A View From Below

Sporting debate and opinion

Intriguing first leg of Quarter-Finals leaves questions unanswered in the Champions League for British clubs as Barcelona take centre stage

Emmanuel Adebyaor's overhead kick and self-proclaimed best career goalThe Quarter-Finals of this season’s premier European club competition were supposed to see English representatives walk into the semis and reproduce three of the last four teams that the Barclays Premiership have done in the previous two seasons, with a club from the most famed league in the world eventually taking the title home. However, it looks like Barcelona are the early favourites to wreck the party and celebrate only a third Champions League triumph in their illustrious history.

Sides from the Iberian Peninsula – F.C. Porto flying the flag for Portugal, Villarreal and Barcelona representing Spain – threaten to dominate the closing stages of the tournament, in stark contrast to 2006-07 and 2007-08’s penultimate round. Porto snatched a late equaliser at Old Trafford, their second goal of the evening, leaving Manchester United needing a win or at least a three apiece spectacle to win the tie in normal time next week at the Estádio do Dragão. Villarreal put in a dogged display against a resilient Arsenal with moments of genius from the Brazilian (now naturalised Spanish) Marcos Senna and Gunners back-from-injury Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor leaving the game tantalisingly close at 1-1, to be resumed at the Emirates next Wednesday. The all English game between Liverpool and Chelsea bellied belief, as Torres’ early strike was overcome by two headers from defender Branislav Ivanovic and an effort from front man Didier Drogba, to allow Guus Hiddink a certain freedom in the resulting tie at Stamford Bridge. Away from these fascinating matches, the Camp Nou witnessed German side Bayern Munich’s biggest Champions League defeat, suffering a 4-0 humiliation to Josep Guardiola’s dazzling side.

Arsenal suffered a poor start against the ‘Yellow Submarines’ at the Estádio El Madrigal after conceding within the first ten minutes, but it looked harsh on the North London side, who had begun just as brightly as the hosts, and were unlucky to go into the break behind, having lost goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and defender William Gallas to injury, both likely to miss the return leg. Arsene Wenger’s young side looked to pull it together a bit in the second half and a fantastic lofted through ball from Cesc Fabregas saw Adebayor produce a stunning acrobatic effort (pictured, top right) to equalise, announcing his return to form, a fact that will surely be called upon at the Emirates Stadium for the return leg if Arsenal are to progress. The Gunners do seem to be in the driving seat to make the semi-finals and will be buoyed from their resolute performance and stealing an away goal.

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson publicly backed his side to see off Porto in the second leg and take their place in the semi-final, but he must be privately worried by the Red Devils slump in form. It seems United are stumbling at the final hurdle, energy, form and threat deserting them in recent games. The 3-2 result against Villa gave the team a munch needed lift before the Porto clash, but youngster Federico Machedo’s last minute winner did much to overshadow a thoroughly dull and bleak performance from Ferguson’s side. Betting against Man Utd is not to be done so lightly, as so many times have this side come back from the brink to succeed, but their decline in form and the fact that they aren’t relying on players coming back from injury to lift them mean that Porto are the favourites to make the last four. 

Drogba's tap in made it 3-1 to ChelseaLiverpool failed to convert the impetus of their late Premier League challenge when going down 3-1 at home to Chelsea. Fernando Torres fired the club into an early Anfield lead, but the Reds failed to deal with the aerial threat of Serb Branislav Ivanović, who scored two headers either side of half time, and when Didier Drogba tapped home from six yards, (left) the tie was perhaps sealed in the West London club’s favour, although neither side will be looking forward to the prospect of facing the Spanish giants from Catalan in the next round.

Barcelona looked unstoppable as they attacked their way to a rampant 4-0 victory over Bayern Munich at Camp Nou, looking the full package that the club has been promising for so many years, with a frontline second to none. Jurgen Klinsmann watched on as his team’s defence was continually cut apart as Barcelona tore into the German club’s ranks from the off. You have to feel for the former national team boss, who only this week allowed BBC Sport an insight into his coaching techniques, an up and coming manager whose advanced American training techniques and Buddha statues look lost on a squad who seem to lack the strength, depth and enthusiasm needed at this level. His forages into management with Germany initially looked impressive, taking an underperforming side to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2006, but Munich’s outlay for the former Tottenham striker to turn the club into one of the leading lights of Europe looks to be nearing a premature end, with president Franz Beckenbauer labeling their first half display against Barcelona as “without doubt, the worst football in Bayern’s history.” So much for the next big chapter for the Bavarians, who look set to be dumped out of the competition in 6 days time.

The Spanish side did all the damage in the first half, with Lionel Messi slotting two well taken goals, Samuel Eto’o taking a poacher’s effort, and Thierry Henry scoring a trademark goal. Barcelona really could have had half a dozen by half time, and the way they put Bayern to the sword really emphasises their credentials as foremost contenders.

Josep Guardiola really has changed something to this season’s standout team, as Barcelona have gone from La Liga losers to Domestic and European batterers, with practically the same squad of players, except for the addition of galloping full-back Dani Alves. Everyone had heard of what the ex-Sevilla man could do, and it must surely be the heavy price tag for a defender that put off other potential suitors, as the Brazilian has been in mesmeric form this season. Carlos Puyol has also stood out the back, as the team’s captain and rock in the heart of defence; he can always be called upon to demonstrate how to coolly control oncoming attackers. In midfield, Guardiola has employed a three man system, one holding with two creators ready to unleash the exciting front three, with Yaya Toure, brother of Arsenal’s Kolo, usually preferred to Seydou Keita as the defensive pinnacle, and Spain’s Xavi and Andreas Iniesta pulling the strings. Up front, however, is where Barcelona really impress. Ever since 2007, when Thierry Henry joined the club, it was a difficult task to accommodate four forwards; Samuel Eto’o, Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho and the French striker. Guardiola’s answer: to sell Ronaldinho, and what a masterstroke it was. With Henry cutting in from the left and not shackled with defensive duties, Messi dribbling from the right in Maradonna fashion, and Eto’o calmly slotting the goals from a central role, it seems President Joan Laporta has finally found the coach to implement a successful, but exhilarating style of play. Forget total football, La Blaugrana look a step ahead of the rest and a sure bet to lift the trophy in Rome on the the 27th May.

 

 

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April 9, 2009 - Posted by | Football

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