UEFA Champions League Playoffs - Previews, Predictions: Werder Bremen, Sevilla Tenuous Favorites Ahead Of Second Legs

One of the least comprehensible clichés in soccer claims a two goal lead is the most dangerous lead in the game. I’m no math major, but that sounds a lot safer than a one goal lead. The logic, however, says the two goal lead breeds confidence, that confidence leads to vulnerability, the opposition can exploit that vulnerability, and next thing you know, all your confidence has been transferred to your opponent. They score a goal, have momentum - it’s a slippery slope, and it’s an argument I still don’t buy (but at least the narrative makes sense).

Two of today’s UEFA Champions League playoffs may provide some strange, corroborating evidence of the Two Goal Theory. Consider Werder Bremen, up 3-1 on Sampdoria ahead of today’s match in Genoa, and Braga, up 1-0 while travelling to Sevilla.

For Werder and Sampdoria, Giampaolo Pazzini’s goal looms large. We knew at the time - when the Italian international headed home a second half, stoppage time tally - that the crucial away goal would be problematic for defense-challenged Werder. Then this weekend Werder got taken apart by Hoffenheim (1-4), reminding us how the familiarity German teams have with Werder’s approach helps exploit their attack-heavy philosophy. It best one big, poorly formed question: With Sampdoria being more familiar with Werder Bremen, getting that first match of the season under their belt, and returning to the Luigi Ferraris, does turning around that two goal deficit seem so far-fetched?

On the other hand, there’s Braga. Braga’s second half goal against Sevilla gave them a serve holding, 1-0 lead, but with Braga’s defense and Sevilla’s inconsistency, that may be enough, even facing today's trip to the Sanchez Pizquan. Domingos Paciencia organizes one of the better defenses in Europe, allowing only 20 goals in 30 league matches last year. They’ve only allowed one goal in two matches this season, and last week, they showed themselves capable of keeping a powerful Sevilla attack off the scoresheet.  Should they replicate that feat, Spain loses a Champions League team.

Last week, Sevilla was coming off a 3-1 win over Barcelona that hinted this playoff would pose few problems for the red and white. One week later, in what is becoming typical Sevilla fashion, fortunes have turned for Antonio Alvarez’s men. They were unable to get an away goal in Braga, after which they were embarrassed at the Nou Camp, losing the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup, 4-1. It's sudden downturn that carries forward one of the unfortunate characteristics of Sevilla’s 2009-10 campaign: an inconsistency that saw a team that periodically played to Barcelona and Real Madrid’s level finish in fourth place and lose to CSKA Moscow in Champions League.

Sevilla and Werder will both be favorites to advance today, and if they get to Champions League, they will be first pot ("seeded") clubs for the group stage draw. Odds are they will be in this competition into late winter-early spring; however, the precarious position of each club serves as an unique example of s soccer cliché.  Werder’s two goal lead over Sampdoria may be more vulnerable than Braga’s one goal advantage against Sevilla.

 

  • Switzerland’s FC Basel carries the same, 1-0 lead to Moldova to face FC Sheriff, though the Swiss champions looked the far better team last week. Alexander Frei had an early goal waved-off, and a late penalty kick was saved by Sheriff’s Vladislav Stoyanov. Basel should be up more, and unless Sheriff was sandbagging last Wednesday (possible), FCB should be favored to go through.
  • Hapoel Tel Aviv and Anderlecht got road results last week and are heavy favorites to move into group stage. Hapoel returns to Isreal with a 3-2 lead on Red Bull Salzburg while Anderlecht’s even with Partizan (2-2) thanks to an own goal gifted the Serbians. Israel and Belgium should again see their league winners in Champions League.
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    Predictions:

    • Sampdoria 2, Werder Bremen 1 (Werder advances, 4-3)
    • Sevilla 1, Braga 1 (Braga advances, 2-1)
    • Sheriff 0, Basel 1 (Basel advances, 2-0)
    • Hapoel Tel Aviv 3, Salzburg 0 (Hapoel advances, 6-2)
    • Anderlecht 3, Partizan 1 (Anderlecht advances, 5-3)

       

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