The criticisms: Chelsea’s “poor performance,” Manchester United were “reliable but low on the excitement scale,” while Scottish football “is a joke”

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “I’m not satisfied. I wanted Chelsea to play better and to take more control, to play with courage. We have to change, for sure. The players did strong work, for sure, and ran a lot on the pitch, but we have to play better. It was a good result but not a good performance, particularly in the second half. We tried to control the game with possession, but we made a lot of mistakes. APOEL played very well in that second half and deserved to draw this game. That is football. Sometimes that happens: one team wins like Chelsea did today. In the first half we showed good application of the system and took good control in defensive positions, but the second half was totally different. We lost a lot of balls. We allowed Nicosia to get back into the game. We would not be so lucky if we played like that against Liverpool. But we will not play like we did today. We will play better, for sure.” – Carlo Ancelotti.

Runner-up: “To concede a goal like that after 10 minutes complicates the game. There are not a lot of ways to change it, we’ve got to be more compact. I’ve taken this job and I’m doing what I believe. No one put a gun to my head to take the role. We move forward. If we lose, we lose. Of course we’re not a team in a moment of great confidence. We can’t talk about individuals, it’s collective. Now certainly it’s not easy. We’ve got to be there, with our army, and do our best. Right now, our performances don’t offer many positives. But football is strange, we went to Marseille and won 2-1. This team has the resources to try to get out of this situation.” – AC Milan boss, Leonardo.


Today’s overview: For one reason or another, the backpages are full of doom and gloom today.

Dampening the mood from the off was Dominic Fifield’s appraisal of the Blues’ performance against APOEL, noting “Chelsea may have won this game, but they were sloppy in their passing and might have conceded an equaliser as they laboured in the latter stages.” Further criticism was dished out by Matt Hughes, noting “his was another poor performance… This performance provided more questions than answers, most notably over whether Michael Essien has the discipline to anchor midfield, which he was asked to do in the absence through injury of John Obi Mikel, and for how much longer the lightweight Salomon Kalou can continue to be indulged.”

Manchester United’s hard-fought defeat of Wolfburg is more warmly welcomed by the fourth estate.

Oliver Kay commented “This was much more like it and, even if Carrick is not yet at his best, there is something ominous when a team win eight consecutive matches,” while according to Daniel Taylor, “United do not seem to be missing Ronaldo’s goals too much. Old Trafford has its critics but United’s winning habit here can make these group stages feel like a matter of routine sometimes – even when they do come up against a side that has the wit and gumption to examine them.”

Souring the mood though is lemon-sucking Sam Wallace, who was totally unimpressed by United’s victory. “Carrick scored the winner against possibly the worst team to win the Bundesliga in living memory and averted what would have been one of the least auspicious nights in Old Trafford’s glorious European history… If this United performance was a Volkswagen car it would be dull but safe: a Passat saloon, perhaps. Competent, reliable but low on the excitement scale.”

Yet for every silver lining there appears to be a downside today, and for Manchester United that arrives in the form of Michael Owen’s latest setback.

Offering a limited defence of Little Mickey, Oliver Kay questions the wisdom in Fergie’s team selection against the Wolves. “Owen first complained of the problem on Sunday and did not train on Tuesday, raising doubts about the wisdom not only of his selection last night, but also his participation on Monday in a training event with journalists as an obligation to one of his sponsors.” Yet the striker’s fitness simply cannot be relied upon… As long as he remains agonisingly liable to have to leave the pitch early, eating into a team’s quota of substitutes, he will be no more worthy of an England recall than Jimmy Greaves.”

For once it is the broadsheets who play join the dots this Thursday, as Matt Scott intensifies the question marks surrounding Notts County’s millions by telling the tale of “the gardener, the Notts County fixer and the lost fortune.” “Investigations into the financial affairs of Russell King, one of the senior figures behind the takeover of Notts County, have revealed that his former housekeeper and gardener lost a six-figure sum after they say they were persuaded by King to invest it in a fund managed by the Belgravia Group, the company which mounted a bid for Newcastle United in 2005.”

Staying with the negativity, Lawrence Donegan heralds the end of Scotland’s glory days in football. “The national team is a joke, many of the league clubs are but a bank manager’s letter from extinction and the two biggest are, in European terms, nowhere. What we are witnessing here is not long overdue humbling of the arrogant Old Firm but the demise of a grand football tradition.”

And there is more criticism this Thursday, as the Europa League is battered once more. Trend-spotting, Jamie Jackson details how “despite Uefa revamping this stage of its formerly eponymous cup… the indications are that here and across the rest of western Europe the interest in Europe’s second-tier club competition is continuing to decline.”

In more domestic news, Stan Kroenke increased his holding in Arsenal to 28.7 per cent yesterday, 1.2 per cent short of the mark that triggers a mandatory takeover bid… The unanswered question, though, is why Kroenke felt the need to buy 80 shares yesterday, when there is no dividend paid.”

Heading south, Matt Lawton splashes with a worrying EXCLUSIVE for Portsmouth. “Portsmouth’s season descended deeper into crisis yesterday with some of their players complaining they have not been paid. Morale is already low after seven straight defeats in the Barclays Premier League but there were chaotic scenes yesterday, with players panicking that their monthly wages had not landed in their bank accounts.”

And then there are the transfer lies.

The Daily Mail continues to spew up nonsense claiming a four way battle for Sol Campbell. “Phil Brown is hoping Sol Campbell will save Hull’s Premier League future…The under-fire Hull boss may yet face competition from Italian clubs Sampdoria and Genoa, or a mega-bucks offer from Qatar.” While John Cross also spouts tall tales announcing “Manchester United and Liverpool are tracking Real Sociedad wonderkid Antoine Griezmann.”