Our European guru educates and enlightens
Anarchy in the Champions League...
First, only seven quarter-final places are still up for grabs.
It is simply inconceivable that Bayern’s 5-0 win in Lisbon, a record away victory in the UEFA Champions League, will be overturned in Munich. It would be a far greater turnaround than Ajax’s remarkable recovery in the 1968/69 last eight.Rinus Michels’ team hadn’t quite perfected Total Football – does that mean they were playing Partial Football? – and lost their home leg 3-1 to Benfica. But they then thrashed the Eagles by the same score in Lisbon and, in those innocent, pre-penalty shoot out days, won the play-off in Paris 3-0.
Ribery cooly converts No.3 of five for Bayern
Sporting coach Paulo Bento took his thrashing by Bayern well. “We had the chance to equalise but conceded two goals in six minutes. There was anarchy in the team. Even the best teams have their bad moments. Life doesn’t end here.”
Anarchy is not too strong a word for Sporting’s second half performance. When the great Polish forward Zbigniew Boniek was at Juventus in the 1980s, he was dubbed a “tactical anarchist” by the Italian press. This week we saw compelling evidence that Lisandro Lopez is the new Boniek. The Argentine striker has been, as Gianni Agnelli said of Boniek, like the moon – he only comes out at night. (To be clear, Agnelli meant that Boniek only shone in Europe.)
Lopez’s record this season is simply bizarre: five goals in 19 Liga Bwin games and, after his point saving brace against Atletico, six goals in seven in the UEFA Champions League.
Champions League hot-shot, Lisandro Lopez
How times have changed. The cliché about teams not travelling well now applies to Italian sides. Juventus and Roma have lost their last six Champions League games in England and the bianconeri have lost their last seven on the road in the knockout stages.
At Stamford Bridge, I was shocked at how poor Juve were in the first half. Only Alessandro Del Piero showed much.
They grew stronger as the game wore on, but their recovery was aided by Chelsea’s strange passivity. After the well-worked early goal, the Blues should have delivered the knockout blow.
But, lively as Salomon Kalou was, they lacked the spirit expected from a Guus Hiddink team.The vapidity of their second half performance was symbolised by Michael Ballack who, in one five minute period, hit three passes back to the player who had just passed to him.
Ballack: 'To me, to you'
The near thing of the week was Xabi Alonso’s shot at the Bernabeu.
The Rafa Benitez saga is turning into the best Merseyside soap since Brookside. But for me, the biggest puzzle about the Liverpool coach has nothing to do with Robbie Keane, and everything to do with Alonso.
Did Liverpool seriously want to sell the sublime midfielder this summer? Or was it an inspired, motivational double bluff by Rafa?The free-kick of the week had to be Juninho’s against Barcelona.
Nobody can really blame Victor Valdez for the goal. But watching him watching the ball sail into the top of the net, I was struck by how few of the last 16 teams can field world class goalkeepers on top of their game. Gianluigi Buffon, Iker Casillas, Pepe Reina and Edwin Van Der Sar stand out.
Lyon’s Hugo Lloris may be the best young keeper in the last 16 – the way he twisted to keep out a deflected shot on Tuesday was remarkable – and Julio Cesar almost single-handedly kept Manchester United at bay in the first half at the San Siro.
Cesar keeps Mourinho's men alive
Petr Cech is one of the world’s best but, to my mind, has not fully recovered from that grievous incident with Stephen Hunt. The other keepers vary – some are making their mark, a few are good but not great, others have chocolate wrists.
So, Bayern are effectively through, and Arsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Panathinaikos and Porto, are ahead on points.
But Massimo Moratti, for one, thinks Inter will beat Manchester United, while Luciano Spalletti estimated the balance in the Roma tie as “maybe 49% for us and 51% for them.”
As Jimmy Greaves liked to continually remind us, football is a funny old game.
At the start of the season, three Chelsea managers – Ranieri, Scolari and Ten Cate – had teams in the Champions League. And now, five months later, the one closest to the quarter-finals is Henk Ten Cate.
As Martina Navratilova said on I’m A Former Celebrity Can I Stay A Bit Longer Please? “Who’ have thunk it!”
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