“The Premier League has come up with a cunning plan for playing its controversial ’39th game’. It’s called the Champions League final” – Henry Winter

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “People who see me leaving for Madrid are wrong. I have a contract with Liverpool, I owe Liverpool and I am only thinking about Liverpool. I am happy here and there is a project under way. I have been here for five years and [if I was to stay] from now on things would be easier. I want a medium- or long-term project. I don’t want to be working day to day, always hanging on the latest result, without a programme to follow or an idea to develop over a period of time. What I want is hard to find in Spain. Long-term projects do not exist [in Spain], like they do in England. I am young as coaches go and I can’t predict my future. Real Madrid are a great club, a very great club, but I am at another wonderful club – one that really motivates me. I will work where I feel I can develop a project.” – Rafa Benitez.

Runner-up: “We’re in pole position in the title race and we know if we can beat Liverpool then that’ll more or less end their chances of winning the league. I’m very excited about the game because I grew up as an Everton fan hating Liverpool – and that hasn’t changed.” – Wayne Rooney.

Today’s overview: After a brilliant week of European football for the Premier League, the success of Manchester City in the UEFA Cup and the Big Four in the Champions League is chewed over this Friday.

Can Man City win the UEFA Cup? Last night’s victory over Aalborg left Daniel Taylor purring “if Robinho, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Stephen Ireland can maintain this level of excellence, maybe this could be the season when they shed their reputation as a club that always conspires to mess things up.” if Manchester City were as adept in the Barclays Premier League as they are in Europe, they would probably be pushing for a Champions League place by now.”

Rory Smith looks at the wider consequences if City win the UEFA Cup. “If Hughes’s employers are to return to Valencia this summer and offer £50 million or more into the Spanish side’s cobwebbed coffers for David Villa, a gleaming UEFA Cup as proof of pedigree and promise would go some way to enticing a player reluctant to leave his homeland.”

Reflecting on all four Premier League teams progressing in the Champions League, Kevin McCarra observes how “the inferiority complex that used to afflict England’s clubs has now settled upon the continent.” Sid Lowe however charges in with his belief that “Barca’s footballing philosophy means they will seek to out-score rather than out-defend their opponents” and this could see them win the tournament.

Mockingly, Henry Winter wrote “the Premier League has come up with a cunning plan for playing its controversial ’39th game’, the money-spinning competitive match between English clubs on foreign soil. It is called the Champions League final.”

Belligerently, Sam Wallace unceremoniously penned “English football rules for one reason above all: it has more money.” While others, like Oliver Kay, searched for other reasons outside wealth to explain the English dominance in the Champions League. “The common factors are composure and tactical discipline, traits that would not have been readily associated with English clubs three seasons ago, when only Arsenal reached the quarter-finals, and that Fabio Capello is still striving to instill in the national team.”

The Sun’s Steven Howard tries to contextualise the English dominance, commenting that “the fabled Real Madrid side of the Fifties was built round an Argentinian (Alfredo di Stefano) and a Hungarian (Ferenc Puskas). In the late Nineties and early years of the new Millennium, it was the Galacticos. We did not complain, in fact we loved watching Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Luis Figo and the rest. But let us not kid ourselves that the current revolution is something English. Only if and when England manage something definitive in South Africa can we stick out our chests.”

Amy Lawerence rips into Manuel Almunia’s claim that Arsenal were “heroes” on Wednesday night. “It is hard to recall another goalkeeper who has ever looked so ill during the 12-yard tango… The best thing about Arsenal’s penalty experience is that the drama detracted from what was a truly ragged performance in Rome.” And more negativity is heaped on the Gunners this Friday after Kolo Toure admitted “my relationship with William [Gallas] has improved but it’s just a professional relationship. We never got on well together. I’m friends with Johan Djourou, with Emmanuel Eboue, with Gael Clichy but it’s not the same with William. It’s the same within every company, you can’t be friends with everybody.”

By contrast, Jim White heaps praise on Ryan Giggs’ midweek performance saying “Giggs is no longer merely the sentimental choice as Footballer of the Year, he is now the only choice.”

It finally looks like a line can be drawn under the Carlos Tevez affair, Bill Neenan announcing “West Ham have agreed to pay more than £10m – to be paid in installments over five years – and Sheffield United will withdraw all of its complaints against the London club.”

There are a couple of transfer rumours doing the rounds, the Sun reporting that “Mick McCarthy is to make a £2million move for Aston Villa outcast Marlon Harewood,” and the red-top also links the Citizens with David Villa.

The Guardian offers two insightful articles touching of world football. Ahead of the new Russian league season Jonathan Wilson focuses on the favourites for the title – CSKA Moscow. Turning to Argentina, Joel Richards analyises the fallout between Diego Maradona and Juan Roman Riquelme. “With no Riquelme, there will be increased pressure on Messi to perform, but without Román the younger generation of Argentina stars are more likely to produce their best football. Riquelme is a divisive figure in the dressing room, and there are few members of the squad who tolerate him.”


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