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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

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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

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.

Who will be next in a long line of unfortunate Chelsea managers?

Roman Abramovich’s ever-revolving door of Chelsea managers seems to have always been a hot topic in the press and as we are nearing the end of the season, is Robbie’s time as interim first team coach up? Among the fans Di Matteo has been a hit, and there is no doubt that the dressing room atmosphere has dramatically improved from the previous dictatorship of AVB. But surely Abramovich will want a big name for the job; will he have the same fate as the unsuccessful Andre Villas-Boas, or will he restore Chelsea to it’s former glory and lead them into a new era of Premier League dominance?

Rafael Benitez

Although far from a favourite for Chelsea fans, Benitez is definitely one of the bookies’ frontrunners and from Abramovich’s point of view, you can see why he might want the ex-Liverpool manager to take up the reins. Benitez had an extremely successful career with Liverpool from 2004-2010, winning the UEFA Champions League in his first season after being 3-0 down to AC Milan. He also brought in super striker Fernando Torres, who scored 33 goals in his first season under the coach’s guidance but has now been hugely under-performing at the exact club Benitez could join. It is, therefore, very possible that these two things are the very reason Abramovich might want to appoint Benitez – a Champions League trophy and Fernando Torres’ return to the peak of his form.

José Mourinho

Unlike Benitez, “The Special One” is by far the fans’ and the media’s favourite. Currently managing La Liga leaders Real Madrid, there has been much speculation about a return to the Premier League. Mourinho had an extremely successful career at Chelsea and his controversial arrogance and ego was loved by the fans, and was reflected in Chelsea’s 64 consecutive home league matches without a defeat. Mourinho left the club unexpectedly in 2007 after disagreements with Abramovich, but many hope the Russian might just be man enough to forgive and forget for the good of the club. After leaving Stamford Bridge, the Portuguese manager took over Italian side Inter Milan and won four trophies in two seasons including the UEFA Champions League, and two Serie A titles. Many claim he is the best at what he does, but will he return to the place he was first called “The Special One”?

Pep Guardiola

Currently managing Catalan giants Barcelona, Guardiola has hinted at a move to the Premier League and there are many clubs that want him. The Blaugrana legend has a great record as manager of the Catalan side, losing only nineteen matches in his four-year career as boss of La Liga’s champions. He has also led Barcelona to victory in two FIFA Club World Cup finals, and has won the Spanish league three years in a row, however Barcelona are currently sitting in second place behind Mourinho’s Real Madrid. Although the Spaniard has denied the rumours concerning a move to west London, he could very well rethink his options if his side do not get past the resilient men in blue in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final. After suffering his first defeat at home in 54 consecutive matches, who knows what could happen at Camp Nou?

Roberto Di Matteo

Di Matteo, a Chelsea legend, has done a great job at the club since the departure of AVB, seeing them into the FA Cup final and more importantly the UEFA Champions League semi-final against old rivals Barcelona and beating them in a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge. After the 5-1 slaughtering of Spurs in the semi-final of the FA Cup at Wembley, Di Matteo could very well claim some silverware, as the Reds of Merseyside – who Chelsea will face in the FA Cup final – have experienced a dramatic drop in form over the past months. Although Abramovich will want a big name in, Di Matteo’s chances of full-time management could well depend on the upcoming results in the FA Cup final and the UEFA Champions League semi-final.

Laurent Blanc

A footballing legend capping 627 appearances at nine different clubs – including Barcelona, Marseille, Inter Milan, and Manchester United. Presently, Blanc is the manager of France and will be leading the national team into Euro 2012 this year. The 46-year-old will be hoping to lead his side to victory with a particularly strong starting XI, including Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery and Real Madrid hitman Karim Benzema. Although not being a favourite for the Chelsea job, Blanc could very well be suited for position, proving just how good a club manager he can be after a wonderful season at Bordeaux, winning Ligue 1 in the 2008-09 season. His future at Les Bleus is still unclear, as he is yet to sign a contract extension also.

By Jacob Tucker

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

Champions League preview: Chelsea, Inter, Bayern and Real Madrid with work to do

The Champions League quarter final contestants will be decided this week, as the final four fixtures of the round of 16 take place on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. After stellar performances from the underdogs in the respective first legs, four favourites have work to do to make the last eight.

Chelsea vs Napoli

Since the 3-1 first leg defeat to an in-form Napoli in Italy, Chelsea have sacked Andre Villas Boas and will need to up their game if they are to stand a chance of progression; despite domestic wins of late, Walter Mazzarri’s men will pose a more stern test. The hosts need an attacking outlook, but with Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik ready to pounce, John Terry’s role at the back is equally as important as the team’s attackers. Napoli have goals in them, but are also susceptible at the back; this was showcased in their 6-3 win over Cagliari on Friday night. Away goals could decide this tie.

Real Madrid vs CSKA Moscow

Real Madrid were expected to walk all over CSKA in the first leg, but the Russians put up an ardent fight to get a 1-1 draw at the Luzhniki through an injury-time equaliser. Jose Mourinho’s men are still in a dominant position to progress, with Cristiano Ronaldo in superb goal-scoring form; the Portugal international has 45 goals already in all competitions this term. The travelling support will pin their hopes on promising attacking duo Alan Dzagoev and Seydou Doumbia, but anything other than Madrid progression would be a massive shock.

Inter vs Marseille

Marseille take a slender 1-0 advantage to the San Siro on Tuesday, after a last-gasp Andre Ayew header gave the French side victory at the Stade Velodrome in the first leg. Claudio Ranieri has come under increasing pressure due to domestic inconsistency, and if Inter are eliminated the head coach will fear for his future. Didier Deschamps’ men are not in good form either however, and have lost all four Ligue 1 games since beating Inter in February. The midfield battle will be key to deciding the fixture and should be a pulsating watch, as Alou Diarra and Morgan Amalfitano face Esteban Cambiasso and Wesley Sneijder.

Bayern Munich vs Basel

Bayern have high hopes for this season’s Champions League as the final will be held at the Allianz Arena, however Jupp Heynckes’ men have stuttered of late and are 1-0 down against Basel after the first leg. The Bavarian giants did have ideal preparation for the second leg by beating Hoffenheim 7-1 on Saturday, with Mario Gomez grabbing a hat-trick. The Swiss champions will look to their excellent showing at Old Trafford earlier in the season as motivation, with Bayern-bound Xherdan Shaqiri the visitors’ fulcrum of attack.

With AC Milan, Barcelona, APOEL and Benfica already in the quarters, four close games will decide the remaining participants. Madrid should overcome CSKA, whilst Chelsea will most likely be eliminated by a classy Napoli outfit. Marseille have the quality to compound Inter’s misery and Bayern should fight back to knock out Basel – just.

Published – Soccerlens

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