Midweek European action satisfaction.
1. Alex Ferguson will be pleased with his side’s victory last night, given the chances Inter created. A lot of pre-game talk was about the Mourinho factor but for all his ability, he needs to have the right players as well. At Chelsea he had people like Lampard and Drogba, who you know will always produce on the big stage. Zlatan may be a wonderful player on Youtube clips who’s capable of great goals and flicks, but at the very highest level I think he falls slightly short. He had several excellent chances over the two legs and failed to take any of them. It may be a season or two before Mourinho has made the squad completely his own. United took advantage of some sloppy defending to score two headed goals and rode their luck to see out the game. They are currently favourites with the bookies but that may all change once the draw for the quarters and semis are made.
2. Liverpool got lucky with refereeing decisions for the first two goals in my opinion but used it to full advantage and certainly played well enough to warrant victory. Real were shockingly bad and lack both pace and power, something Liverpool (and all the English sides for that matter) have in abundance. Ramos has done very well since coming in but he has a squad of mainly one paced players and the only one who is quick (Robben) was anonymous on Tuesday. Rafa has had a bit of a moan about his European record isn’t respected. I think it is, everyone knows that tactically he’s one of the best in Europe and in Gerrard and Torres he has two gladiators who keep going and going. Once more their title challenge has faded but I imagine they’ll come close in Europe again.
3. Arsenal were pretty poor against Roma, who themselves weren’t great. Juan’s early goal made for a very tense night but neither side had the quality to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Roma had a very good shout for a penalty when Clichy fouled Motta at the end of the first half, and Julio Baptista missed an absolute sitter late in the second. It soon became clear that the match was destined for penalties and the shootout was quite strange. For the first time in a long time there wasn’t a single player I was fully confident of scoring, not even RVP. Thankfully only Eduardo missed for Arsenal and series of average penalties (interspersed with quality ones from Totti and the Beast) were taken before Tonetto blasted the deciding one over the bar. Wenger will be thankful that Fabregas and Adebayor will be back for the quarter finals, providing much needed guile in midfield and presence up front. They’ll want to take more of their chances at home too, as the next opponents are unlikely to be as forgiving as Roma.
4. Barcelona were efficient in taking apart a Lyon side who have never managed to turn French dominance into European success. Seven successive league titles have yet to produce a Champions League campaign that went beyond the quarter finals and you wonder if they can even manage that in coming seasons with Juninho getting older and Benzema likely to leave in the next year or two. Barca meanwhile seem to have rediscovered their form following a little domestic blip. Their defence is a lot better this season and they have the firepower to score against anyone, Henry in particular showing he still has it with his 50th Champions League goal. The one question mark that remains is goalkeeper Victor Valdes, a player I’m amazed is first choice for them. He’s the kind of player that is never far away from a mistake and I suspect if Barcelona get knocked out, he will have something to do with it. Just imagine if someone of the caliber of Casillas played for them instead…
5. Despite Bayern racking up a record 12-1 aggregate victory over Sporting, I don’t think they’re a team to be feared in the quarter finals. They’ve been inconsistent all season and rely too much on star player Franck Ribery. I’m not convinced Klinsmann has the tactical nous to take on the wiser heads remaining in the quarter finals, let alone the players.
6. Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini have both been going on record about how it’s bad that English clubs are dominating at the moment. That is true to an extent but it’s no different to when Italian and Spanish teams both had periods of dominance and English clubs failed each year. Let’s not forget that even with Man United and Liverpool’s recent victories, English clubs have only won the tournament three times since the Champions League format was introduced in 1992/3. That’s one behind Spanish and Italian teams. Bearing in mind no one has retained the trophy since the new format came in, I think that as long as you’re getting different winners every year then there isn’t too much of an issue. I’m sure next week’s draw will see at least one all English pairing in the quarter finals anyway.
There’s more analysis to follow from P.