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Early wins provide Liverpool with an air of hope

With just two games gone, Liverpool find themselves in relatively unchartered territory – the top four. A position that will be resoundingly welcome to fans that have grown all too used to being mere onlookers to those around them enjoying the thrill of the Champions League.

Cynics will understandably be quick to roll out the old adage of ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint’ and that it is still early days. This is, indeed, worthy of note. Even with this impressive start, many – including the majority of Liverpool fans – won’t be too surprised to see the Reds miss out on that elusive fourth spot again come May. Those around them have quality that Liverpool can, on their day, certainly match – especially with the return of a certain number 7 – yet the depth of the Liverpool squad is criminally lacking in comparison to Champions League-spot rivals Spurs.

Early days, then, it certainly is, though most Liverpool fans by this point in recent seasons would have already lost any of the hope that pre-season perennially provides. The six points Liverpool have amassed in the last two games took two months last season, with their first win coming on September 29th.

Daniel Sturridge

Many will argue that Liverpool’s form is fairly irrelevant at such an early stage yet it is the fact that this early success has come at this stage that has left fans relieved and hopeful. Too many times have Liverpool looked back at games they could and should have won and rued the difference it made to the end-of-season standings. Too many recent domestic seasons have ended before they’ve even had a chance to start; that the Anfield club haven’t allowed that to happen this term is vital and will be welcomed with open arms by fans. If success isn’t on the bill then at least keep the fans thrilled and engaged until closing time. A season ending in March is far worse than one ending unsuccessfully in May.

Two 1-0 wins are perhaps not going to grab the headlines but they are games that Liverpool would have perhaps drawn or even lost last season, and it would take even the most stubborn of opposing fans to not see the signs of improvement. Liverpool fans checking the scores at Scores.co.uk will be pleasantly surprised by their positive start to the season as they are notorious slow starters.

Reds manager Brendan Rodgers must ensure that these improvements continue, as more are needed – be they filling gaps in the squad with new signings or ruthlessly finishing off teams when the chance arises. Losing out on the likes of Willian and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will hurt a club like Liverpool. History, stature and a global fanbase isn’t enough for players when Champions League football isn’t part of the package and at Liverpool, Champions League football should and must be included if they are to continue improving and maintain these elements that do, at times, attract the biggest names.

Two wins in two to begin the season has been greeted with justifiable joy around Anfield, though fans know it must continue and they will be hoping that, come this time next season, a flurry of similar wins will come with an air of expectation rather than a pleasant surprise.

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Arsenal vs Bayern Munich: Home leg crucial for the Gunners

The Champions League returns this week with the second quartet of last 16 fixtures; one of the standout games must be Arsenal’s match-up with Bayern Munich. The Germans are looking ominous domestically and on the continent, whereas the Gunners’ inconsistency is blighting their season. Arsenal go into the tie as underdogs but should be by no means written off.

Much has been made of Arsenal’s toiling in the Premier League, with a similarly slow start to the campaign that frustrated Arsene Wenger last season. The north London side have rarely been in the top four so far in 2012-13, and currently sit four points adrift of rivals Spurs in the final Champions League qualification berth.

A shock 1-0 home defeat to Championship side Blackburn made the headlines for all the wrong reasons for the Emirates faithful at the weekend, and resulted in Arsenal’s elimination from the FA Cup. Given that Arsenal beat Rovers 7-1 in the corresponding fixture in the Premier League last season, alarm bells are ringing.

Arsene Wenger

However, despite this the Gunners’ form has been showing some signs that improvement could be just around the corner, with wins over West Ham, Stoke, Swansea and Sunderland since the turn of the year. Despite this, Wenger will not be enamored with his side’s results against the bigger teams. The Gunners have picked up only one point from their last meetings with Manchester United, City, Liverpool and Chelsea.

For Arsenal to stand a chance in the tie against Bayern a big first leg performance in England is needed on Tuesday night. If Wenger’s men can take a lead to the Allianz Arena, no matter how small, it could well be telling. However it calls for 90 minutes of concentration and a strong performance against a top side.

Bayern have been stung by Borussia Dortmund’s dominance domestically over the last two seasons and seemingly have a point to prove after they lost out in the final of the Champions League last season to Chelsea. Jupp Heynckes’ men eased through their group this time round and their form in the Bundesliga has been intimidating of late; they have won their last five games, scoring 13 goals and conceding none. Included in this was a 4-0 victory over Schalke, a side that outplayed and beat Arsenal in the Champions League group stages.

With the attacking threat of Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Mario Gomez and others, Bayern are rightly favourites. However, if Arsenal can come out of the blocks quickly in the home leg and take the game to their opponents a first leg result is there for the taking.

Didier Drogba 2011-2012: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Didier Drogba has finished his Chelsea career on a high after their historic victory in the Champions League final against Bavarian giants Bayern Munich. However, as well as experiencing extreme highs, the African legend’s last season with the Blues has also seen its lows.

The AVB regime

Just a few games into the 2011-12 season you could already see that the arrival of Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas had caused an upset amongst the old guard at Chelsea. His micromanagement of the west London outfit was heavily criticised; there were even reports that he would stand and watch players who were coming in late at the Blues’ training ground in Cobham. Along with this, his handling of the players came under the microscope after failing to restore £50m Fernando Torres to his former self, and leaving Chelsea legend, Frank Lampard, out of the starting line-up on numerous occasions.

Many will see Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Championship side, Birmingham City, as one of the biggest turning points in AVB’s sacking. After not only failing to beat Chris Hughton’s side on their own turf, a media uproar was caused by a supposed Didier Drogba half-time team talk, that Villas-Boas rashly denied. As well as this, the 3-1 loss at the hands of Napoli, and a 1-0 defeat to mediocre West Bromwich Albion, tipped the balances and forced Roman Abramovich to make the bold and brave decision that paid off massively.

The Di Matteo turn-around

When Andre Villas-Boas’ assistant manager, Roberto Di Matteo, was announced as caretaker for the rest of the season, no one would have thought that they would be holding the Champions League trophy, for the first time in their history, a few months later. The former Chelsea midfielder started off by picking up from where his ex-colleague left off, with a 2-0 away win over Birmingham City in the FA Cup. Almost a week later, Robbie was in charge of turning around a 3-1 deficit against Napoli in the last sixteen of the Champions League, and he delivered with an astonishing 4-1 home win, including an opening goal from Didier Drogba.

The re-ignition of the golden oldies and the new-found harmony in the dressing room was crucial to the 41 year-old Italian’s success and led him on to do an unprecedented double, winning both the FA Cup, with a 2-1 defeat of Liverpool in the final, and the Champions League, after getting through both Barcelona and Bayern Munich – yet again the Ivorian talisman getting on the score sheet for each of those games.

Drogba’s impact

Forever will Didier Drogba be known as the best performer on the big stage after scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final against Liverpool and heading in an 88th minute equaliser in the Champions League Final, not to mention finishing the game with the winning penalty. At the age of 34-years-old, there is no doubt the African powerhouse is still a magnificent player and many will say he is the best in the world at what he does. In both the Champions League semi-final and the final, Chelsea were playing with their backs against the wall, and if there is one man you want to boot it up the field to and bring it down under control, it is Didier Drogba.

The ‘nine goals in nine cup finals’ hero will always be remembered as a Chelsea legend, and his humble exit will be have a bittersweet effect on the fans, who will be somewhat disappointed he was not offered a new contract. For many supporters, it is an end that has come too soon and there is no doubt that fans will be devastated that he’s going, but the monumental symbolism of his last kick of the ball for the Blues will stay in the hearts of Chelsea fans forever.

By Jacob Tucker

Champions League Final: Why Chelsea can upset Bayern Munich

It has been quite the Champions League campaign this season, with a number of shocks, surprises and upsets, none more so than the fact that Chelsea ousted Barcelona in the semi-finals to set up a final against Bayern Munich. With the last fixture taking place at Die Roten’s Allianz Arena home, the Bundesliga giants will be favourites, but the Blues should not be written off; here’s why:

Roberto Di Matteo and recent resurgence

The Chelsea side that was comprehensively beaten 3-1 in San Paolo by Napoli earlier this campaign, Andre Villas-Boas’ last European fixture in charge, looks like a different team to the current crop. Under interim boss Roberto Di Matteo the Blues have only lost one game in their last 17, with the playing squad seemingly rejuvenated under the former Chelsea midfielder. Despite being favourites, Bayern will have to work hard to overcome a team in form.

A last hurray for the old guard

With the signing of Marko Marin announced for next term, Chelsea are expected to bring in a host of younger players this summer to inject a fresh feel into their squad. This may well mean the end for a number of the established players that have been the basis of the Stamford Bridge side over the last five years. The likes of Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and even Frank Lampard may well make an exit from west London at the end of the campaign, making them more motivated to end on a high.

Bayern’s questionable defence

Although the Bavarian side’s rearguard has improved since last season, there are still question marks over their central defenders. Jerome Boateng has been used in the middle of the defence despite playing the majority of his football on the flanks, whilst Holger Badstuber is suspended for the game against the Blues. The Premier League side will be aware of this and look to attack the heart of the hosts.

Didier Drogba

Given the unconvincing nature of Bayern’s backline, Didier Drogba will look to use his considerable ability and experience to take full advantage. The Ivory Coast international looks to be one of the players certain to leave Stamford Bridge in the summer, as an expiring contract has not shown any signs of being renewed. The African marksman scored the winner against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge and in the FA Cup final, and will be the west London club’s main attacking weapon in Germany.

Published – Bleacher Report

Juventus losses highlight importance of Champions League

Italian club Juventus has this week announced that the club has made a 39.5m Euros (£24.3m) loss in the first half of the 2010/11 season, with further losses expected for the remainder of the campaign; one reason for this deficit is the club’s absence from this year’s Champions League. The Champions League has become a cash cow that funds the participating clubs financial drive for success, allowing them to buy new players and pay higher wages, whilst still being able to balance the books. But are the so called bigger clubs depending too much on Champions League money, and what happens to the profit and loss account when they fail to qualify for the competition?

Juventus have had expenditure and factors that could explain the drop in financial performance other than their seventh place finish in 2009/2010; they have invested in a new stadium and a spokesman for the club complained of restructuring of the domestic television rights money as contributing factors to the club’s 29% drop in revenue from 125m Euros to 88.8m Euros. However the spokesman also identified failure to qualify for Europe’s top club competition as a reason for financial depression.

“Economic trends in the 2010/11 financial year were negatively influenced by the club’s failure to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, implying lower revenues from European competitions. Accordingly, on the basis of the information currently available and in the absence of any extraordinary events, the 2010/11 financial year is expected to close with a significant loss”, a club spokesman revealed.

So how much exactly is qualification and progression in the Champions League worth? For the winners, the pride of being Europe’s elite is matched in the board room by the prize money of almost 35m Euros, and this is before ticket revenues and increased merchandise sales that are common when a team is doing well, not to mentioned the television rights money split between competitors of the tournament. Just getting into the group stages is very lucrative, and this extra income does much to make a club’s finances look a lot more attractive.

Looking closer to home, the so called ‘Big Four’ of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have dominated English football for the last ten years, and have been the qualifiers to the Champions League on more occasions than not; but last season Liverpool were surpassed  by Tottenham and missed out on the financial spoils of finishing in the top four. Subsequently, Liverpool did not have the same appeal to players without the promise of Champions League football, and didn’t have the cushion of knowing that vast sums of money would be coming in through their participation in the tournament this season. This has led to another poor season for The Reds, the sale of their prize asset Fernando Torres and what will be another year without Champions League football in the 2011/2012 season. In Deloitte’s annual review of finance, Liverpool dropped a place from seventh to eighth in Europe’s rich list, and the club will have to now budget for next season without the multi-millions of Champions League income again, which can turn into a spiral that leads to poorer performance on the field because of lack of resources available to strengthen the squad off it.

If Liverpool were to try to spend what they would if they were in the Champions League regardless of their absence, they are threatening the club’s financial security and future; one only has to look at the fall of Leeds United from a Champions League semi-final and a third place Premiership finish, to relegation to the third tier of English football in the form of League 1 after Peter Risdale had overspent his hand and the club relied on Champions League funds that did not come when they failed to qualify for the tournament in 2002.

So to conclude, Champions League money plays a massive part in the leading clubs financial well-being and subsequent success on the pitch, and failure to qualify for the competition damages the teams bank balance and on-field resources. However in the modern day of multi-million investors creating fantasy football, if you spend over and beyond your means, you could end up with bankruptcy and massive debts. With Juventus currently sitting in seventh place in Serie A after a 2-0 home defeat to Bologna, things are not looking bright for next season’s playing or financial years either, and not only Juventus but all club’s aiming to qualify and play in the Champions League face a chicken and egg situation; you can’t qualify for the Champions League without spending big, and you can’t spend big (sensibly) without qualification for the Champions League.

Published – http://www.footballeconomy.com/content/juventus-losses-highlight-importance-champions-league

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