. Still 2 out of 4’s not too bad. Given the incredible form of Messi, I’m going to plump for a Bayern v Barca final, with Barca to win.