What a season it has been in the League of Champions. I wanted to do a quick preview of today's final, but at this point, the match has probably been analyzed to death. So instead, let's take a look back at some of this year's highlights. I'm going to hand out some awards, and feel free to chime in with your own votes:
Best Team Performance in a Match (Group Stage):
Arsenal 7-0 Slavia Prague
This might actually be the toughest one to award, as Liverpool one-upped the Gunners shortly after with an 8-0 display against Besiktas in a must-win game. However, having watched both matches, I would argue that the quality of Arsenal's goals and the utter selflessness of the team play made this match superior.
Best Team Performance Overall (Group Stage):
Manchester United (Group F)
You can't argue with perfect, and United very nearly were as they utterly dominated one of the stronger groups of the league. They didn't have the breakout displays of Arsenal or Liverpool, but went about their business in a methodical fashion, doing just enough to come out on top.
Best Goal (Group Stage):
Deivid (Fenerbahce) vs. Internazionale
Inter's only loss of the group stages was brought about by this spectacularly timed volley. Barely missing out are Cristiano Ronaldo's ridiculous free kick (his face is priceless, though it makes me want to punch him), a long-range blast from Alex de Souza (a member of the fearless and trigger-happy Fenerbahce, of course), and a precision guided missile from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Best Team Performance in a Match (Knockout Stage):
Chelsea 3- 2 Liverpool (Semifinals, 2nd Leg)
Has to be this one. Drogba's powerful and clinical finishing, Lampard's bravery and vindication, and Ballack's stranglehold on the midfield overcame the brilliance of Torres and a stubborn Liverpool side that refused to go quietly into the night. Gets the nod over Arsenal's historic 2 nil in the San Siro and the thrilling Fenerbahce comeback against Sevilla.
Best Team Performance Overall (Knockout Stage):
There's bound to be some disagreement about this, but I think they've earned it. This team (as usual) had no business getting as far as they did, and were twenty minutes away from forcing penalties and almost certainly advancing to the final. They took part in two of the best ties (vs. Arsenal and Chelsea) that the Champions League has produced in recent years. Their resilience and good fortune saw them stifle the Serie A champions, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against an excellent Arsenal side and push the immensely talented Chelsea to the wire. Of course, this award really belongs to whoever triumphs today, but until that's been decided, Liverpool get this consolation.
Best Goal (Knockout Stage):
Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal) vs. Liverpool
It may say Adebayor on the scoresheet, but everyone knows it was Theo Walcott's goal, and that's how it will forever be remembered. I have never seen a player in my lifetime make a run like that before, and that's including Messi, C. Ronaldo, and all the rest. It was truly amazing, and it had to be in order to beat out Paul Scholes ("he scores goals") doing what it do against Barca, Deivid unleashing his bazooka of a right leg against Chelsea, Torres creating something from nothing, and Cesc's surgical strike against Milan.
Well, that just about does it. Again, it's been fantastic, and let's all keep our fingers crossed for a final worthy of this excellent season. Just for old time's sake, here's a wishful and incorrect prediction: Chelsea 3 - 2 United. Oh, and I almost forgot the final award:
Most Shocking and Horrendous Own Goal (Ever):
John Arne Riise (Liverpool) vs. Liverpool
Sorry, I just couldn't stop myself. Neither could he.