Archive for the ‘Champions League’ Category
Mourinho’s dramatic touchline sprint was flash of genius not a triumphant celebration by manager who is now ‘simply the best’
There was a Jose Mourinho banner at Stamford Bridge tonight that said “Simply the Best” – and after watching Chelsea’s epic fightback to knock Paris St Germain out of the Champions League it is hard to disagree.
When substitute Demba Ba scored his decisive late winner that took the Blues into the last four, the Portuguese manner sprinted down the touchline in a celebration reminiscent of his defining arrival on the global stage when Porto toppled Manchester United in the same competition a decade ago.
Last time we saw an ecstatic Mourinho race miles out of his technical area the game was effectively over with Porto landing a dramatic injury time winner.
This time there were crucial minutes left and Mourinho clearly bent the rules to pass on all-important tactical direction to his jubilant players. But that only underlines the brilliance of the Blues inspirational boss, whatever PSG may think. This was him doing everything possible to ensure Chelsea held on to go through on away goals by virtue of a 2-0 home win that made it 3-3 on aggregate.
At the end of a week where pundits have been debating which Merseyside boss is the best in the Premier League, following outstanding seasons so far for Brendan Rogers at Liverpool and Everton’s new talisman Roberto Martinez a global audience witnessed why Mourinho is the No.1.
After securing a fifth successive season in the Champions League semi-finals, this time with Chelsea, the master tactician said it all when he explained his touchline sprint was “not to celebrate but to tell Fernando (Torres) and Demba the changes we had to do because we still had three minutes to play and injury time.”
At times his body language this season has looked beaten and lacking passion. But this was a rejuventated Mourniho back at the top of his game.
Many of us poked fun when he was passed over by Manchester giants United and City and returned to the Bridge in the summer, despite his instance that this is the job he loves. Since then Arsene Wenger has watched his title hopes crumble at Arsenal and David Moyes has underachieved in his first season in succession of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Fergie is the greatest British manager we have ever seen. But Mourinho is still making history and staking his claim to be judged alongside the greats.
Right now he is both the “Special One” and the “Happy One” as TV footage beamed around the world of football will rightly underline.
Is Wayne Rooney world class? Why England’s finest will shape up and accept challenge to fulfill potential
How pathetic and predictable that the media jumped on the band-wagon of concluding that Wayne Rooney is on his way out of Old Trafford after he was left on the bench for Manchester United’s Champions League crunch encounter with Real Madrid this week.
There is always a stampede of opportunistic journalists and headline writers across every form of media, from newspapers and bloggers to radio and television, who revel in trying to knock sporting heroes off their pedestal, especially if they play for Manchester United.
Ignore all the media gossip and agent-inspired spin whenever you read a story about Rooney because the truth is 99.9 percent of speculation is absolute rubbish, even when so-called experts claim they have been briefed by reliable sources.
The truth is the media spend most of their time trying to guess what is really happening and there are only ever a small handful of people in the know. But newspapers do not care if they think a headline will sell more copies or attract more online viewers. It is that simple.
When Sir Alex Ferguson says Rooney is going nowhere and there is total silence from the player himself then you know that the media got it hopelessly wrong.
Speaking at his press conference pre Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Chelsea, Fergie put the record straight when he said: “The Wayne Rooney nonsense first? Or do you want to talk sense? The issue you’re all going on about is rubbish. There’s absolutely no issue between Wayne Rooney and I. The suggestion we don’t talk on the training ground is nonsense. The decision to not play him was purely tactical and he understood that. Wayne will be here next year, you have my word on that.”
Forget the headlines, the real issue for me is that Rooney has underperformed on occasions over the last couple of seasons, not to mention the last three major international tournaments. And if he wants to continue to be regarded as truly world class, United’s England star must show he still has the hunger and desire to fulfil his true potential.
Despite all his goalscoring milestones, there is a sense that Rooney has never quite delivered at the highest level. Even though his record in the Champions League will suggest otherwise.
A remarkable statistic before the Real Madrid encounter was that Rooney had a better record in the Champions League knockout stages in goalscoring percentage terms than Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Didier Drogba or Robin van Persie. But there is no doubt in my mind that Rooney can do better. And that is the challenge he faces if he wants to be regarded as one of the true greats in Manchester United history.
My guess is that Rooney wants the everlasting glory to match his trophies and goalscoring exploits and being left on the bench will give him the nudge he needs to step up and get back to his best. There is no better club in the world to help him achieve his goals and in Robin van Persie he has a the perfect striking partner to make that happen.
Fergie clearly still thinks Rooney will deliver. And that will only change if he fails to respond by working hard to do his absolute best for Manchester United.
Nani red card disgrace Real insult: Curse of anti-British referees ruining Champions League and threatens EPL quota
The history books will show that a goal by Cristiano Ronaldo on his return to Old Trafford earned Real Madrid victory over Manchester United and a place in the Champions League quarter-final. But anyone who watched this epic clash of the giants of world football can have no doubt that a Turkish referee tipped the balance in favour of a Spanish side that was second best over both legs.
The harsh reality is that a hugely controversial red card for Nani has destroyed United’s hopes of emulating the glorious Treble triumph of 1999. And this is not the first time the conspiracy theorists can point to what looks like a blatant case of anti-British refereeing.
Only last month Celtic were on the receiving end of a shocking display by the match official that contributed to their crippling 3-nil home defeat by Juventus. Who can forget the outrageous Rob van Persie sending off in 2011 when he planted the ball in the net for Arsenal against Barcelona a millisecond after the ref had blown for offside. And we all remember the way Chelsea were refused a succession of blatant penalties in their 2009 semi-final against the Catalans.
This time it is United’s players and global following who are left shattered, inconsolable and feeling deprived of the chance of glory in a match that will forever be remembered for one of the worst refereeing decisions in the history of the Champions League. It is always a huge disappointment when a major football match is decided by a controversial decision by a match official. But never has this been more blatantly the case than Madrid’s ref assisted win in Manchester.
The full extent of the damage to English football may ultimately be felt by the whole of the Premier League. UEFA are looking for any excuse to reduce the EPL from four to three qualifiers for future competitions and with no qualifiers for this year’s quarter-finals because Arsenal are already dead and buried in their tie against Bayern Munich, this has been a disastrous season for English clubs.
Former skipper Roy Keane mischievously argued that the red card was justified in a blatant attempt to wind up his former employers and shamelessly gratify anti-United viewers on ITV. But any rational football fan will agree with Sir Alex Ferguson who furiously protested from the touchline over Nani’s dismissal.
There was no doubt that Nani only had eyes on the ball when he attempted to make contact with the ball in the middle of the park. But Cuneyt Cakir waved a red card in the face of the Portuguese winger after his acrobatic attempt to win the ball resulted in a high challenge on Alvaro Arbeloa. The Spaniard theatrically rolled along the turf and the Turk stunned a worldwide audience by reducing United to 10-men.
Not only was it a shocking decision that robbed United of a victory that was firmly in their grasp at a time when they were firmly in control of the match, leading 1-nil with 56 minutes on the clock, it destroyed a beautiful game of football. Even though he refused to be drawn on whther or not the referee had got it hopelessly wrong Jose Mourinho admitted:”The best team lost.” And there can be no more honest assessment by a winning manager than that, even if he does have one eye on the ultimate prize of one day replacing Sir Alex Ferguson in the king’s throne at the Theatre of Dreams.
United fans will not forget Mourinho’s humility when it comes to winning the public vote to become Fergie’s successor. Equally, supporters will respect the way former idol Ronaldo was equally apologetic when he struck the decisive blow after an outstanding equaliser by Luka Modric cancelled out the opening goal turned into his own net by Sergio Ramos after a telling ball in by Nani.
All this on the night Ryan Giggs celebrated his historic milestone of 1,000 career appearances with yet another outstanding performance at the heart of United’s midfield. And Wayne Rooney was left on the bench as Fergie pulled off a tactical masterstroke and nullified Madrid with a classic counter attacking display that worked perfectly until Nani unjustly received his marching orders.
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Below: No penalty: Did the ref ignore Ramos clearly holding back Danny Welbeck in the box?
While Rafa Benitez jumps to the tune of Roman Abramovich, Pep Guardiola’s refusal to sell his soul only enhances his reputation
In the eyes of the vast majority of football lovers around the world, Roman Abramovich has reduced Chelsea to a laughing stock by the outrageous way he runs the West London club.
But the reason that managers like Rafa Benitez continue to line up for slaughtering at Stamford Bridge is simple: money and silverware.
On the one hand Abromovich (above) is impossible to satisfy, firing a succession of managers simply because they have lost a couple of matches – regardless of how many trophies they deliver. The counter argument is that the Stamford Bridge club has enjoyed an unprecedented era of success since the Russian oligarch came along with his millions. And for many Blues fans that is all that counts.
With few exceptions in football, managers have a limited shelf life. As George Graham told me on the day he was appointed manager of Arsenal: “Most of us know that one day we will be sacked.” The difference at Chelsea, since Abramovich took over, is that the axe is almost certainly going to come sooner rather than later.
New boss Rafa Benitez claimed at his unveiling that working for Abramovich will be “easier” than for George Gillett and Tom Hicks, despite admitting he had never even spoken to the Chelsea owner. The thick skinned former Liverpool boss will shrug off his inevitable unpopularity with Blues fans because he will be well rewarded for his efforts, regardless of whether or not he lasts the duration of his six month contract.
If he succeeds in delivering silverware it will be another achievement to add to an already impressive CV and getting the sack at Chelsea is far from being a career wrecker. So it is easy to see why the Spaniard who has been out of work for over a year was quick to jump at the opportunity to put his neck on the line. Don’t bet againt Benitez kicking off with a win against Premier League champions Manchester City at the weekend.
The simple conclusion to draw from Benitez being crowned Chelsea’s ninth manager in just over eight years is that Abramovich believes he is the man to get the best out of his much-maligned £50 million pound signing Fernando Torres. The irony is that the arrival of Benitez will, in my opinion, increase the pressure on Torres to prove he is not a busted flush.
Meanwhile, the dignity of the West London has been tarnished yet again by the brutal dismissal of Roberto di Matteo, despite becoming the first Chelsea manager to win the Champions League and as well as adding an FA Cup into the bargain.
To quote The Independent’s James Lawton, Abramovich’s treatment of Di Matteo suggests that the club has “a certain rottenness at its core.” And that is the rub. Money can buy you many things but it can’t buy you dignity and honour.
It is also reassuring to know that some football managers have a bigger pricetag than any amount of money can buy. For Pep Guardiola to resist the riches thrown before him by the Russian is the delicious postscript to this tacky tale of West London extravaganza of obscene proportions. Guardiola has in many people’s eyes enhanced his reputation by ignoring Abramovich’s advances. That is something that will send his desirability soaring at a club like Manchester United who will one day be looking for a successor to the greatest British football manager of all time.
Jose Mourinho has made no secret of his wish to move in at Old Trafford when Sir Alex Ferguson eventually retires. But the Real Madrid boss will surely be challenged by his former Barcelona rival if the United hot seat becomes available any time soon.
Below: Abramovich parades the Champions League trophy (left), Di Matteo wonders what his future holds (right) and Guardiola enjoys his Barcelona dominance (below).
Reason To Believe: Rod Stewart’s tears of joy were fitting tribute to Celtic’s epic win over world’s No.1 team Barcelona
Rod Steward’s tears of joy at watching his beloved Celtic beat the mighty Barcelona in the Champions League at Parkhead last night has sparked almost as much reaction as the match itself. It was a human response that anyone who adores sport and the passion of following a football team will understand entirely, whatever the critics say who ridicule a grown man being overcome by emotion.
As for the jealous fans who called radio phone in today to insist media and supporters have gone overboard in their praise for Celtic, my response is quite the opposite. It is 45 years since Celtic’s Lisbon Lions became the first British club to win the European Cup, and this without question is their greatest triumph since that famous day.
Back in 1967 Jock Stein’s men (pictured below) were giants in a world game played on a level playing field compared to the modern day version distorted by television rights and billionaire owners. For Neil Lennon’s lionhearted team to follow up their magificent losing effort in the Nou Camp a fortnight ago with their heroic 2-1 win at Parkhead is the stuff of legend.
To conquer a Spanish super team that dominated over 80 pecent of possession and included the world’s greatest player Lionel Messi at the top of his game was an epic triumph of David and Goliath proportions.
Champions League semi-final . . . and Torres scores! This was match that had everything as Chelsea’s 10-men slay Barcelona
Football is the greatest game on the planet because you just never know when something magical is going to happen . . . and tonight’s epic Champions League encounter at the Nou Camp was one of those occasions that will go down in sporting folklore as a match that had just about every twist and turn you could possibly imagine.
For Chelsea’s heroes, who fought on against all the odds after skipper John Terry was sent off for a moment of madness when he inexplicably kicked out at Alexis Sanchez, it looked like mission impossible when the West London club fell 2-nil behind on the night. Didier Drogba’s one goal advantage from the first leg was blown away in 10 minutes of meyhem at the end of the first half in Barcelona, as Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta struck either side of Terry’s red card.
It was a crazy spell punctuated on the stroke of half-time by a breakaway deliciously converted by Ramires – the Brazilian unfazed by the knowledge his earlier yellow card had ruled him out of the final. It was a mighty blow as powerful as Roy Keane’s in similar circumstances that dragged Manchester United back from the brink against Juventus back in 1999. That made it 2-2 on aggregate and put Chelsea ahead at the interval on the away goals rule. But it was far from the end of the breathtaking drama.
When the world’s best player Lionel Messi – who has never scored against Chelsea – smacked his 47th minute penalty against the crossbar after Drogba felled Cesc Fabregas, it was the start of another riveting half. Barca, with over 70 percent of the possession, came forward in wave after wave of attacks. But when they did find a way past the stubborn 10-men, a raking shot from Messi hit the post and then Alexis Sanchez had an effort ruled out for offside.
When Drogba made way for Fernando Torres I remember saying out load ‘If he comes on and scores the winner all his misses will be forgotten.’ It was a script you could not write and there was another lucky escape for Chelsea when they survived a handball that probably should have given Barca another penalty. But the official missed it and the ball immediately broke to Torres who was suddenly clean through on his own.
It was as if the Spaniard had been signed purely for this moment of destiny and this time there was never any doubt the player who has been guilty of so many shocking misses since he was signed from Liverpool for £40 million in January 2011 would seal the tie. As he effortlessly rounded Victor Valdes and steered the ball into the empty net, the man who had masterminded this remarkable sting, interim manager Roberto di Matteo, began his ecstatic victory celebrations on the touchline.
It was a scene that will be etched into many memories for generations to come. It was the day tactics and experience got the better of the team so many had put on a pedestal as arguably the greatest club side we have ever seen. But on this evidence Barca are not the masters we all thought – and even the magical Messi lost his aura of invincibility as he was brought to his knees by the team that lies sixth in the English Premier League.
FT: Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (Chelsea win 3-2 on aggregate). Goals: Busquets 35, Iniesta 43 – Ramires 45+1, Torres 90+1
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All hail the Geordie dream team! Goal-den boy Papiss Demba Cisse has fired Newcastle into Champions League contention
It is about time Newcastle United and manager Alan Pardew started getting the credit they deserve for challenging the Premier League’s top clubs for a place in the Champions League – and pulling off another spectacular success on the transfer market.
Papiss Demba Cisse was snapped up in the January transfer window for an estimated £10 million pound from German side Freiburg. And the Senegal striker has been a roariong success with this afternoon’s double at Swansea taking his tally to nine goals in eight games.
The 2-0 win put Pardew’s men within two points of Arsenal and Spurs who share third place and takes them above Chelsea in the race for Champions League qualification. On this form you have to say that if the FA are looking for an English born manager and they fail to sign up Harry Redknapp, then the Newcastle manager must be a strong candidate.
It is an extraordinary effort by the club in only their second season back in the Premier League. And whatever you think of owner Mike Ashley, who has been guilty of alienating the fans with some massive PR blunders, in chairman Derek Llambias and manager Pardew he has picked a winning team to guide the Magpies soaring to dizzy heights against rival’s with much bigger spending power .
Cisse is probably the signing of the season. It’s another remarkable success following the capture of Demba Ba who was voted signing of the season by the Premier League managers last term.
I’ve said it before and i’ll say it again: Newcastle United are a bigger club than Chelsea – but it will still be a remarkable achievement if the Geordies can finish above the Blues when you consider the riches of the West Londoners’ billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich.
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You’ve got to admire Di Matteo – but success for Abramovich’s sack the manager policy would be bad for football
Roberto Di Matteo is an excellent manager and against all the odds has done a terrific job since he was thrown into the Stamford Bridge firing line as interim manager. But it would be bad for football if Chelsea go any further in the Champions League.
The problem is success for the Blues will be interpreted by Roman Abramovich as justification for his ridiculous policy of sacking managers on a whim.
The suspicion is that the mega rich Russian owner does not respect the role of the manager because he thinks he knows better and gives silent approval to the player power influences that have undermined more than most recent failure Andre Villas-Boas.
Can you imagine the triumphalism of Abramovich if Fernando Torres was to score the winning goal in the Champions League Final? The crazy thing about football is that the impossible sometimes does come true. And Di Matteo’s men are in touching distance of reaching the final four after tonight’s first leg 1-0 win over Benfica in Lisbon.
But then of course there is the magical Lionel Messi and his brilliant Barcelona team mates who will surely be waiting in the semi-final unless Milan can pull off the shock of the tournament so far.
Di Matteo’s FA Cup Final goal against Middlesbrough in 1997 made him a Chelsea legend . . .
Lionel Messi and Barcelona are re-defining the beautiful game with their own breathtaking version of fantasy football
Watching Barcelona at the top of their game is always a special treat to savour – and when the world’s best player Lionel Messi is in the groove we are talking fantasy football.
Still only 24, Catalonia’s adopted Argentinian is not only the undisputed No.1 player on the planet, he is strengthening his claim to be the greatest of all time with each passing year.
The way Barca destroyed Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League tonight with a breathtaking 7-1 demolition that completed a 10-2 aggregate win was an awesome display, crowned by Messi at his mesmeric best. The maestro’s five goals were a record for the competition and took his tally to 14 in his last five outings for club and country.
Last May, when we saw the Catalans raise the bar with an imperious victory over Manchester United in the Final, a virtuoso performance by the pint-sized magician inspired me to write “still only 23, Messi is the already arguably the greatest player the world has ever seen.” The truth is he is still several years shot of the age when footballers are traditionally considered to be at their peak.
No wonder Franz Beckenbauer predicts Messi can reinforce Barca’s status as the best team arguably of any generation by becoming the first side to retain the trophy since the introduction of the Champions League format.
Germany’s World Cup winning skipper, who lifted the European Cup three times with Bayern Munich in the mid-1970s, said: “Messi is a genius. He has everything. When I watch him, I see a player who is very, very, skilful, very clever – and his left foot is like Diego Maradona’s.
“The difference is Messi is also like Bobby Charlton. He is a nice man, he’s a gentleman. You will never hear from him telling you bad things about this or that.”
‘Der Kaiser” – whose beloved Bayern Munich side hope to join Barca in the quarter-finals – concedes: “Barcelona are the best team in the world. Almost perfect.
“If you see them play, they are fantastic. Of course they are not unbeatable, we have seen that, but in general they are not only the best team but one of the most spectacular teams in the world. I believe they are right up there with the great teams of the past, Real Madrid, Johan Cruyff’s Ajax and my Bayern.”
Why on earth coach Pep Guardiola would even consider leaving Barcelona, who have the opportunity to dominate the game for years to come, is beyond me.
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Champions League exit for the cream of Manchester will intensify the rivalry between United and City
BY JOHN GUBBA
The painful truth is that Manchester United got exactly what they deserved when they crashed out of the Champions League with a 2-1 defeat in Basel tonight.
Without a single win against the Swiss or Group winners Benfica, the harsh reality is that United were simply not good enough to reach the knockout stages for only the third time in 17 seasons. But fans must not forget that this is a young team in transition and there is still plenty to play for.
With neighbours City also crashing out despite beating their Group winners Bayern Munich, the Manchester rivals have both been condemned to Thursday nights in the Europa League. That is the real punishment because it is a competition without genuine status – and yet it is a piece of silverware that can not be ignored.
While City top of the Premier League, look a formidable challenge to United winning a record 20th League title and are third round opponents with home advantage in the FA Cup, there is much at stake for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
The worry is that United suffered more than embarrassment when they were trashed 6-1 at home to Roberto Mancini’s team. The Reds have lost the early season swagger that saw them brush aside Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs. Injuries have not helped. But this is the time for United’s young stars to stand up and show what they are made of.
In contrast, there is no doubt City have an emerging team that is growing in confidence and stature despite their Champions League exit. United can no longer afford to dismiss their rivals as mere noisy neighbours. And the challenge from across the City will come sharply back into focus when the two teams next collide in the Cup in January.