Quote of the day: “I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of great finals for Chelsea at Wembley and elsewhere and we’ve had some success there. But every game is different and none of us is sure we’re playing on Sunday. Being considered an ‘automatic selection’ depends on how you’re playing, what manager you have and the relationships you have with them, and things change. I don’t think anyone is an automatic selection with the manager at the minute because there are lots of games and he’s changing it regularly. So I’m like everyone else: I want to play every game but it’s not possible.” – Frank Lampard
Runner-up: “I don’t know what Roy is saying there. International friendlies are quite often meaningless games. Roy’s been a club manager and I’m sure when there was a break he was only too pleased to have a day or two’s rest to give the players a rest or take them away to train. – Harry Redknapp
FA Cup Semi-Finals
Benitez to become first manager to drop Lampard and Terry (Jeremy Wilson, The Telegraph) Benítez has consistently explained his selection decisions with reference to the fixture schedule and qualification for the Europa League semi-final means that Chelsea are facing as many as 12 matches in the final five weeks of the season. Benítez believes that this schedule – his team have also played five times in the past fortnight – will give Manchester City an advantage. “It’s always an advantage,” he said. “I have too many games and we have to use the squad. The players are doing really well.
Rafa senses Cup glory but keeps champagne on ice (Sam Wallace, The Independent) Rafa Benitez was once the master at beating Chelsea in the semi-finals of major cup competitions, and somewhere in his house on Merseyside he has the medals in a drawer that prove it.
Chelsea and Manchester City bring rarity value to FA Cup semi-final (The Guardian, Rob Bagchi) Chelsea’s defence of the Cup began with a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace on a treacherously icy Selhurst Park pitch but they recovered their verve for a comfortable 2-0 victory in the replay. Manchester City had a comparatively easy draw against Wigan Athletic, then in the Northern Premier League, but laboured to win 1-0 after a weak kick by Wigan’s goalkeeper Dennis Reeves, a semi-professional and painter and decorator, gave City’s relentless dynamo Colin Bell the opportunity to score. Although City were third in Division One and Chelsea one point behind them in fifth, their form had been patchy. Defensively they had been miserly but City’s nine draws from 25 games and Chelsea’s 10 from the same number had left them trailing the leaders, Leeds United, by 10 and 11 points, an embarrassingly substantial gap in the era of two points for a win.
Stoke must get mojo back (Alan Smith, The Telegraph) With 18 matches left, the season seemed to be turning into another solid campaign when relegation fears could be left to other clubs. Since then, however, Stoke have won only once to leave them scrambling for points. Sections of a normally uproarious and loyal Britannia Stadium crowd have begun to turn. A faint odour of mutiny hangs in the air at a club that had always seemed so unified.
John O’ Shea: Manager wants to do his best to ensure Sunderland survive (Louise Taylor, The Guardian) The centre-half has chatted happily about Paolo Di Canio’s forensic coaching and his unexpected human touches but mention of the grey V-necked jumper adorned by a startling purple and white diamond pattern that the manager teamed with a red tie at Chelsea last Sunday swiftly exposes O’Shea’s diplomatic side. Not that he and his team-mates will care what Martin O’Neill’s successor wears providing they end the season as a Premier League side, perhaps having won at Newcastle United on Sunday along the way.
Op-Ed / Analysis
Passing of Andrea Pirlo ends an era, his natural habitat all but gone (Barney Ronay, The Guardian) For whatever reason, the Olés have been soft-pedalled in recent times, although I did think of them again this week while watching Juventus lose at home to Bayern Munich in the Champions League, a match that might even turn out to be a last real headline European appearance for one of the great modern passing footballers, the creaking, baroque, gorgeously decaying Andrea Pirlo. Still the same floating, mooching figure, the kind of footballer who seems somehow to be playing in cowboy boots and a safari suit, it was only last summer Pirlo managed to fool England and Germany into thinking he was simply a very slow old man, even while toddling about removing their wallets and watch-chains and bowing them out through the exit door.
Champions League semi-final draw: Spain v Germany
The Champions League draw has left Pep divided (Sid Lowe, The Guardian) “Pep’s semi”, as one Spanish newspaper called it, is just one of a host of fascinating story lines to emerge from the draw in Nyon. That the final is at Wembley makes it special for Barcelona; it was there that they won their first European Cup in 1992 and they also claimed the trophy there in 2011. Andoni Zubizarreta, Barça’s sporting director, called it a “magical” place. They are unbeaten in their past 17 games against German clubs.
Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are quite capable of spoiling Spanish party (Henry Winter, The Telegraph) There is so much to celebrate in the four teams vying for a place at Wembley, enjoying their attacking prowess and their creativity, but they have all shown occasional vulnerability and that is why the final four could prove unpredictable. It is as much about safeguarding against mistakes, and showing total concentration, as flourishes in front of goal.
Play Up Pompey
Now Portsmouth will be run by people who care (Ian Burrell, The Independent) Today I’m looking forward to my first game as an owner of my football club. Not just me – thousands of other fans have forked out money for a share of Portsmouth FC and saved it from going to the wall. We’ve paid more than cash. Over the past three years, since the club first went into administration, supporters have suffered the sleepless nights, the stomach acid and the grey hairs that come with watching the life being squeezed out of something you hold dear