Thursday, 28 April 2011

Barcelona, Guardiola and Messi reign supreme in the Bernabeu

Last night’s victory for Barcelona in the Bernebeu could not have been sweeter. After the war of words between the coaches prior to the game the Catalan giants went out and proved a significant point. They have surely now overcome their bitter rivals with the return leg at the Camp Nou still to come.

The game began very similarly to the previous two; Madrid very organised and defensive with Barcelona dominating possession. The objective from Madrid was clearly not to concede early and hope to strike on the counter attack later in the game. The level of skill and technique from both sides was outstanding, although the game was scrappier on occasions than some might have hoped.

Unfortunately there was a rather unpleasant undertone to the game that continued to affect the football. Both sets of players seemed intent on getting their opposing players cautioned or sent off. Finally, in the 62 minute the game boiled over and Pepe was dismissed for a bad tackle on Dani Alves. Whilst it was not the most malicious tackle you will ever see his foot was raised and caught the Brazilian. The referee was surrounded by Barcelona shirts and produced the red card shortly afterwards.

The sending off has been debated long and hard already but I feel he was correct to send Pepe off. The previous two games have been fiery and the Portuguese midfielder had been lucky to complete 90 minutes in the Cup final last week. Next though we had the reaction of Mourinho which resulted in him being sent to the stands. It was a shameful end for the manager whose pre and post-match comments have been simply ridiculous; I hope UEFA punish him to the full extent of their powers.

With Madrid down to 10 men the gaps began to appear and Xavi, now playing with more freedom began to dictate the play. In the 70th minute Barcelona took the lead after a fantastic cross from Afellay for Messi to pass the ball through Casillas’ legs and into the net. The Blaugranes in the Bernebeu erupted and the noise was deafening. The reaction from Pep Guardiola was magnificent and he would have been delighted that his young starlet scored the goal.

Ten minutes later Messi produced one of the finest individual goals ever witnessed in a game of this magnitude. He picked the ball up 35 yards out and just ran at the Madrid defence. Now down to 10 men the gaps between the midfield and defence were too large and Barcelona are just too good if you let them have time and space. He moved, or rather glided through three or four white shirts before finishing with his right foot. It was simply outstanding. Once again, the reaction from the Barcelona players, staff and supporters was incredible. The tie was over.

The game will hopefully be remembered for Messi’s brilliance but has been rather overshadowed by Mourinho’s appalling behaviour. I am a huge fan of the Portuguese manager and think he is an unbelievably talented man. However, his baiting of Guardiola, his constant moaning about officials and his general demeanour last night was shocking and something you just don’t want to see.

My congratulations to everyone associated with Barcelona and I am very much hoping they add a 4th European Cup on 28th May.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Schalke vs Manchester United – a preview

Schalke host Manchester United at the Veltins-Arena in Germany for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tonight. With United currently top of the Premier League and Schalke sitting in 10th place in the Bundesliga the game looks like a formality. However, at this stage of the competition nothing can be taken for granted.

It is the fourth time United have graced this stage of the competition in the last five years and go into the game unbeaten in Europe this season. They have travelled to Germany without Dmitar Berbatov who remains hampered with a groin injury having missed the Premier League game on Saturday. However, with 19 goal Javier Hernandez fit, and ready to start with Rooney the side possess a very potent threat.

Whilst Rooney has not been scoring freely, his new Mexican team-mate has settled into life in England far quicker than expected. His crucial goal on Saturday against Everton looks to have secured United’s 19th League title. Their link up play in recent weeks has been superb; Rooney seems able to find his runs at ease, often, he doesn’t even look.

At only 22 Hernandez has proved to be the buy of the season at only £6 million. He has a very good football brain and is probably the best finisher United have had since Solskjaer. It is not only having the pace to evade defences but it is having the intelligence to make use of the pace with the timing of your run. I have not seen better movement from a young player than the Mexican displays.

Meanwhile, whist United will showcase their new forward; they will also be facing someone who has knocked them out at this stage before. Much of the pre-match focus has revolved around Raul who just continues to break records in this tournament. He remains the leading scorer in the competition with 71 goals and the player with the most appearances, having played in 142 games. He has been fantastic this season and has already scored five times already.

Whilst they have done well in Europe their domestic form has been very inconsistent and it explains why they are 10th in the table. They lost 1-0 to Kaiserslautern at the weekend but did leave out several key players with tonight’s game in mind.

Although on paper the game should be one-sided, these games can often bring about the downfall of the favourite. Schalke have scored goals all the way through the tournament so United have to beware. They have been in similar positions in the Champions League before but you would think Ferguson will not let them think the game is over before it is played. It should be a fascinating game.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Torres and Villa finally score again

The results yesterday would have meant little to Vicente Del Bosque, the Spanish national coach, apart from two noticeable goal scorers; Fernando Torres and David Villa.

Since Torres’ £50 million move to Chelsea he had failed to find the net in 732 minutes. The relief was there for all to see after he had smashed the ball into the bottom corner of the net; every Chelsea player proceeded to embrace him and congratulate the Spaniard. After he scored his whole game looked much improved, his touch began to return and you could almost see the confidence running through him again.

It is always said that confidence is the key element to any sport. It is essential for a striker in football; without that confidence in front of goal you can think too much and dither. A player playing with confidence simply knows where the goal is and strikes, which are key elements for both Torres and Villa, who tend to strike early to catch the goalkeeper unprepared.

Over in the Camp Nou last night David Villa was facing the prospect of going 12 games without a goal; something almost unheard of for someone so talented in front of goal. His finish was precise and laid on a plate for him by Jeffren whose magnificent ball deserved the emphatic finish it received. It has been an impressive first season at Barcelona for Villa who notched his 22nd goal in all competitions.

It is always horrible to see top players desperately out of form. Confidence is an integral part of the game and these two strikers have looked a shadow of themselves in recent weeks. Hopefully we will see much more of El Nino and Villa in the remaining weeks of the season.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

United surely have one hand on the trophy

After Manchester United’s 1-0 win over Everton at Old Trafford this afternoon the Premier League title is now surely within touching distance. They are now 9 points clear with 4 games remaining; surely the title is now theirs.

It has been one of the strangest seasons in living memory with the top sides continually dropping points. The title race has ended up going to the wire when it could and probably should have been decided many weeks ago. There have been more anomalies this season that any of the recent ones put together. Every time the title has looked over surprise results have been thrown up which has given their rivals more hope.

United now face Arsenal at the Emirates and Chelsea at home knowing that they require seven more points to lift the title. It could even be won at the Emirates (depending on other results) next weekend where Arsenal are on a horrible run. It will see United being crowned League champions for the 19th time which will take them ahead of Liverpool and make them the most successful English club.

It is an incredible achievement for the club and most of the credit must go to Sir Alex Ferguson who has yet again proved what an incredible manager he is. It is by no means a great side he has this year but he has made them very difficult to beat. He must also take credit for the buy of the season – Javier Hernandez. He has now scored 19 goals in all competitions and looks set to be a United hero for many years to come.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Madrid triumph in Copa del Rey final

Last night Real Madrid lifted their first piece of silverware in almost three years with victory over Barcelona at the Mestalla. It was by no means a vintage el Clasico but was a very interesting tactical battle between the two great Spanish sides.

Once again Jose Mourinho proved to be Barcelona’s nemesis; as he was with Inter Milan last year in the Champions League semi-final. Following the 5-0 humbling in the Camp Nou he has clearly become relatively obsessed with finding a way to stop the Catalans with the squad he has. Ever since the game against Spurs a couple of weeks ago he has been clearly tinkering with his formation in an attempt to get it right for these games against Barca.

He has deployed Pepe in a free role with the aim of breaking up Barca’s intricate passing in front of the defence. He has also been given the freedom to join in the counter attacks which he does very effectively. The Portuguese defender has an incredible engine which also makes him ideal for the role.

The Madrid game plans worked perfectly in the first half as the play was being continually broken up. They had the better of the early exchanges and dominated much of the first half. The Barcelona players simply look exhausted; the high pressing we saw against Arsenal was not in evidence last night. Some of their players are also struggling with form which made Madrid’s job slightly easier.

As the game got older it became a little stretched with Madrid not able to maintain their pressure as well as they had done in the first half. This played into Barcelona’s hands and for the first time in the game they began to create holes in the Madrid defence. There was a goal ruled out for offside when Pedro finished nicely after a lovely run from Messi. It seemed like Barca were growing into the game as they entered extra-time.

The introduction of Adebayor began to pay dividends as he was able to hold the ball up and bring Ronaldo into the play more. One of the many great things about this Barcelona side is their ability to remain calm when under pressure and they continued to probe and ask questions of the Madrid defence.

However, when Mourinho’s plans are executed to the letter he usually comes out on top and he did so again when Ronaldo powered in a header deep into extra-time. They had almost scored in the first-half of added time when the Portuguese forward broke on the right but narrowly missed the target. When Di Maria played a one-two with Marcelo he was free down the right and picked out Ronaldo in the area who headed the ball into the back of the net.

The upcoming semi-finals in the Champions League are now very delicately poised. Real will take a lot of confidence now going into the game next Wednesday but will also be aware that Barcelona will now be very fired up for the games. Their level of performance has dropped in recent weeks and a couple of the players were really out of form; David Villa looks a shadow of his normal self. These two games should be very, very interesting.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Arsenal and Spurs produce another classic

On a night that featured a north London derby and the 2nd instalment of the el Clasico triple bill few would have anticipated the Premier League game would outshine the Copa del Rey final.

The game at White Hart Lane this evening was breathtaking. The speed, intensity and quality of football on display tonight was something to behold. Whilst some of the defending left plenty to imagine the attacking potency from both sides produced a wonderful game.

The start of the game was electric, Arsenal were 2-1 up after 11 minutes through Walcott and Nasri. Playing on the Arsenal right Theo Walcott looked determined and hungry and was visibly worrying the Spurs defence every time he attacked. Meanwhile Spurs, who were the inferior side in the opening exchanges, seemed to be creating opportunities at will.

It was Arsenal who scored next through Robin van Persie to make it 3-1. Then, a few minutes before half time Tom Huddlestone produced an unbelievable bit of magic. Following a corner on the Spurs right hand side the ball fell to the midfielder 25 yards out. After being cleared by the Arsenal defence the ball fell to him and he hit it on the half volley perfectly into the left hand side of the net. Although he lacks pace his ball striking ability is something to behold.

The second half was not quite as free flowing as the first. The game was predominantly played in the Arsenal half with Spurs pushing for the equaliser. The introduction of Aaron Lennon at half-time for Gareth Bale proved to be very effective. Every time he ran at Sagna he looked like he had the beating of him. Indeed, it was Lennon who forced the Arsenal keeper Szczesny to bring him down in the penalty area when he broke free on the left hand side.

The subsequent penalty was dispatched by Rafael van der Vaart for his 2nd of the game. Once Spurs had equalised the game began to flow as it had done in the first half, albeit with less intensity. There were a couple of chances at both ends with Fabregas forcing a fine save with a fierce drive from 20 yards.

All in all the draw was a fair result this evening. However, with Chelsea winning and Spurs falling slightly further behind Manchester City the result doesn’t help either side. Arsenal now find themselves 3rd after Chelsea beat Birmingham and Spurs remain 5th.

Villas-Boas emerges as most wanted manager in Europe

As the finale of the European football season approaches its climax one man is emerging as the leading managerial candidate for several of the continents top clubs. The man is Andre Villas-Boas, who is currently the Porto manager and has already lead the club to their 25th league title.

His managerial career only began at the beginning of the 2009/10 season at Academica. When he took over they were bottom of the league and without a win all season. He eventually guided the club to 11th in the league and the final of the Portuguese Cup. He introduced a new brand of fast, attacking football based around a solid defence which sounds simple but is very tricky to execute consistently.

Following this incredible start to his career the Porto President Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa took a gamble and appointed him as their new manager. It is a very similar story to that of Jose Mourinho who he appointed when he was relatively unknown. Both were protégés of the late, great Sir Bobby Robson.

Whilst Mourinho learnt as Robson’s interpreter initially at Barcelona, Villas-Boas was brought in when he was at Porto in 1995. Still only a teenager Robson was so impressed with his tactical nous and knowledge that he sent him to Scotland to do his UEFA coaching badges. There was clearly something special that had been identified and Sir Bobby subsequently offered him a job coaching the youth team.

From there he worked under Mourinho at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan before quitting in the summer of 2009 and taking on the Academica job. It has worked wonderfully and he is even breaking some of the ‘special one’s’ records at Estadio do Dragao; he overtook Mourinho’s record of most games unbeaten and moved it up to 36, from 33 before. Having already won the league he is also through to the semi-finals of the Europa Cup where they beat Spartak Moscow 10-3 on aggregate.

However, doing all of this has alerted many of the top European clubs to his name. He is similar to Mourinho in his extensive preparation but is encourages his team to play more expansively than his friend. It is already rumoured that Juventus, Liverpool and Roma are monitoring him and it is surely only a matter of time until he moves to one of the major leagues.

Keep an eye on Villas-Boas, we may be hearing much more from him in the coming years.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Bale wins PFA Player of the Year – How Exactly???

Last night Gareth Bale was awarded the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year award at a ceremony in London. Whilst Bale has certainly emerged as a talent this season this award should not have been awarded to him this early. He was also runner up in the Young Player of the Year award to Arsenal’s Jack Wilshire who has had an outstanding debut season.

I do not want this to turn into an all-out rant as Bale is a hugely promising young player who could well go onto become one of the top players in the world. He is blessed with blistering pace and an incredibly sweet left foot that we saw demonstrated to magnificent effect in the San Siro against Inter Milan.

However, he has barely done anything in the Premier League and his stats tell the story: 26 games, 7 goals and 1 assist! He walks away with the award when Nani, of Manchester United boasts league stats of: 28 games, 9 goals and 14 assists. The Portuguese winger has enjoyed his most productive campaign at United this season and only found himself nominated in the Young Player category.

Whilst I say this I do accept that the Players do vote in December and therefore Bale’s Inter Milan heroics were at the front of their minds but I still just cannot explain it. In an era where we build young players up to the status of world beaters and then knock them down when they disappoint us, it is bizarre. Some of the recent transfer speculation is linking him with a massive transfer move in the summer and I just cannot see any justification in the amounts being mentioned.

It is also incredibly dangerous giving a young player this much adulation. The Welshman appears relatively level headed but last week against Real Madrid he seemed to be a player who was beginning to believe the hype; he spent most of the evening throwing himself around the pitch theatrically looking for penalties and free-kicks, one of which he should certainly have been booked for.

I do not want to appear to be too negative about Bale, I do think he is a wonderful talent and his style of attacking is incredibly refreshing. The best Young Player around at the moment is Jack Wilshire who was able to mix it and not look out of place against the best – Barcelona. My player of the season would have been between Nani, Nasri and Tevez – all of whom were fantastic at the start of the season.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Arsenal’s title hopes all but gone

Justice was done this afternoon at the Emirates stadium where Arsenal conceded a last second penalty to deny them victory over Liverpool. The home side had huffed and puffed but failed to offer anything convincing until Spearing brought down Fabregas in added time.

The converted penalty by Robin van Persie was their first league goal at the Emirates since 23rd February. It is ironic that as their away form has improved, their home form has fallen to pieces. Currently they lie six points behind Manchester United in the table which is exactly how many points they have dropped at home in the last three games.

Nothing should be taken away from Liverpool though who battled and contested throughout. There was real danger on the break from Dalglish’s team who look full of confidence after their impressive victory over Manchester City last Monday. Their new look striker partnership looks as though it cause defences a lot of problems next season. The impressive Jay Spearing cleaned up everything in central midfield and Lucas, who was highly criticised under Hodgson, was magnificent.

There were too many average performances from the Arsenal side this afternoon. Their captain, Cesc Fabregas had a poor game for someone of his ability. Their central midfield three of Diaby, Fabregas and Wilshire were completely overrun by Liverpool until Wenger put Wilshire at the base of the three. The Frenchman Abou Diaby simply looked terrible; for someone so big and athletic he moves around the pitch too slowly and offers nothing defensively or offensively.

The real let down again was Theo Walcott. Time and again Arsenal fans have said how much better he is this season; I just cannot see it. He was screamed at by van Persie in the first half when he smashed his cross straight at Reina rather than passing to the Dutchman. Being a winger can be tricky on occasions; you are told to put the ball into the area of uncertainty for the defence (between the penalty spot and the six yard box) if there is no obvious ball. Something Walcott has done this season is follow that, but, unfortunately he does it all the time now. I have said before he lacks vision and a basic football brain and unfortunately both of these traits were on display today.

Unless something dramatic happens at Manchester United it is now 6 years since Arsenal won the a trophy, the question is now, what does Stan Kroenke do next??

Friday, 15 April 2011

El Clasico battles commence

What an exciting three weeks we have install; Barcelona and Real Madrid will play four times in the space of 18 days which will decide their fates for this season. They are set to play in La Liga, the Copa del Rey final and the Champions League – all the games should be fascinating and should ooze quality.

The first of these four thrillers is the 2nd La Liga game between the two Spanish giants; the first was won by Barcelona by five goals to nil at the Camp Nou. It was an incredible game which demonstrated the Catalan’s prowess and ability. Since that day Barcelona have managed to open up at eight point gap at the top of the table with seven games remaining. The Spanish league rules state that if sides finish level on points then the overall winner will be the team with the better head to head record.

It has been an incredible season for Barca already; they are on for the treble at the moment which would be their second under Pep Guardiola. They are without doubt the best club side in the world and there is reason to suggest they could be the best side in the history of the game. Three of their players were the finalists in the Ballon d’Or nominations this season which is a testament to their recent success.

Over in Madrid the entire season now hinges on these games. There is still the possibility of them walking away with the double (the league looks unlikely) which would be another feather in Mourinho’s cap. They are through to the semi-finals of the Champions League after an emphatic win over Tottenham in the quarters. The defeat at the Camp Nou will have hurt the Portuguese manager more than he would admit in public. He was completely unable to prevent the rout and he has not been in that position many times in his career.

The first game was without doubt the best game of football I have seen this season and possibly even longer. The levels of skill and technique were higher than anything you see in England and it was a pleasure to watch. Hopefully these four games will live up to expectation – I’m quite sure they will.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Spurs go out but can hold heads high

The inevitable happened last night; Spurs went out of the Champions League to Real Madrid after failing to overcome a 4 goal deficit from the first leg. Whilst they huffed and puffed they failed to break down the Madrid defence and conceded a sloppy goal to Cristiano Ronaldo which effectively ended the contest.

It has been an exciting campaign for Spurs who have scored 25 goals and conceded 17. They have clearly enjoyed playing in the Champions League and being tested against the best sides in Europe. It makes such a difference to see a team genuinely enjoying their football and the challenge. Their adventures this season remind me very much of Leeds United’s debut season when they reached the semi-finals.

The next hurdle for Real Madrid will be Barcelona who they now face 4 times in 19 days which will effectively decide their season. There was talk from the commentators last night that Mourinho’s mind will now be on Barca; I think he has thought about little else since the final whistle blew in their 5 goal humbling at the Camp Nou in November. Whilst few would back against Barcelona the fact that Madrid now have Mourinho makes a massive difference. In last season’s group stages Inter Milan lost convincingly home and away to Barca but came back to shock them in the semis.

Spurs now only have the Premier League to focus on which is actually just what they need. They have tasted Champions League football and must now ensure they participate next season. With Manchester City stumbling on Monday they have hope again, let us see what they can achieve in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Manchester United vs Chelsea – a review

It is Manchester United who are through to the semi-finals after a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford last night which gave them a 3-1 aggregate win over Chelsea. It was by no means a classic encounter but United fans will not care one bit.

The Chelsea manager had threatened to spring a surprise on United but instead opted to start with Torres as the lone striker with Lampard playing in a slightly advanced role behind the Spaniard. It did not work and although they created several chances early on it was United who went into the lead just before half-time.

Once again it was the sublime Ryan Giggs who opened up the Chelsea defence to supply the final ball to Javier Hernandez. The young Mexican now has 18 goals in his first season in English football which is a truly remarkable effort. However, all the credit should go to the Welsh wizard who was yet again the best player on the pitch. Deployed in central midfield he is able to manoeuvre the ball around far better than any of his younger team-mates.

The second half brought much puffing and panting from Chelsea who had replaced the much maligned Torres with Drogba at half-time. The Ivorian striker clearly thought it was him against the world as he continued to run blindly into a wall of United defenders. However, with 13 minutes remaining he scored to set up a potentially crucial last 10 minutes.

When you first start playing football you are taught and advised that the most dangerous time for a side is just after they have scored. Sure enough United kicked off and scored almost instantly, the game was over, the tie was over and Chelsea were beaten.

Their ‘obsession’ as Ferguson called it is over and several of the Chelsea team should not be playing next year. They need a complete overhaul if they are to seriously challenge for major honours next season. Most of the side have played in the 4-3-3 formation but playing Torres on his own up front and hammering long balls up to him is never going to be rewarded. They have to get some creative players in to liven them up, everything last night was too one paced, too predictable and simply not good enough.

Meanwhile United advance to the semi-finals where they look likely to face Schalke. It is not a great United side we are seeing at the moment, similarly to Chelsea they need more creative players and they have to address the fact that Giggs may still be their best and most influential player. They are incredibly well organised and tough to beat as they always are under Ferguson.

It is concerning for football though that such an average team could be on the verge of a treble; fortunately for football fans Barcelona remain in the tournament.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Manchester United vs Chelsea – a preview

Although Manchester United have a one goal advantage going into tonight’s second leg against Chelsea the game remains delicately poised. There is already talk in the press of a possible treble for United but this obstacle must be passed before any such talk can be taken seriously.

Having had a relatively poor season playing wise United have picked up in recent weeks and their football has improved significantly. However, they will be well aware that a one goal advantage in the Champions League is by no means decisive. They have only netted 10 goals in nine games in the tournament but, have kept seven clean sheets at the same time. The re-introduction of Rio Ferdinand for the first game was crucial and his experience will be vital tonight.

Meanwhile Chelsea travel to Manchester knowing they have to breach the tightest defence in the tournament at least twice to ensure passage through to the semi-finals. Their big January recruit Fernando Torres remains goalless for his new club but has looked sharper in recent games. It will be interesting to see how Ancelotti lines up against United tonight, Alex and Benayoun have returned from injury which means he has a fully fit squad for the first time this season.

It should be an enthralling game tonight at the Theatre of Dreams. With the other three ties looking all but over this remains the key clash in the last eight. Whoever triumphs tonight should face Schalke in the last four with the possibility of playing against Barcelona or Real Madrid at Wembley in the final.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

City must rise to the challenge

The next six days will have huge consequences for Manchester City; the face Liverpool tomorrow night in the Premier League followed by the Manchester derby on Saturday for a place in the FA Cup final. With Spurs getting back to winning ways over the weekend the pressure is back on City to perform at Anfield.

It is not only a huge week for the team; the next two games will also decide Roberto Mancini’s fate. Having spent millions of pounds on his squad the Italian must deliver Champions League football for the club, he simply must. Failure to do so should and surely will result in his departure from the Stadium of Manchester this summer.

The club currently lie in 4th position and are three points ahead of Tottenham. They still have to play the London club at home on 10th May which should decide which team will qualify for Europe’s elite club tournament. It is essential that City obtain this lucrative position so they are then able to target the top players from around the world. At present they are capable of paying any figure for any player but lack the resources to offer a serious package.

It is time for City to put their name forward as a growing force in English football. They have had several near misses already and in order to start to convince the players the club is heading in the right direction they must come away with something from Anfield. They will face a tough Liverpool side who have improved significantly under Kenny Dalglish.

Today’s game is based solely around money but it is not always the richest that triumph. Just because City have spent millions assembling a squad of Internationals it doesn’t guarantee them success. If they are to improve then trips like tomorrows will have to be navigated again and again, its time to see whether City really are in for the long haul.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Madrid thump sorry Spurs

Last night’s game in the Santiago Bernebeu turned into a nightmare for all associated with Tottenham Hotspur. It had all looked so promising until half an hour before kick-off and then things began to unravel. The withdrawal of Aaron Lennon just before kick-off because of a sore throat set the tone, Peter Crouch’s stupidity made it worse before Ronaldo finished them off with the 4th with three minutes remaining.

When Crouch was sent off the game was effectively over; with Madrid one goal ahead already it meant Spurs had no out ball and failed to retain possession time and again. Whilst Assou-Ekotto, Dawson and Sandro excelled with a rear guard action the rest puffed and panted but failed to get near the level required to compete at this level.

It was a pity for the London side as the game could have been very different but for their brainless striker. Whether you think the referee was harsh or not, someone of his age, and experience should not be lunging at defenders away from home. The game was then Madrid’s for the taking and with attacking players like Di Maria, Kaka, Ozil and Ronaldo you are going to be punished.

In the dressing room at half-time Mourinho clearly gave Madrid a rollicking which was needed. They were too lethargic in the first half and lacked the killer instinct you associate with the top sides. Their second half performance was a marked improvement but they will need to improve vastly if they are to win the Champions League this season.

Whatever the outcome at White Hart Lane next week Tottenham should be very proud of their achievement’s in Europe’s elite competition this season. They were out of their depth last night but circumstances went against them. The experience will make their younger players stronger and more determined to play in this tournament year in year out.

Meanwhile for Madrid, another ‘el classico’ possibly awaits them in the next round; which would mean four games in 19 days between themselves and Barcelona – brilliant!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Real Madrid vs Spurs – a preview

The last eight of the Champions League, the business end of the season; this is what every football fan waits for. This year Tottenham have made their debut in Europe’s elite competition and tomorrow will play Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernebeu for a place in the semi-final.

Both sides had bad results at the weekend but most noticeable was Madrid’s loss at home to Sporting Gijon. It brought an end to Jose Mourinho’s imperious and quite phenomenal home record; he had not lost a home game since February 23, 2002. Meanwhile Spurs’ hopes of qualifying for the Champions League took a major setback with a goal less draw with Wigan.

It appears that Cristiano Ronaldo will not feature tomorrow night after much speculation in recent days. His manager and fellow countryman Mourinho has indicated he will speak with his talisman today to determine whether he can play any part in the game. It would be a significant loss but with the likes of Di Maria, Kaka and Ozil they still have fabulous options.

The game will be a huge occasion and another fantastic opportunity for Spurs. They have overcome some big obstacles already this season and this is surely the biggest test of their side. It looks unlikely they will be in the competition next season after another poor result domestically but they should go into this tie full of confidence. The Premier League side are underdogs yet again but it will not faze them, with the impressive Sandro likely to feature again they will not get a better chance to beat Madrid.

It should be a great occasion for both sides in a wonderful arena, let us hope the game lives up to expectations.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Premier League title is heading to Manchester United

This weekend should prove to be pivotal in the outcome of the Premier League title. In the early kick off on Saturday Manchester United found themselves two goals down only to win 4-2 after an incredible second half display. Their closest rivals Arsenal then entertained Blackburn in the late kick off but failed to win; the gap is now 7 points with 7 games to go, it is surely over.

There is almost something inevitable about Manchester United; their ability to fight back has separated them from the pack for many years now. As soon as they scored their first goal you just knew they were going to fight back and that is exactly why they will be champions this year.

Whilst there has been renewed optimism surrounding Arsenal’s title challenge in recent weeks they have failed yet again at the crucial stage of the season. Their performance yesterday was abysmal; they lacked the cutting edge and speed to create anything against a very average Blackburn team. It is genuinely quite mystifying after seeing them against Barcelona a month ago when they were outstanding and looked to be serious contenders for all 4 trophies.

It could not have been better for United, who are now able to focus on their Champions League games with Chelsea. It is by no means a vintage United side we have seen this season but they have still done enough and should surely now become England’s most successful club with their 19th domestic title.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Rangers financial crisis highlights serious problems in football

The announcement today from Alastair Johnson, the Rangers Chairman about the possibility of the club going bust should set alarm bells ringing throughout the football world. Although the majority would have no real concerns about them going out of business it is an incredibly alarming scenario the Scottish champions face.

The club play at Ibrox stadium which seats 51082 supporters at every home game. On the assumption that tickets are £20 it still means they are taking over £1 million gate receipts from every match. It seems staggering that their debt only stands at £22 million when the current Premier League leaders are £800 million in debt. Even though the Scottish club are not quite the side they were it demonstrates the depths this game has fallen to with all the debt issues.

In recent years Fifa have acted to put a stop on huge spending but it seems to have had little impact on the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City. Whilst I am no fan of Arsene Wenger or Arsenal he must be applauded for his attitude to the huge spending and salary figures quoted in recent times. The Premier League has become a playground for foreign investors to play their roulette against others equally as rich whilst the little sides slowly go out of business.

There have been issues in Spain this season with many clubs threatening to boycott La Liga as the share of TV money goes almost entirely to Barcelona or Real Madrid. These issues are becoming more and more frequent and in my opinion Fifa and Uefa cannot halt the inevitable implosion in the future.

Whilst I accept that football is now a business where the side with the most money usually win it is ruining the game at other levels. It used to be the lower league sides that would struggle but in the coming years we will see more cases similar to Leeds United. Football initially was about local rivalry and enjoyment; Fifa need to act fast to ensure the beautiful game can survive these financial constraints before it comes to a premature end.