Don’t Messi with Barca

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “Maybe lady luck smiled on us, maybe that’s a good sign. You scratch your head and wonder how that situation developed, but we’ve made it through to the next round. Knowing Shay was in goal for us gave the real confidence taking their kicks. I think they had a real belief that Shay would play a hand.” – Mark Hughes.

Runner-up: “I was never worried because I know Rafa really wanted to stay at Liverpool and we wanted him to stay, we agreed the economics some time ago and I’m glad we finally got it done. Rafa was never wanting control of the transfer policy, he just wanted to make sure we had better decision-making capability and that we moved quicker than we had in the past, Rafa will make the recommendations but in English football it’s very important that the chief executive should make the financial decisions not the manager.” – Tom Hicks.

Today’s overview: Shay Given’s heroics and Rafa Benitez’s new contract take up some headlines but this morning much of the debate previews the Champions League draw with Barcelona unsurprisingly considered the side to avoid for the “Big Four.”

On Manchester City’s win on penalties against Aalborg, Andy Hamspon (Independent) writes: “It was the second time in the competition City had been taken to penalties by Danish opposition after a dramatic win over Midtjylland in the second qualifying round in August. The win kept alive City’s hopes, as the last remaining English side in the event, of winning a first major piece of silverware since 1976. Yet, on a bitterly cold night at the Energi Nord Arena, City were almost made to pay for their failure to kill off a tie they had dominated.”

Rory Smith sums up City in the Daily Telegraph: “It would not be Manchester City if there was no drama. The tragedian’s club of choice did their best to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on Thursday evening before Shay Given repaid every penny of his £8 million fee.” James Ducker writes along similar lines: “Manchester City simply aren’t happy unless they are letting their supporters suffer a little, and on an extraordinary evening of highs and lows in Denmark last night, another tragi-comedy in the history of the club was averted narrowly.”

According to The Sun, “Rafa Benitez has been given £30million to spend as a reward for signing his new contract.  The Liverpool boss penned a £20million five-year deal on Wednesday. And he has hit the jackpot again with American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett promising to throw cash at Rafa’s Kop revolution.” And John Edwards in the Daily Mail thinks the Spaniard will spend it on Aaron Lennon and Gareth Barry.

Oliver Kay argues in The Times that there is much to sort out at Anfield. “As the ink dried on Rafael Benítez’s new five-year contract yesterday someone at Anfield whispered the phrase ‘a new start’. It is an appraisal that seems to overlook the fact that Liverpool are in today’s Champions League quarter-final draw and still fighting for this season’s Barclays Premier League title, but the new deal has brought much-needed stability to a club where a number of critical issues remain unresolved.”

Harry Pearson has a lighthearted look at Benitez and his role in English football. “With his big, meaty face and his overstretched warm-up coats, the man appeared a throwback to the good old days. The Spaniard was the first football coach for decades I could imagine handing me a rolled-up copy of the Valiant with a Milky Way bar tucked inside it, tipping me a wink and asking if I was planning to watch Kendo Nagasaki on the wrestling later.”

Looking ahead to the upcoming Champions League draw, The Sun profile the comments of Fabio Capello who says: “Messi makes the difference. He does things that others can’t even think of. Every era has its own crack player like Pele or Maradona and Messi can be the crack player of the next decade. The Barca of Guardiola has formed a team of great potential, although in the last month they’ve not been as strong as they can be. At the start of the season, the way Barca played was incredible.”  Also on the Champions League, Thierry Henry says he never said goodbye to the Arsenal fans, Wayne Rooney wouldn’t mind facing Liverpool and Petr Cech thinks Chelsea can win it.

Kevin McCarra warns of the threat of Barcelona and Bayern Munich. “The English clubs must none the less feel confident, so long as they avoid each another. In that eventuality, all the same, one of them will be pitted against exhilarating Barcelona.” Glenn Moore also picks Barcelona as the team to avoid in The Independent. “They impressed in defeating Lyon 6-3 on aggregate in the last round and Thierry Henry seems to save his best for Europe. Plus Samuel Eto’o is rejuvenated, Xavi is peerless, Yaya Touré is eclipsing his brother and Daniel Alves is a revelation.”

Dark horses Bayern Munich are also highlighted by Cristiano Ronaldo: “Bayern Munich are very strong. I watched them play against my old team, Sporting, and I was very sad because I didn’t expect Sporting to lose so heavily.” Laura Williamson asks which of the four English Champions League teams have the best manager.

There are some interesting rumours surrounding Sunderland this morning, Simon Williams claims “Ricky Sbragia has been warned by ­Sunderland’s chairman, Niall Quinn, that he has nine games to keep his job, less than three months after he was given the manager’s post on a permanent basis.” Michael Walker claims that Sunderland “are nearing a change in ownership that could see 51% of the Wearside club, and therefore overall control, pass into the hands of the American businessman Ellis Short.”

Another day, another new twist to the Carlos Tevez saga, Jason Burt: “Fulham have submitted a claim for £700,000 in compensation from West Ham United because they finished below the Hammers in the season that the Argentine striker played at Upton Park. The claim appears to confirm the fear of “legal anarchy” that West Ham warned about.”

Other varied articles this morning include, Owen Gibson’s report that “Setanta, the troubled broadcaster that is attempting to restructure its business to preserve its future, has met a crucial TV rights payment to the FA.” Brian Viner interviews Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish: “If we go up we’ll have to punch above our weight.” And Henry Winter speaks with Gordon Taylor about the “dark side” of football.

Finally, prior to his lengthy Sky News interview tonight Paul Gascoigne reveals that maybe he should have played under Sir Alex Ferguson. Gascoigne: “Maybe if I had stayed at Man U, I might have been still there, look at young Rooney, the Neville brothers and Becks, the way he (Ferguson) just brought them on. I got invited to the academy and it is a magnificent place and you can see the way he treats his players, he treats them with respect but he also makes men out of boys.”