Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “It’s never easy to play well when the opposition is not playing football. I am proud of my players. You can be sure we will go to London with the same attacking spirit.” – Pep Guardiola.
Runner-up: â€œThis is the moment we’ve waited for and this is the moment we want to show we have what’s needed, I don’t know if we’re underdogs, I just believe that we’re on a good run and that, as a team, we go from strength to strength. I believe we can deliver something special.â€ – Arsene Wenger.
Today’s overview: Following the dire 0-0 draw last night, many hacks struggle to determine whether Chelsea or Barcelona will progress to the Champions league final.
Sitting on the fence, Kevin McCarra admitted “the value of the result remains, Âhowever, a matter of guesswork.” And following right behind is Matt Hughes writing “Barcelona are still the bookmakersâ€™ favourites to go through at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday, but Chelsea will take heart from the fact that Manchester United did just that after coming away from Spain with the same 0-0 scoreline in last seasonâ€™s semi-final.”
Steven Howard in The Sun also looks ahead to the second leg. “Next week we wait to see how Chelsea will contain their opponents on a ground where they are still not the force of old â€” and in a situation where Barcelona will be lethal on the counter-attack. The whole key, though, may be the shape in which Barca find themselves after the small matter of their match at Real Madrid on Saturday.”
Others, however, appear more willing to tell their British audience what they want to hear.
For Dominic Fifield, the Blues are slight favourite to now beat Barcelona as “while this tie remains on edge, BarÃ§a must face Real Madrid in a critical Liga tie at the BernabÃ©u on Saturday and will travel to Stamford Bridge for next week’s second leg without the suspended Carles Puyol and Rafael MÃ¡rquez, whose season was ended by a knee injury.”
There is a difference of opinion between the sages housed at The Times over the Blues midfield. Tony Cascarino wonders “Could Chelsea have done more? Their midfield was very quiet… It wasn’t Lampard’s night but Ballack was the main disappointment. He’s so gifted, he should offer more. Where was that killer pass, that clever run? He spent most of the game sitting back like John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien.” While for Patrick Barclay, “whatever Barcelona tried to channel through the middle, John Mikel Obi and Michael Ballack waited to block and the outcome was that Petr Cech faced little threat.”
Despite Leo Messi having a quiet night in the first leg, Richard Williams warns his readers “it would be foolish to write off his chances of making a decisive impact on the counter-attack as Chelsea press for goals in London next week.” Martin Samuel also highlights the ineffective Messi, “If there is to be a year-defining performance in this semi-final from Messi we still await it. Chelsea must hope he is not preparing to show his best side to London.”
On the achievement of the draw itself, Paul Hayward praises the Blues. “Some thought Barcelona’s creativity was an inextinguishable light that would blind Guus Hiddink’s men. Now they must transport that radiance to London to complete a much tougher job.” Pete Jenson in The Independent hails the performance of Petr Cech.
Sid Lowe was disappointed with Barcelona’s display. “For all Barcelona’s technique â€“ and there were three or four moments of sublime footwork from Iniesta â€“ the Premier League poses a very different physical proposition. Faster, stronger, better organised and better equipped. Barcelona never gave up and they should have got Chelsea, too. But for a side that has scored 136 goals this season, they lacked ideas.”
Onto analysis ahead of tonight’s Manchester United-Arsenal clash.
Rory Smith in the Daily Telegraph highlights the importance of tonight’s match for Arsenal and Wenger. “For Arsene Wenger, 13 years of patient evolution, of carefully-laid plans and global scouting systems, of infusing a club with his philosophy, of building and rebuilding, culminate tonight against his greatest rivals, the prize a place in the Champions League final. For more than a decade, the Arsenal manager has thought about the future. Now tomorrow has arrived.”
Oliver Kay worries about the sort of form United are currently in. “But, with United, it all comes down to the moment. The evidence of the past weeks suggests that they are unlikely to scale the heights for 90 minutes or much more than 45.Â Arsenal will feel that there are weaknesses for them to exploit. If Cesc FÃ bregas is given enough space in midfield, if Theo Walcott gets at Evra, as Aaron Lennon did on Saturday, and if Emmanuel Adebayor flusters Ferdinand and Vidic, it could be a very different kind of evening for both teams. It just depends on the moment and, right now, even Ferguson cannot be sure what he will get.”
In today’s transfer news, Stuart James writes “it remains highly likely that Villa’s longest-serving player [Gareth Barry] â€“ he has spent more than a decade at the club â€“ will move on this summer.” Phil Thomas claims Juventus “are ready to test Rafa Benitezâ€™ resolve with a renewed bid to sign Xabi Alonso.” And Andrew Dillon in The Sun writes that “Slaven Billic has emerged as a shock contender to become Chelsea’s new boss.”
Also on the transfer gossip, Ian McGarry asks “whatâ€™s with Rafa Benitezâ€™s obsession with transfers? … Two trophies in five years is hardly a haul of silverware that reflects the incredible sums invested in his judgement on players. In the same period, Â£88m has been recouped on the sale of 17 players, meaning the net spend is Â£107.4m. Just as astonishing is that 31 others have been released for free in that time, while 20 more joined for no fee â€” taking the grand total of players who have been through Rafaâ€™s Anfield revolving door to 98. And thatâ€™s where serious questions have to be asked of Benitez.”
Finally, Rob Bagchi profiles new Bayern Munich coach Juup Heynckes’ worst managerial mistake – selling Tony Yeboah to Leeds. And also in The Guardian, David Conn looks at the rise and rise of AFC Wimbledon.