Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “I was clear before the game that I was not thinking about resigning. I need to keep working and win games for Liverpool then I will speak to the owners further down the track. My lawyer was talking to the owners’ advisers and there will be discussions in the future. I will try to enjoy this victory for now, not worry about negotiations. We have plenty of time; my lawyers will talk with the advisers of the owners and we will talk about it.” – Rafa Benitez.
Runner-up: “I’m satisfied with the result but overall I’m not satisfied. Our overall game could’ve been better. When you can’t maintain control in the whole game it is a problem. You can’t control everything for 90 minutes but you should be able to control 90 per cent of the game. That is difficult. One of the things I can say is that we are not ‘top top’ in terms of fitness. The physical level is good but in these high-level games you must be more than top.” – Guus Hiddink.
Today’s overview: After seeing Liverpool and Chelsea both record 1-nil victories in the Champions League, both clubs receive a host of mixed reports. On Liverpool, for some Rafa’s contract negotiations cast a dark shadow over the result while others struggle to understand why the Reds’ cannot translate such form to the league. And on Chelsea, there is a schism of opinion as to whether the win over Juventus represents a new chapter at the Bridge, or not.
Looking back on a day which began with rumours of Rafa Benitez’s imminent departure from Anfield and ended with a fabulous Champions League win, Tony Evans was left with mixed emotions. “Far from smugness, Benitez must have felt the weight of the world upon him. This should have been a triumphant night for the Madrid-born manager but, instead, it was another unpleasant day in the life of Liverpool Football Club.”
A completely opposite opinion is presented by Rory Smith, who advises that “Tom Hicks and George Gillett would do well to make their next contract offer a blank page and tell Benitez to write his own conditions, if that is the price to pay for keeping hold of the Spaniard.” And Martin Samuel echoes the calls for the Reds’ to pin down Benitez. “Oh, stop dawdling, the lot of you. Give the man his contract and let him get on with it. Rafael Benitez wins matches against the elite clubs of Europe with the finest components of his team absent. Find someone else who can do that, find someone else who can take this group of players and elevate them to the height of victory over Real Madrid away and it would make sense to be acting against Rafa.”
Matt Hughes delivered a qualified assessment of Liverpool’s victory. “Real were a shadow of the team that had won their past nine matches in La Liga, but that should not detract from a terrific performance from Liverpool.” And James Ducker followed suit writing “it was not pretty – it rarely is under Benitez in Europe – but it was pragmatism personified, and against a Real team gripped by fear and unable to deal with Liverpoolâ€™s long-ball tactics.”
While celebrating Liverpool’s triumph in the Bernabau, Paul Hayward finds himself perplexed as to the Reds’ domestic decline. “Liverpool bring that tenacity to European action but cannot find a consistent winning formula in a league they dominated for two decades before Manchester United ran off with the ball. People say they lack the depth of talent to end their 19-year wait for a domestic title and yet up pops a support act, Yossi Benayoun, to strike eight minutes from the end of a game Liverpool had smothered through sheer tactical forethought.”
On Chelsea’s victory over Juventus Richard WIlliams posed the question “why [is it that] Guus Hiddink can inspire an intensity in players who displayed such flatness under Luiz Felipe Scolari is one of life’s mysteries.” The same sentiment was echoed by Oliver Kay believing that “Hiddink has already done the difficult part, injecting some vigour and self-belief into a squad who looked crestfallen in the dark final weeks of the ill-fated Luiz Felipe Scolari regime.”
The consensus opinion is that this tie is far from over. According to David Pleat, “Claudio Ranieri’s side can count themselves unlucky that they return to Italy empty-handed.” Paul Doyle insists that “Chelsea hung on, but their lead is a narrow one. And with their dismal away form in Europe this season, there could still be plenty of twists and turns in this intriguing tie.” Sour Sam Wallace claimed “when it falls to Didier Drogba to make the difference for Chelsea in the Champions League, you can tell that not much has changed in Guus Hiddink’s brave new world at Stamford Bridge.” And James Lawton argued that “this was a result which might indeed carry Chelsea forward in Europe, but perhaps only so far. There was fine effort but, apart from the impact of Drogba’s goal, there was very little of the kind of flowing self-belief that marks out teams who believe they have a future.”
But others are found popping the champers heralding the new revived Chelsea. For Henry Winter, “Drogba has gone from training with the stiffs to frightening the living daylights out of the Old Lady of Juventus. He looks more like the battering ram of old, rather than the uninterested feather-duster of recent times. He scored one but deserved another for his marauding influence.” While If Drogba is back, and also Chelsea, does that mean Roman Abramovich may get his hands on the European Cup after all?
Returning to Manchester United’s performance in the San Siro Oliver Kay praised Fergie’s midfield. “It was arguably Ronaldo’s most impressive all-round performance on a big stage away from home in the Champions League, but he was only one of many United players who rose to the occasion, with plaudits also going the way of Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs, the often unheralded Park Ji Sung and Jonny Evans.” Kevin Gardside continues the praise for CR7 saying “to those who argue that Ronaldo’s best work has not always been seen on European fields, the evidence of Tuesday night puts the boot into their position.”
On Inter, Giles Smith celebrated the return of Mourinho to British TV screens. “He didn’t disappoint the fans, though. He never does. The signature moves were all in place. The quality coat, the impressive scarf. The camera-friendly directional pointing (good traffic cop and bad traffic cop, in the same body). The exaggerated shrug.”
With Aston Villa set to field a weakened side against CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Cup, Gabriele Marcotti makes the following observations. “First, he has a small squad by choice. Villa outspent all but two clubs in Europe last summer, it was his choice to go for quality over quantity, this is just one of the consequences. More importantly though, there is nothing wrong in prioritizing the league over the Uefa Cup. In fact, given Villa’s situation, it’s the right thing to do.” However Villa’s decision has been met with derision by the TV companies as Sandy Macaskill reports that the match has been pulled by the broadcaster with Channel Five opting not to “cause disruptions to their regular schedule of Neighbours and Home and Away.”
Looking forward to the Carling Cup final, Gary Jacob wonders David Bentley or Jamie O’Hara will start for Spurs. “O’Hara offers the type of bite in the tackle… [and his] selection would free Luka Modric to play in the hole as well as being an emotional occasion for the youngster, who broke down in tears when he was left out of the squad that defeated Chelsea 2-1 in the Carling Cup final last season, when most of his family left Wembley before kick-off.”
In other football news, Jeremy Wilson delivers the sour financial forecast for Arsenal that the club’s financing of a Â£133.5 million loan for the Highbury Square development could be in major trouble after it emerged they will not meet their own repayment expectations.