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Assessing the English sides’ chances in the Champions League

After the hectic domestic festive season fixture list, the focus on Champions League football is set to return, with the knockout stages to be played next month.

England have four representatives in the final 16 teams, with Manchester United, City, Arsenal and Chelsea all eyeing up a place at this year’s Champions League final in Lisbon.

The Premier League sides have been given stern challenges in the next stage, but what are their chances of progression?

Chelsea vs Galatasaray

Jose Mourinho has experience of lifting the Champions League crown with Porto and Inter, and will be charged with bringing Europe’s top trophy to west London this season.

Didier Drogba

The Blues have been handed the task of 180 minutes against Turkish champions Galatasaray, with a number of familiar faces set to feature for the opposition.

Didier Drogba will return to face his former club, while ex-Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini is at the helm of the eastern European outfit. With a former Mourinho favourite in the form of Wesley Sneijder also in Gala’s ranks, it should be a test for the London side.

However, despite Galatasaray’s progression at the expense of Juventus in the group stages, Chelsea will fancy their chances of making the quarter-finals.

Arsenal vs Bayern Munich

Defeat to Napoli in their final group stage fixture has come back to haunt Arsenal, with the Gunners facing European champions Bayern in the next round. That said, Arsenal fans will have rushed to buy Champions League tickets when the draw was made, as the tie should be of the highest order.

Pep Guardiola’s star-studded squad will be motivated to retain their crown, and eliminated the north Londoners on the way to the title last term.

Arsene Wenger will be buoyed on by his side’s win at the Allianz Arena in the tie last season, and will look to improve on home soil this time round.

In what is set to be an explosive encounter, the Emirates Stadium side will need to be at their best to progress.

Manchester City vs Barcelona

A real glamour tie, this one pits a new force in European football against one of the perennial mainstays.

Yaya Touré

The sheer quality on both sides will make this a top-notch encounter, with Lionel Messi and co’s visit to fortress Etihad sure to be an eye-catching clash.

Yaya Toure will feature against his former club, while City’s credentials will be thoroughly put to the test at Camp Nou.

The winner of this tie will be confident of making it to the latter reaches of the tournament, and the clash could go either way.

Manchester United vs Olympiakos

The easiest of the four ties was handed to Manchester United, who face Greek side Olympiakos over two legs.

With domestic form the cause of agony for David Moyes, the Scottish manager will hope for a comprehensive progression through to the quarter-finals of the European tournament.

The opposition have one deadly striker in their midst in the form of Kostas Mitroglou, who has the ability to end United’s dream on the continent.

Despite a hostile environment in the away leg, anything other than a United progression would be something of a shock here.

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Manchester United and Thiago Alcantara – a good match?

Reports in Spain are linking new Manchester United manager David Moyes to Barcelona midfielders Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas as he looks to add some craft and creativity to his midfield. We all know what Fabregas can do, but how about his younger team mate? Could he be a cut-price, high-quality answer to a question that even Sir Alex Ferguson could never wholly answer?

One of the reasons that 22-year-old Thiago is being linked so heavily to Manchester United this summer is that a release clause in his contract has been activated. This is by virtue of him not playing at least 30 minutes in 60 per cent of Barcelona’s games this season. All player contracts in Spain have a release clause, a result of a previous agreement between the union and the clubs. However, most of these are designed to make the player unattainable. For example, Lionel Messi’s is £205 million and Cristiano Ronaldo’s over £500 million.

Before this season, Thiago’s release clause was €90million, about £80m. Obviously no one would have paid that. Now, it is just €18million, about £14m. £14m is exactly the type of price range that clubs such as Manchester United can easily afford. It is, for example, less than they paid for Anderson.

Thiago Alcantara

For Barcelona to have allowed this to happen is pretty incredible, verging on negligent. Considering that they had the league comfortably won by March, had an easy group in the Champions League and on top of that, plenty of Copa Del Rey matches in which to field him, it is ridiculous that they couldn’t find him 30 minutes in 60 per cent of games. The amount of games that they were three or four nil up by half time, surely he could have come on? But, he is now near enough unprotected.

The question Manchester United fans could ask at this juncture is ‘if he can’t even get that amount of playing time, why would he be a good signing for us? For the answer, it is best to defer to no less a judge than his Barcelona team mate Xavi, who describes Thiago as ‘the future of Barcelona’. Xavi knows first hand about being the Emperor in waiting as he spent the early years of his career, even in to his early 20’s, as Thiago is, waiting to succeed Pep Guardiola. Xavi is now 33 and there is some feeling that if he wins another World Cup next season he might call it a career; surely Thiago can wait another year? Well, maybe not.

Thiago has the talent to start for any club in Europe; it is literally only the presence of Xavi keeping him out of the starting eleven at Barcelona. He has a wider range of passing than any Manchester United player, he is an excellent runner from deep, he is fleet footed and he covers the ground easily. He is an athlete who also boasts the technical skill you would expect of a Barcelona youth graduate.

Manchester United don’t have anything like him. He’s more dynamic and multidimensional than Michael Carrick and would make for an ideal partner for him. He has the action-packed, athletic game of a young Paul Scholes, complimented by the field awareness and deep-lying vision of an older version of Scholes.

If Manchester United are to have any chance of overhauling the big Spanish and German clubs they need someone who can grab hold of a game by the scruff of the neck and dominate possession. Thiago Alcantara is at a stage of his career where he is ready to be given the keys, and signing him at such an affordable price would immediately give United what they need to take the next step in Europe.

Unbelieveable new video of Lionel Messi as a child

Watching Lionel Messi tear through defences is a weekly event these days, however a new video of the Barcelona star has been released – with him doing just that as a child.

It is unclear how old he is or who he is playing for, and the video quality is quite sketchy. However, it is clear to see that the three-time Ballon d’Or winner was destined for greatness from a young age.

No Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United or City: Champions League quarter-final preview

For the first time since 1996 there is no English representation in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Despite this, the draw has still thrown up some potentially exciting ties that are bound to produce plenty of goals and talking points.

Malaga v Borussia Dortmund

Probably the least glamorous looking of the ties but has the potential to be one of the most entertaining. Both teams have been extremely impressive in getting this far. Malaga topped their group, remaining unbeaten, and finishing ahead of AC Milan and Zenit, before overturning a first-leg deficit against Porto in the last 16. Dortmund meanwhile were put in the so-called Group of Death alongside Manchester City, Real Madrid and Ajax. They too remained unbeaten though, and also finished first in their group before sweeping aside Shakhtar in the last 16.

Mario Gotze

While most people will look at Isco as Malaga’s main threat, the experience they possess with the likes of Joaquin, Toulalan, Saviola and Demichelis is not to be under-estimated though, and they will be prepared for the occasion. Dortmund’s youth and attacking style may just prove to be too much for the Spaniards however, and with the guaranteed goals and creativity of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski along with home advantage in the second leg, the Germans may well be a good outside bet to make it all the way to Wembley.

Real Madrid v Galatasaray

The second favourites meet the rank outsiders in this quarter-final tie. Madrid cruised through their group, even though they finished second to Dortmund, and then controversially saw off Manchester United over two tense games. Galatasaray just edged through their group ahead of CFR Cluj and their attacking prowess saw them score three in Germany to get past Schalke.

Didier Drogba

There is no doubting the Turkish side’s attacking options. Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder were the big name signings in January but they also boast the joint top scorer in the competition with Burak Yilmaz. Add to this the experience of Felipe Melo and Hamit Altintop in the midfield and they certainly have a strong core to their team. Over two games though it is hard to see a defence which has already conceded in all but one game in the competition so far this season containing the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and company. Galatasaray do have the advantage of being at home for the second leg but they cannot afford to be more than a goal or two behind after their trip to the Bernabeu.

Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona

Undoubtedly the tie of the round, the big-spending French team against the side who have raised most of their players through their youth team. Despite a couple of wobbles along the way against Celtic and in the first leg against AC Milan, the Catalan giants still remain the team to beat. As they showed in the second leg against Milan they are still unstoppable when they are on form. PSG were very impressive in topping their group and despite a nervy second leg against Valencia they deservedly fought their way through.

Jordi Alba

The biggest problem for the French side in the first game will be the continued suspension of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. To have any chance against Barcelona they will need their strongest team and it will be a big blow to not have their talisman. Not that PSG are a one-man team though. Ezequiel Lavezzi continues to show his talent with five goals in this tournament and they have the exciting young talents of Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore. The problem they may find though is getting the ball to these players, but if they can there is no doubt they can cause Barcelona problems. It would be no surprise if Paris Saint-Germain got a positive result at home but as Milan found out in the last 16, it needs a big lead to take to the Nou Camp for the return game.

Bayern Munich v Juventus

The final tie pits together two of the heavyweights of European football over the years. Bayern have been very impressive to this stage and despite their second-leg defeat to Arsenal they still dominated in terms of attempts at goal and possession. Juventus came through a slow start to qualify first from a group containing Shakhtar and defending champions Chelsea, before brushing aside the challenge of Celtic.

Andrea Pirlo

Bayern will be determined to make amends for their final defeat to Chelsea last year and they certainly have a team who find it easy to create chances and, certainly at domestic level, score goals. They are coming up against a side though that is more of a stereotypical Italian team. Solid at the back and good in possession, Juve play the game at their own pace. They may be short of big names but they have an Italian core that are well drilled and know exactly what they are doing. This is probably the hardest of the quarter-finals to call, but it may well be that Bayern’s extra options in the attacking third will be enough to see them through; but only just.

By Chris Newman

Lionel Messi and Barcelona have potential to end AC Milan’s Champions League in first leg

Two European powerhouses collide on Wednesday evening, when Spanish maestros Barcelona travel to the San Siro to face seven-time European Champions AC Milan.

Having met in last seasons Champions League in both the group and knockout stages, the teams will be all too aware of the dangers each present.
Milan held Barcelona to a draw at Camp Nou in last years group stage; also drawing the first leg of the last-eight clash before the Spanish league leaders went on to win the second leg 3-1 courtesy of goals from Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta. If the Italians are going to qualify for this years quarter-final they will have to come away from this first leg with some sort of advantage. Stephan El Shaarawy will be hoping to start after his late fitness test, but Giampaolo Pazzini will definitely be part of the squad having overcome a thigh injury. Milan will be missing Mario Balotelli (cup-tied); otherwise they have their strongest available line up.

Lionel Messi

Barcelona, sitting top of La Liga by 12 points, may feel they have a point to prove in this competition. Arguably the best team in the modern era, Barca have won the Champions League three times in the last seven years – and were it not for stout defending by Chelsea last year, may have made another final. Having faced Milan several times in recent seasons they will know that an away goal will be key in this tie.

Barca will welcome Xavi back into the squad after a fitness test on Monday, but it seems David Villa will unfortunately miss the tie. Lionel Messi will of course start the game; the Argentine with five goals in the competition already will look to add a couple more to his ever-impressive scoring record.

Milan will look to keep this game tight – but if they fail to defend properly against Messi and co, the tournament could be over before it has even started.

By Stephen Reid

Champions League semi-final second legs: Chelsea and Bayern with work to do to oust Barcelona and Real Madrid

This season’s Champions League hangs in the balance, as perennial challengers and favourites Barcelona and Real Madrid trail after their semi-final first leg ties. Chelsea’s stubbornness at Stamford Bridge and a last-gasp Bayern Munich winner at the Allianz Arena, means that the Spanish giants have work to do if they are to meet each other on Europe’s biggest stage.

Barcelona vs Chelsea 

European champions Barcelona have had the worst week in their recent history over the last seven days, with a frustrating 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in England followed in quick succession by a league title-surrendering 2-1 loss at home to Real Madrid on Saturday. Pep Guardiola’s men have been the team to beat at home and on the continent for recent seasons, but their reign of dominance is currently being threatened.

The Camp Nou side will be confident of getting back into this tie however, as a poor track record in England over the last ten years continued last week. The Blaugrana will know that Chelsea rode their luck slightly in the first leg, but will hope that home advantage will inspire an attacking performance and victory.

Chelsea’s rejuvenation under Roberto Di Matteo continued in the win over the Spaniards, and although the Blues sacrificed the bulk of possession and an attacking outlook to seal their victory, will be pleased to take an advantage to Catalunya. The fact that the English side prevented the free-scoring champions from hitting the back of the net in the first match-up will provide as a motivation, and give Di Matteo’s men belief that Barcelona are not unstoppable.

Despite going into the game expecting to have to soak up a lot of pressure and territory, Chelsea must look to get at least one away goal if they are to stand a chance of progression. Not many teams prevent Barcelona from scoring over 90 minutes, never mind 180, and the Blues will look to the likes of Didier Drogba to get an invaluable goal at the home of the European champions.

Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich

Real Madrid will be on a high after their exploits at Camp Nou at the weekend, and will be confident of overturning a 2-1 defeat against Bayern Munich from the first leg in Germany. Jose Mourinho will be upset at the nature of conceding in the last minute in the first exchange, but a Mesut Ozil away goal will mean Los Blancos go into the game as overwhelming favourites.

The Santiago Bernabeu have all but wrapped up the Primera Division title, and will look to complete their overhaul in superiority over their Clasico rivals by making the final of the Champions League also. With Cristiano Ronaldo in record-setting form and supported by the likes of Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Kaka, the Spaniards have the ability to get the goals needed to secure progression.

Bayern are looking to salvage their season after missing out on the Bundesliga title for the second campaign in a row, and have all their hopes of success firmly rested on this season’s Champions League. A 2-1 win in the first leg showed that the Bavarians have the ability to go toe-to-toe with Europe’s best, and with the final of the competition at the Allianz Arena this year, the club is dreaming of glory.

Whether or not Jupp Heynckes’ men make the final of the tournament will depend on the ability to stave off a lethal Spanish attack. Bayern’s defence has come in for criticism over the last couple of seasons, and the likes of Jerome Boateng, Phillipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer will need to prove their worth. Similarly, one would think that Mario Gomez or one of his attacking colleagues will need to get at least one away goal for the Germans to overcome the Spanish giants.

Can the Chelsea oldies possibly stop Barcelona and the mighty Messi?

Chelsea’s rejuvenation under former midfielder, now temporary Abramovich plaything, Roberto Di Matteo has been quite the story. There has been improvement in the league (they even beat current form team Wigan!!), an FA Cup semi-final demolition of sorry Spurs thanks to Juan Mata hitting the back of the net and progression to the Champions League semi-finals; Chelsea are on a roll. Big time. However, they have just hit a snag. They, very sillily, have been drawn against Barcelona. Whimper.

But wait! Chelsea are in great form I hear you say. They even beat Napoli and Diddy Drogba is red-hot and Fernando even scored at one point. Plus, the Blues have Roberto ‘mastermind’ Di Matteo, I scored the quickest ever goal in an FA Cup final, at the helm. Branislav ‘Rocky’ Ivanovic can play, and David Luiz is injured – what more could the Stamford Bridge club ask for?

Plus! Don’t forget that Chelsea almost beat Barcelona back in 2009. They drew 0-0 at the Camp Nou and were a west London whisker of making the final only for Andres Iniesta and the referee to conspire to steal the glory of losing to Manchester United in the final away from them.

Also! Former West Brom boss Robbie Di Mat has a masterplan. So you like to play tic-tac football eh? Pass the ball to each other 1000 times in a game eh? Got Xavi and Iniesta eh? And Fabregas, shit I forgot about him! Doesn’t matter – Chelski have a plan. Crowd the midfield. It’s devilish.

An inside source from the Blues has let me know that Roman Abramovich has instructed Robby DM to crowd the midfield or face 1000 lashes. So, the Blues are going to play a six-man central midfield to stop the constant, soul-destroying passing of Pep Gorgonzola’s showponies. Ramires, Mikel, Oriol Romeu (ex-Barcelona don’t you know?), Lampard, John Terry and Dennis Wise are all going to play in the middle of the pitch and run around kicking people up in the air; pass around that!!!

You are starting to get a bit more confident aren’t you? The plan, it could work; it might work. Ah, just wait. What about Lionel Messi?

Single John Terry Champions League final 2008 tear runs down the face.

Messi was pretty good back when Chelsea last played the ticcy-tackers, now he is, well, sub human. He has scored 60 goals this season. 60. All by himself. He is the new Barcelona all-time top goalscorer at the mere age of 24; that makes him better than Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Mark Hughes all put together. Rumours are rife that Messi is about to form a one-man Harlem Globetrotters football team of just him to play a World XI, but no-one wants to play in the World XI cos they’re all too scared.

Messi is unstoppable. We have Jose Bosingwa and Paulo Ferreira in our team, it’s not fair. At least Chelsea will win the midfield battle though.

Published – Danger Here

Seven stars on the verge of missing out on Euro 2012

With only a couple of months before Euro 2012, and the teams and groups decided, the last thing to be confirmed are each nation’s squads. With the tournament only being played once every four years, it may be some players’ last chance to feature, with all the major superstars keen to playin Ukraine and Poland. However, some more than others are in danger of missing out through injury, poor form or selection issues at club level; here are the top seven sitting on the fence.

Fernando Torres

The World Cup winning striker has lost his way since the last major international tournament, and is no longer guaranteed a place in Vicente del Bosque’s Spain squad. With a barren spell at Chelsea blighting El Nino’s career, the likes of Alvaro Negredo, Roberto Soldado and Fernando Llorente could get the nod ahead of Torres.

Jermain Defoe

One of the most clinical strikers in the Premier League when given an opportunity, Defoe has had a frustrating season in and out of the Tottenham side. With Emmanuel Adebayor and Rafael van der Vaart ahead of the Englishman in Harry Redknapp’s preferences, Defoe may well miss out on the competition due to lack of playing time.

Mario Balotelli

During the qualifiers Cesare Prandelli used the Manchester City forward on a regular basis, and Balotelli started to lead the line towards the end of that campaign. However, the national selector recently left Super Mario out of his squad for a friendly against the United States, claiming Balotelli’s immaturity and indiscipline as the reason.

David Villa

Spain and Barcelona star Villa would have been a certainty had he been fit, but a broken leg in the Club World Cup in December has the Camp Nou man cutting it fine. Villa should make it back to club action before the end of the season, but with the number of Spanish attackers available, is not guaranteed participation.

Giuseppe Rossi

Another star to pick up a serious injury, Rossi ruptured knee ligaments in October, and has been through a strenuous rehabilitation process since. The Villarreal forward was in Prandelli’s preferences before the setback, and has targeted April for a possible return to action.

Raul Albiol

With Jose Mourinho using Sergio Ramos in the centre of his Real Madrid defence alongside either Pepe or Ricardo Carvalho, Albiol is a serious doubt for Euro 2012. The ex-Valencia man has only made five appearances in the Primera Division this term, and with versatile Javi Martinez and Sergio Busquets also being able to play at the back, Albiol needs a miracle to be included.

Jack Wilshere

The Arsenal playmaker has not played a minute of football this season due to a knee injury in pre-season, although Arsene Wenger has promised that his star will be available before the end of the Premier League campaign. However with Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Scott Parker, Tom Cleverley, Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick and maybe even Paul Scholes in contention for a place in the centre of the park, Wilshere needs to hurry up.

Published – footylatest

Champions League quarter-finals preview: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich & Chelsea the favorites

This season’s version of Europe’s most prestigious club competition has thrown up surprises and shocks along the way, with a number of sides in the last eight exceeding expectations and defying Champions League odds. However, the usual suspects and biggest teams in Europe remain, with four mouth-watering ties having their first legs played this week.

APOEL vs. Real Madrid

This tie arguable epitomises what the Champions League is all about; David vs. Goliath, minnow vs. superpower. The Cypriot champions have delighted their fans with a fantastic showing this term, becoming the first side from their country to make the knockout rounds and beating some strong sides, including Lyon and Porto, along the way.

However, their opponents in the last eight are quite the step up. Real Madrid have been in scintillating form this campaign, lead the Primera Division and are unbeaten in this year’s tournament. Jose Mourinho has the experience of winning this competition with two other clubs, and with a masterfully in-form Cristiano Ronaldo in Los Blancos’ line-up, Madrid have every chance of glory this year.

Benfica vs. Chelsea

A tie between two very-evenly matched sides, Chelsea will go in as favourites but not by much. The Portuguese side have been markedly better this term, and eliminated Manchester United in the group stages. With the likes of Javi Garcia, Axel Witsel and Nicolas Gaitan in a youthful and exciting midfield, Jorge Jesus’ men will look to get ahead in the first leg at the Estadio da Luz.

Chelsea staged a remarkable comeback to overturn a 3-1 first leg defeat to Napoli in the last 16, and now must be considered as challengers. Roberto Di Matteo has sparked a bit of life in his seasoned squad, and if the English side can deal with a hostile reception in the first leg, will be confident of progression.

Marseille vs. Bayern Munich

Both Marseille and Bayern Munich have been inconsistent this term, with lacklustre domestic campaigns being redeemed by the progress on the continent. Didier Deschamps’ men played well to eliminate Inter in the last round, but have lost seven out of their last eight games in a terrible run of form; to stand a chance in this tie they must recapture some form and resolve.

Bayern started out of the blocks at a lightning pace this term and dominated the ‘group of death’, knocking out Manchester City in the process, but have stalled in 2012. With Dortmund looking odds-on to retain their Bundesliga crown, the Bavarians are desperate for glory in Europe. Much is expected of Jupp Heynckes men this term, especially given that the final is at the Allianz Arena.

AC Milan vs. Barcelona

Arguably the tie of the round, Italy and Spain’s champions go head-to-head. These teams met in the group stages, with a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou leading to a 3-2 Catalan victory at the San Siro. Milan are one of only a few sides that may be able to stop Pep Guardiola’s men from winning this year’s trophy. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in form and will be motivated to beat his former employers, but Massimiliano Allegri’s side will need to win the first leg at home to give themselves a fighting chance.

Barcelona are lagging behind El Clasico rivals Real Madrid in La Liga, but the Blaugrana have kicked into form recently, and have won their last nine games in a row in all competitions. Ballon d’Or holder Lionel Messi is in ominous form, becoming the club’s top all-time goalscorer in past weeks; the Argentine seems to deliver in all the biggest games, and no team has managed to figure out a way of nullifying him as yet.

 Published – Champions League Talk

The draw of home: Why Chelsea could face losing Oriol Romeu

With Spanish football on an all-time high, there is no wonder that Premier League clubs are eager to bring players from La Liga to England.

With Pepe Reina’s current and Xabi Alonso’s past importance to Liverpool, Juan Mata’s immediate impact at Chelsea, Cesc Fabregas’ legendary status in North London and David Silva leading Manchester City’s title charge, the English top flight has been blessed with incredible talent from Spain in recent times.

However, seemingly more than any other nation, Spanish players yearn for home and have left English teams at the peak of their individual abilities.

An emerging talent at Stamford Bridge is quickly proving his worth and may well one day be added to the impressive list of world-beating Spanish players that have graced British shores.

Oriol Romeu joined Chelsea from Barcelona last summer, and despite only making one solitary substitute appearance for the Catalan giants before departing, he has become a crucial member of Andre Villas Boas’ squad almost instantly. Jon Obi Mikel, Ramires and even Frank Lampard have seen their time on the pitch impacted this season by the Portuguese coach’s use of the youngster, and Romeu is already one of a host of players that Andre Villas Boas is building a new-look Chelsea team around.

Romeu has a great blend of the traditional Spanish qualities, and a battling nature that has suited the pace and aggression of the Premier League. Technically gifted with the ball at his feet, Romeu has an eye for a pass and calmness when in possession that is uniquely distilled through the ranks at La Masia. Add to this his ability to read the game, a keenness to put in a tackle and excellent positional play and Romeu is already at 20 years old an accomplished defensive midfielder.

However, just like in the case of Fabregas and Alonso, the draw of his homeland may hamper Chelsea’s long-term ambitions and plans for the Ulldecona-born man. Reports have emerged that Barcelona have a buy-back option integrated in Romeu’s contract, which can be implemented at the Camp Nou outfit’s request in the summer of 2012 or 2013.

With the abundance of midfield talent currently at Pep Guardiola’s disposal it is unlikely that the European champions will opt to bring Romeu ‘home’ this summer, but given another season of Premier League and European football and it may well be deemed that the starlet could be an asset in the Catalan senior squad.

With Xavi and Andres Iniesta currently at the peak of their powers, Sergio Busquets filling the defensive midfield slot, Fabregas being deployed as a second striker and Thiago Alcantara an impressive back-up, Guardiola’s options in the centre of the park are simply salivating.

However, given another 18 months, the two current dominant playmakers in Catalunya may well be starting to feel their age, and with Busquets gradually making the transition to central defence, Romeu could be summoned.

This would be a big blow for a team like Chelsea, who are not accustomed to losing key players; anyone who leaves Stamford Bridge is generally surplus to requirements. With Roman Abramovich’s billions, an ambitious young coach in place and an exciting team being built around the Spaniard, surely Romeu would be tempted to knock back Barcelona’s potential advances?

Not very likely. The draw of La Liga’s top sides is huge, not least to those who have witnessed their allure up close. The fact Romeu is a Barca youth product means he has been instilled with the mindset that playing for the Blaugrana is the Holy Grail since the age of 13, and Chelsea now have a problem.

One only has to look at the demise of Liverpool since the sale of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid to see the potential effect of losing a Spanish midfield general. Cesc Fabregas openly admitted to ‘feeling English’ during his time in North London and frequently spouted his love for the Emirates outfit.

He was part of a team unbeaten for an entire season in England, played in a Champions League final and had the adoration of one of the most respected coaches in world football, his fellow players and fans. Nevertheless, he could not resist the appeal of home.

An equally concerning thought that Chelsea will need to keep in mind revolves around Juan Mata, and like his countrymen, whether or not he would be able to resist either Barcelona or Real Madrid’s charms in a year or two’s time.

Mata is a Madrid youth player who again did not make the first team, and was later farmed out to Valencia. One feels there may be unfinished business at the Santiago Bernabeu for the attacker. Finally, even Sheik Mansour’s unlimited financial resources would probably not stop David Silva doing all in his power to forge a move away from Manchester City if one of Spain’s big two came knocking.

Spain’s World Cup-winning golden generation is currently the best crop of players in the game, with the country’s top two domestic teams the biggest clubs on the planet. For an English side to snag a leading Spanish player must be seen as a massive coup, however it should be advised that over-reliance on this superstar may end in tears; only time will tell in the case of Romeu.

PublishedFourFourTwo

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