It's nearly Champions League time again. We're down to the really exciting part now, where the nasty continental muck is evenly balanced out by good old honest English grit. And what better time than before the Champions League quarter-finals to run a Champions League quarter-final preview? I certainly can't think of any!
Our normal procedure in such instances is to gather data and input it into our hypercomputer, Maisie (located in the world's third largest underground vault right here in County Sportisatvshow), a process which would furnish us with 200-proof truth. You may remember that this is how we produced our Premier League preview in, um, October, and our groundbreaking Premier League Goalkeeper Power Rankings. This time, unfortunately, Maisie gave us this message:
That binary string went on for twelve days, you know.
There was nothing for it, then, but to ingest a large dose of hallucinogens specially-formulated by SIATVStech, delve into randomly selected verses from the great seer himself and tune into what the cosmos was telling me. And here, as part of my sacred duties, I share that eternal knowledge with you, dear reader.
So, here is our preview, brought to you by Nostradamus...from beyond the grave.
MANCHESTER UNITED vs. FC PORTO
Near Perpignan the red ones detained,
Those of the middle completely ruined led far off:
Three cut in pieces, and five badly supported,
For the Lord and Prelate of Burgundy.
This is going to be brutal. United ("the red ones") will be "detained" by the spirit of '99 and their famous triumph in Barcelona ("near Perpignan"). Driven by the memory of one of their greatest days, and by revenge for their defeat to Porto in 2004 (when Porto were managed by José Mourinho, who now manages Inter, who come from a city near Perpignan), they set about their opponents ruthlessly.
Jesualdo Ferreira's decision to opt for three central defenders flanked by wing-backs backfires. Their midfield is overrun ("Three cut in pieces") and their defence is left exposed ("five badly supported"). United run in double figures over the two legs, giving famous oenophile Alex Ferguson — "the Lord and Prelate of Burgundy" — another glorious victory, and leaving Porto with a gnawing sense of emptiness that stalks them without respite for the rest of their days.
Result: United win; minute's silence to be observed before semi-final first legs
VILLARREAL vs. ARSENAL
The great Pontiff taken captive while navigating,
The great one thereafter to fail the clergy in tumult:
Second one elected absent his estate declines,
His favorite bastard to death broken on the wheel.
The "great Pontiff" is obviously Arsene Wenger, incumbent for life at the Church of Arsenal. After a nervy 1-1 draw at El Madrigal, the second leg becomes tetchy and boils over. Arsene Wenger is furious, rightly, when a Villarreal defender dares to imagine that he belongs in the same sector of the galaxy as Cesc Fabregas. Wenger is unjustly sent from the line for remonstrating with the fourth official, amidst some unseemly pushing and shoving on the field.
The third line's meaning is elusive. At first, it appears to mean that Pat Rice was somehow held up and unable to attend the match, thus leading to Arsenal's hopes of qualification crumbling in the absence of leadership from the touchline. This is wrong. Arsenal's assistant manager is not elected but, like the great Pontiff, appointed by God. This is a clever red herring by devious aul' Nozzie. Since there is no "second one elected", the "second one elected" cannot be absent. That leaves the question: can, then, his "estate decline"?
Not if line four has anything to do with it. This places Nicklas Bendtner at the heart of the outcome (though calling him a "bastard" is a bit harsh, I feel). Nozzie's lax punctuation may lead one to believe that this line condemns Bendtner to a sorry demise — a red card for a reckless swing of the elbow, perhaps, or a miss when one-on-one with the keeper fifteen yards out. But it is not Bendtner who is broken to death. The wheel symbolises the circle of life. Bendtner has been journeying around the wheel, and just when it appears that he has reached death — the final missed sitter which ends his top-flight career — he notices that the death-spoke has been broken, possibly by the great Pontiff. Thus, he cheats death, finishing with a neat, low side-foot shot past the keeper.
Result: Arsenal win; eternal life and, therefore, eternal suffering bestowed upon humankind
BARCELONA vs. BAYERN MUNICH
For the Gallic Duke compelled to fight in the duel,
The ship of Melilla shall not approach Monaco,
Wrongly accused, perpetual prison,
His son shall strive to reign before his death.
Frankly, I'm a wee bit surprised Nostradamus has anything to say about a game between two non-PL clubs. (And how was this allowed come to pass, anyhow? Sort it out, UEFA!) Still, Nozzie was nothing if not conscientious, so here we are.
Uh-oh. Looks like Thierry Henry ("the Gallic Duke") is in trouble. Here, Nostradamus correctly foresees Henry's famous nickname, "the ship of Melilla". The real ship of Melilla, Melilla No. 103, has been blackisted by Greenpeace for "fishing in the MED during closed season". Similarly, Henry strays offside several times in early exchanges. He responds by looking at the linesman disbelievingly, mouthing some curses and walking away sulkily.
This does not endear him to the officials; later on, some offside calls go against him, even though he was onside ("Wrongly accused"). Hence, he is unable to "approach Monaco" — "Monaco" is the Italian for Munich, and here symbolises the Bayern goal. This oppression of Henry's spirit becomes a "perpetual prison", and he complains some more to the referee, earning two quick bookings ("his death"). Happily, "his son" (Lionel Messi) is on hand, his astonishing dribbling ability nullifying the Bayern offside trap.
Result: Barcelona win; Thierry Henry suffers existential crisis, takes sabbatical to write volume of nihilistic verse
LIVERPOOL vs. CHELSEA
In the city of "Fertsod" homicide,
Deed, and deed many oxen plowing no sacrifice:
Return again to the honors of Artemis,
And to Vulcan bodies dead ones to bury.
The first thing to note here is that "Fertsod" is actually ſertsod, ie. Sertsod. "Sertsod" backwards is "dostres": that is, "dos tres", "two three" in Rafael Benitez's native tongue. Add two and three and you get five, or the number of Champions' Cups / Champions Leagues (or "homicides", as Nostradamus calls them) Liverpool have won. This PROVES that Nostradamus could see into the future.
The tie is going to be even more brutal than United-Porto, but in a different way. The first leg is marked by a dearth of good technical play; though the many oxen plough (Dirk Kuyt?), attacks break down in the face of big-match nerves and overly-cautious defending ("no sacrifice"). Nozzie uses a palindrome, "deed", to represent the circular futility of the game, like a dog chasing its tail. He even has to double it to adequately capture this idea.
Ever more afraid to make an error, the teams retreat into even more entrenched defensiveness in the second leg — they "Return again to the honors of Artemis". (According to an unattributed piece of information in Wikipedia, the name "Artemis" (αρτεμης) may mean "safe and sound".) The simultaneous urge to protect their respective goals clashes with the deep primeval need to attack. This internal conflict proves impossible to resolve, and becomes outwardly manifest as frustration, which boils over into sheer, senseless violence. There is blood. Viewers wonder why they didn't watch that documentary about volcanoes ("Vulcan bodies") instead.
Result: Everyone dies in the end, some of boredom
So then, the semi-final line-up will be as follows:
The dust and the screaming vs. The yuppies networking
The panic, the vomit vs. The panic, the vomit
Oh, this shit's on, muthafuckas.