Tag Champions League

Tag Champions League

Chelsea reap what they sow in Euro farce

May 7, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion No comments

Is it just me or was the Chelsea – Barcelona game absolutely hilarious? If you believe in footballing karma, then surely Wednesday night was richly deserved. For a team featuring some of football’s most overrated (Terry), fraudulent (Drogba) and generally loathsome (Ashley Cole) players, Wednesday was payback for years of intimidating referees and bending the rules of the game.

Not that Chelsea saw it quite so philosophically. The ever-dignified Drogba – crying like a baby, swearing at cameras and punching walls – led the post-match histrionics, and was admirably backed-up the equally unpleasant Ballack. Such was the frenzy whipped up by such ambassadors for the club that the ref had to move hotels that night to escape a baying mob.

Hiddink, meanwhile, was quick to imply that the referee was under UEFA instructions to avoid an another all-English Champions League by giving Barcelona a helping hand. Clearly he knows a thing or two about such conspiracies giving his time as coach of South Korea when – as host nation at the 2002 World Cup – they made the semi-finals thanks to some equally suspect refereeing.

The truth, as any sane neutral could clearly see, was that the referee clearly had a shocker, which happens sometimes. It’s a fact in football that mistakes are made, but its how you react to them that counts. Compare, for example, Chelsea last night with Darren Fletcher’s sending off on Tuesday. Both suffered injustice. Fletcher – unfairly ruled out of probably the biggest game he would ever play in – leaves the pitch without a word, while Drogba and co go nuts. It tells you everything you need to know about the character of a football club.

Anyway, bring on Barça. And I really think United must start as favourites in light of how rattled the Catalans were by a strong but unspectacular Chelsea side. Let just hope that Norwegian fella isn’t in charge.

Chelsea blow semi to leave a Barca – United final

May 6, 2009 Tags: , Shorts 6 comments

So it’ll be Barcelona in the Champions League final this year after Los Cules’ 1-1 draw with a unashamedly negative Chelsea side tonight. Barcelona have a wonderful array of attacking talent, which can destroy any defence on the planet. Chelsea knew it and with 25 minutes left decided to put their 11 men behind the ball against Barça’s 10, while the visitors took risks and threw men forward. Sure, the referee made some poor decisions but the game remained in Chelsea’s hands. They bottled it by swapping their striker for a right-back, and fell for the sucker punch. At least a United – Barcelona final should make for a great match. And with three out of four first choice defenders already out of the final, Barça are there for the taking. Bring on May 27!

Harsh on Fletch but its the law not ref that is wrong

May 6, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion 1 comment

We’ve been hit with a nasty strain of Flu here at Rant Towers this week but despite spluttering our way through last night’s superb 3-1 Champions League semi-final win at the Emirates, we’re definitely not feeling as sick as Darren Fletcher this morning. His red card means that he will miss the Rome final in three weeks time, which he may have started.

The sending off and subsequent ban is incredibly harsh on The Scottish Player given his performance on the night but the referee probably got it right. Fletcher can rightly point to the fact that in challenging Cesc Fabregas he got a touch on the ball as the Spaniard bore down on goal. But referees’ normal interpretation of the law these days is to look at a challenge in the round. The ball may be taken but if the follow-through takes the man (and Fletcher clearly did just that), then a foul will be given anyway. In this respect referee Roberto Rosetti made the correct decision by the letter of the law to award a penalty and send Fletcher off for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.

The aim of this modification in the rules was to outlaw dangerous tackles that can potentially injure players, even if the ball is taken. Indeed, United benefitted from this interpretation when awarded a penalty against Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month – Heurelho Gomes got a touch on the ball but clattered Michael Carrick anyway and a penalty was awarded, to much dismay in the press.

The main problem is the lack of leeway in refereeing flexibility. The powers that be should give referee’s more room to interpret the law depending on the circumstances.  

Clearly, Fletcher’s tackle was a brilliant piece of defensive work, not a potentially dangerous challenge. It also summed up why the Scot has become such a big game player for United in recent seasons. The midfielder could have let Fabregas take the goal without challenging – after all United were home and dry. But the Scot’s ultra professional performance in last night’s match – and over the season – meant that he was always going to put in a tackle. It is a credit to how much Fletcher’s game has developed over the past couple of years. He’ll always be a water-carrier, but is better at doing the dirty work than he used to be.

There is absolutely no chance that UEFA will overturn Rosetti’s decision – there isn’t even an appeals process except in cases of mistaken identity. And the irony is that Fletcher’s suspension may leave room in the team for Paul Scholes, who was famously banned from the 1999 Champions League final. Fittingly, it was  The Ginger Prince who was first in the dressing room last night to console the Scot.

United miss chances, but look too strong for Gooners

May 1, 2009 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

When does a victory feel like a let down? When you should have scored five! And so despite comfortably beating Arsenal in the Champions League semi-final on Wednesday, the night felt like something of an anti-climax. United were so dominant – and Arsenal so poor – that a 1-0 victory from John O’Shea’s suprisingly well-taken goal didn’t feel like a fair return on the night’s efforts. While a similar performance next Tuesday will surely see United through to the final in Rome on May 27, it could have been so much more. In fact through the veil of Arsene Wenger’s bullishness after the game there was the clear sign of massive relief. Arsenal should have been out of the tie after the first half – now they’re still in with a shout.

United go into tomorrow’s away match at Middlesborough having to rotate the squad with Giggs, Scholes, Park, Nani and Macheda all likely to start the match. Wes Brown will be on the bench as a minimum involvement. It’ll be United’s 60th game of a marathon camapaign, while Arsenal will be able to rest key players ahead of next Tuesday’s return leg at the Emirates. It’s an advantage for the London club but one that is to be expected with United chasing five major trophies up to this month’s FA cup semi-final defeat.

Still, despite the narrow win, there were plenty of positives for United against Arsenal. The back four were outstanding, Anderson put in his best performance of the season and the front three were energetic and dangerous. It was all too much for Arsenal’s midfield in particular, who were made to look as youthful and inexperienced as they really are.

There’s also goog news on the injury front, with Rio Ferdinand almost certain to be fit. While Arsenal will have Robin van Persie back for Tuesday’s game, the gulf between the two sides should be too much for the Gooners to bridge. You would have to back United to get an away goal, leaving Arsenal needing three to progress.

Whatsmore, United have some of the zip back that went missing for a month. It augers very well for the run-in. Victory tomorrow and the Reds will end Saturday six points ahead of Liverpool with four games to go. That will leave Fergie’s side needing just two wins and a draw from games against Wigan, Hull, Manchester City and Arsenal. Fergie would have taken that at the start of the season.

Ready to resume old hostilities

April 27, 2009 Tags: , Matches 2 comments

Do you miss the United versus Arsenal fizz of yesteryear? You know, the pizza throwing, tunnel shoving, all-out-21-man-brawling edge that seems to have been missing from recent encounters. It was that needle that gave the fixture its meaning over the past two decades. After all, while Arsenal aren’t traditional United rivals like City, Leeds and Liverpool, the tie had more than an air of ‘derby’ about it from the nineties to the early 21st century. But ‘Pizzagate’ onwards, when United ended Arsenal’s 49 match unbeaten league run, and the encounters have been tame. But with the clubs’ biggest meeting in a number of seasons taking place at Old Trafford this coming Wednesday, could old rivalries flare up again? Let’s hope so!

Perhaps its because messrs. Ferguson and Wenger have mellowed over the years that has removed some of the spark from the fixture in recent seasons.  After all, when was the last time either of them engaged in petty media-orientated ‘mind-games,’ name calling and put-downs? The arrival of Jose Mourinho and Chelsea’s huge spending certainly gave both clubs a new focus. And, horror of horrors, the pair even agree on certain issues now, such as a common enemy in universally disliked Rafa Benitez.

Or maybe its that the players have changed too. Neither side has the spikey characters that fueled the personal vendettas of the past. Without the incendury personalities of Keane, Viera, Keown, Winterburn, McClair, van Nistelrooy and others, what’s left to fight about? After all Viera hated – literally hated – Ruud van Nistelrooy; Brian McClair tried to cut Nigel Winterburn in half; and Roy Keane scared the aforementioned Viera so bad he probably had to run home to his mummy for a cuddle. Moreover, Cesc Fabregas aside, there’s nobody on either side who – to paraphrase – would gladly start a fight in an empty room.

Most of all the edge has gone because the clubs aren’t rivals for the Premiership title anymore, with the North London side now more accustomed to fighting it out for the fourth Champions League qualifying spot than actual trophies. By the time the two meet in the Premiership at Old Trafford on May 16th the title ought to be as good as wrapped up.

The Champions League semi-final this coming Wednesday, however, could change all that. At last a United versus Arsenal fixture worth getting excited about!