Jim White

Who do you want in Moscow?

Jim White

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So who do you want to make it to Moscow? Who would you like to see lining up in the Luzhniki stadium on the night of May 21 as the Champions League anthem plays out across the public address system? Do you crave a chance to witness the north west's ferocious derby being played out in the Russian capital? Or would you like the Spanish influence to be on the pitch rather than in the dug out and Barca to take their swank and swagger out east to play west London's finest?

For the neutral it is quite a dilemma. One of this week's Champions League semi finals is all about style, grace and entertainment. The other is about tactics, defensive excellence, organisation. One reeks of romance, the other will be a symphony in caution. The only thing that is certain about either is that they are both practically impossible to call.

In truth, lovers of pure football would have liked tomorrow's semi to have been the final. Manchester United against Barcelona, Cristiano Ronaldo against Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho against Rooney: it is the sort of clash that the Champions League was made for. But the draw has ensured it is not going to happen. Instead, one of the two great under-achievers of European football will once more fail to parlay support, wealth and tradition into silverware. Between them United and Barca have won the biggest of all club trophies just four times, one less than Liverpool, the continent's great over-achievers.

There are those patriots who will be hoping for an all-England final to make up for their national team failing to qualify for Euro 2008. For them, the real problem is choosing between Chelsea and Liverpool, two clubs whose off-pitch activities this season have been as entertaining as anything on it. The pair have met in the semis twice already the past three seasons. On both those occasions it was a masterclass in managerial mind games. This time round, with Chelsea's schemer Jose Mourinho long gone, it would be some result if the unfancied Avram Grant were the one to mastermind victory at last for the blues. Lovers of irony would relish that one.

In the end, though, whatever your wish-list permutation for Moscow, the deciding game may not be either of those taking place over the next couple of days. Things may hinge instead on an encounter taking place on Saturday in west London. Manchester United and Chelsea have a certain engagement to decide the destiny of the Premiership title. Liverpool and Barcelona are both out of domestic championship contention. So while they can rest bruised limbs and sooth weary heads in preparation for the second leg next week, rotating their squads like a clothes line in a force ten, England's top two will be obliged to field full strength sides for their league encounter. As Torres, Gerrard, Eto'o and Xavi sink their feet into an ice bath, Lampard and Scholes, Vidic and Drogba will be kicking each other to decide the destination of the Premiership. A twisted ankle in the last minute is not a likely threat for Jamie Carragher on Saturday. For Wayne Rooney it stalks his every foray into Chelsea territory.

Which is why logic suggests it will be Liverpool lining up against Barcelona on May 21st. It may not be the final everyone wants. But it is likely to be the final everyone gets.

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