Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Berbatov, Arshavin at Center of UEFA Super Cup Clash

Three months ago, Friday's UEFA Super Cup between Manchester United and Zenit St. Petersburg would have been really interesting. Remember waaaay back in May when United was in top form breezing through the Premier League and narrowly beating Chelsea for the Champions League. And remember when Zenit was dominating all comers--Bayern Munich in particular--on its way to the UEFA Cup title.

Cristiano Ronaldo was at his dominant best, wrapping up a 40-plus-goal season, and Andrei Arshavin was a relative no-name carrying his nondescript team to one of Europe's major championships.

It would have been interesting to see if this little-train-that-could from Russia could topple the might United.

But now? This week? Eh.

Forget for a second that it's essentially still the pre-season, the two teams are quite different from the teams that wrapped up the '07-'08 campaign. Ronaldo is on the shelf for a while with his infamously bum ankle--and he's still waiting on a move to Real Madrid. And Arshavin? He made his name at Euro 2008 where he was one of the brightest stars and lifting Russia to the semifinals where it lost to eventual champions Spain. Arshavin scored only two goals, but he was clearly a special player and a dangerous playmaker. That has garnered him loads of attention from clubs in western Europe.

Arshavin is one of the players at the center of the Dimitar Berbatov soap opera. Berbatov wants to go to United--he was seen signing a United jersey this weekend. Tottenham, which already lost Robbie Keane to Liverpool, won't let its star striker go unless it has a replacement, and Spurs say they're willing to let Berbatov "rot" in the reserves until their price is met. Arshavin, meanwhile, is one of a host of players reportedly in line for Berbatov's spot at White Hart Lane. But Zenit won't let him go for cheap, and Arshavin too was on the bench for Zenit's 3-1 loss last weekend. Zenit is sixth in Russia after 19 games.

Zenit, however, has landed young Portuguese star and Sporting Lisbon academy prodigy Danny for 30M pounds. Does this open the door for Arshavin's departure? Amazingly, all of these fortunes are intertwined, and someone has to blink first for the remaining dominoes to fall.

As for the Super Cup, United gets a slew of players back in its lineup, including Nani and Ryan Giggs. Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves remain sidelined with injuries. Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez still haven't shown a lot of flash or punch up front. There's a lot to sort out, especially with back-to-back Premier League showdowns with Liverpool (Sept. 13) and Chelsea (Sept. 21) closing in. It's doubtful Sir Alex Ferguson will go all-out to win this one, and neither will Zenit, which is in the middle of its season and scrapping for a Champions League spot.

Super Cup? Super Dud? Your call.

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