Image via Sky Sports 

 

It’s hard to fathom a game where so much anticipation and focus will be on what happens on the side-lines as well as the pitch like this one. A grudge match like none other, where Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho would be keen, almost to a state of desperation on getting one over each other.

Right from Conte’s celebrations, seen as ‘histrionic’ by Mourinho, when Chelsea put four past Manchester United in October of 2016, the meeting in November last year that finished with no handshake between the two, right down to Mou’s comments over not celebrating like a clown, Conte’s jibes about ‘demenzia senile’, and the match-fixing pot shot as well, the mutual displeasure looks to have been brewing, and on Sunday, when Chelsea take to Old Trafford, it might be seen as a chance for either manager to laud a victory over the other, even if they’ll naturally play it down.

‘In the past both of us have said things’, says Conte. ‘For me it’s okay and I’m not interested in speaking about this topic’. The fight for UEFA Champions League football for next season, though, is a topic worth discussing, as amidst the tumult between both managers, there are still targets to be met. ‘We have to look ourselves and understand that from now until the end of the season every game is very important’, Conte adds. ‘To get three points will be important for ourselves and United. The fight for the Champions League is open, there are many great teams and someone has to miss out’.

And it seemed like Chelsea would be a side that would miss out after their torrid start to the year, capped by three-goal defeats at home to Bournemouth and at Watford, between the end of January and the end of February. But the Blues look to have recovered, a 3-0 win over West Brom in the league, a 4-0 FA Cup victory over Hull City, and that draw with Barcelona in Europe in midweek has given them as much-needed results as it has done confidence, and they’ll certainly approach this Old Trafford game in good stead. They haven’t won at the Theatre of Dreams, however, in five years, and last season’s outcome, a 2-0 win for United, was probably the best performance of the campaign from the Red Devils.

‘Last season, they were fighting to be champions and we were not even fighting to be in the top four but it was still a big game’ Mourinho says when recalling that encounter last April. This term, it’s the same fight from both sides, securing a Champions League spot.

And for the managers, the fight might well be the same as well, to score bragging rights. Not that they would admit it, though.

Elsewhere

  • It hasn’t been the best season to be associated with West Brom, and it definitely hasn’t been the best week to be, from their taxi-gate incident in Barcelona, to the FA Cup exit at home to Southampton, and now they return to league action, where they are seven points from safety, and talk of this game being win or bust for Alan Pardew seems to be building. Opponents Huddersfield were knocked out of the cup by United last weekend, but more importantly, they registered a 4-1 win over Bournemouth a week earlier. A similar kind of league result for the Terriers and it might just be taxi for Pardew (I mean, that expression was sitting right there).
  • It’s a different Swansea side Brighton face, to the one they beat at the Liberty in November, the side that barely looked like scoring once they went behind. The Swans have had it good under Carlos Carvalhal so far, and are still in the domestic cup as well. A win for either side here is a big step towards survival.
  • Speaking of survival, Stoke still have a fair bit of work to do on that part. Despite beginning the Paul Lambert era with a win, the Potters haven’t won any of the next three games since, and lie in the relegation zone. They go to Leicester, a ground where they haven’t even scored in in any of the past three campaigns.
  • It’s a shift to Thursday for Arsenal and Manchester City, as the league clash at the Emirates between both sides makes way for the League Cup final this weekend. For Arsenal, it’s the only domestic trophy to have evaded Arsene Wenger in his time in the country. For City, it’s a chance to get up and running under Pep Guardiola, in terms of silverware. Thursday night can wait.

Fixtures

Manchester United v Chelsea

Leicester v Stoke

Liverpool v West Ham

West Brom v Huddersfield

Brighton v Swansea

Southampton v Burnley

Crystal Palace v Tottenham

Watford v Everton

Bournemouth v Newcastle

Published in International Watch

 

 

 

There was a bit of awe and reverence in Andy Gray’s voice, when the co-commentator said back in February 2006 that ‘I get the feeling when he learns the game a bit more he’ll be unplayable at times’. With 18 minutes left at Stamford Bridge, Gray had just seen an 18-year-old Lionel Messi curl an effort against the woodwork. Messi was the star of that game in West London, and, coupled with his role in the controversial dismissal of Asier Del Horno, the Argentine started to embody the features of Barcelona: style, swagger, elegance, hatred from Chelsea.

Not that it’s easy to hate Leo though. 12 years on from that night, he has become unplayable almost all the time, and is talked about in the breaths of the greatest players of all time. But once thing he couldn’t quite manage, as daft and irrelevant as it seems (and is, in truth) was score against Chelsea. He’s had brushes with the Blues since that fateful game, the return leg of that tie saw him hobble off injured, the following season they met again, as did in 2009, and, more recently, in 2012, when Messi belted that penalty onto the bar in the semi-final, and is said to have cried in the dressing room after Barca got knocked out.

So, you would excuse the Argentine captain if he felt a little desperate to exorcise some ghosts in the latest chapter of the Chelsea-Barcelona story, as they met this week for the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie. But if there was any sense of desperation felt, Messi certainly didn’t show it, the calm and elegance he oozed on the ball was second to none, and key to Barcelona’s chances.

And it was just as well that there was calm in the Catalan ranks, as Chelsea pushed them to the tethers of patience, gave them little room to fashion out, put in an impressive show of fortitude, and hit the post twice before the end of the first half, both from Willian. Antonio Conte watched as his side impressive shackled Barcelona, made them content with pedestrian possession, and hit a shaky Barca defence on the break. And the visitors barely knew what hit them just after the hour mark, as after a short Chelsea saw the ball fall to the feet of Willian, the Brazilian was third time lucky as his shot rolled past Marc Andre Ter-Stegen and into the net, much to Conte and the crowd’s delirium; for the seventh UEFA Champions League Barcelona had played at the Bridge, they had failed to keep a clean sheet.

Ernesto Valverde’s side looked bereft of ideas, drops of the shoulder from Messi became necessary as spaces were snuffed out. But it would be Chelsea who would aid and abet Barca’s route back into the game; Andreas Christensen’s wayward pass meant should Andres Iniesta get to the ball before Cesar Azpilicueta, room would open up, and so it proved, Iniesta got there first, a pull-back later and Messi slotted the ball past Thibaut Courtois, his first ever goal against Chelsea (which joins goals against Gigi Buffon and goals English on the list of inconsequential stats he has banished).

Much of Barcelona’s games this season have seen them not necessarily play well but get results, and here it was no different, despite a leggy and rather jaded showing, they still go to the second leg with a tiny advantage.

Credit to Chelsea, though, for making Barcelona look commonplace and jaded. They might not have gotten the desired advantage from the first leg, but they did enough to make sure the result isn’t quite seen as a disadvantage.

Elsewhere:

  • Once again, Manchester United were in a game thanks to the brilliance of David de Gea in goal. With less than three minutes left before half time in Seville, the Spanish goalkeeper pulled off top drawer saves to deny Steven Nzonzi and Luis Muriel, as the first leg of this tie finished goalless. On one hand, Vincenzo Montella will no doubt see belief in his side ahead of the return leg in Manchester as a result of their display; on the other, they’re not likely to get as many chances as they did at home, and might end up ruing what might have been for the second year running.
  • In the most overlooked tie of the last 16, it was an entertaining encounter between Shakhtar Donetsk and Roma in Ukraine. It was the Italians who led an end-to-end first half, thanks to a goal from the in-form Cengiz Under, but after sitting rather deep in the second period and inviting Shakhtar on, they paid the price, as the Miners turned the game around, thanks to a well-taken goal by Facundo Ferreyra and a brilliantly taken free-kick from Fred. Advantage Paulo Fonseca and his team, in a game where it wasn’t the best in which to be an unused substitute.
  • Besiktas defend well and attack threateningly at Bayern Munich. Besiktas get reduced to 10 men midway through the first half; then concede a deflating goal on the cusp of halftime. In the end it was a stroll for Bayern, a 5-0 win, and a run, for Robert Lewandowski, of 16 goals in 16 Champions League games. Stupendous.

Results

Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona

Sevilla 0-0 Manchester United

Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 Roma

Bayern Munich 5-0 Besiktas

 

Published in International Watch

Chelsea vs Barcelona: Who will go through?

Tuesday, 20 February 2018 20:12

Dot the I’s. Cross the T’s, ask the fans to root for the teams.

With Chelsea against Barcelona in the Champions League not far away, fans give their views on who’s going to the next round, and who gets better luck next year:

Fans Say...

Even a blind man knows Barcelona are the favourites to win the game but both teams recent form hasn't been too good... But i hope the best team wins.

Olujoe Joseph

Chelsea to win the first leg and draw the second leg Olivier Giroud with the second half goal.

Olukotun Victor

Barcelona will go through. Because they have a better team chemistry.

Abisuga Oreoluwa

 

Chelsea will go through because there will always be upset in this stage of the competition and it is only Chelsea that can prove bookmakers wrong.

There is history between the two clubs in this competition and no one is a victor until after 180 minutes of dramatic football.

I believe Eden Hazard, Olivier Giroud, Cesar Azpilicueta and an erroneous Barca defence will make the difference.

Alesh

Being a Chelsea fan, I’ll definitely say Chelsea will go through.

I believe Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata and Andreas Christensen will be the deciding players. 

Richard

Published in International Watch

It doesn’t really seem like Chelsea’s thing to be straightforward, does it? The constant case of managerial bickering, supposed squad unrest, either winning the league with a bang or surrendering it with a whimper, the Blues just can’t do things quietly.

And this season is barely any different, as despite sitting in the top four in the Premier League, all hasn’t been anywhere close to well at Stamford Bridge, from Antonio Conte’s unceasing complaints over players, as well as assurances on his own future, to the horror start to 2018. The Blues only won one game under 90 minutes in January (Newcastle in the FA Cup Fourth Round), a month which they ended with that jaw-dropping defeat at home to Bournemouth, before entering February with another heavy loss, this time at Watford. Form has improved since, two straight wins, scoring seven times without reply, but that doesn’t prevent them from being overwhelming outsiders in their Champions League knockout tie.

Upcoming European opponents Barcelona have equalled their La Liga record of playing 31 games unbeaten, have lost just once since August (in the Spanish Cup, and they even won the return leg in that one), and have only conceded once in six European games this season. From talk of a seemingly unavoidable crisis at the start of the season, Ernesto Valverde’s side are competing on all fronts, and perhaps are favourites on all fronts. ‘On one hand you know this team is one of the best in the world- maybe they are favourites to win this competition’ says Conte. But Chelsea are accustomed to games where the odds have seemed against them, where they’ve been billed as underdogs, yet managed to triumph, the victory against Barcelona in this competition in 2012 a huge case in point. ‘On the other hand we must be excited because we have a great opportunity to play a massive game against a really strong team and to show which is our level’ Conte adds.

Conte is under no illusions of the difficulty with which his side are faced, the Italian recognises a strong side with arguably the best player in the world, and has said his team will need a ‘perfect game’ to stand a chance against Barcelona. But the former Juventus boss, who also has managerial previous in triumphing against the odds, believes the Blaugrana are not infallible, and those back-to-back domestic wins will have put them in good stead. ‘Hopefully we can give a good image of what we can do and do a good performance’ says Blues midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who had a three-year spell at Barcelona. Fabregas and Pedro are currently Chelsea players who were members of the Barca side knocked out by Chelsea in 2012, and the latter says images of that loss still haunt the Catalans, something the Blues might be hoping gives them an advantage, even much of that squad from six years ago are no longer around.

Over the years the likes of Bayern Munich, Napoli and Paris Saint-Germain have joined Barca in witnessing the sting of a Chelsea fightback, and another might just be brewing. Once again, the odds are stacked against the Blues; almost how they like it.

Fixtures

Chelsea v Barcelona

Bayern Munich v Besiktas

Sevilla v Manchester United

Shakhtar Donetsk v Roma

Published in International Watch

SpotkickNG

 

As the most memorable aspect of February rolls around (sit down, Valentine’s Day), spotkick’s trusted pick up their crystal balls and cast their predictions on which teams will remain when 16 gets trimmed to eight in the Champions League:

Ola Fadahunsi 

Man City vs Basel

City have been one of the best sides in Europe this season; the tie with Basel should be a banana peel.

City, duh! 

Juventus vs Tottenham

Spurs made a good statement by topping Madrid in the group stage but Juventus' experience in Europe should see them above the North London side.

Juve to knock out Spurs

Porto vs Liverpool

The oddity here is Liverpool qualifying if history is anything to go by. But I will still stick with the Merseyside Red.

Liverpool for me

Real Madrid vs PSG 

Madrid are going into this tie with little or nothing to lose as many have written them off - thus putting enormous pressure on PSG. I doubt PSG's ability to contain this pressure even with their star-studded side led by Neymar: last year's exit to Barcelona at this stage is a perfect example.

I still think Real will qualify.

Chelsea vs Barcelona

The Blues' strength playing Barca over the years has been how solid they've been at the back but this year’s tie will be different - as Barca's strongest household has been their back line and when you sync that with what Messi and Suarez can offer upfront, Chelsea will bow out in style.

Barcelona to progress

Sevilla vs Manchester United

Consistency has been a problem for the two sides but i think United have more than enough to deal with whatever Sevilla would be throwing at them.

United to go through. 

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Roma

An even tie. Against all odds, Roma made it pass group stage - topping both Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, but if you've been a follower of the UCL for years, you'll know how dangerous Shaktar can be in games like this. As a lover of history, I'll give it to Shakhtar

 

Kunle Ajao

Juventus v Tottenham

Spurs have delivered much better than expected in this season’s competition, after underperforming in the previous campaign. They topped a group that comprised Dortmund and Real Madrid, and their 3-1 win over the latter was mighty impressive. Juve, though, have pedigree in this competition, and have been finalists for two of the last three seasons. They’ve been here and done it before more times than their opponents at this stage. With both sides possessing formidable defences and midfields as well, it might well boil down to which striker, in Harry Kane and Gonzalo Higuain, will have a better day.

Juventus to just about sneak through. 

Basel v Manchester City

There’s no doubt who the overwhelming favourite is for this one, Man City have looked impeccable most times this season. Basel were impressive in qualifying from Group A, beating Manchester United on the way, but have lost Manuel Akanji and Renato Steffen to the Bundesliga. They might spring a surprise, but this looks a hard ask.

Barring a shock, City to go through 

Real Madrid v PSG

The tie of the round, the game that is most likely to determine the future of both managers. For Paris Saint-Germain, it’s finally a chance to prove they can roll with the elite after all the years of spending, especially with last year’s capitulation to Barcelona still in the memory. Real Madrid, meanwhile, have their whole season riding on this.

PSG to make the last eight for me

Porto v Liverpool

This tie seems finely poised, pitting two teams who’ll equally fancy their chances of progress. Liverpool’s front three, despite the departure of Philippe Coutinho, has been one to envy, even if Sadio Mane’s form has dipped recently. Their defence still leaves much to ponder, though, and Porto will look to capitalise on any slackness. But Liverpool’s best form of defending has been attacking, and it has worked so far.

Will be no straightforward task, but Liverpool should progress

Bayern Munich v Besiktas

No prizes for guessing the favourite here, Bayern haven't quite looked the same since Jupp Heynckes took over from Carlo Ancelotti, with only one defeat in all competitions since September. Besiktas do have an experienced, if not ageing, squad which helped finish top of Group G, but that also owed a big part to Cenk Tosun, whose January departure is a big blow.

The odds look overwhelmingly on Bayern Munich

Chelsea v Barcelona

This seems like the most ill-timed meeting of them all, Chelsea’s form having dropped massively, and not helped by Antonio Conte’s constant complaints over transfer dealings. Barcelona have lost just once since that supposedly-crushing Super Cup defeat in August. Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied, but Ernesto Valverde’s side are still favourites in this tie, if not the whole competition.

Barcelona to make progress here.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Roma

Roma were impressive in finishing top of a group that involved Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. But they haven’t been at their best lately in Serie A, and have slipped well out of the title race. Shakhtar are just as impressive a side, and have previous when it comes to the two teams meeting at this stage, they beat the Giallorossi in the last 16 in 2011.

Roma to qualify, just about. 

Sevilla v Manchester United

Sevilla are still searching for that first Champions League quarter-final appearance. They came close in 2008 (losing to Fenerbahce) and last season (eliminated by Leicester), but this looks like the hardest task of all. Jose Mourinho is a master at negotiating ties like this, and only the most courageous would bet against United going through, particularly with this being perhaps their most likely chance of silverware.

Manchester United to progress

 

Shehu Idris

Basel v Manchester City 

Does this actually need a prediction. Better luck next time Basel. A full scale hurricane is coming Basel's way, perhaps they shouldn't even bother showing up for both legs but, in Ed Sheeran's voice, "What do I know?". 

Juventus vs Tottenham

This is like a classic ole battle between an old, experienced and embittered war veteran and a young, greenhorn who's shown that his youthful exuberance can bleed giants to death if allowed. I'm tilting towards the green-necks from North London they should handle the Old Lady pretty easily. 

Porto vs Liverpool

This should be easy for Jürgen Klopp's men, they'll do it on both legs and if by deeds of their typical Liverpool-ism they don't, take this prediction as a tongue-in-cheek bluff. 

Real Madrid vs PSG

We'll plumb this pseudo-big club money sack with over-pampered players who're only there because of the jiggling coins it has in coffer. Real Madrid to progress, yes of course. 

Bayern Munich vs Besiktas

It’s hard for anyone to not see Bayern progressing here 

Chelsea vs Barcelona

Chelsea are but a sorry shadow of their true selves currently, with their coach a 'Noob Saibot' of his usually maniac, football-loving self and against a Barcelona side that haven't lost in the league this season and have Lionel Messi? May God have mercy on them. Barcelona to progress. 

Sevilla vs Manchester United

Sevilla struggled under Eduardo Berrizo, are still struggling under Vincenzo Montella, plus this season has been what they projected it will be. Manchester United will help see to that. United to ease pass them. 

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Roma

Who are these ones? Me, I'm tired ooo. Anyway, Roma to progress.

 

So, according to we at spotkick.com, the potential quarter finalists are:

Barcelona 

Manchester City 

Manchester United 

Roma

Real Madrid 

Juventus 

Bayern Munich 

Liverpool

Keep in mind, keyword, ‘potential’,  there’s not many things as humbling as seeing a seemingly genius and iron-clad prediction go all kinds of wrong.

 

Feel free to disagree with us in the comments section.

Published in International Watch

10 Memorable UEFA Champions League Last 16 Ties

Thursday, 08 February 2018 17:02

Claps hands Tony Stark style circa ending of Iron Man 3 (Just go with it, okay!), it’s February. Yup, the second month of the year, when we enter crunch time in the football season. When managers who haven’t been sacked announce that they’ll leave at the end of the season, and when UEFA Champions League football returns.

The time when, as ITV commentator Clive Tydesley said, ‘the Champions League becomes the European Cup again’, as the knockout football takes centre stage. And there have been some rather tasty ties in the first knockout round over the years, so, with one eye on next week’s resumption, here’s 10 of the classic match-ups in this round:

Porto v Manchester United (2004)

Rather fitting that we begin with the tie in which Tydesley gives his ‘European cup’ quote, as Manchester United, having toped their group with little fuss, met in the last 16, a Porto team that narrowly escaped the group phase, and their up and coming manager Jose Mourinho (the good old days then) had a chance to pit his wits against the mighty Red Devils and Sir Alex Ferguson.

It was no gain saying United were favourites, and midway through the first period Quinton Fortune would give them the lead. But two goals from Fortune’s fellow South African Benni McCarthy, one in the first period, and the other in the second, meant Porto would take a 2-1 lead to Old Trafford in a fortnight, a game where United would be without captain Roy Keane, who was sent off at the Dragao, much to Fergie’s incandescence.

United were still favourites to go through nevertheless, and in the first half of the second leg, Paul Scholes would give them the lead, and the midfielder was unlucky to see the offside wrongly deny him a second. It stayed at 1-0 for most of the game, United as it stood would go through on away goals, until the last minute, when Dmitry Alenichev was fouled just outside the United box. McCarthy’s free-kick was pushed away by Tim Howard, but Costinha was on hand to turn home the equaliser, sparking Mourinho’s famous touchline run at Old Trafford. Porto would go on to win the tournament, and some 14 years later, Mourinho is now the home manager at the Theatre of Dreams.

Chelsea v Barcelona (2005)

Well, Mourinho again. Clive Tydesley again. After his European triumph (or triumphs) with Porto, Jose left for Chelsea, where he got tagged the ‘Special One’. The Blues were top of the Premiership and flying, while Barcelona were also ahead of the rest in La Liga when both sides clashed at the Camp Nou in the first leg. Chelsea took the lead through a Juliano Belletti own goal, an advantage they would take to halftime. But things took a big swing in the second period, when Didier Drogba was sent off for his lunge on Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes. The hosts pressed home their numerical advantage, as two goals in five from Maxi Lopez and Samuel Eto’o meant they would go into the second leg ahead.

But the Blaugrana would be caught unawares and left shell-shocked after 19 minutes of the return leg, as Eidur Gudjohnsen, Frank Lampard and Damien Duff all got on the score sheet to give Chelsea a three-goal lead on the night (4-2 on aggregate). Barcelona were left reeling, and in need of a lifeline, which they got after Paulo Ferreira’s handball in the Chelsea box enabled Ronaldinho to score a penalty, one which Petr Cech came close to saving. But Cech could do nothing about what happened just before halftime, as an outrageous Ronaldinho toe-poke from the edge of the box put the scoreline at 3-2, and Barcelona ahead on away goals. Chances would fly at both ends in the second half, Eto’o guilty of missing one, while Joe Cole also fluffed his lines for Chelsea. But the Blues would get back in the aggregate lead with 12 minutes left, John Terry heading home Lampard’s corner to put them within touching distance of the last eight. Barcelona sought another reply, but found none, and for the first time since the competition was renamed, no Spanish side would be in the quarter finals. For Chelsea, it was delight, as Mourinho joined the players’ celebrations after the final whistle, as Clive Tydesley declared that who could stop the Blues from European glory. The answer came in semi-finals, in the form of a familiar face in Liverpool.

Werder Bremen v Juventus (2006)

Werder Bremen had made history in the group stages, as they became the first side to lose their first three games and still qualify for the knockout phase, and in this round of 16 tie they struck first, Christian Schulz giving them the lead at home Juventus. But the Old Lady turned things around, and goals from Pavel Nedved and David Trezeguet had them leading with eight minutes left. Bremen, though, showed the resolve they demonstrated in their group, and late strikes from Tim Borowski and Johan Micoud gave them a first leg advantage.

That advantage was doubled 13 minutes into the second leg, Micoud again the scorer, as Bremen started to dream of the last eight. Trezeguet grabbed an equaliser in the 65th minute, but Fabio Capello’s side needed one more to go through. It didn’t seem forthcoming, Juve seemed stuck and on the verge of elimination, until Bremen’s goalie Tim Wiese caught a corner in the 88th minute, and his histrionic roll led to the ball slipping out of his hands and into the path of a grateful Emerson, who rolled the ball into an unguarded net, and rolled the Bianconeri into the next round, much to Wiese’s horror.

Real Madrid v Bayern Munich (2007)

It was the resumption of the international rivalry between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, as they were pitted together for the fourth time in seven years. Real had triumphed in two of the previous three, and were in mood to lay off here, Raul giving Los Blancos the lead after just 10 minutes. That lasted only 13 minutes, however, as Lucio’s header pulled Bayern Munich level, but Real would take a 3-1 lead into halftime, Raul adding his second before Ruud van Nistelrooy got on the score sheet himself. Bayern looked in real trouble in the tie, but gave themselves a huge lifeline with two minutes left, Mark van Bommel’s shot handing the Bavarians two away goals in a one-goal loss.

And they took advantage quite literally as the second leg begun, an error from Roberto Carlos led to Roy Makaay scoring the fastest ever Champions League goal, and Real were chasing the game from the off. Bayern added another not long after the hour mark, Lucio repeating his first leg trick to give Los Blancos a mountain to climb. Van Nistelrooy would pull one back from the penalty spot in the 83rd minute, but they would have a goal disallowed after, Sergio Ramos the guilty party, as they bowed out of the competition at this stage for the third year running.

Fenerbahce v Sevilla (2008)

It was uncharted territory for Fenerbahce in 2008, as Sari Kanaryalar, under Brazilian manager Zico, negotiated a group involving Inter Milan, PSV and CSKA Moscow for a berth in the last 16. The Turks had been making an impression in the competition, and against Sevilla, backed by a raucous Sukru Sarakoglu crowd, took a 17th-minute lead through Mateja Kezman. Sevilla had also been impressive themselves, beating Arsenal to top spot in Group H, and levelled just six minutes after through Edu Dracena’s own goal. Fenerbahce went again and retook the lead, Diego Lugano’s thumping header just before the hour mark sending the home crowd to cacophony once again, but once again Sevilla wouldn’t lie down, and Julien Escude dragged them level again, 10 minutes after Lugano’s moment. The hosts, though, ensured they would finish with a first leg advantage, as substitute Semih Senturk grabbed a winner three minutes from time.

The second leg was just as action-packed, and less than 10 minutes had been played when Sevilla scored twice, a brilliant Dani Alves free-kick and a Seydou Keita thunderbolt put them on course for the last eight, then Frederic Kanoute added a third for the hosts, after Deivid pulled one back for Fenerbahce. But Fenerbahce and Deivid weren’t about to throw in the towel, and the Brazilian scored his and his side’s second with 10 minutes left, to force extra-time.

No goals came in the extra half-hour of football, which meant the tie would be decided by penalties. The first kicks of both sides- Kanoute and Wederson- were successful, but next weren’t, as Escude and Edu both missed. Ivica Dragutinovic and Mehmet Aurelio both scored to make it 2-2 in the shootout with three played each, but Sevilla’s next takers would fail, as Enzo Maresca and Alves were both denied by Volkan Demirel, either side of Kezman scoring, to send the Turks into their first ever Champions League quarter-final.

Real Madrid v Liverpool (2009)

Real Madrid had lost in four successive last 16 ties coming into this, they hadn’t had the best season so far, already dismissing Bernd Schuster and hired Juande Ramos, and for some reason, signed Julien Faubert on loan from West Ham (old, but still shockingly gold). Liverpool, meanwhile, had reached at least the semis in three of the last four seasons, and were locked in a title race in the Premier League. The Reds took a deserved 1-0 win in the first leg, thanks to a late header from Yossi Benayoun, and were in the driving as Real came to Anfield for the return.

Back in Merseyside, Liverpool went guns blazing, and by halftime they were two up (three on aggregate), Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard (from the penalty spot) putting them within touching distance of the next round. Gerrard added another with a lovely side-foot finish just a minute after the break, before Andrea Dossena put the gloss on the win. 4-0 on the night, 5-0 on aggregate, yet it was proof of how much more it could have been to recognise that Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas had a very good game.

Milan v Barcelona (2013)

When the draw for this tie was made, it looked a no-brainer, Milan had been less than impressive all season, and had the deficiency of Zenit St. Petersburg to thank for making it this far, while Barcelona had lost just twice all season before this first leg. But the Rossoneri produced a performance worthy of the tales of Catenaccio, defending superbly and took the lead just after halftime through Kevin Prince Boateng, and that lead was doubled late on by Sulley Muntari to give Milan a first leg advantage.

Barcelona knew they had a job on their hands in the second leg, no team had ever lost a first leg by two goals without scoring and qualified. But they got off to the perfect start at the Camp Nou, thanks to none other Lionel Messi, and the deficit was halved after four minutes. Barcelona rode their luck towards the end of the half, as M’baye Niang broke free one-on-one with Victor Valdes, only to hit the post, and right away, straight down the other end, Messi added a second, and the scores were level on aggregate with three-quarters of the tie played. Barcelona began the second period as they did the first, and David Villa made it 3-0 on the night, and 3-2 on aggregate, before Jordi Alba added a fourth in stoppage time to seal the tie. History was made, and a precedent was sent for some four years later.

Sevilla v Leicester (2017)

Leicester had defied football logic to win the Premier League in 2016, and transferred their fairy-tale powers to Europe, to advance to the first knockout phase of this competition last season. Opponents Sevilla were seeking a first quarter-final appearance and dominated the first leg, Pablo Sarabia and Joaquin Correa scoring to put them in control. But the Rojilblancos had missed a penalty much earlier in the game, and late on Jamie Vardy pulled one back for Leicester, an away goal to take back to the King Power.

By the second leg three weeks after, Leicester were lining up with a new manager, Claudio Ranieri had been sacked after the first leg loss, and was replaced by assistant Craig Shakespeare. The Foxes had won their first two domestic games under the new manager, and took the lead here through skipper Wes Morgan. Leicester were now level in the tie, and ahead on away goals, but they would take an outright lead in the second half, through Marc Albrighton. Sevilla, despite being reduced to 10 men after Samir Nasri saw red, had a chance to level on aggregate after Franco Vazquez was fouled in the box by Kasper Schmeichel, but, like the first leg, the penalty was spurned, Steven Nzonzi the guilty party this time, his week effort saved by Schmeichel, and Leicester held on for a heroic win, and a place in the Champions League quarter finals, less than 10 years playing in the English Third Division.

Manchester City v Monaco (2017)

There weren’t many ties as anticipated as this one when the draw was made back in December 2016, as it pitted Manchester City, a side with a manager that prides on attacking football, against Monaco, a youthful storming through the French first division and had amassed 100 goals by February 2017.  It was City who made the early inroads in the tie, and took the lead through Raheem Sterling, but goals from Radamel Falcao and teenage forward Kylian Mbappe ensured Monaco would go into the break in the lead. Falcao missed a penalty at the start of the second half, but made amends with an impudent chip, not long after Sergio Aguero had pulled City level. Aguero would restore parity once more with a well-taken volley, before goals from John Stones and Leroy Sane gave City a 5-3 first leg win.

Prior to the second leg, city manager Pep Guardiola had emphasised Monaco’s attacking prowess, and therefore the need for his side to score at Stade Louis II, and so named an attacking line-up. It didn’t quite work out for the visitors though, and by the half-hour they were deservedly two down, Mbappe and Fabinho with the goals that put Monaco ahead in the tie. City improved in the second half, and with 20 minutes left, Sane pounced on Danijel Subasic’s save from Sterling to make 2-1 to Monaco on the night, but 6-5 to City on aggregate. City were back in the driving seat, but Monaco weren’t done yet, and from Thomas Lemar’s free-kick, Tiemoue Bakayoko got in front of Aleksandar Kolarov to guide in the header. There would be no more goals, as Monaco went through on away goals after a 6-6 aggregate scoreline, on their way to an impressive semi-final achievement.

PSG v Barcelona (2017)

Of course. Perhaps the greatest ever Champions League last 16 tie, one that’s still fresh in the mind, and will live long in the memory. Both sides had been having under-par campaigns, and were on course to relinquish their domestic titles, but PSG were in a more questionable state, and Barcelona were still regarded as favourites for the European title. On the evidence of the first leg though, it was nothing like that, Le Parisiens had a night to remember on Valentine’s, outplaying, outthinking and outmuscling Barcelona, by halftime goals from Angel Di Maria and Julian Draxler had them 2-0 up. They would add two more after the break, Di Maria getting his second, and Edinson Cavani wrapping things up. Surely the tie was over.

There was still a second leg to be played, but Barcelona had a lot of ground to make up, and no team had ever erased a four-goal first leg deficit. But they got off to a flyer, Luis Suarez pouncing on some uncertainty from PSG goalie Kevin Trapp to put Barca ahead on the night, and by halftime they were halfway to the comeback, Layvin Kurzawa’s own goal making it 2-0 on the night. Luis Enrique’s side began the second half as they did the first, and following a Thomas Meunier ‘foul’ on Neymar (yes, this column is still bitter and thinks it wasn’t one), Lionel Messi stepped up to make it 4-3 on aggregate. Barcelona had the wind in their sails, but things would take a different shape soon after, as Cavani made it 3-1 on the night, 5-3 on aggregate, and had Barca needing three more goals. The home crowd were deflated, and only some profligacy from Di Maria and Cavani prevented PSG adding more goals, the tie seemed over. But in the 88th minute, Neymar curled home a free-kick, then Luis Suarez was supposedly fouled by Marquinhos (again, still bitter), and Neymar converted the penalty in stoppage time. Now it was 5-5 on aggregate, but PSG were ahead on away goals, until the last minute, when Neymar’s cross into the box was turned home by Sergi Roberto, sparking mayhem across the pitch, the dugout, stands, commentary boxes and broadcast studios as well. Barcelona had done the impossible and erased a four-goal deficit. It was the kind of turnaround that makes one think their names were already written on the title for 2017, not to be knocked out in the next round by Juventus, although it was the latter that happened. 

Published in International Watch

The Blues has suffered back to back defeat to both Bournemouth and Watford respectively – conceding three in the former and four in the latter, and that has made Rooney to suggest that the reigning league champions are in crisis.

The Blues manager though has adduced in recent times that he wanted to stay in Chelsea for the more years has been at loggerheads with the Chelsea Boards over failed transfers last summers.

The transfer melee at the club led to Michael Emenalo, the former Football to resign from his position at the club

And with Conte coming out on numerous occasions to critise the Chelsea Boards, Rooney posited that Conte’s antics might be a conduit to step down from his position at Chelsea.

Rooney believes that there seems to be a ‘big problem’ at the Stamford Bridge as things Conte do say openly are indoors’ discussion.

“Any problem that a team have should be kept behind closed doors,” Rooney said on Monday Night Football.

“It seems like Conte is putting a lot out there. Whether that is because he wants to find a way out because he isn’t getting what he wants, we don’t know.

“There seems to be big problem.”

Also Read: Nistelrooy the best finisher in EPL’s history, Tevez my favourite partner – Rooney

Meanwhile, fellow English International and former Liverpool defender, Jamie Carragher said Chelsea’s display against Watford was the Worst performance from the club in 15 years.

Chelsea’s cause to bounce back from 3-0 defeat to Bornemouth was shattered when Tiemoue Bakayoko received his marching orders for his second bookable offence inside half an hour.

Troy Deeney’s opener from the penalty spot was cancelled by Eden Hazard but goals from Daryl Janmaat, Gerard Deulofeu, and Robert Pereyra respectively in the dying minutes of the game ensured Chelsea were well pounded at the Vicarage Road.

Carragher, who also believed that Chelsea made things looked so easy for Watford said, “I do not think I have seen Chelsea play like this for 15 years.

“Tonight was a bad performance I have seen from a Chelsea team in a long time. Something isn’t right. Maybe they need a change.

“You would like to think that the problems he {Conte} has got with the board are not affecting the players, but as you have seen in the past few games, that was not Chelsea.

“I do not identify that kind of performance with Chelsea.”

Up next for Conte and his boys to redeem themselves will be a league meeting with West Brom next Monday at the Stamford Bridge

Published in International Watch

When Carlos Carvalhal was swamped in celebration by his staff, while Sam Clucas lay down on the turf in exhausted disbelief, Swansea had just confirmed another special result, as Clucas’ second goal of the game put the South Welsh side 3-1 up at home to Arsenal, with less than 10 minutes.

That the win lifted them temporarily out of the drop zone and undoubtedly off the foot of the table was one thing, that it was achieved against the Gunners was another, and that it was their first back-to-back league success of the season, after seeing off Liverpool eight days earlier, was something else as well.

‘It’s all about winning’, said Swans defender Mike van der Hoorn. ‘If you are winning then life is happier. I was talking to the boys when we were having lunch at Fairwood about how life is so much easier when we win’. ‘It changes you as a person’, the Dutchman added, ‘the belief is there and now we need to keep up this form.

The belief certainly looks there under Carvalhal, under the swamp of haplessness that was present in the closing stages of Paul Clement’s tenure. Not just that Swansea had beaten Arsenal, but that Swansea outplayed Arsenal, going toe-to-toe with them, looking them in eye until the Gunners blinked; they had more shots, and more corners, than their more-illustrious opponents. The Jacks had beaten Liverpool at the Liberty stadium on the previous Matchday, and here they began well, Jordan Ayew seeing his shot deflect wide, Alfie Mawson coming close on two occasions, while a superb tackle from Arsenal’s Mohammed Elneny denied Clucas an opening. It would be the Gunners who would take the lead though, as an excellent piece of foresight, as well as pass from Mesut Ozil found Nacho Monreal, who, prior to this season had one league Arsenal goal to his name (at the Liberty Stadium in 2013), but was celebrating his fourth of this campaign.

That seemed to be the beginning of the end for Swansea, under Clement, it probably would have been without question. But Carvalhal’s first win as manager was a comeback victory at Watford, and his side demonstrated their new found resolve when Mawson played in Clucas, who slotted home the equaliser barely 100 seconds after Arsenal struck.

The Swans have been showing enough grit and effort to earn a fair bit of luck this season, and judging by the game at home to Liverpool, when Roberto Firmino directed a free header onto the bar, unmarked, in the 93rd minute, they were getting it. But that would be nothing compared to what occurred midway through the second half in this game. From quick Arsenal throw-in Monreal shuffled the ball to Shkodran Mustafi, whose ill-advised back pass put goalkeeper Petr Cech under pressure, and the latter’s miscued clearance fell straight to Ayew, who required just one touch to accept the gift, and put the hosts in front.

The stadium was in full bounce, and with 19 minutes left, watched as Nathan Dyer’s shot grazed the outside of the post, as Swansea sought a third. But they would get it late on, a not-so convincing moment from Monreal resulted in Ayew making his way into the box with the ball, and his deflected cross would be turned home by Clucas. Cue delirium at the Liberty, from the fans, goal scorer, and dugout as well, Swansea had scored seven league goals at home this season before that night, then they got three in 84 minutes. The belief is rising, as are the performances on the pitch.

‘If we can continue to play at the level we have in the last two league games’ said van der Hoorn, ‘and the fans can keep it up too, then it will make for a very interesting finish to the season’. If Swansea keep this up, it might just make for another seemingly unfathomable escape this season.

Cherries in Dreamland at the Bridge

Olivier Giroud made his way into a seat at Stamford Bridge, the Frenchman had signed for Chelsea, less than a day after playing a part in Arsenal’s loss at Swansea, but what he proceeded to watch would be nothing short of jaw-dropping. For the first 45 minutes, Chelsea toiled and probed as they sought a way through, but none was forthcoming, and barely two minutes into the second period had been played when they fell behind, Callum Wilson in an exchange with Jordon Ibe, before finishing under Thibaut Courtois. One became two soon after, Junior Stanislas the next to find himself in behind the Blues defence, and his finish also went under Courtois, albeit the Belgian ‘keeper got something on the effort. Stanislas would turn provider for the third, his shot having been turned in by former Chelsea defender Nathan Ake, who didn’t hold back in celebrating. There was no celebration from Antonio Conte, though, his side have dropped to fourth place on goal difference, and are only two points away from fifth-placed Spurs. Conte says he doesn’t feel pressure, but recognises the fight on Chelsea’s hands to make the Champions League next season. Also known as pressure

Spurs Catch United Napping

‘I don’t think it’s very normal to concede a goal like we did’, said Jose Mourinho, as he watched his side concede to Spurs’ Christian Eriksen after just 11 seconds played at Wembley. ‘Ridiculous’ he described it, and United, perhaps stunned by such a start, never really got going, and before the half hour mark, they would concede again, Phil Jones slamming Kieran Trippier’s cross into his own net. The scoreline barely flattered Spurs, who will know they should have added more, Mauricio Pochettino’s side are two points off third place. As for Manchester United, the gap to City increases to 15 again.

Elsewhere

  • Huddersfield are well and truly on the side, as the Terriers have slipped to 17th place after yet another defeat, this time at home to Liverpool. A well-taken strike from Emre Can, and another wonderful display from forward Roberto Firmino were the highlights, as the Reds bag a first win since beating Manchester City almost three weeks earlier, and climb to third. Huddersfield might wonder if things would have gone differently had Laurent Depoitre’s shot not been away by Loris Karius when it was still goalless.
  • Debut: Theo Walcott bags an assist as Everton salvage a point at home to West Brom. Second game: Theo Walcott’s double gives Everton three priceless points at home to Leicester, the English winger’s brace was responsible for Everton getting their first win of the New Year, against the Foxes, whose pre-match was covered in speculation about Riyad Mahrez, the Algerian absent for the game, but doesn’t leave the club in the end.
  • Oh, and it was transfer deadline day last night, Giroud’s move to Chelsea part of a three-way roll that saw Michy Batshuayi leave for Dortmund, whom had initially sold Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Arsenal, although the transfer crescendo had to share the limelight with some actual football (how horrible!).

Results

Swansea 3-1 Arsenal

Tottenham 2-0 Manchester United

Stoke 0-0 Watford

Southampton 1-1 Brighton

Newcastle 1-1 Burnley

Manchester City 3-0 West Brom

Chelsea 0-3 Bournemouth

West Ham 1-1 Crystal Palace

Huddersfield 0-3 Liverpool

Everton 2-1 Leicester

Published in International Watch

Never has there been a state of instability in the midst of permanence than at Newcastle, and for years Toon supporters have clamoured for better at the club. Their banner of ‘We don’t demand a team that wins, we demand a team that tries’ back in 2014 was one of the many ways they’ve used to voice their displeasure at the players, managers, and, most noticeably, owner Mike Ashley, a team which such heritage, and support, should surely do better than tussle with relegation and promotion.

But there’s a sense of resignation, the feeling of it being inevitable, almost nothing to hope for, once it gets to the FA Cup, a competition with history and prestige, not unlike Newcastle, but one in which the Tyneside club have faltered miserably in. Their 3-0 loss to Chelsea in the Fourth Round this weekend means they’ve failed to get past this stage of the competition for 12 years. From managers Glenn Roeder, Sam Allardyce, Joe Kinnear, Chris Hughton, Alan Pardew, John Carver, Steve McClaren to Rafa Benitez; from the cupsets like defeats to Stevenage (2011), Oxford (2017), Brighton (2012 and 2013); the expected defeats- Arsenal (2008), Chelsea; to the unacceptable outcomes- West Brom (2010), Hull City (2009), Birmingham (2007); once it gets to the stage, the Toon Army just know the game is up.

And the game was up by half-time at Stamford Bridge, in the latest instalment of Newcastle’s regular FA Cup exits. The Magpies had begun the game in good stead, Jonjo Shelvey had tested Willy Caballero with a decent effort, not long after Massadio Haidara’s cross had caused the Blues defence some uncertainty, while earlier on Chelsea had been caught out in front of their own box, but some poor communication between Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie saw it amount to nothing. And on the half hour mark, they would fall behind, Michy Batshuayi tapping home in front of a rather unguarded net. Newcastle did finish the first half strongly, Shelvey forcing Caballero into two more saves, and the Argentine goalie also had to react well to deny Chancel Mbemba, but by then Batshuayi had added a second, and it was a long way back, if any.

‘We did well in the first half, we had chances, put them under pressure,’ said Benitez. ‘We made a mistake in the counter-attack for the first goal after the second goal we were unlucky. There is a big difference to play Chelsea at their home and be 2-0 down’. Marcos Alonso made it three for the hosts, who cruised through, while the visitors’ attentions will quickly turn to the league, as Benitez said, with Burnley coming to St. James on Wednesday, as Newcastle lie in 15th, only a point off the drop zone.

It was another routine cup exit for Newcastle, but with survival in the league to play, alongside Benitez’s clamour for new signings, not helped by takeover stand-off currently ongoing between Ashley and prospective buyer Amanda Staveley, it’s perhaps another side-track cut off, an unnecessary fly as they attempt to look at the big picture. Or given all that’s going on, perhaps progressing would have been a healthy distraction. Either way, there’s little time for the manager and players to ponder. Pressing issues still lie in wait.

Published in International Watch

By Oluwaseun Aleshinloye

Chelsea Football Club dream to build a 60,000 capacity stadium has faced hiccups due to a family need for sunlight.

According to BBC, the Crosthwaites- a family of four consisting parents Lucinda and Nicholas, plus children Louis and Rose- have lived in their west London cottage for 50 years and it is so close to the Premier League club's ground that you could almost kick a football from their doorstep onto the pitch.

The family took out an injunction in May over their belief the towering new 60,000-capacity stadium will cast a permanent shadow over parts of their home.

The new stadium was granted planning permission one year ago but Chelsea have called on the local council to intervene and take advantage of planning laws to stop the injunction effectively ending the planned development.

The club have told the local council that work cannot go ahead while there remains a risk the injunction could successfully stop the development. And the council says if it does not act to help Chelsea the "development would not proceed as proposed".

Hammersmith and Fulham councillors are meeting to decide what happens next.

Billionaire Roman Abramovich is a man who usually gets what he wants, but the dispute has already put the brakes on the project's investment and there is a risk that the said Europe's most expensive stadium may not even get built.

But plans for a reported £1bn new stadium are being held up by one family over their right to light - and the lack of it shining into their home when the new Stamford Bridge is built.

Chelsea's offer of legal advice worth £50,000, and further compensation understood to be in the region of a six-figure sum could not persuade them to waive their 'right to light' in their home.

BBC also wrote that daughter Rose says their home is the nearest property to the new stadium. And even though it's on the other side of a railway from Stamford Bridge - and in a different borough - she says that "sunlight and daylight will be seriously affected".

"It is deemed as having an unacceptable and harmful impact by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea," she added in a recent letter as part of the case.

The family said via their lawyers they are not opposed to the redevelopment of the stadium, but have suggested the east stand in question could be "cut-back or re-designed so as not to cause interference".

The family also believe Chelsea's attempt to effectively sidestep the injunction with the help of Hammersmith and Fulham council is not in the public interest and possibly illegal.

 

Published in International Watch

Page 1 of 4

Follow Us