Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “We were caught by a team that has the art to kill and take advantage of every mistake. And Ronaldo, in particular, gave us a tough time. But the most disappointing thing was that the game was over after 10 minutes… In three minutes we conceded two goals against a team that defends well and is sure to come out on the counter-attack. We were really up for the fight, ready for the game, but after the first 10 minutes it was impossible. We kept going and tried to play with pride and desire but of course it had gone… I don’t believe the referee had a good game. I believe he had a very bad game. He gave many fouls you donâ€™t get in the Premier League and that is the reason the championship in Italy is not as committed as here. You get more smaller fouls over there than here and there were fouls here we werenâ€™t used to. The red card was harsh as well. I have sympathy for Fletcher.” – Arsene Wenger.
Runner-up: “When my friends told me that Real approached Tottenham about me, I didn’t believe it. I thought it was some kind of wild rumour. Later I discovered that my move to Spain was indeed a possibility. But Spurs bosses didn’t allow for it. I do not want to discuss whether I would be good at Real, or not. At the moment I’m part of another big European club – Tottenham. I do not know what’s going to happen in the future. I have no intention to move anywhere and do not want to.” – Roman Pavlyuchenko.
Today’s overview: Cristiano Ronaldo is showered with adulation this Wednesday, before attention turns to Barcelona’s visit to Chelsea tonight.
Starting off the cheer-squad is Paul Hayward. “Ferguson’s masterstroke was to play Ronaldo in the centre in attack in front of a strong midfield that not only won the territorial struggle in the centre but got forward to pose much the greater threat up front.” Daniel Taylor blubbers “Ronaldo was, in short, phenomenal. The criticism of him not performing well in United’s most important matches was a legitimate one 18 months ago, but after his goal here and the 40-yarder he also scored at Estadio do Dragao it is now a redundant issue.” Martin Samuel jumps on the Ronaldo bandwagon rejoicing “memories of Cristiano Ronaldoâ€™s display at the Emirates Stadium will be hard to erase. He was masterful, compelling, unstoppable, a tour de force as a striker, operating with the wit of a winger.”
Others, however, are happy to share the praise around as a war of the metaphors unfolds between the hacks. Oliver Kay writes “this was men against boys, United not so much beating Arsenal as teaching them and their manager a harsh lesson about the realities from which they have hidden for too long.” Only for Henry Winter to counter with “this was not men against boys, this was skilled professors against callow pupils.”
As soon as CR7 impresses, thoughts turn to the Portuguese’s future at Old Trafford. Kevin McCarra is convinced that any Ronaldo departure “would be a drastic loss… If this triumph is any guide, his mind is at least fixed on United’s affairs for the time being.” David Pleat also relays his opinion that “if Cristiano Ronaldo leaves Old Trafford this summer Manchester United will reduce their debt by a small amount, but only Lionel Messi could replace the Portuguese satisfactorily.”
Can Darren Fletcher’s red card be overturned?
Yes, according to Daniel Taylor, who notes “the only hope of the red card being rescinded is if Rosetti contacts Uefa to admit he made a mistake but even that might not be enough to prevent Fletcher’s suspension from the Champions League final.” But challenging that opinion head-on is Matt Hughes. “Uefa confirmed that no appeal is possible against the decision by Roberto Rosetti, the Italian referee, as they can be made only on grounds of mistaken identity.”
Patrick Barclay justifies the dismissal of Fletcher last night. “Fletcher wrapped his legs around Cesc Fabregas, leaving Roberto Rosetti little choice. That Fletcher nicked the ball while committing the foul was irrelevant under the revised law.” Matt Hughes backs up his fellow Times scribe writing “Fletcher did appear to play the ball, but got a good deal of the man as well in an area of the pitch that left the referee with no alternative.” And completing the support for the red card is Graham Poll. “Even though Fletcher got a slight touch on the ball, Rosetti felt it was impossible for the Manchester United midfielder to avoid taking his opponent in the follow-through. Therefore, he had no option but to dismiss the Scot.”
On Arsenal, the hacks are also queuing up to deliver the Gunners body-blows. Richard Williams is the first to fire, barking “the callowness and ineffectuality of Arsenal’s midfield in the face of a single-minded United side reawakened doubts about the Frenchman’s readiness to part with such players as Vieira, Gilberto Silva and Mathieu Flamini without securing suitable replacements.”
Matt Dickinson bullishly tells Wenger what his next steps should be. “There is no question that Wenger needs to address some obvious weaknesses in his team and to spend many of the millions the Arsenal board insists is available. He could do worse than start by cashing in on Emmanuel Adebayor, hugely disappointing in both semi-final ties, as he has been for much of the season.” Steven Howard joins in on picking on the Frenchman. “Wenger has stubbornly refused to do anything about a defence that swings open under even the most modest of pressure… the game is up now. And judging by the desperate look on Wengerâ€™s face for much of last night, the Arsenal boss knows it.”
And then there is the small matter of the second Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona tonight.
Assessing the likely tactics of the Spaniards, Russell Kempson pens “Barcelona will carry on playing the Barca way, the beautiful game, and they will not try to meet fire with fire if Chelsea again try to outmanoeuvre their opponents by brawn rather than brain.” Folloing suit, Oliver Kay trumpets the successes of Barcelona. “Barcelona represent everything that is good about the game. They play beautiful football, with quality oozing from the fantastic feet of Xavi Hernandez, AndrÃ©s Iniesta and Lionel Messi… In a game that often seems to have been devoured by greed, Barcelona stick out like a sore thumb. They are truly a class act.”
But the Blues will not buckle, Mark Fleming arguing “Chelsea, however, are in no mood to prostrate themselves and pay homage ahead of tonight’s Champions League semi-final second leg… [as] Drogba represents Guus Hiddink’s best hope of securing Chelsea’s second successive Champions League final.” Terry Venables adds his two cents, advising the Blues to bombard Barca in the air. “Chelsea need to mix up their game and make the most of their free-kicks and corners when they get them. And in men like Terry, Alex and Didier Drogba they have the players capable of causing mayhem in the opposing penalty area.”
In other news, George Caulkin turns the tables on the Magpies in a heart-felt analysis of the Toon’s recent history. “We do not apologise for feeling nauseous at the way Newcastle has been utterly mismanaged. Even now, we marvel when we consider the arrogance of successive regimes – a club that has provoked such a widespread collection of corrosive headlines believing it is the appropriate home for Barton.” Fellow North-East journalist Michael Walker echoes the same sentiment, who also contests that “the malaise [at Newcatsle] extends beyond Joey Barton… so frayed had the day-to-day culture become that Shearer is having to expend energy and time ensuring that the basics of time-keeping, fitness and mutual respect are in place.”
Neil Ashton looks to explain why Alan Shearer has been unsuccessful at Newcastle. “Very few (if any) of the players will give a monkey’s about Alan Shearer’s history at Newcastle United. They owe him nothing. Why play for him any more than they did under Smokin’ Joe Kinnear or the Chris Hughton/Calderwood axis? They don’t care for his name. Most of them only know him as the bloke from the Match of the Day sofa who suddenly swapped it for eight games and promised to return at the end of it, come what may.”
More bad news for Hammers fans, as Paul Kelso notes “West Ham could miss out on a place in the Europa League next season after doubts emerged over their ability to satisfy the demands of the Uefa Club licence required to enter European competition.”
Jonathan Wilson delivers the latest updates on the planning for Euro 2012. “Part of the rationale behind awarding the tournament to Poland and Ukraine was to reach out to eastern Europe… Perhaps 2012 will at times feel like an ordeal, but it will at least be for a necessary cause.”
As standard, we finish with a round-up of the transfer speculation.
On Liverpool, Andy Hunter reports that “Benitez will look again this summer to build around his preferred attack of Torres and Gerrard, with Valencia’s David Silva an identified but currently overpriced option for a manager also intent on concluding his lengthy pursuit of Aston Villa’s Gareth Barry.” Rory Smith delivers a slightly different Liverpool shopping list to his Telegraph readers. “Valencia winger David Silva, Almeria striker Alvaro Negredo and Tottenham’s Aaron Lennon are all thought to be on Benitez’s radar.”
Simon Jones risks the ire of Sir Alex by reporting “Barcelona are considering an audacious move for Manchester United centre half Nemanja Vidic.” On the future of Joey Barton, Michael Walker suggests that “Sam Allardyce, who brought Barton to Newcastle in 2007, could offer him a chance at Blackburn.”
Despite several full-backs on their books already, the Daily Mail report how “Porto left-back Aly Cissokho is set to make a decision on his future at the end of the season after claiming Tottenham are interested in signing him.” Staying in the Daily Mail it is reported “Stoke are weighing up a Â£5million move for towering Ghana [and Hoffenhiem] midfielder Isaac Vorsah.” While over in the Daily Mirror, Alan Nixon claims “Sunderland are ready to pull the plug on a scheme to sign Djibril Cisse from Marseille for Â£12million.”