“A free four-all”

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “We dropped back too much and looked for safety. The focus is also on the duels. We lost too many of them in the first half and that was not good. Tactically but also mentally we said to each other, that it was not the way we would start the second half. That’s why I like to work with this team, it reacts. We knew that we could score and happily we did rather early after the beginning of the second half. But you cannot stay angry because then the anger becomes frustration. But this was one of those games where players have made a lot of errors. That’s why it was very attractive – going from one goal to the other. It was very dramatic. One moment you think you are down and then the team reacts and then you are up before you are down again. It was a wave of being in the game then almost being out of it. It is exciting but you suffer a lot when you are responsible. When it is paying off as it did tonight it is good to be involved for many, many years, but we know the situation.” – Guus Hiddink.

Runner-up: “As a child, I played soccer on a dirt road in Jakarta, and the game brought the children of my neighbourhood together. As a father, I saw that same spirit of unity alive on the fields and sidelines of my own daughters’ soccer games in Chicago. Soccer is truly the world’s sport, and the World Cup promotes camaraderie and friendly competition across the globe. That is why this bid is about much more than a game. It is about the United States of America inviting the world to gather all across our great country in celebration of our common hopes and dreams.” – Barack Obama.

Today’s overview: Focus is today split between reviewing last night’s incredible Chelsea-Liverpool match, looking ahead to tonight’s Champions League football, and remembering the harrowing events and lessons from Hillsborough.

After witnessing the crazy 4-all draw, Dominic Fifield is not the only person to comment how “[Barca] will relish the opportunity to punish such sloppy defending in the last four.” Other quips served up by the hacks included Paul Hayward’s remark that “there will be no more grumbling if these two come out of the hat together again next year.” Henry Winter spluttered “if there is one purchase you must make in these frugal, recessionary times it is a DVD of this five-star classic.” While Sam Wallace penned “This was reckless, breathtaking stuff that disturbed even the inner calm of Benitez and Hiddink. At times both these two modern giants of management got it wrong tactically.”

Petr Cech is cut down to size for his poor performance against the Reds. For Kevin McCarra, “Cech was so hapless that the issue will have to be addressed. With Carlo Cudicini gone to Tottenham, Hilario is the realistic alternative. It is an option Hiddink cannot wish to take but Cech cut a distressed figure.” Dominic Fifield also takes the Czech keeper to task calling Cech “a broken man” and fearing that “the psychological damage inflicted here will pursue him to Barcelona and the semi-finals.”

Focusing on Liverpool, Patrick Barclay defends the absense of Steven Gerrard. “Benitez should not be second-guessed over Gerrard… if Benitez erred on the side of patience, he was right. Liverpool have six Barclays Premier League matches left, but there is plenty of danger in Manchester United’s seven.” While on Xabi Alonso’s penalty, n leagues all across Europe, every week, such challenges go unpunished. Not now. Cantalejo pointed to the spot and Alonso sent Cech the wrong way.”

Martin Samuel however charges Rafa with throwing in the towel last night as “with 11 minutes remaining, he withdrew arguably the greatest striker in Europe [Fernando Torres] and introduced the callow David Ngog.”

Bizarrely, Today of all days, I don’t want to hear or read anyone saying that footballers are overpaid. No one dare complain after a tie as brilliant as this one. This is why the best players earn fortunes, because they can inspire special occasions that remind us why we love the game so much.”

Tony Evans links last night’s performance to the anniversary of Hillsborough. “The Kopites who made the seemingly pointless journey to Stamford Bridge last night got the fillip they needed on the eve of the most emotional day in the club’s history.”

Looking ahead to Manchester United’s fixture in Porto tonight, Kevin McCarra is buoyed by the return of Rio. “While Rio Ferdinand cannot be a guarantor of a clean sheet, the centre-back’s expected return from injury will be a boon following his absence from three matches in which five goals have been conceded.” David Pleat talks tactics, writing “United must first try to stop the cross and, if that fails, they must be marking very tightly in central areas. Porto have a goal in their locker and United cannot afford to concede more than one.”

On wider issues surrounding the Red Devils, Martin Samuel offers some rare support for the Glazers. “The reason it is hard to damn the Glazers on all fronts just yet is because they have presided over fantastic sporting success as custodians of Manchester United. They have let the football people run the football, kept their heads down, their mouths shut and paid up when asked.”

Turning to other football news, Paul Kelso delivers a brilliant article revealing how, despite the recession, “English football continues to pay its top executives well above the average in companies of comparable size elsewhere in the economy.”

In other football news, Matthew Fearon puts together his Everton Dream Team.

Paul Doyle is fuming over the nominees for the PFA award. “It is ludicrous that five of the six names on the shortlist belong to United players… That Ryan Giggs is included despite only completing seven games is bizarre… Tim Cahill, or indeed any member of Everton’s midfield, has thrived in a variety of roles, while Kevin Davies seems to get even better at the one that has long been his at Bolton… It seems that just as United’s individuals have been artificially enhanced by the collective lustre of the club, the drab displays by Chelsea have obscured the brilliance of Frank Lampard.” Duncan White argues that the list is a reflection of “a problem of timing.”

There is the usual selection of transfer stories that will likely never materialise.

The Daily Telegraph peddle several rumours including the Barcelona, AC Milan and Juventus are all tracking Liverpool’s Daniel Agger, before the broadsheet also announces that “Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp will test Sunderland’s resolve to hold on to striker Kenwyne Jones this summer with a renewed bid for the Trinidad and Tobago international.” John Ley delivers a third report linking West Ham to Palermo striker Edinson Cavani.

The Daily Mail continue to link Everton with Sporting Lisbon midfielder Joao Moutinho, but teh tabloid widens the spread claiming “Moyes is also keen on Tottenham’s Jermaine Jenas and Tom Huddlestone.” While the Merseyside Reds are also linked with a new purchase, The Sun printing that “Liverpool are monitoring the progress of Lazio star Mauro Zarate with a view to a summer swoop for the Argentine.”

The last rumour, found in the Daily Mail, suggests that “former Chelsea boss Avram Grant is being lined up as a possible replacement for Guus Hiddink as Russia manager.”

Finally, on the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough there are no shortage of features across the papers.

Gabriele Marcotti repeats the calls for “justice for the ninety-six. Justice for Hillsborough. Frankly put, it’s a scandal that the families of the victims are still waiting, their loved ones still officially blamed in the history books.” While Oliver Kay contrasts football back in 1989 to the modern game. “Spool forward 20 years and English football basks in the riches and glamour of its Premier League. Stinking, crumbling grounds have given rise to shiny, all-seated, no-smoking stadiums, where the only complaint is of a sterile atmosphere. Where the fanbase had been eroded by apathy at one end of the scale and hooliganism at the other, resulting in the biggest drop-off in attendances since before the Second World War, now the sport permeates every level of society.”

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