Tag Archives: chelsea

Burnley promoted while Leicester within touching distance of history

There were incredible scenes at Turf Moor this evening following Burnley’s 1-0 victory over QPR. Sean Dyche’s men came into the fixture with the knowledge that a victory would guarantee them a top two finish in the Championship.

Sam Vokes’ 61st minute goal was enough for the Clarets, which prompted jubilant scenes and an old school pitch invasion following the referees whistle. Images of Joey Barton being mobbed like a Beatle circa 1964, was a far cry from the comments from Burnley fans who were unsure, to say the least, of the Liverpudlian’s inclusion in the squad months ago. It just goes to show.

Meanwhile eyes will be firmly fixed on events at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea face Tottenham. Anything other than a victory against the Blues for Mauricio Pochettino’s men, and Leicester will be crowned Premier League champions – something they were famously 5000/1 to do at the start of the season.

Personally, I hope to see Leicester do it. I think everyone does. Except Spurs fans that is. Will history be made at the Bridge tonight? We’ll find out tonight.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Is it time to scrap the away goals rule?

Introduced fifty years ago to encourage away teams to play a more attacking style of football, it is now more likely to cause teams to park the bus and shut up shop. Is it time the away goals rule is scrapped?

In the 2009 Champions League semi-final second leg, the images of Chelsea’s Didier Drogba screaming “it’s a fucking disgrace” down the camera lens to millions of fans following the Blues’ exit on away goals following Barcelona’s Andrés Iniesta’s 93rd minute goal will live long in memory.

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While referee Tom Henning Øvrebø made some woeful decisions in the Catalans’ favour, Chelsea technically didn’t lose. Yet the dreaded away goals meant their exit.

Indeed last night, Arsene Wenger echoed the sheer frustration of the away goals rule following Arsenal’s last 16 exit from the competition. “Every defeat hurts,” said the Frenchman. “But we didn’t lose”.

There are countless other examples of those who have fallen victim to the away goals rule. And, naturally, many have benefitted from it.

The away goals was introduced in 1965 for the right reasons. Playing away in Europe was once a daunting journey pretty much into the unknown.

But times change and the football, with away goals in place, has changed too. Many, Didier Drogba and Arsene Wenger included, believe it is now time to look at it.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Champions League matchday 4 review

The previous two nights had some spectacular moment of football, some ridiculous results and some memorable moments and yet another Andrea Pirlo piece of footballing masterclass. Let’s look back at the Champions League matchday four.

Arsenal felt sheer heartache having let a 3-0 advantage slip to draw 3-3 in the Emirates on Tuesday night thanks to Anderlecht‘s Aleksandar Mitrović. The Serbian international headed a last-minute equaliser to keep the Belgian side in the competition when it seemed the Gunners were cruising into the last 16 from Group D.

Borussia Dortmund may have lost their last five matches in the Bundesliga, but they maintained their 100% record in their group to qualify for the last 16 with a 4-1 victory against Galatasaray. Play was temporarily suspended in the Signal Iduna Park following some fireworks being thrown onto the pitch by some Galatasaray fans. The Turkish side are now likely left to battle it out with Anderlecht in Group D for a UEFA Europa League spot.

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Also on Tuesday, Juventus scored twice in as many minutes after the hour mark as they came back from 2-1 down to defeat Olympiacos by 3-2. Andrea Pirlo marked his 100th Champions League appearance with a trademark inch-perfect free-kick before Olympiacos’ Spanish defender Alberto Botia headed in the equaliser. Congolese midfielder Delvin N’Dinga put the Greeks ahead before an own goal from Roberto Gago and a winning goal from Paul Pogba means the two sides are level on six points in Group A.

Manchester City‘s Champions League woes deepened last night as CSKA Moscow‘s Ivorian star Seydou Doumbia struck twice to earn the Russian side a famous victory over their Group E rivals. It was a disastrous night for Manuel Pellegrini’s men who ended the game with nine men and at the bottom of the group – ten points behind leaders Bayern Munich and now with their qualification hopes all but dead. City host Pep Guardiola’s men on matchday five and still looking for their first win of the group.

Let’s look at the results in full:

(Group C)
Zenit 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (ESP) – Stadium: Stadion Petrovski, St Petersburg (RUS)
(Group C)
Benfica 1-0 Monaco
Referee: David Fernández Borbalán (ESP) – Stadium: Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Lisbon (POR)
(Group D)
Arsenal 3-3 Anderlecht
Referee: Clément Turpin (FRA) – Stadium: Arsenal Stadium, London (ENG)
(Group D)
B.Dortmund 4-1 Galatasaray
Referee: Pavel Královec (CZE) – Stadium: BVB Stadion Dortmund, Dortmund (GER)
(Group A)
Malmö 0-2 Atlético Madrid
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (ENG) – Stadium: Malmö New Stadium, Malmo (SWE)
(Group A)
Juventus 3-2 Olympiacos
Referee: Martin Atkinson (ENG) – Stadium: Juventus Stadium, Turin (ITA)
(Group B)
FC Basel 4-0 Ludogorets
Referee: Stéphane Lannoy (FRA) – Stadium: St. Jakob-Park, Basel (SUI)
(Group B)
Real Madrid 1-0 Liverpool
Referee: Viktor Kassai (HUN) – Stadium: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid (ESP)
(Group E)
Man. City 1-2 CSKA Moscow
Referee: Tasos Sidiropoulos (GRE) – Stadium: City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester (ENG)
(Group E)
Bayern Munich 2-0 Roma
Referee: Cüneyt Çakır (TUR) – Stadium: Fußball Arena München, Munich (GER)
(Group F)
PSG 1-0 APOEL
Referee: Olegário Benquerença (POR) – Stadium: Parc des Princes, Paris (FRA)
(Group F)
Ajax 0-2 Barcelona
Referee: Pedro Proença (POR) – Stadium: Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam (NED)
(Group G)
Sporting 4-2 Schalke
Referee: Paolo Tagliavento (ITA) – Stadium: José Alvalade, Lisbon (POR)
(Group G)
Maribor 1-1 Chelsea
Referee: Daniele Orsato (ITA) – Stadium: Stadion Ljudski vrt, Maribor (SVN)
(Group H)
Shakhtar Donetsk 5-0 BATE
Referee: Wolfgang Stark (GER) – Stadium: Arena Lviv, Lviv (UKR)
(Group H)
Athletic Bilbao 0-2 FC Porto
Referee: Felix Brych (GER) – Stadium: Estadio de San Mamés, Bilbao (ESP)

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Champions League matchday two preview

Matchday two is upon us and there lies some tasty fixtures over the next two evenings.

The early fixture today is Bayern Munich travel to the Russian capital to face CSKA Moscow. The bookies will say that it’s a routine win for Pep Guardiola’s men, but anything is possible in Moscow – as many clubs found out before.

Barcelona will face a number of former players at PSG including Maxwell, Thiago Motta, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and even coach Laurent Blanc. The French side will be looking for their first win of the group following their 1-1 draw with Ajax on matchday one.

mourinho

José “still the special one” Mourinho is back in Portugal as his Chelsea boys take on Sporting Lisbon, whose long unbeaten European home record is put to the test by the Blues who have won their last six games against Portugese teams.

Man City will be looking to bounce back from their loss against Bayern Munich on matchday one, when they host an AS Roma side with a notoriously poor record on English soil. The Giallorossi opened their group stage campaign with a 5-1 win against CSKA Moscow.

Galatasaray travel to North London to face Arsenal tomorrow. The Gunners’ 2-0 loss at Borussia Dortmund on matchday one was their first defeat in fifteen matches in all competitions.

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Italian giants Juventus travel to the Spanish capital where they will face Atlético MadridBeaten at Olympiacos on matchday one, Diego Simeone will be looking for more out of his men on Wednesday night at the Vicente Calderón.

Liverpool travel to the Switzerland to take on FC Basel. The latter will be eager to bounce back from their 5-1 opening loss at Real Madrid, while Liverpool’s unconvincing 2-1 win over Ludogorets on matchday one will be fresh in the memory of Brendan Rodgers. 

 

The fixtures in full:

 

30 September 2014 – Group stage (Group E)
CSKA Moskva
17.00
FC Bayern
Referee: William Collum (SCO) – Stadium: Arena Khimki, Khimki (RUS)
30 September 2014 – Group stage (Group F)
PSG
19.45
FC Barcelona
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (ITA) – Stadium: Parc des Princes, Paris (FRA)
30 September 2014 – Group stage (Group F)
APOEL
19.45
Ajax
Referee: Milorad Mažić (SRB) – Stadium: GSP Stadium, Nicosia (CYP)
30 September 2014 – Group stage (Group G)
Sporting
19.45
Chelsea
Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (ESP) – Stadium: José Alvalade, Lisbon (POR)
30 September 2014 – Group stage (Group G)
Schalke
19.45
Maribor
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (ESP) – Stadium: Stadion Gelsenkirchen, Gelsenkirchen (GER)
30 September 2014 – Group stage (Group H)
Shakhtar Donetsk
19.45
FC Porto
Referee: Cüneyt Çakır (TUR) – Stadium: Arena Lviv, Lviv (UKR)
30 September 2014 – Group stage (Group H)
BATE
19.45
Athletic Bilbao
Referee: Stéphane Lannoy (FRA) – Stadium: Borisov Arena, Borisov (BLR)
30 September 2014 – Group stage (Group E)
Man. City
19.45
Roma
Referee: Björn Kuipers (NED) – Stadium: City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester (ENG)
1 October 2014 – Group stage (Group C)
Zenit
17.00
AS Monaco
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (ENG) – Stadium: Stadion Petrovski, St Petersburg (RUS)
1 October 2014 – Group stage (Group C)
Leverkusen
19.45
Benfica
Referee: Martin Atkinson (ENG) – Stadium: BayArena, Leverkusen (GER)
1 October 2014 – Group stage (Group D)
Arsenal
19.45
Galatasaray
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (ITA) – Stadium: Arsenal Stadium, London (ENG)
1 October 2014 – Group stage (Group D)
Anderlecht
19.45
Bor Dortmund
Referee: Paolo Tagliavento (ITA) – Stadium: Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, Brussels (BEL)
1 October 2014 – Group stage (Group A)
Malmö
19.45
Olympiacos
Referee: Sergei Karasev (RUS) – Stadium: Malmö New Stadium, Malmo (SWE)
1 October 2014 – Group stage (Group A)
Atlético
19.45
Juventus
Referee: Felix Brych (GER) – Stadium: Estadio Vicente Calderón, Madrid (ESP)
1 October 2014 – Group stage (Group B)
Basel
19.45
Liverpool
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (SWE) – Stadium: St. Jakob-Park, Basel (SUI)
1 October 2014 – Group stage (Group B)
Ludogorets
19.45
Real Madrid
Referee: Craig Thomson (SCO) – Stadium: Natsionalen Stadion Vasil Levski, Sofia (BUL)

 

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Champions League preview

Normal service resumes as the Champions League is tonight upon us once more. Clear your schedule for the next two evenings and take in sixteen fixtures that should keep us all glued to our television sets. Let’s have a look at all of the fixtures in detail for matchday one:

Runners-up last season, Atlético Madrid embark on the new campaign as they travel to Piraeus to face Olympiacos. The Greek side will be a tough test for Diego Simeone’s men at the Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis as Olympiacos last season won 16 out of 17 matches at home in the league last season.

Swedish champions Malmo travel to Turin to face Italian giants Juventus. It will be a tough test for Malmo who go into the fixture with some injury concerns while Juve’s Carlos Tevez will be out to prove a point. The Argentine has gone 14 matches without a goal in the competition since scoring in Man United’s 2-2 draw with FC Porto in April 2009.
Carlos-Tevez-Juventus

Liverpool are back in the Champions League after a five year absence. The Premier League runners-up welcome Ludogorets to Anfield – the first meeting between the Reds and a Bulgarian team since the 2005/06 campaign. Emre Can and Lazar Marković are both suspended for Liverpool on matchday one while Ludogorets are without goalkeepers Vladislav Stoyanov and Ivan Čvorović through suspension and injury respectively. 

Four months after they conquered ‘La Décima’ in Lisbon, Real Madrid will begin their title defence against FC Basel. The Swiss side travel to the Spanish capital with new coach Paulo Sousa, who has won six of his first eight Super League games. Los Blancos can boast some of the biggest names in world football, as well as new additions in James Rodriguez, Tony Kroos and Chicharito – all ready for tonight’s fixture.
JAMESrodriguezMadrid

Monaco are back in Europe after an eight year absence as they tonight host Bayer Leverkusen. The Ligue 1 side replaced coach Claudio Ranieri with Leonardo Jardim in the summer and lost star players such as James Rodriguez, Eric Abidal and Falcao without getting any substantial replacements. Leverkusen are in fine form having won five out of five this season before last Friday’s 3-3 draw with Werder Bremen.

Zenit St Petersburg travel to Lisbon as they face Benfica in their opening match of the campaign. The Russian side have a good record against Portugese teams in the past 12 months having beaten FC Paços and FC Porto in the qualifying games and group stages respectively.
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It’s new coach Cesare Prandelli’s first Champions League match tonight since taking charge of Galatasaray as they face Anderlecht in Istanbul. The Belgian side will be seeking to get their first win on Turkish soil in their history while Galatasaray will be more than aware that they have not won any of their last four opening-night fixtures.

No strangers to one another, Borussia Dortmund welcome Arsenal in their opening fixture. Jurgen Klopp will be hoping to reverse the home defeat they suffered to the Gunners 12 months ago while Arsene Wenger will be without defender Mathieu Debuchy, but will be keeping a close eye on star-signing Alexis Sanchez, who has scored in each of his last three appearances, to cause considerable damage to the Germans.

Ashley Cole is set to play in the Champions League for a third club as Roma tonight face CSKA Moscow in the Stadio Olimpico. The Italian side are without star players Daniele de Rossi and Kevin Strootman while the Russians are beaming with confidence coming off the back of four consecutive wins – their best since 2002.
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Yet again Man City and Bayern Munich meet in the group stages – the third time in four years – but it still makes for a tasty fixture. The last time managers Pep Guardiola and Manuel Pellegrini met as coaches was during El Clásico in 2009/10 Spanish season. City are tonight without Pablo Zabaleta but can take comfort in the recent form of both Stevan Jovetić and Sergio Agüero.  

The only Irishman in the Champions League Cillian Sheridan and his APOEL team-mates travel to the Camp Nou to try topple giants Barcelona despite having never won away from home in the competition as Luis Enrique makes his European coaching debut with the Catalans.
Neymar-Barcelona-1

Zlatan Ibrahimović returns to face his former club Ajax in the Amsterdam Arena with his Paris Saint-Germain team-mates. The Parisians are six games unbeaten in 2014/15 yet have won just one of their last seven away games. Ajax however started their season with two league wins before a 3-1 home defeat to PSV Eindhoven on 24 August cost them their first defeat in 25 league matches dating back to last November.

Chelsea welcome Schalke to Stamford Bridge once more having last faced the Germans a year ago. The Blues, and new star signing Diego Costa, are both in flying form have won four out of four in the Premier League this season while Schalke have failed to win any of their first four competitive games of a new season for the first time since 1968.
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Slovenian side Maribor, regarded as minnows in the competition, play host to Sporting Lisbon for their first group stage campaign for 15 years. Sporting, under new coach Marco Silva, are in the group stage for the first time since 2008/09 but, as Maribor will be aware of, they have lost their last two opening-day fixtures in the competition.

FC Porto begin their 19th group stage campaign determined to put last year’s poor home results in the Champions League behind them and make ammends as they seek an opening-night win against BATE Borisov in what will be the Portugese side’s 200th European Cup fixture. BATE are no strangers to competition, but rarely make any impact and have lost their last three European away games.

Finally, tomorrow is Athletic Bilbao‘s first appearance in the Champions League group stage since 1998/99  as they face Shakhtar Donetsk in their brand new stadium at San Mamés. Despite political unrest in the Donestk region and forced to play their home games some 1,200 km away in Lviv, Shakhtar’s form is very good having won eight out of eight in all competitions in 2014/15, scoring 18 and conceding just once in the process.
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The fixture list in full:

16 September 2014
(Group A)
Olympiacos
19.45
Atlético
Referee: Pedro Proença (POR) – Stadium: Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis, Piraeus (GRE)
(Group A)
Juventus
19.45
Malmö
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (POL) – Stadium: Juventus Stadium, Turin (ITA)
(Group B)
Liverpool
19.45
Ludogorets
Referee: Matej Jug (SVN) – Stadium: Anfield, Liverpool (ENG)
(Group B)
Real Madrid
19.45
Basel
Referee: Damir Skomina (SVN) – Stadium: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid (ESP)
(Group C)
Monaco
19.45
Leverkusen
(Group C)
Benfica
19.45
Zenit
Referee: Svein Oddvar Moen (NOR) – Stadium: Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Lisbon (POR)
(Group D)
Galatasaray
19.45
Anderlecht
Referee: István Vad (HUN) – Stadium: Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi, Istanbul (TUR)
(Group D)
Dortmund
19.45
Arsenal
Referee: Olegário Benquerença (POR) – Stadium: BVB Stadion Dortmund, Dortmund (GER)
17 September 2014
(Group E)
Roma
19.45
CSKA Moskva
Referee: David Fernández Borbalán (ESP) – Stadium: Stadio Olimpico, Rome (ITA)
(Group E)
Bayern
19.45
Man. City
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (ESP) – Stadium: Fußball Arena München, Munich (GER)
(Group F)
Barcelona
19.45
APOEL
Referee: Deniz Aytekin (GER) – Stadium: Camp Nou, Barcelona (ESP)
(Group F)
Ajax
19.45
Paris
Referee: Wolfgang Stark (GER) – Stadium: Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam (NED)
(Group G)
Chelsea
19.45
Schalke
Referee: Ivan Bebek (CRO) – Stadium: Stamford Bridge, London (ENG)
(Group G)
Maribor
19.45
Sporting
Referee: Clément Turpin (FRA) – Stadium: Stadion Ljudski vrt, Maribor (SVN)
(Group H)
Porto
19.45
BATE
Referee: Bas Nijhuis (NED) – Stadium: Estádio do Dragão, Porto (POR)
(Group H)
Athletic
19.45
Shakhtar Donetsk
Referee: Tasos Sidiropoulos (GRE) – Stadium: Estadio de San Mamés, Bilbao (ESP)

The next blog will be coming to you directly from Italy, as I head to Milan to see what a big game in the San Siro is like as AC Milan take on Juventus – historically two of Serie A’s and Europe’s most famous and successful teams.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Champions League draw produces some tasty ties

The draw for the group stages of the Champions League took place yesterday afternoon.

Liverpool will be making their return to the competition with a glamour tie against current holders Real Madrid and will also face Swiss side FC Basel as well Ludogorets following their fairytale entry to the competition for the first time.

Brendan-Rodgers-Liverpool -v-Manchester-City

Arsenal have no easy task as they face Borussia Dortmund, Turkish side Galatasaray and Belgian champions Anderlecht.

Man City will face the task of trying to topple Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich side. Manuel Pellegrini’s men also face CSKA Moscow which is never an easy tie and finally Roma, featuring Ashley Cole & co., will complete a difficult group for City.

Cillian Sheridan, currently the only Irish player competing in the competition, and his APOEL side have been dealt an incredibly tough group featuring Barcelona, PSG and Ajax. It’s big news as Zlatan will return the Camp Nou, but Sheridan will try to give the Parisians, Catalans and Amsterdammers a run for their money.

But for neutrals, Group C has some tasty fixtures, as Benfica, Zenit St Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco all battle it out. There is not one easy tie for any club in that group and it’s one that I’ll be personally be keeping an close eye on.

The draw in full:

Group A
Atlético Madrid, Juventus, Olympiacos, Malmo

Group B
Real Madrid, FC Basel, Liverpool, Ludogorets

Group C
Benfica, Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, AS Monaco

Group D
Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray, Anderlecht

Group E
FC Bayern Munich, Man City, CSKA Moscow, AS Roma

Group F
C FBarcelona, PSG, Ajax, Apoel Nicosia

Group G
Chelsea, Schalke 04, Sporting, Maribor

Group H
FC Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao, BATE

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Champions League quarter-finals preview.

It’s April already and now we are down to just eight teams in Europe’s premier club competition. We’ll immediately turn our attention to tonight’s massive game at Old Trafford.

It’s difficult to remember the last time Manchester United hosted a game with so much pressure on the players and, especially, the manager.  David Moyes’ tactics will be put to the test at the highest level tonight and the players themselves must be up for it.United face German powerhouse club Bayern Munich led by one of the most decorared and sought-after managers in world football, Pep Guardiola.

fcbayern

“The media and public opinion is that Manchester are not in good shape and that we’re going through to the semis,” said star player Arjen Robben. “But I don’t like that at all.”

The Bavarians, of course, are not often accused of underestimating opponents. If they were, they would not have wrapped up another Bundesliga title – this one without losing a game and also in record time.

Over two legs, it wouldn’t be exactly miraculous for United to make it through. They’re still Manchester United, despite their league form. But my gut feeling is that Guardiola’s men will be simply too strong for them.

Barcelona will tonight host fellow La Liga side Atlético Madrid. The two sides met in January and played out a goalless draw. They’ll meet next month also in the final game of the season in Spain. Tonight, one can’t help but feel, will be more tense.

Atlético go into the fixture after conceding four goals in the competition, fewer than any other quarter-finalist. But with star striker Diego Costa doubtful for the game in the Camp Nou, they’ll need to score goals to topple the mighty Barça.

fcbatlm

The Catalans last week suffered the news of Victor Valdes’ injury means he will likely miss the rest of the season (and his Barça career seems to have come to an end too). Eccentric substitute Pinto, who is now 38, will be faced with the task of keeping out La Liga leaders Atleti.

Barcelona will need the winning spirit they brought to the recent Clásico in Madrid. Without it, Atlético could be too powerful this time. But Barça have geniuses like Messi and Iniesta. It’ll be tight – but over two legs I reckon Barcelona will squeeze through to the semis.

PSG will tomorrow host the other English side in the competition, Chelsea, at the Parc des Princes. It will be a heated fixture with José “(Still) The Special One” Mourinho will be urging his men to bounce back after his team’s surprise defeat to Crystal Palace last weekend.

“Are PSG a good team? Yes. Do they possess some of the best players in the world? Yes again,” Jose said, cautious of the Parisians. “We are at a stage of the competition where the big teams can win but also lose. There aren’t any more weak sides at this stage. There are some who are better than others, but anything can happen.”

Zlatan-Ibrahimovic-PSG

Paris St-Germain have built an incredibly strong team, led by the undeniably brilliant Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede has scored 41 goals in his last 36 appearances for both club and country. But there’s other names Chelsea will have to be wary of such as Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi or Lucas Moura all possess the skills to give The Special One a real Parisian nightmare.

Usually, I think Chelsea would run through this stage of the competition with relative ease. But PSG are increibly tough opponents and, if I’m honest, I can see Laurent Blanc’s men causing damage to get through to the semi-finals.

Finally, Real Madrid go into the quarter-finals for a fourth successive season with the difficult task of taking on Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund. They meet tomorrow in the Bernebéu.

Klopp will have worries with suspensions as both Sven Bender and Sebastian Kehl are both a booking away from a ban while star striker Robert Lewandowski is suspended for tomorrow’s fixture.

borussia dortmund 4

Madrid go into the tie booming with confidence after they are one of two teams – along with city rivals Atlético Madrid – still unbeaten and are tournament top scorers with 29 goals. Madrid have even scored in a record 33 UEFA Champions League games in a row.

But they cannot underestimate the Germans. Die Schwarzgelben may not be enjoying a season quite like FC Bayern, but currently 2nd in the Bundesliga, they’ve scored 62 goals this season. Players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jakub Błaszczykowski will be out to cause serious problems.

Overall, I think Real Madrid will be too strong and will clinch the result to get through to the last four.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

What next for Fernando Torres?

It’s three years now since Fernando Torres left Anfield for Stamford Bridge for a fee of £50 million – a British record. His tenure at Liverpool was quite successful. In his four years on Merseyside, the Spanish international scored 65 goals in 102 league games. Not a bad ratio. He’s played almost the same amount of league games for Chelsea and hasn’t even scored a third of what he achieved at Liverpool. So the question is: what next for Fernando Torres?

There was a time when Torres was one of, if not, the world’s best striker. It was the former Spanish manager Luis Aragonés (who sadly passed away last Saturday) that showed him a lot of faith, making him a regular in the national side while dropping national hero Raul in the process.

Torres was now firmly Spain’s no. 9 while David Villa was given the sacred no. 7 jersey of Spain. Now many reckon that current coach Vicente Del Bosque needs to do what Aragonés did with Raul with some of the current players – starting with Fernando Torres.

Fernando_Torres_2468754b

Indeed he’s not the greatest striker in the world anymore. He’s not the greatest striker in the Premier League and for some time now he has even being having difficulty getting his name on the starting sheet for Chelsea. I’m sure you will agree that El Niño needs a brand new start.

Chelsea manager José Mourinho insists that Torres remains part of his plans. But with Samuel Eto’o ahead of him, what realistically could the star gain from starting most games on the bench? With the World Cup mere months away, Torres will likely be nervous as to wonder if he will make it into Del Bosque’s squad.

Forwards Álvaro Negredo, Cristian Tello, Roberto Soldado and the frankly brilliant and in-form Diego Costa will all be eager for that no. 9 jersey of La Roja. Is time running out for Torres?

I hope El Niño gets a second wind as I have always been a fan, going back to his Atlético days. Because on his day Fernando Torres can be one of the greatest players to watch. It’s a shame we haven’t seen that magic in a while. I for one hope he finds his mojo again – I just can’t see it being in a Chelsea jersey.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Champions League matchday 5 preview

We’ll start with Group H and the big one here is that Celtic entertain AC Milan. Needless to say, it is a massive game for the Bhoys. A must-win game and a victory against the Rossoneri could see Neil Lennon’s lads move up into second place. This of course depends on the goings on in Amsterdam where Ajax take on the might of group leaders Barcelona.

Atlético Madrid are having an incredible season. With just one loss in La Liga this year, and a 100% record in Group G of their current Champions League campaign, they travel to Russia to face Zenit St Petersburg full of confidence. Meanwhile FC Porto, a point behind the second place, host Austria Wien in the Estádio do Dragão.

Arsene Wenger is looking to secure his Arsenal side a place in the last 16 with a game to spare should they claim three points tonight in their tie against Marseille at the Emirates. While the French side have yet to get a single point, The Gunners are on top of Group F by goal difference ahead of Napoli. The Italians face last year’s finalists Borussia Dortmund at the Signal Iduna Park.

“The pressure is on Basel,” said Chelsea gaffer José “The Special One” Mourinho. He’s not wrong – the Swiss side lie in 3rd place in Group E and just a point behind Schalke. Basel coach Murat Yakin is keen for his side to deliver a victory against group leaders Chelsea and set up a last-day showdown with the Germans. Schalke travel to Bucharest to face FC Steaua.

Man United can claim their spot in the final 16 with a win tomorrow against Bayer Leverkusen. David Moyes’ men ran out 4-2 winners of the same fixture at Old Trafford in September. But former-Liverpool captain Sami Hyppia, now manager of Leverkusen, could take a huge step towards the next round if they defeat the Red Devils. Also in Group A, Shakhtar Donetsk host Real Sociedad. The Ukrainians have their eye on the group’s runners up spot as they are just two points behind the Germans while Sociedad have only claimed a single point in the campaign so far.

Man-of-the-moment Cristiano Ronaldo is doubtful for tomorrow’s clash between Real Madrid and Galatasaray. With Madrid leading Group B six points ahead the Turkish side, Real boss Carlo Ancelotti is unlikely to risk the Portuguese star. Juventus, currently bottom of the group, face FC Copenhagen who are a point ahead of the Italians. Antonio Conte’s men, yet to win a game in this year’s Champions League, drew 1-1 in the previous fixture in Denmark.

All PSG need is a draw to guarantee their spot in the competition’s final 16. The French outfit face 2nd placed Olympiacos at the Parc des Princes. A victory for Zlatan & co. would be news welcomed by Benfica as they need a win against Anderlecht tomorrow to keep them in with a shout for the runners-up spot in Group C and a place in the next round.

Finally, Bayern Munich travel to the Russian capital to face CSKA Moscow as their place in the final 16 has already been guaranteed. Pep Guardiola’s mean have yet to lose this season since their German SuperCup defeat to rivals Borussia Dortmund back in the summer. Also already guaranteed their place in the next round, Man City host Czech side FC Viktoria Plzeň. Manuel Pellegrini’s men go into the fixture on the back of a 6-0 thrashing of Tottenham last weekend.

 

Predictions? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check the blog out on Facebook.

 

Champions League is back! Gameweek 1 preview.

Champions League is back. Is anyone else excited? Oh, everyone is? Ok then. Let’s waste no more time and have a look what’s to come over the next couple of days in Europe’s biggest club competition.

In Group A, it’s an unbelievably massive fixture for David Moyes as he leads his Manchester United side against Bayer Leverkusen at Old Trafford. Usually, I’d say “ah, it’s business as usual” if Fergie was in charge. But it’s a new era and, to be honest, I don’t know it’s going to fare. United will have to keep the criminally under-rated Stefan Kießling quiet, that I do know.
The people of San Sebastian will be treated to a night of Champions League football as Real Sociedad take on Shakhtar Donetsk at Anoeta. It’s been ten whole years since the Basque side played in Europe. Shakhtar, on the other hand, are at this point veterans of the Champions League and will be looking to spoil the party.

Group B sees Turkish giants Galatasaray take on Real Madrid. Will Gareth Bale feature? Carlo Ancelotti may give the Welshman a run out following his debut where he scored for Madrid. Start as you mean to go on as they say. Gala aren’t pushovers though, with big names such as Sneijder and Drogba in the squad, not to mention that ferocious home support, it’ll be tough for CR7 & co.

Current champions Bayern Munich entertain CSKA Moscow. This is Pep Guardiola’s big return to the competition, having last won the cup in 2011, beating Man United at Wembley in the final. CSKA will prove to be good opponents as they are unbeaten in the Russian Premier League, which began in July.

Chelsea take on FC Basel at Stamford Bridge. The Swiss outfit will be fresh in the misery of English clubs as they look to build on eliminating Manchester United from two seasons ago. Chelsea however, along with new names such as Samuel Eto’o, Andre Schurrle and Willian won’t let anyone get the better of them on their own turf – not on José’s watch.

Group F contains four excellent teams and is, in my view anyway, one of the most intriguing groups. Arsenal, Marseille, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli will all battle it out. Anyone could end up in first – or last place. Arsenal travel to the south of France to face Marseille first as Rafa Benitez’s Napoli will take on Borussia Dortmund.

Finally, the media dubbed Group H as “the group of death”. For Celtic, that is certainly true. They travel to Italy to face AC Milan. And despite the return of the prodigal son Kaká from Real Madrid, I truly think Celtic have caught Milan at a good time. The time is now. Then again, the San Siro is an incredibly hard place to win for anyone.
Barcelona entertain Ajax – a club who the Catalans historically model themselves on. On paper, the Dutch side have no chance. But Barça’s new coach Tata Martino will be put to the test in his first ever European job. No pressure then.

 

What are your predictions? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

The past week in football: from German blushes to the Special One's return

What a week it’s been in the world of football. I suppose the biggest news is that José Mourinho has gone back to Ch…oh you’ve heard. Well, it’s big news for English football and, possibly more so, for English journalists. The Special One has been known to give a good interview or three (something the Spanish press didn’t appreciate).

Mourinho will have his work cut out for him in my honest opinion. Yes – he is a winner. Yes – his record speaks for itself. Yes – he is loved by Chelsea fans. But the pressure will be on him to deliver as he did the first time around. It’s a different team he’s inheriting in 2013 as opposed to the one he managed when he left six years ago.

Over in Germany, the unstoppable Bayern Munich won the DFB-Pokal, becoming the first German team to win a continental treble, defeating Stuttgart 3-2 in Berlin. A nice way for Jupp Heynckes to bow out. It also leaves new coach Pep Guardiola in the knowledge that the only way is down.

With Man City already agreed to purchase Spanish winger Jesus Navas, Liverpool could also be busy in the forthcoming transfer window as Brendan Rodgers rumoured to be eyeing up Greek defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos from Schalke, and Shakhtar Donestk’s brilliant Armenian playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Of course, they will likely be looking for a replacement striker for Luis Suarez who confirmed last week that he wants out of Anfield. Many publications have named some potential strikers for the number 7 shirt, with out-of-favour Barcelona star David Villa’s name coming up more than once.

While we’re taling about the Catalans, sixty thousand fans packed into the Camp Nou to see Neymar‘s presentation as a Barcelona player on Monday. It came just hours after the Brazilian had a fairly quiet game in the 2-2 draw against England in Rio de Janeiro. On the same day, Ireland hosted Georgia at the Aviva stadium.

It’s the first Ireland game I’ve missed in some years (I was at Forbidden Fruit instead), and of course, with my luck I missed a goal-fest as we managed an impressive 4-0 win.

Speaking of friendlies, Germany faced the USA at the RFK stadium in Washington DC. The Americans managed a surprise 4-3 victory, but the game will be remembered for this bizarre own goal. Well done, ‘keeper.

Well that was the past week in a nutshell (less than 500 words is a nutshell in this sport). More transfer rumours, movers, shakers, and clichés to come. Ok, maybe not the last one.

 

Be sure to send your comments, questions or even footie gossip to Rob Smith via Twitter (@robsmithireland).

It's "adios Chelsea" from Benitez, and "farewell football" from Beckham

A significant amount of Chelsea fans stood against the appointment of Rafa Benítez as interim manager last November. The Spaniard, who managed Liverpool from 2004 until 2010, once criticised the club under José Mourinho some years before while managing the reds. Many Chelsea fans let everyone know – Rafa especially – that they did not want his sort around Stamford Bridge.

The banners unveiled at Chelsea’s games – often colourful in language – let Benítez know that, despite being in a temporary position, he shouldn’t be in that position. But he kept his head down and his dignity, focussing on the job ahead. As the months passed, he turned many of the boos into cheers and fast-forward to last Wednesday’s Europa League final, and he provided Chelsea with their 11th major trophy in ten years under the ownership of Roman Abramovich.

Benítez, who won the Manager of the Month award last month, leaves Stamford Bridge with a Europa League winner’s medal and his head held up high. The fact that he has succeeded in the face of such acrimony and hostility has earned him a lot of respect – including from a large portion of the “Rafa out” brigade.

As Benítez says his goodbyes to the Blues, one David Beckham will say his goodbyes to the game itself. The former England captain will step down at the age of 38, after the season with current club, PSG, has come to a close. His final game will be for newly crowned Ligue 1 champions PSG against Lorient (not Leyton Orient as remarkably many had thought) on May 26th.

“It’s a good way to go out. It’s every athlete’s dream, every footballer’s dream – to go out on the top. On top form, or winning a trophy,” the former Real Madrid, Man United and LA Galaxy star said. “It doesn’t happen that often. I’ve been lucky.”

Beckham’s 21-year career also witnessed him win numerous trophies such as six Premier League titles, two FA Cups, the Champions League, one La Liga and Supercopa de España winner’s medals alongside the Galacticos, as well as two MLS cups. A complete success both on and off the pitch, I wish him well with his future. He may not be the last Beckham to go all the way in football.

 

What do you think of Rafa Benítez’s tenure at Chelsea, and what is your fondest memory of David Beckham? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check us out on Facebook (/FootballElMundo). Have a nice weekend, folks.

What next for Barça and where next for Mourinho?

Adios amigos. The two Spanish teams are out of the Champions League and it will be an all-German affair come May 25th when Bayern Munich take on Borussia Dortmund at Wembley. The last time a Bundesliga club won this trophy was back in 2001. But while German football continues to increasingly shine, lots of people are wondering what next for Spain’s “big two”.

“End of an era” is what many journalists wrote on Wednesday night after Barcelona‘s 7-0 aggregate defeat against Bayern Munich. Some players, such as Xavi, dismissed such headlines. “There’s no need to be drastic,” he told Spanish television. “The team has a future, we’ve competed very well up until now. I’m always optimistic and this team has the desire.”

Under Pep Guardiola, the squad played incredible football week-in, week-out. To win games 4-0 and 5-0 wasn’t a big surprise. But Pep has gone, and under current coach Tito Vilanova, there’s been a different style of football. In fact without Leo Messi, it’s like a completely different team to that of the one 12 months ago. After Guardiola, the only way was down.

The defeat at the hands of Bayern stings the Catalans – mainly because of the nil part in the scoreline. Barça are better than that – even if they did face the team who, in my opinion, are playing the best football in any league this season. That said, Barcelona are on course to win another La Liga title.

José Mourinho, meanwhile, made it pretty clear to the media that his time is all but up at Real Madrid following his side’s defeat to Borussia Dortmund. “I know I am loved in England. I am loved by some clubs,” said the Special One, “especially one”. You don’t have to be a genius to know exactly who that “one” is.

But while José is eyeing up a return to England (he won’t be at PSG next despite what you may hear), what next for Real Madrid? In the past decade, the club has gone through eleven coaches. And getting a new one wouldn’t be much a problem. To coach Madrid is, and always has been, one of the biggest jobs in world football. But who? Lots of candidates. I wouldn’t rule out the likes of Ernesto Valverde or even, brace yourselves, Rafa Benitez.

But José’s departure will be music to the ears of certain Madrid players, especially club captains Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas – both of whom had fallen out with the Portugese coach. And they’re not the only ones. A change of management will likely give Los Blancos a boost for next season – especially when rivals Barcelona’s morale is, despite being all but crowned league champions, at an unusual low.

While Spain’s “big two” are feeling crushed, two of Germany big guns are getting even bigger.

 

What do you think the future holds for Barcelona and Real Madrid? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check us out on Facebook (/FootballElMundo). Enjoy your weekend.

Chelsea are blue in heaven

So, Roman Abramovich’s millions have finally paid off. They’ve won the big one. At the weekend, Chelsea became the first London team to win the Champions League trophy. However, it’s got to be said – Bayern Munich really threw it all away.

Beating Germany’s mightiest on their own turf was one thing, but doing so on penalties (at the end where Bayern’s fans were all standing) is another. The pressure was on Chelsea. Di Matteo stood cool. The Chelsea players were nervous. But Bayern bottled it.

No, the Bavarian city became a celebration of blue and not red, which (to be fair) was not predicted by too many beforehand.

£1 billion later...

Bayern striker Mario Gomez was unusually wasteful with his chances and Arjen Robben became increasingly frustrated – especially after Peter Cech saved his game-changing penalty. In fact, and cover your ears Arsenal fans, but Ashley Cole was the best player on the Allianz Arena pitch on Saturday. I wouldn’t have predicted that beforehand. Still, I can’t help but feel Chelsea didn’t win this match as much as Bayern Munich lost it.

But the one man I will salute sincerely is Roberto Di Matteo. He has got this Chelsea side playing for him. Roman Abramovich surely has got to give him the job now? Will RDM take football’s most trigger-happy post?

 

What do you think? Leave a comment or hit me up on twitter (@robsmithireland)

Champions League semi-final preview

And then there were four: Chelsea, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona. Four really powerful teams – any one of which is more than capable of winning the tournament.

Tonight, José “The Special One” Mourinho’s Real Madrid side face Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. Despite the Germans’ goalless draw against Mainz at the weekend, striker Mario Gomez said that Real Madrid “shouldn’t get too complacent. Everything changes for this one. The stadium will burn on Tuesday.” And in typical fashion, The Special One’s response was “I am sure UEFA will have extra firemen at the ready”. Funny.
On the pitch, the two sides will go all out blazing at one another. Both sides typically play a 4-2-3-1 formation and Bayern’s Mario Gomez, Franck Ribery, Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben will go head to head with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Angel Di Maria and German international Mesut Ozil. Interesting tie indeed.
My prediciton: home win.

Stamford Bridge is the venue for the other semi final where Chelsea play holders Barcelona. Everyone associated with the London side will know that over both legs, Chelsea will have to be really on top of their game. Andrés Iniesta left Chelsea heartbroken three years ago when his stoppage-time strike earned Barca a 1-1 draw in London and saw the Catalan side progress through to the Champions League final instead of the Blues on away goals. Chelsea will now be seeking revenge over Pep Guardiola’s men. This tie will prove to be an extremely tough test for both sides. Can Barcelona break London hearts again? Or can Di Matteo’s men get their much-sought-after revenge?
My prediciton: away win.

 

What’s your prediction? Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter @robsmithireland