Liverpool & Barcelona look to hang on in the Champions League, Wigan’s wretched pay-out & how assistant refs may be used to block video technology

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “Isn’t it unbelievable that in my first year I got chosen as Talent of the Year? And a season later I hardly play and without getting a proper chance. I don’t know if it has anything to do with my little trip to the Olympics – I know the manager wanted me to stay. But I don’t believe Benitez is trying to get back at me. What I do know is our manager tests people on how they react to certain situations. Bentitez is not a man who will give you his trust straightaway. Benitez is a manager who in certain situations can do exactly the opposite of what you expect several times. Every time me or my agent (Willie Haatrecht) have a chat with him he stresses I can’t leave and he believes in me. We have to trust he is telling the truth. Saying it is different to showing it. We have agreed to look at my situation during the winter break. If there’s no improvement then, I have to be honest, I want to play somewhere else. But until then I will fight for my position – what else can I do?” – Ryan Babel.

Runner-up: “For f***’s sake, the World Cup is in June. Is he [Theo Walcott] on holiday until the eleventh of June? You cannot be serious. He’s paid by Arsenal football club every week to perform. And well paid. Why should I today worry for what will happen on June 11 at the World Cup? He doesn’t even know if he will go to the World Cup. Let’s do well for Arsenal. You are paid by Arsenal FC, not by the World Cup. During the World Cup he will be paid by Arsenal FC. A guy who has a poor season has a poor World Cup. It’s as mathematical as that. A guy who wins with his club goes to the World Cup and has a good chance to win. But the players are not afraid of you if you do f*** all during the season.” – Arsene Wenger.


Today’s overview: Should the predictable happen, what will exiting the Champions League at the group phase mean for Liverpool.

Andy Hunter explains “while the club can accommodate the impact of Champions League failure in the budget for this season it will not help the American owners’ search for new investors willing to meet their asking price of £100m for a 25% stake to be consigned to the Europa League.” Ian Herbert delves deeper into the financial ramifications of a Champions League exit to draw attention to a silver lining. “Liverpool, though, could actually earn as much money by failing to qualify as by progressing to the quarter finals of the Champions League. Werder Bremen’s income last season from winning the Champions League’s ‘ugly kid brother,’ as Steven Gerrard describes the Europa League, was greater than Bayern Munich’s two-match sojourn in the knockout stage of Europe’s premier competition.”

Looking at the question ‘why?,’ Henry Winter explains how Liverpool find themselves in this situation. “It is ridiculous that Liverpool find themselves in this embarrassing position, a situation partly wrought by injuries to individuals such as Fernando Torres, by Benítez’s bizarre loyalty to substandard players such as Lucas and his insistence on a zonal marking system that has resulted in them conceding more goals at set-pieces than even Portsmouth, Hull and Wigan.”

Dangerously, Paolo Bandini raises Scouse hopes by arguing that Lyon can beat Fiorentina. “Fiorentina and Lyon have faced each other three times in this competition over the past 15 months, and so far the Italians’ record reads: drawn one, lost two. When the two sides met in Florence in the fifth game of the group stage last season Fiorentina knew they needed a win to have any hopes of reaching the knock-out stages. They lost 2-1.”

As if throwing a comforting arm around the Merseysiders, Kevin McCarra flags up other big names struggling to qualify in the Champions League. “The Champions League holders, Barcelona, may even be knocked out this evening. Such an outcome would require them to lose to Internazionale in Camp Nou while Rubin Kazan defeated Dynamo Kyiv… Bayern have a paltry four points and occupy third place behind Bordeaux and Juventus. France is to the fore. Bordeaux, like Lyon, have already clinched a place in the knockout stages. Marseille will probably not go through, but, a point adrift, they are close enough to give Milan and Real feelings of claustrophobia.”

On Barca, Matt Hughes spells out the long list of concerns for the Catalans. “Beyond the outbreak of swine flu that has accounted for Yaya Touré and Éric Abidal, the thigh and hamstring problems that, respectively, could rule out Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the fragile mental state of Thierry Henry lies the greater worry that defeat this evening could result in the holders being eliminated from the Champions League at the first opportunity.” Adding his voice to the discussion, Kevin Garside risks putting the cart before the horse by forecasting Barca’s downfall. “Barcelona have looked a tired team of late, struggling to maintain the Pythagorean aesthetics of a season ago. Guardiola, who bagged a treble in his first year in charge, warned of the dangers of win fatigue… The fates are ganging up on Guardiola. Mourinho is in town with a twinkle in his eye and Samuel Eto’o in his team. It is written, the superstitious will say… Barcelona are no longer irresistible.”

Turning to domestic matters, Anyone who has suffered and shivered on a wet Wednesday in Grimbsy know football is often ugly, painful and deeply unhappy. The enduring myth of football is that it is a beautiful game… ‘The natural state of the football fan is bitter disappointment,’ Nick Hornby wrote in Fever Pitch “no matter what the score.” That is why the offer of Wigan Athletic’s players to refund their fans after the 9-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday is just wrong. If you believe you can assuage the pain of humiliation with cash then you do not understand the nature of fandom. You cannot put a price on emotional investment.”

Keeping with the Spurs-Wigan match, Henry Winter lauds Aaron Lennon’s performance for the Lilywhites. “If Erik Edman ever appears on Mastermind, his specialist subject will be ‘Aaron Lennon’s heels.’ The Spurs winger’s high-speed obliteration of Wigan’s defence was fabulously well timed in a World Cup season.” Ian Wright also injects his voice into the mix, farting “Paolo Rossi, Gary Lineker and Salvatore Schillaci are among the players who won the Golden Boot for finishing a World Cup as top scorer.  Jermain Defoe could do the same in South Africa next year, if given the opportunity.”

Is football about to change forever?

Sepp Blatter has called an extraordinary meeting of Fifa’s executive committee, and speculation is rife that additional help for referees will soon be available. According to may be open to the idea of fast-tracking the introduction of additional assistant referees… [Blatter] could also be forced to face up to a future that includes video technology, such has been the tumult surrounding Henry’s misdemeanour.”

Presuming that Fifa will agree on adding additional officials at the World Cup, Matt Dickinson fears for the use of video technology in football. “To introduce more assistants is fine, but Platini and Sepp Blatter, his Fifa counterpart, should not be allowed to use it as a bargaining chip to block the use of video by the fourth official. Would one be more effective than the other? Most of us would simply say implement both, at least on a trial basis.”

As standard, Tuesday sees the Guardian wheel out their European round-up articles.

Focusing on Valencia, Sid Lowe was left in awe by the fact “Carlos Marchena’s not supposed to score and he’s certainly not supposed to score the same day David Albelda does.” Raphael Honigstein homes in on Werder Breman’s Mesut Ozil, noting “a masterful display at Freiburg confirmed Mesut Ozil’s status as the best player in the league, a one-man source of creativity.” Lastly, Paolo Bandini reports on “after seeing off Fiorentina 3-2, Parma find themselves fifth in the table and that certainly is an extraordinary achievement.”

Marijana Kovacevic, the horse doctor, find her medical practices under the microscope again this Tuesday after Rory Smith detailed that “further fears have been raised over the controversial treatment… from a Serbian physiotherapist after Liverpool’s Yossi Benayoun said he understood she used human, rather than horse, placenta fluid to improve recovery times from muscle injuries.”

Onto the transfers.

Jason Burt reports “Chelsea have dropped out of the running to sign Angel Di Maria after balking at the £36 million asking price. That has left the way open for the Argentine winger to join Manchester City.”  Staying with City, Soriebah Kajue announces “Manchester City moved a step closer to signing QPR wonderkid Raheem Sterling last night after he notified Rangers of his desire to leave.”

Matt Barlow claims “Birmingham are ready to spark a Premiership auction for striker Milan Jovanovic,” only for James Nursey to come thundering in shouting “Birmingham’s ambitious £4million move for Serbian striker Milan Jovanovic has collapsed – alerting a host of Premier League rivals… now scouts from Manchester United, Spurs, Aston Villa and Everton are set to watch Jovanovic, 28, for Standard Liege at Arsenal in the Champions League tonight.”

The Sun splutter “Steve Bruce will listen to offers for Anton Ferdinand. Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp is set to launch a £6million January bid to rescue Ferdinand from his Sunderland hell.” However according to Simon Bird, “Anton Ferdinand is facing the axe at Sunderland after falling to fourth-choice centre-back. The Sunderland defender could be auctioned of in January for £5million as boss Steve Bruce looks to build a new defence at the Stadium of Light.”

And we close out with news of another flailing defender, as the Mirror report “Forest boss Billy Davies is set to make an audacious £3million move for Spurs’ out of favour Gareth Bale.”