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Chelsea, Tottenham and Newcastle have a real chance of Europa League glory

Even though there is no English interest in the Champions League, the same cannot be said of the Europa League where there are three teams battling to make the final at the Amsterdam Arena on May 15th. All the English teams face tough tasks though, and the draw has conjured up four ties between teams that have never met before.

Chelsea v Rubin Kazan

Whilst Chelsea may have been installed as bookmakers favourites following the draw they take a step into the unknown against the Russian outfit. Chelsea have been far from convincing in Europe this season, crashing out of the Champions League as holders at the group stage and then scraping past Sparta Prague and Steaua Bucharest in the first two rounds of this competition. Rubin meanwhile have been mightily impressive in getting to this stage. They topped their group ahead of Inter Milan who they thumped 3-0 at home. They then followed that by knocking out the holders Atletico Madrid 2-1 on aggregate, which included a 2-0 victory in the Vicente Calderon.

John Obi Mikel

Rubin have a mixture of nationalities in their squad including their danger man, the Venezuelan striker Jose Rondon who has scored five goals in the competition so far. While he is their main threat up front Rubin also have a solid backline, which has only conceded four goals in their 10 games so far and two of those came in the first group game away at Inter. Make no mistake; this is a massive test for Chelsea, and with the away leg coming second the Blues may need a couple of goals advantage to take to Russia. These two games also come in a spell of six games in 16 days for Chelsea and all that may add up to a shock in this tie.

Tottenham Hotspur v FC Basel

The easiest looking tie for the English clubs on paper begins at White Hart Lane as Spurs take on the rank outsiders FC Basel. Tottenham cruised through their group as runners-up behind Lazio and have then fought their way through two tough ties against Lyon thanks to a late Mousa Dembele goal and against Inter Milan on away goals. Basel started the season in the Champions League but lost out to Cluj in the final play-off round. Having dropped into the Europa League they finished second in a weak group behind Genk before seeing off Ukrainian minnows Dnipro. They were impressive in the last round though, knocking out Liverpool’s conquerors Zenit 2-1 on aggregate.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto

Basel have a good blend of youth and experience with the Swiss pairing of Marco Streller and Alex Frei still scoring goals at this level. Over two legs though Spurs will surely be a class above and if Inter Milan struggled to contain the likes of Gareth Bale then it is hard to see how the Swiss will fare any better. Being at home first does make things harder for Tottenham as they have not been too convincing away from home thus far, but they will surely be too far ahead after the first leg for it to make a difference.

Fenerbahce v Lazio

The only tie that does not contain an English team but it is still very tough to call. Fenerbahce are another team who came down from the Champions League after losing their play-off to Spartak Moscow. Their path through the group stage was easy enough finishing top of their pool, however during the knockout rounds they have been unconvincing in getting past Bate 1-0 on aggregate and Plzen 2-1 over the two games. Lazio have been much more impressive, topping the group ahead of Spurs and then scoring five times in each of their knockout rounds against Borussia Monchengladbach and Stuttgart.

Raul Meireles

Both sides have a lot of experience running through their teams. Lazio have the likes of Miroslav Klose and Lorik Cana while Fenerbahce have some well-known faces in the form of Joseph Yobo, Raul Meireles and Dirk Kuyt. Lazio may well just have the edge in this tie though through their goal threat. They have the Czech striker Libor Kozak who has managed eight goals in eight games so far and the unpredictable Mauro Zarate. With Lazio at home second they have to be favourites and will have too much firepower for an unspectacular Fenerbahce side.

Benfica v Newcastle United

The final tie should be an absolute cracker as Portuguese heavyweights Benfica take on Newcastle. Newcastle have been solid if unspectacular so far, coming second in their group behind Bordeaux and then going through 1-0 on aggregate in both knockout rounds against tricky opposition in the shape of Metalist Kharkiv and Anzhi Makhachkala. Benfica are another team that dropped out of the Champions League, finishing third in their group behind Celtic and Barcelona despite a creditable 0-0 draw at Camp Nou. They have won every game in the Europa League so far though beating both Bayer Leverkusen and Bordeaux home and away.

Moussa Sissoko

Benfica’s main threat is of course their goal machine Oscar Cardozo who already has three in four games in this competition. They also have exciting young midfielders in Nicolas Gaitan and Nemanja Matic and the experience at the back with Luisao and Ezequiel Garay. Newcastle could not have wished for a tougher task and a lot will depend on how their young team cope with the intimidating atmosphere in Lisbon in the first leg. If Newcastle can continue their solid defensive form then they may give themselves a chance of a special European night at St James Park in the return game.

By Chris Newman

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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

Manchester City surely don’t need Daniele De Rossi?

Manchester City have been linked with a move for Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi today once more, as the transfer rumours start extra early ahead of the January window. The Italy international has been a long-term target for Roberto Mancini, who clearly rates his countryman as a player that could have a positive impact at the Etihad Stadium. However, given the fact that City look overloaded in the centre of midfield, surely this is paper talk and does not have much substance?

There is no doubt that given the option in the summer, Mancini would have opted for De Rossi over all other transfer targets in that position. However, the passionate Rome-born battler opted to stay with his childhood club and penned a new five-year deal, as predicted in The Bookies Offers Blog. With new coach Zdenek Zeman not the flavour of the month with the talismanic midfielder, rumblings of a spat between the pair have been mooted in the Italian press, with De Rossi also being speculated as unhappy at the Stadio Olimpico.

Even if this is the case, City would be best advised at giving De Rossi a miss. With Jack Rodwell and Javi Garcia purchased in the summer to complement existing engine room generals James Milner, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure, it is safe to say the Premier League champions are covered in the centre of the park. A big-money, high wage move for 29-year-old Rossi would surely represent a tactic going against the club’s supposed new frugality in the transfer market with Financial Fairplay looming ominously, but also the case remains: do they even need him?

Netherlands international Nigel De Jong was sold in the summer due to the new players’ arrival, and even now when all players are fit Mancini has a selection dilemma on his hands. Yes De Rossi is experienced, talented and has the versatility to play in midfield or at centre-half, but City would surely be making a grave error and spending excess money unnecessarily by revisiting their quest to bring him to England.

Arrivederci Alessandro: Juventus legend Del Piero departs after 19 glorious years

With an unbeaten 2011-12 season under their belts to lift the Scudetto in Antonio Conte’s first campaign in charge, ambitious plans to strengthen the playing squad this summer, a gleaming new stadium and the return of Champions League football next season, you cannot blame Juventus fans for having a smile on their faces. However, all true Bianconeri supporters will feel a sadness in their hearts due to the exit of a club legend, as Alessandro Del Piero departs the Turin giants after 19 years of unequivocal service, loyalty and scintillating performances.

At 37-years-old, the veteran attacker is now deemed surplus to requirements at the Old Lady, as a new world-class centre forward is top of the club’s transfer wish-list this summer. Del Piero leaves the Bianconeri with a slightly bitter taste in his mouth after being refused the one-year contract extension that he craved to end his career, and will now instead leave the club for one last swansong elsewhere.

Looking back over almost two decades of compelling performances for the Serie A side it is easy to see why Del Piero is in the Juventus fans’ hearts. The masterful attacker joined the club from Padova in 1993, getting a break in the first-team and being a constant name on the team-sheet since.

The ex-Italy international has been there through thick and thin, for six Scudetto triumphs, one Coppa Italia and four Supercopa Italiana glories and the 1995-96 Champions League. He also witnessed his beloved club’s relegation to Serie B after being found guilty of foul-play. In a footballing world where loyalty no longer is second nature and ambition and financial gain rule the roost, Del Piero is a shining light to all youngsters who have the potential to become professional footballers.

Whilst at the top of his game Del Piero will have had no shortage of suitors, and has openly admitted in the past that the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona made attempts to lure him away from Turin with extortionate transfer fees and wages, but this never entered the mind of one-club man Del Piero.

However, he will not now be a one-club man. The evergreen attacker has stated that his hunger and love for the game has not diminished and is eager to find a new challenge, one that he can commit himself to for the next year or two. Del Piero will hope to follow in the footsteps of Real Madrid legend Raul, who left the Santiago Bernabeu after 16 years to star at Schalke and bring joy and pride to the hearts of a group of football fans elsewhere.

Del Piero’s potential destinations grow by the day, as the forward is linked with clubs and nations all over the world. He has already stated that he will not join another Italian club, and as such has been linked with moves to England, Germany, Unites States, Mexico, China, the Middle East and even Argentina.

The stylish frontman will not be looking for one final payday, and instead will be eager to find a footballing project that he can get his teeth into and showcase his abilities. Although the years are starting to take their toll, Del Piero will still prove a difficult opponent wherever he ends up, and scored some important goals for Juve last term in cameo appearances.

At his best Del Piero was virtually unplayable, with a guile and poise on the ball that have tortured defenders all over Italy and throughout Europe for the guts of two decades. Del Piero holds the Bianconeri’s goalscoring record with 289 goals in 705 games for the Italian giants, whilst he also won 91 caps for his country, netting 27 times and winning the 2006 World Cup.

Juventus fans have lost a hero, an icon and a fine player, however, as Del Piero has admitted in an open letter to the clubs faithful upon his departure, he will always be one of them. Addio e buona fortuna Alessandro.

DEL PIERO’S OPEN LETTER TO THE JUVE FANS

“It ends here, my contract with Juventus expires today.

“It’s not news, but knowing it is ‘official’ still has an effect on me. It is not a sad moment for me, there are no regrets or nostalgia. Not anymore.

“That’s because I’ve had time to think back over everything that happened in my last Bianconeri season, going further back and reliving the greatest dream I could’ve dreamed.

“All the memories, the joys, the triumphs and – to be honest – a few recent moments of bitterness… Today all these images flash in front of my eyes and at a certain point blur into one marvellous embrace of my final game in Turin.

“That is the photograph that encapsulates everything, the instant I want to bring with me always, the one that since May 13 has been printed on my heart. It cannot be cancelled.

“A while ago, before going on vacation, I emptied out my locker at Vinovo and walking out of the training ground I stopped where for many months you waited for me hoping for a photo, an autograph or just a hello… under the snow, the ice, the rain, the burning sun. But this time I am the one saluting and thanking you, just as you did with me.

“The players pass by, but Juventus remains. My team-mates remain, who I wish the best and will always cheer them on.

“Above all what remains is the fans, you who are Juventus. That jersey that I loved and will always love, that I desired and respected, without breaks or discounts.

“I am happy that others after me can wear the shirt and above all the ‘10’ that has always had my name on it since they started printing names on the Bianconeri jerseys.

“I am happy for whoever will wear it next year and happy that somewhere – in Italy and all over the world – someone is dreaming of wearing it.

“I would be proud of someone wanting to follow my path, just as I dreamed of doing so with other champions, other examples, other legends.

“From tomorrow I will no longer be a Juventus player, but I will always be one of you. Now a new adventure begins and I am as fired up as I was 19 summers ago.

“Arrivederci. Thanks for everything.

“Alessandro.”

Published – FourFourTwo

Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and European sides heading to USA for pre-season friendlies

Despite the 2011-12 season just drawing to a close and Euro 2012 and the Olympics on the horizon, a raft of leading European teams are planning their warm up games for next term. With an increase in popularity in the game across in North America, it has been the trend for pre-season friendlies to be played in the United States and Canada, and this summer it will be no different. Despite the fact that Barcelona and Manchester United will not be heading stateside in the build up to 2012-13, plenty of other European giants are.

Chelsea

American chairman Bruce Buck will have had a say in deciding to take the Blues back across to North America this pre-season, and the Stamford Bridge club will play four games in USA in July. Starting on the west coast in a game against the Seattle Sounders, Chelsea will also play big-spending Ligue 1 outfit Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and the MLS All-Stars team.

  • 18th July – Chelsea vs Seattle Sounders, CenturyLink Field, Seattle
  • 22nd July – Chelsea vs Paris Saint-Germain, Yankee Stadium, New York
  • 25th July – Chelsea vs MLS All-Stars, PPL PArk, Chester
  • 28th July – Chelsea vs AC Milan, Sun Life Stadium, Miami

Aston Villa

Again with an American chairman at the helm, Villa will play three games in the United States in a whirlwind trip stateside in July. Games against Philadelphia Union, Chicago Fire and Portland Timbers should test Alex McLeish’s men.

  • July 18th – Aston Villa vs Philadelphia Union, PPL Park, Chester
  • July 21st – Aston Villa vs Chicago Fire, Toyota Park, Chicago
  • July 24th – Aston Villa vs Portland Timbers, Jeld-Wen Field, Portland

Tottenham

Spurs are set to go face-to-face with former striker Robbie Keane, David Beckham and former Arsenal forward Thierry Henry this summer. With Brad Friedel in the travelling contingent, the north London club will hope to use the trip to stoke up some additional support from fans stateside.

  • July 24th – Tottenham vs LA Galaxy, The Home Depot Center, Carson
  • July 28th – Tottenham vs Liverpool, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
  • July 31st – Tottenham vs New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Arena, Harrison

Liverpool

The Fenway Sports Group take their Anfield side across for a pre-season tour of Canada and United States this summer, with a glamour friendly against fellow American-owned side Roma one of the highlights.

  • July 21st – Liverpool vs Toronto, Rogers Centre, Toronto
  • July 25th – Liverpool vs Roma, Fenway Park, Boston
  • July 28th – Liverpool vs Tottenham, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore

Real Madrid

The newly-crowned La Liga champions will cross the Atlantic to test themselves in pre-season, and try to increase their popularity with American fans with Barcelona not travelling stateside this year.

  • August 3rd – Real Madrid vs LA Galaxy, The Home Depot Center, Carson
  • August 5th – Real Madrid vs Juventus, Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
  • August 8th – Real Madrid vs AC Milan, Yankee Stadium, New York

Juventus

The rejuvenated Turin giants are always a big draw for American crowds, and will once more return to the United States this summer. Their full plans are yet to be revealed, but the following friendlies have been confirmed.

  • July 28th – Juventus vs DC United, RFK Stadium, Washington
  • August 5th – Juventus vs Real Madrid, Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas

AC Milan

It will be a summer of rebuilding for AC Milan, as old heads Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Filippo Inzagi and Clarence Seedorf will leave the club, and American fans will be keen to see any new signings. Again, Milan’s plans are still to be set in stone, but the following are confirmed.

  • 28th July – AC Milan vs Chelsea, Sun Life Stadium, Miami
  • Two games in Philadelphia – information yet to be released

Published – Soccerlens

Manchester United vs Manchester City, Arsenal vs Tottenham and the transfer battles for Europe’s best this summer

After going head-to-head in the 2011-12 Premier League season, the nation;s top five clubs are ready to do battle off the pitch and in the transfer market this summer. Here are the top five transfer wrangles expected between the Premier League big boys.

Eden Hazard – Manchester United vs Manchester City

Ligue 1 Player of Year Eden Hazard has been all over the media this week after announcing that a move to one of the Manchester clubs was on the cards; there is no doubt that the two fierce local rivals will be desperately fighting over the highly-rated 21 year-old in the coming days.

A dramatic last-day finish meant that noisy neighbours Manchester City were crowned 2011-2012 Premier League champions and considering their quest for world domination, many believe the Belgian starlet will favour a move to Roberto Mancini’s men. However, the young winger could find it hard securing a consistent first-team spot, with David Silva and Samir Nasri already occupying attacking midfielder positions. United however will look to the starlet to reinvigorate an ageing midfield if he moves to Old Trafford.

Shinji Kagawa – Manchester United vs Arsenal

The Japanese winger has been a key part of Jurgen Klopp’s Bundesliga-winning side, getting 13 goals and 11 assists for the German champions this season. With interest from Manchester United and Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund will find it hard to keep their 23-year-old star-man, who is out of contract next summer.

Kagawa has already admitted his willingness to move to England, with a commercial value attached to the Asian superstar for his next side also. United are frontrunners for his signature, however Arsenal are also keen and have a recent track record of buying players from Dortmund.

Edinson Cavani – Chelsea vs Manchester City

Uruguay international Edinson Cavani has had a fantastic season for Napoli, impressing both domestically and in the Champions League, where he found the back of the net against both Manchester City and Chelsea. Both Premier League giants are interested in bringing the South American hitman to England, although City seem to be focussing more on capturing Robin Van Persie as their new attacker. The homegrown pair will be joined in the race by Serie A champions Juventus.

With the supposed exit of Ivorian veteran Didier Drogba, Cavani could be the perfect replacement, and having already shown ability in Europe, he could be exactly what Chelsea need if City purchase elsewhere.

Jan Vertonghen – Arsenal vs Tottenham

Another example of Ajax’s outstanding and prolific youth system, centre-half Jan Vertonghen is currently being fought over by north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham.

Although rumoured to have already agreed personal terms, the White Hart Lane outfit could miss out on the 25 year-old defender due to the Eredivisie champions’ inflated asking price.

It is obvious that Harry Redknapp is intent on strengthening the defence, and the Belgian centre-back would be a perfect addition to the squad. However countryman Thomas Vermaelen is eager to tempt his international comrade to the Emirates, and Arsenal are still in the hunt.

Robin Van Persie – Arsenal vs Manchester City

2011-2012 Premier League top goalscorer Robin Van Persie has attracted serious interest from newly-crowned champions Manchester City, after scoring 30 league goals and winning the PFA Player of the Year award.

With one year left on his current deal, keeping the Netherlands international at Arsenal will be at the top of Arsene Wenger’s priority list this summer. However, with a natural desire to win trophies at the biggest clubs in the world, Van Persie may be inclined to make a move north to join former team-mates Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure and Samir Nasri.

Currently undergoing contract talks, the coming weeks will be vital in seeing what the future holds for the Arsenal hero. Money may also be a key issue; Arsenal are willing to shatter their wage structure and offer £130,00 per week, whilst City are thought to be eager to almost double this at £250,000 per week.

By Jacob Tucker

Chelsea want Jose Mourinho? Understandable – The La Liga title with Real Madrid the latest in a long list of trophies

Real Madrid wrapped up the La Liga title last weekend, with Jose Mourinho leading the Santiago Bernabeu outfit to their first Spanish top-flight success in four years. A convincing 3-0 away win over Europa League finalists Athletic Bilbao sealed the triumph, and broke Barcelona’s stranglehold over the game in Spain. The achievement has not gone unnoticed in west London, as former employer Roman Abramovich is reportedly eager to bring ‘The Special One’ back to Chelsea. The latest success is Mourinho’s 19th trophy in his managerial career, a quite unbelievable achievement.

2002-03

From taking over at Portuguese giants Porto in 2002 until now, Mourinho’s record has been exemplary. The Setubal-born trainer started as he intended to carry on in his first season at the Estadio da Dragao, winning the Primeira Division at a canter, the Taca de Portugal and the UEFA Cup in a momentous season. In the league the total of 86 points out of the possible maximum of 102 was a Portuguese record, whilst Mourinho’s men beat his former club Leiria in the cup final and Celtic in the European finale.

2003-04

Mourinho and his Porto team really shot into the limelight the following season, by retaining their Primeira Division title and against the odds lifting the Champions League. Porto sealed their domestic title with five weeks of the season still to play, and after eliminating Manchester United in Europe, lifted the Champions League crown with a 3-0 win over Monaco.

2004-05

Porto’s elimination of United drew English attention to Mourinho’s achievements, and the successful trainer took over the Chelsea managerial position. After proclaiming himself ‘The Special One’ in his first press conference, Mourinho went on to put his money where his mouth is, lifting the Premier League crown in his debut season, the Blues’ first in 50 years. Chelsea also beat Liverpool to lift the Carling Cup.

2005-06

With the Blues team given self-belief by boss Mourinho, Chelsea went on to retain their Premier League title the following season, with a 3-0 win over Manchester United proving their dominance. They also lifted the Community Shield by beating Arsenal 2-1, but the Champions League remained all-elusive.

2006-07

Mourinho’ last full season at Chelsea saw his men relinquish their Premier League crown to Manchester United, and they were eliminated from the Champions League by Liverpool. Despite this, the Blues still lifted the FA Cup and League Cup in a domestic double.

2008-09

After being shown the door by Abramovich in the 2007-08 season, Mourinho took over at Inter after an eight-month spell away from the game. Similar to his time at Chelsea, he wasted no time in laying down a landmark, and won the Serie A title at the first time of asking and the Supercoppa Italiana. Despite winning the Scudetto by a ten-point margin, elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Manchester United was a major frustration for the perfectionist coach.

2009-10

Arguably Mourinho’s most successful season in management, Inter were unstoppable in 2009-10. The Nerazzurri retained their Serie A crown in impressive form, beat Roma to claim the Coppa Italia trophy and after defeating Barcelona in the semi-finals, lifted the Champions League crown with victory over Bayern Munich. The next day Mourinho admitted that the win would be the last game in charge of the Italian giants.

2010-11

Mourinho was announced as the replacement for Manuel Pellegrini at Real Madrid for the 2010-11 season, with the capital-city side looking for a solution to Barcelona’s dominance at home and on the continent. In this first campaign in Spain the Portuguese coach failed to stop Pep Guardiola’s men achieve glory in La Liga and the Champions League, but did beat the Catalan giants in the Copa del Rey final.

2011-12

This season has been a different story for Madrid, who have been comprehensive and deserved winners of La Liga. The main criticism aimed at Mourinho’s men was their inability to beat Barcelona in a clash between the sides, but a 2-1 victory at Camp Nou got this monkey of the team’s back and all-but secured the division title. Although Champions League still eludes Mourinho at Madrid, the Portuguese coach will look to dominate all competitions next season.

There are increased rumours over Mourinho’s future and a potential move back to England, but this is unlikely, as the proud coach will feel that he has unfinished business in Spain. Next term Madrid will have a transitional Barcelona side to deal with, and the Santiago Bernabeu fans will crave that Mourinho deliver the Champions League back to this great club.

Published – Soccerlens

Juventus back on top in Serie A; a momentous year for Antonio Conte and his men

With a 2-0 win over Cagliari on Sunday, Juventus have reclaimed their Serie A crown for the first time since the Calciopoli scandal. Their first official Scudetto since 2002-03 was secured when Inter beat second-placed AC Milan 4-2 in the Derby della Madonnina, to the delight of the Turin giants’ faithful. It has been quite the turnaround for the Bianconeri this term, with Antonio Conte bringing the club back to former greatness.

Looking at Juventus’ season, it has been a revolutionary 12 months for the club. After the sleeping giants toiled to a seventh placed finish last term, missing out on European competition once more, Luigi Del Neri was shown the door and fans favourite and former hero on the pitch Antonio Conte installed as manager. The 42-year-old had a monumental task; reinstate Italian football’s most successful club back to their former greatness.

Juventus may have huffed and puffed at times this term and have drawn the most games in the division (15), but the telling fact is that they are undefeated and have won 22 of their 37 games. On occasion they have struggled to score, but the side have shown a steel and stubbornness, refusing to be beaten, that takes the club’s fans back to the days of Ferrara, Montero or Gentile.

Juve’s rejuvenation has come after a comprehensive overhaul of the squad last summer, with a raft of new players coming into the club. The side’s midfield has been particularly impressive this season, with new men Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal running the show for Conte’s team, alongside the goalscoring threat of Claudio Marchisio and the industrious Simone Pepe.

At the back stalwart Gianluigi Buffon continues to impress as one of the world’s best goalkeepers, whilst in Giorgio Chiellini they have as an imposing a central defender as there is in the European game currently. In attack, new man Mirko Vucinic has given a cutting edge and eye for goal, whilst Alessandro Matri is the latest in a long line of predatory Italian strikers.

The future is certainly bright for the Old Lady, as the newly constructed Juventus Stadium gives the side an imposing and financially lucrative home, with further investment in the playing squad expected in the summer. A big name striker is on the wishlist, with links to Premier League marksmen Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie and Carlos Tevez already in the offing, as well as Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain. Add to this another top-drawer defender, and Juventus will take some beating domestically and in Europe next season.

A home fixture against Atalanta next Sunday is all that stands between Conte and an undefeated debut season at the club, quite the achievement if and when it happens. With the Coppa Italia final against Napoli the week after, the Bianconeri’s fans could well be celebrating a memorable and momentous domestic double.

Although comparing Juventus to Barcelona is not a fair likeness due to differing styles and mentalities of the two teams, the fact that homegrown coaches have been behind recent success stands out. Pep Guardiola’s ability to demand the respect of the Camp Nou playing squad originates from his achievements on the pitch for the Blaugrana, and Conte’s no-nonsense playing career for the Turin club has been a key feature in the unity of the Juventus contingent this term. Juve certainly have some way to go to match the achievements of Barcelona, but even the Catalan side have not gone an entire season without defeat in recent memory.

The real acid test will be competing in the Champions League once more, as Juve take on Europe’s best and will have a more strenuous fixture list. AC Milan have bemoaned that their exertions in Europe have taken away from their domestic campaign this term, and the new Scudetto holders will have to battle on two fronts next season. However, with club icon Conte at the helm, a motivated squad set to be strengthened and a dedicated fanbase, it is fair to say that Juventus are back amongst the powers of European football once more.

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

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