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Champions League semi-final . . . and Torres scores! This was match that had everything as Chelsea’s 10-men slay Barcelona

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Ole! Fernando Torres comes off the bench to add a stunning final twist

Ole! Fernando Torres comes off the bench to add a stunning final twist

 

BY JOHN GUBBA

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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You’ve got to admire Di Matteo – but success for Abramovich’s sack the manager policy would be bad for football

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Roberto Di Matteo left out Lampard, Drogba and Essien in Lisbon - and Chelsea won 1-0

Roberto Di Matteo left out Lampard, Drogba and Essien in Lisbon - and Chelsea won 1-0

BY JOHN GUBBA

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 . . .

The worst miss ever? After Macari rubbishes Torres it was almost unbelievable to see the one-footed Spaniard spurn an open goal

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http://youtu.be/YAJG78pLKCg

BY JOHN GUBBA

It was fascinating to hear Lou Macari slaughter Fernando Torres on BBC Radio 5 Live before Manchester United’s showdown with Chelsea – and even more so to reflect on those pre-match comments after the Spaniard had blown the Blues’ chance to get back in the match with one of the worst misses you will ever see.

Radio presenter Ian Payne was flabbergasted when Macari insisted: ‘Torres has never been a great player.”

Clearly shocked Payne asked: “You are joking Lou?”  But Macari was adamant. “Some players are over-rated and I don’t think Torres has ever been a great player. That’s just my opinion.”

Torres must score!

Torres must score!

It was a stunning pre-match dismissal of the Spanish international Chelsea paid Liverpool £50 million to sign in January. But no less shocking than the unbelievable miss by Torres when he raced clear of United’s defence and waltzed past David De Gea only to shoot tamely wide of the empty goal with his left foot from six yards out.

The worst miss of all time? It has to be one of the biggest blunders ever by a top striker in a big match and it is a moment that will be re-played forever by TV channels the world over.

The harsh reality is that Torres cost £50M but he is a hopelessly one-footed player. For any professional footballer who gets paid to train all week not to be able to kick with both feet has always baffled me. For a player feted by some as one of the world’s great strikers to be so blatantly one-footed is a disgrace.

Just when Torres seemed to have signaled his return to form with a superb right-footed finish at the start of the second half that reduced Chelsea’s arrears to 3-1, it is another hammer blow to the confidence of a striker who has become a laughing stock since he chose money over loyalty to Liverpool and made the move to Stamford Bridge.

As for Macari’s pre-match rubbishing of Torres, it is hard to disagree when you consider that the Spaniard is a one-footed wonder.

 

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MANCHESTER IS THE NEW MILAN: A CITY UNITED AS THE CENTRE OF THE FOOTBALLING UNIVERSE. CAN LIVERPOOL STRIKE BACK?

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A City United by a unique League and Cup double on the same day - but what a disgrace that the Premier League trophy was not presented to the Reds. Were they worried this would eclipse City's FA Cup win

A City United by a unique League and Cup double on the same day – but what a disgrace that the Premier League trophy was not presented to the Reds. Were they worried this would eclipse City’s FA Cup win

BY JOHN GUBBA

Welcome to the dawning of a new era with the City of Manchester now well and truly the centre of the footballing universe. And mark my words this is great news for United because there is nothing like a new challenge to keep you on your toes.

In case you needed a reminder the United are still the top dog, it was sweet irony that once again United eclipsed City on the day Roberto Mancini’s men claimed their first trophy in 35 years.

As City beat Stoke 1-0 at Wembley to win the FA Cup thanks to Yaya Toure’s late strike, United fans were already back in Manchester celebrating another Premier League triumph and a record-breaking 19th League title courtesy of their 1-1 draw at Blackburn secured by Wayne Rooney’s penalty.

Does anyone doubt Rooney's dedication to Man Utd now? After scoring the penalty that clinched the Reds' 19th Premier League title win, Wazza celebrated in bizarre fashion by shaving the number '19' into his chest and posting a photograph of it on Twitter.

Does anyone doubt Rooney’s dedication to Man Utd now? After scoring the penalty that clinched the Reds’ 19th Premier League title win, Wazza celebrated in bizarre fashion by shaving the number ’19′ into his chest and posting a photograph of it on Twitter.

But this was a day for Manchester to be United in celebration. Not just because the City can proudly boast the unique feat of winning two trophies on the same day. It is great for Manchester to be the undisputed Mecca of fooball. Even Milan can no longer match the glamour of England’s hotbed of football. And the odds are that the new intensity is here to stay.

I remember the end of the 60s when United and City last dominated football in this country. It was great for both clubs. And this time that great rivalry can last much longer than it did back in the days of Best, Law, Charlton and Lee, Bell, Summerbee.

With Liverpool getting their act together under the legendary Kenny Dalglish, what are the odds on the North-West giants occupying the top three positions in the Premier League next season and eclipsing the fading stars of Chelsea and Arsenal.

My bet is that Sir Alex Ferguson’s record-breakers will face a rejuvenated challenge from Liverpool next season as the Merseysiders seek to match United’s 19th League title. When Chelsea frivolously handed the Pool £50million for Fernando Torres Dalglish invested the money wisely and now has a good mix of established stars and exciting upcoming youngsters.

But the real fascination will be how much ground can neighbours City make up on Fergie’s champions after ending their 35 year wait for a trophy to add to their qualification for the Champions League.

There is no doubt City must spend another vast fortune if they want to rival the Reds at the top table. But that will be harder said than done despite their untold riches and their Champions League status.

The reason is the introduction of UEFA’s new Financial Fair Play rules.

Michel Platini has warned that the likes of big-spending Manchester City and Chelsea, and some of Europe’s biggest clubs, will have to ‘face the music’ if they do not comply with the new FFP regulations.

UEFA’s latest figures show that financial problems affecting European clubs are getting worse, with spending on player wages up almost 10 per cent – and increasing at a faster rate than income.

Under their new rules, clubs will face possible bans from European competition from the 2014/15 season if they spend more than they earn in the three years before.

Sir Alex Ferguson hugs Ryan Giggs as United celebrate record 19th title - both have won an unprecedented 12 Premier League trophies

Sir Alex Ferguson hugs Ryan Giggs as United celebrate record 19th title – both have won an unprecedented 12 Premier League trophies

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Can Liverpool strike back? Kenny Dalglish with Andy Carroll (left) and Luis Suarez

Can Liverpool strike back? Kenny Dalglish with Andy Carroll (left) and Luis Suarez

WHY JOSE MOURINHO WILL WAIT FOR SIR ALEX FERGUSON TO RETIRE BEFORE HE RETURNS TO THE PREMIER LEAGUE

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Mourinho wants to be Manchester United boss

Mourinho wants to be Manchester United boss

BY JOHN GUBBA

Jose Mourinho’s declaration that he will return to manage in the Premier League one day guarantees the self-appointed “special one” will be linked with every top job until he is “back home”.

The big question is ‘Where will Mourinho end up?’ The truth is you can make a compelling case for the current Real Madrid boss to take the helm at any of the EPL’s Big Six.  But my belief is that the Portuguese maestro will wait for the top job, and the chance to succeed his good friend Sir Alex Ferguson – for the next couple of years at least.

There is no guarantee Mourinho will even get the job. There is a question mark over whether or not he can deliver the swashbuckling football United fans and their history demand. There is no sign of Sir Alex being ready to step aside as he closes in on the possibility of his greatest ever season in his 70th year.

Yet there is an aura and intoxicating self-belief about Mourinho that makes him absolutely perfect for United. And the very doubt about whether or not he could deliver at the world’s biggest and most famous club is precisely why the man at Madrid has his eyes on Old Trafford.

I’m not convinced Mourinho will get the chance to prove himself  any time soon. Fergie has the hunger and desire to go on indefinitely. And how can anyone follow the most successful football manager in the history of the game? But I can’t think of anyone better equipped to take on the hardest job in football.

When Roman Abramovich forced Mourinho out of Chelsea, he made one of the biggest mistakes of his life. And despite his affection for his time at Stamford Bridge, the devil in Mourinho would give him immense satisfaction to come back to the Premier League and rub the Russian’s nose in the billionaire’s miserable failure to understand that some things money just can’t buy.

With Carlo Ancelotti joining the long list of Chelsea managers failing to win the Champions League, the Italian is vulnerable despite winning the Double last year, because this season will end trophy-less.  As I predicted on transfer deadline day – if Chelsea fail to finish in the top four – Ancelotti will pay the price for the crazy 50 million pound signing of Fernando Torres. He may already be a dead man walking.

Either way do not expect Mourinho to rush back to Chelsea. He has already strongly rejected suggestions he will replace Roberto Mancini at Eastlands, whether or not Manchester City fail to end their 35 year wait for a trophy and miss out on a Champions League place.

Spurs will want Mourinho to replace Redknapp

Spurs will want Mourinho to replace Redknapp

Tottenham will undoubtedly make another move for Mourinho – who has previously turned them down on at least one occasion – when Harry Redknapp becomes the next England manager.

He will also be top of the list at Liverpooland Arsenal, should Kenny Dalglish step down or Arsene Wenger finally run out of time.  Arsenal’s last trophy was the 2005 FA Cup and Liverpool have never won the Premier League.

Unless Fergie delivers another Treble next month and decides to bow out in style – and even then I think he will want to carry on – I expect Mourinho to bide his time and remain in Madrid for another season at least.

In the meantime, what are the odds now on my prophecy coming true and Fergie having to conquer Mourinho’s Madrid at Wembley to win the Champions League?

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DELICIOUS IRONY AS OUTCLASSED CHELSEA BLAME REFEREE – AND MATCHWINNER ROONEY AT HIS IMPERIOUS BEST

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BY JOHN GUBBA

AFTER all the hysterical criticism of Wayne Rooney over the past few days Chelsea felt the full force of Manchester United’s genious No.10 who was at his imperious best in tonight’s titanic Champions League quarter-final first leg at Stamford Bridge.

The game was decided by a dream goal that represented everything great about the beautiful game when Michael Carrick found Ryan Giggs with the accuracy of a quarter-back and the  Welsh wizard set up Rooney with an outstanding first touch and inch perfect lay-off that was steered home with inch-perfect precision.

But there was a lot more about this majestic performance than a golden strike that gave United the precious away goal and the victory they craved. After a run of four straight defeats on the ground where the Reds have every right to believe results went against because of poor refereeing decisions, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men dug deep to deliver a display of true grit and pure quality.

How ironic that Chelsea ended the night blaming the Spanish referee for refusing to award a debatable penalty in the dying second when Patrice Evra challenged Ramires.

How the Sun reported tonight's Champions League winner by Wayne Rooney

How the Sun reported tonight's Champions League winner by Wayne Rooney

The difference this time – regardless of whether or not referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco got this one right – is that  the best team on the night won the match, unlike the previous contests that went against a dominant United team when Chelsea received blatant assistance from errors by the match officials.

From start to finish tonight Manchester United were a cut above a disjointed Chelsea side that inexplicably opted for Fernando Torres at the expense of the Didier Drogba-Nicolas Anelka partnership that is clearly heir best partnership.

Torres started with Drogba and finished alongside Anelka. He hit the post and saw a header denied by a great save from Edwin Van Der Saar. But in the end the Spaniard’s shabby attempt to con a penalty out of the referee when he clearly dived in he box probably counted against Chelsea when Ramires’ late appeal for a spot kick was a borderline decision that for once went against the home side.

No one is foolish enough to believe other than this titanic struggle is still all to play for in the second leg. But United are now the favorites for next Tuesday’s conclusion at The Theatre of Dreams. And as Fergie underlined tonight it’s the aura of Old Trafford and what will be a fever pitch atmosphere created by United’s fans that will count just as much as that first leg lead.

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AS ANCELOTTI GAMBLES FUTURE ON OVER-PRICED TORRES HOW IRONIC IF LIVERPOOL PIP CHELSEA TO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

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BY JOHN GUBBA

FERNANDO TORRES left Anfield for Stamford Bridge “to step up to a higher level” – but the truth is Liverpool are on the way up and Chelsea’s fortunes are on the wane.

What looked like Chelsea’s challenge to Liverpool’s status as a big club has rebounded on the Blues because they have paid over the odds for a striker past his best and the Merseysiders have strengthened their squad in the process.

Andy Carroll is a big gamble at £35 million pounds. But is Torres really worth £15 million pound more than the 22 year old? Carroll is a kid with a big future ahead of him if he can keep his wild boy reputation in check.

Only time will give us all the answers. But my view is that Kenny Dalglish has expertly laid the foundations for a new and more successful era at Liverpool. And Carroll will soon be regarded as a more valuable asset than the Spaniard.

Torres may be a World Cup winner and he used to be one of the best strikers around. But his blistering pace is no longer there and he lacks the consistancy needed at the Premier League summit.

As I predicted, Torres’s pre-match boasts came back to haunt him as his old team-mates exposed Chelsea’s weaknesses and deservedly ran out 1-0 winners at Stamford Bridge.

Carragher got better of Torres in Stamford Bridge grudge match

Carragher got better of Torres in Stamford Bridge grudge match

It should have been a lot more decisive. Liverpool were a cut above the fading champions in every department – and they did not even need new boys Carroll (injured) or Luis Suarez (unused subsititute).

Chelsea looked like an ageing team past their peak and lacking any kind of invention. A sad sight for Blues fans in the week their club announced losses of £70 million and then splashed £75 million pounds on David Luiz (£25m) and Torres (£50m).

The harsh reality is that the season after guiding Chelsea to a maden double Carlo Ancelotti’s job is on the line. And he only has himself to blame.

Ancelotti has been urging Roman Abramovich to abandon his alleged policy of trying to balance the books and pushed for a return to his big spending days. The Italian made no secret of the fact that Torres is the striker he wanted.

Abramovich will not be satisfied unless Ancelotti delivers the Champions League. But the Russian may soon be sweating over qualification for next season’s competition. And that will really hurt.

Chelsea’s decision to splash the cash was heavily influenced by the realisation that the club will lose more than the £75 million they spent this week if they fail to stay in the Champions League next season.

It would be delicious irony if Liverpool’s resurgence under Kenny Dalglish ends with the Merseysiders squeezing past Chelsea to claim the fourth Champions League place.

Now that would be a priceless ending to this unpredictable Premier League season.

6th February 2011: Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool – Goalscorer: Raul Meireles, 69 mins

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CHELSEA BID FOR TORRES HAS CHALLENGED LIVERPOOL’S STATUS

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BY JOHN GUBBA

LIVERPOOL’s credibility as a big club is being questioned by Chelsea’s attempt to sign Fernando Torres. If the Spaniard goes to Stamford Bridge the Merseysiders may get a sackful of cash. But the Merseysiders need quality not money to halt their decline.

Ironically, down the road at Old Trafford Sir Alex Ferguson must decide whether to not to leave out Wayne Rooney and stick with Javier Hernandez against Aston Villa on Tuesday. But don’t make the mistake of thinking Manchester United should have cashed in on Rooney – he is not scoring goals but it is only a matter of time.

Did Manchster City lose their nerve when Carlos Tevez said he wanted to leave? Of course not. Top teams do not let their best players move on unless they have someone better they want to bring in.

And that is the key. If Liverpool can swap Torres for Didier Drogba or sign another star striker then go ahead. But with 48 hours to go to the transfer deadline Liverpool and Torres are on the verge of seeing their season go from bad to worse.

Meanwhile, Chelsea are clutching at straws in a desperate attempt to paper over the cracks in their ageing team.

Remember when Liverpool used to be one of the top teams . . .

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