Dec 102008

Tonight sees the Champions League group stages come to an end, and so far the final week has been monumentally dull for the competition. The only teams to qualify last night were Chelsea, and since they only needed a draw at home to Cluj, that wasn’t exactly unpredictable, and Panathinaikos, while the eight qualifiers from the four remaining groups are already known.

So all that remains is to find out who will win each group, and therefore theoretically get an easier passage in the knock out stages. But it seems that clubs all across Europe rate that particular bonus as unimportant, so expect a series of shadow teams and uninspiring matches.

That is certainly the case for us. We may only need a draw at Porto to win the group, but the side going out there is a young one, with Cesc, Nasri, Adebayor, Van Persie, Sagna and Toure all staying behind. Diaby and Gallas return, although the latter is not captain – that role returns to Almunia in Cesc’s absence.

Bendtner and Vela should start up front, although Vela may play wide with Diaby in the advanced midfield role he played so well in Turkey. Eboue is likely to start, while much of the travelling party is made up of the Carling Cup kids that have already impressed this season. It’ll be interesting to see how they get on.

Without Nasri, we are once again short of width in midfield, and anyone hoping that Rosicky can fill the void can think again – he is now expected back in March ‘at the earliest’. Given that every date has been pushed back up to now, I find even that timescale unlikely, and it is looking increasingly like the Czech won’t play for us again. Which is a real shame – imagine how frustrating it is for him to be sidelined for such a length of time. Fingers crossed his career hasn’t already ended.

Bet of the day (Current winnings: -£5)

I won’t actually be able to watch the game tonight, so from a purely selfish point of view I half hope that the game is a repeat of the final group fixture we played against the same opposition a few years back, which ended a dull 0-0. That is where today’s bet is going, at a healthy 15/2 with Sportingbet.

Enjoy the game, for those who can watch it.

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