Bayern Munich: The German giant rising from its slumber

On Wednesday evening, a team who have been all-but-invincible since August won arguably their biggest game of the season.

Despite being 17 points clear in the Bundesliga, qualifying from their Champions League group at a canter and already with one foot in the quarter-finals, it was a German Cup match against Borussia Dortmund that ended any doubt that Bayern Munich are, once again, back to their best.

The 1-0 win, courtesy of a first-half strike by Arjen Robben, finally ended Bayern’s three-year wait for a victory against the side who, in recent times, have replaced them as the top team in German football.

Arjen Robben celebrates against Borussia Dortmund

While Dortmund ended last season with a second successive league title, Bayern suffered a hat-trick of near-misses, finishing runners-up in the league, losing to Chelsea in Europe and being humiliated 5-2 by Dortmund in the German Cup final.

So to heal old wounds, it was the perfect competition to finally seal the win that ends an unwanted statistic and sees them one step closer to a potential double of their own.

Much has been said about Pep Guardiola’s imminent arrival at the Allianz Arena.  Hyperbole has it that he will single-handedly transform the Bundesliga into football’s hottest destination, and his new team into Barcelona Mark II.  But the truth is Bayern do not require transformation.

Under current manager Jupp Heynckes, they are on course for their most successful season in years. And there should be no doubt that the frustration of ending last year trophyless, particularly in the Champions League, makes them a very dangerous proposition.

In fact, events at Camp Nou pending, the Germans could go into the quarter-finals clear of two of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United.
Come next season, Guardiola could be asked to continue, rather than reintroduce, success; because there is a very real chance that his new team could be the first German side to win the perfect treble, ending their three-year wait for a trophy in some style.

Having finally ended the hoodoo of Dortmund’s domestic and personal dominance, their fans may just see the club’s outstanding success of the mid-70s as a benchmark if not to be matched then certainly attempted.


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.

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

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.


Write off Barcelona at your peril: The European champions show their worth at the Santiago Bernabeu

Saturday’s El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid lived up to all expectations; there was passion, spell-bounding skill and goals – the only thing missing was the heavily anticipated Madrid victory. Pep Guardiola’s European champions are not ready to hand over the Primera Division crown to their bitter rivals just yet, as an Alexis Sanchez strike, a Marcelo own goal and a Cesc Fabregas header gave the Catalans a deserved 3-1 victory.

With Jose Mourinho’s men top of the Spanish top flight by three points having played a game less and winning their last 15 fixtures in all competitions in menacing fashion, the stage was set for a change in power in the country and the continent. When Victor Valdes inexplicably gave possession away within the first minute and Karim Benzema converted from close range to give Los Blancos a 1-0 lead after 22 seconds, Madrid were ready to overtake their age-old rivals. However, this Barcelona team, as so many times in the last three years, collected themselves and showed world football just why they are the best club team on the planet.

After a mesmerising run and through-ball by Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez displayed a clinical finish under pressure to level things up. Madrid were rocked and needed half time. The second half saw the Blaugrana emerge from the tunnel as the team we have all come to love, applaud and fear, and complete dominance in the second half resulted in a comfortable victory.

Barca’s second goal did have a touch of fortune as Xavi’s shot deflected off Marcelo and the post to give the visitors the lead. Despite this, Barcelona were simply too good for their star-studded opponents in the second period, and their familiar brand of possession football had the Madristas chasing the ball like a bunch of schoolboys. The killer blow came as a sweeping counter attack resulted in Dani Alves delivering an inch-perfect cross for Fabregas to head home, and condemn the home team to defeat.

Messi was mercurial and at the heart of everything in the Camp Nou side’s attack, linking up with his midfield confidants Xavi and Andres Iniesta to blistering effect, and looking almost unstoppable every time he received the ball to feet. Pep Guardiola made a brave decision to select Sanchez for his first Clasico ahead of established European champion David Villa, but his decision proved to be a masterclass, as the Chile international forward hounded and plagued the home defence throughout. At the back Carles Puyol displayed as good a defensive performance as has been seen in recent times, as he, at times single-handedly, snuffed out everything Madrid had to throw at Barca.

With Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo up for this year’s Ballon d’Or, the 90 minutes in the Spanish capital should put any doubters over who the winner should be to bed. The Portuguese attacker missed two glaring opportunities and proved largely ineffectual throughout, whilst the Argentine gave a masterclass in a highly-pressurised environment to once more prove his mantle as the best footballer on this planet.

With Iniesta and Messi still attacking in the dying moments of the clash, Madrid were lucky to escape with only a two-goal deficit, as Barca could and probably should have scored more than their three goals. The teams were worlds apart in the second half; and despite all the hype surrounding the likes of Angel di Maria, Mesut Ozil and Ronaldo, the trio were completely and utterly toothless. Barca’s almost telepathic understanding between their midfield players, ability to completely dominate possession and pass their opponents to submission shows that the European champions should not be questioned; they are still at their unrelenting best.

If Madrid win their game in hand they will still lead La Liga by three points, but Mourinho and his men will be demoralised by the nature of their thorough defeat. Madrid can still win the Spanish top flight this season, but one thing has been proven in their defeat on Saturday; Barcelona are still Europe’s top team and will take some beating this term.

Published –

El Clasico preview – Real Madrid vs Barcelona: The visitors’ champions status to be tested at the Santiago Bernabeu

The first El Clasico of the 2011-12 season sees Barcelona’s Spanish dominance over the last three seasons set to be thoroughly challenged by Real Madrid. The quality, passion and electric atmosphere of a contest between Spain’s top two teams will be present as always when the duo meet, but this fixture has the potential to swing the balance of power in the country and the continent. Barcelona have been untouchable, mesmerizing and victorious at home and abroad over the last three years, but are showing signs of inconsistency and have not been at their menacing best this term, whilst Madrid are top of the standings and ready to wrestle the crown back from their bitter rivals. A mouth-watering match in the offing, football doesn’t get much better anywhere in the world than this.

The hosts are looking as dangerous and on-form as a Madrid team have over the last ten years, and sit top of La Liga with 12 wins from 14 games; Los Blancos are three points ahead of Barca and have played a game less. A 3-0 win over Ajax at the Amsterdam Arena on Wednesday night made it a club record 15 victories in a row for the Santiago Bernabeu giants, and Jose Mourinho’s men go into the game more prepared, motivated and ready than in any Clasico fixture in the recent memory. The Portuguese coach’s winning mentality and inability to accept second best has rubbed off on his team, as ‘The Special One’ looks to replicate his dominant track record with Porto, Chelsea and Inter in the Spanish capital.

Mourinho’s countryman Cristiano Ronaldo will continue his personal battle with Lionel Messi on Saturday, as the debate to whom the best footballer on the planet is rages on. Both players are in the offing for the 2011 Ballon d’Or, and the ex-Manchester United attacker will look to stake his claim by leading the hosts to victory. Midfield lynchpin Xabi Alonso will return from suspension in a massive boost for the home team, whilst Mourinho has a tough decision to make in deciding whether to go for the combative Lassana Diarra alongside the Spain international, or the more creative and attacking minded Mesut Ozil. If Madrid win they will increase their lead at the top of the Primera Division to six points with a game in hand, and receive a massive boost going into the new year.

With three consecutive La Liga titles and two Champions League triumphs in three years, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team will go down in history as one of the greats. However, Guardiola’s genius is set to best tested, as the game on Saturday is arguably the biggest challenge the former midfielder has faced in his coaching career to date. With a world-class opponent and a hostile reception guaranteed, Barcelona will need to be at their best to leave the Spanish capital with three points. With Madrid’s current ruthless streak, the Blaugrana will know that they can ill-afford to let their age-old rivals get too far ahead in the race for the title, as even though it is early in the season they may not be caught.

Despite drawing more games than they would like this season, Barcelona have the same personnel and winning mentality that has made them deserved champions over recent campaigns. Madrid will need to breach the tightest rearguard in the Spanish top flight; Barca have only conceded seven goals in 15 La Liga games this season, and will be boosted by the inclusion of pivotal centre back Gerard Pique. The usual midfield suspects such as Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and the third Ballon d’Or contender Xavi, will look to dominate possession and starve their amped-up opponents of the ball, whilst feeding their sprightly forward line. Guardiola has a decision to make in terms of whether to play 2010-11 mainstay David Villa or exciting summer signing Alexis Sanchez, whilst all eyes, as usual will be on Lionel Messi.

Madrid go into the game as slight favourites, but small margins will settle what should be a scintillating game of football. Barcelona will be asked to prove their mantle of champions in the most daunting environment, whilst Real Madrid have to state their case that they are ready to eclipse a team of a generation in the form of their most bitter rivals.


Barcelona to add Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas to their ranks – but where will they play?

Barcelona have been Europe’s best side for a number of seasons and showcased total football in winning their third consecutive La Liga title and the Champions League crown in 2010-11. With the transfer window well and truly open, the Catalan side have signed Alexis Sanchez from Udinese for €37.5 million and are in negotiations with Arsenal over the return of Cesc Fabregas to Catalunya. The new faces are of top quality, no doubt, but with the dream team already at Pep Guardiola’s beaconing, will the new men get into the team?

Sanchez is fresh from a Copa America campaign with Chile, and the 22-year-old suitably impressed once-more, showing trickery, speed and great ball control to standout as one of the brightest lights in the tournament. Internationally, he Tocopilla born man is used as a second striker alongside Humberto Suazo; he tends to drop deep to pick up the ball, and also offers a ball over the top with his speed. For Udinese, Sanchez found himself in more of a right winger role, with licence to support main striker Antonio Di Natale, but starting from wide.

The European champions play a 4-3-3 formation, with Lionel Messi supported by David Villa and Pedro last season. It looks evident that the new South American signing will be in direct competition with La Masia graduate Pedro for a starting berth, but this is by no means a given. The 24-year-old Spanish international has made a real impact since entering the first team fray in 2008, and scored valuable goals last season, including in the Champions League semi-finals and final. He has recently just signed a new contract at the club with a €150 million buyout, giving you an idea of his worth to Pep Guardiola.

Fabregas has not yet signed for the Blaugrana, but a deal looks set to be completed, as the player wants to leave and Barca are closing in on the Emirates’ club’s asking price. The 24-year-old had a dip in form last term, and if he does return to the side he started his career with, he will have to be at his best to commandeer a place in the side.

In the 4-3-3 system, one holding player (Sergio Busquets) plays in front of the defence, with Xavi and Andres Iniesta playing ahead of him and orchestrating the game. This Spanish international trio have their play down to a fine art, and are the reason that the Catalans boss almost every match they play; they are the fulcrum of the team.

As good as the Arsenal man is, he, nor anyone in world football, is going to take Xavi or Iniesta’s place in the Barcelona starting line-up. When they are fit and available they are automatic selections, and are as important to the Barca team as Lionel Messi. Busquets has more of a battling quality than his two more creative team-mates and the potential new arrival, and protects the Barcelona centre-halves with the utmost diligence.

If Fabregas is to get a start for Barcelona, one would think it would be in place of Busquets, and in a more deep lying role than he is accustomed to at Arsenal. It would also mean that he would be responsible for the winning of the ball and anchoring of the midfield, something he has not been accustomed to doing in England. Does the new man really want to be the one to try to shackle Cristiano Ronaldo? And is he the man to do it?

Such is life; if you want to join the best team in the world, even for almost €40 million, you are not guaranteed a place in the team, as the players who are already in the position you want to play in are worth that and more.

Published –

Factfile: 2011 Champions League Final

Manchester United and Barcelona meet at Wembley on Saturday to battle it out for the mantle of the best side in European club football. Dominant in their domestic leagues, sides laden with international superstars and a track record of success in the competition, the pair have been at the pinnacle for the last decade. A scintillating tie awaits; here are the key statistics that may give an insight into the eventual winners.

Previous Meetings

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have only beaten the Catalans once in the tournament’s history, a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford in the semi final second leg in the English club’s triumphant 2007/08 campaign. The Spanish side can boast two wins over the Manchester club, with a 4-0 demolition at the Camp Nou in the group stages of the 1994/95 season being complimented by their 2-0 victory in the final in Rome two years ago. The results in full:

  • 2008/09 Final: FCB 2-0 MU
  • 2007/08 Semifinal: FCB 0-0 MU, MU 1-0 FCB
  • 1998/99 Group D: MU 3-3 FCB, FCB 3-3 MU
  • 1994/95 Group A: MU 2-2 FCB, FCB 4-0 MU

Performance this season

Both sides have identical records in their respective group stages; four wins and two draws from six games. United are unbeaten in their journey to the final, with Barca only suffering defeat at the hands of Arsenal, 2-1 at the Emirates in the last 16. The Spaniards have significantly outscored Saturday’s opponents, by nine goals, but United have a stingier defence, only letting in four goals all season.

  • Barcelona – played 12, won 8, drawn 3, lost 1, goals scored 27, goals conceded 8
  • Man United – played 12, won 9, drawn 3, lost 0, goals scored 18, goals conceded 4

Top Scorers this season

The Blaugrana have the tournament top goalscorer in the form of Lionel Messi in their ranks, who has bagged 11 goals in 12 games, three more than closest rivals Samuel Eto’o, Mario Gomez and Cleo, who managed 8 strikes each before their sides were eliminated. United’s top goalscorer is Mexican Javier ‘Chicarito’ Hernandez, who has found the back of the net four times in eight games.

  • Barcelona – Lionel Messi – 12 games, 11 goals, 957 minutes played
  • Man United – Javier Hernandez – 8 games, 4 goals, 460 minutes played.

Both Ryan Giggs and Andres Iniesta have four assists in this season’s tournament, two behind this campaign’s top provider Mesut Ozil, who has set up six Real Madrid goals.

All time Top Scorers

In the competition history, the Argentinian is Barcelona’s all time top scorer, whilst United’s Giggs is equal with Denis Law in second place as the English side’s all time top European goalgetter

  • Barcelona all time top European goalscorers – 1. Messi (36, 2004-present) 2. Rivaldo (25, 1997-2002) 3. Patrick Kluivert (21, 1998-2004)
  • Man United all time top European goalscorers – 1. Ruud van Nistelrooy (38, 2001-2006) 2. Denis Law (28, 1962-1973) 3. Ryan Giggs (28, 1991-present)


Giggs also tops the list of European appearances amongst the current crop of players, with 139 outings for the Reds in Europe, ten more than Paul Scholes and four behind competition all-time leader Raul. Barcelona’s most experienced player in Europe is Xavi, with 129 games.

  • Barcelona – 1. Xavi (129 games), 2. Carles Puyol (114 games), 3. Victor Valdes (86 games)
  • Man United – 1. Ryan Giggs (139 games), 2. Paul Scholes (129 games), 3. Gary Neville (117 games)

From the 2008/09 final, Barcelona have seven of the starting XI available to feature in this final, and eleven of the match day squad still at the club. United have ten of the same starting line-up from the 2-0 defeat two seasons back, with an impressive 16 of the 18 man matchday squad still at the club.

Going all the way back to the 1994/95 season meetings between the sides, Giggs and Barca coach Pep Guardiola both featured in both games.

European Honours

Both clubs have won the tournament on three occasions, but stand considerably behind all time top tournament victors Real Madrid, who have prevailed on nine occasions. The Catalans have been beaten in the final more times, with United’s sole final defeat against Barcelona two seasons ago.

Winners – 1991/92, 2005/06, 2008/09
Runners Up – 1960/61, 1985/86, 1993/94

Man United
Winners – 1967/68, 1998/99, 2007/08
Runners Up – 2008/09

Prize Money and Financial Reward

This year’s winners will receive €9 million, with €5.6 million for the runners-up. UEFA pay the clubs by progression through each stage, €800,000 for a win and €400,000 for a draw. The total financial reward will be made up of performance-related payments, money from the television market pool and matchday revenue.

Barcelona will make €55.5m if they triumph at Wembley; €29.7m for their results and participation in the tournament and €25.8 from TV rights.

United are in line to receive €56.3m if they beat Barcelona in the final; €30.5m from UEFA for the games they have played and their performances and €25.8 from TV rights.

Financial Backing

In the 2011 Forbes Richlist, Manchester United top the list of wealthiest clubs in world football, whilst Barcelona are back in fifth, behind Real Madrid, Arsenal and Bayern Munich. The Catalans have a higher revenue than the English side however – as it is an American study all figures are in US dollars

  • Manchester United – Value $1,864 million, 2% increase on last year, $428 million revenue
  • Barcelona – Value $975 million, 2% decrease on last year, $488 million revenue

In terms of redistributing this wealth back to the players, Barcelona pay their stars considerably more than United, with the La Liga champions the highest paying employers in world football; the Premier League champions are back in 8th in the global game.

  • Barcelona – Average Weekly Salary per player – $152,130
  • Man United – Average Weekly Salary per player – $98,196

So there you have it, both sides are global leaders both on and off the pitch which should make for a mouth watering finale. A potent Spanish attack against a regimented English defence, a midfield battle between some the tournaments most experienced players and both sides looking for a double; roll on Saturday.

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2010/2011 Champions League in Quotes

This season’s Champions League has given us some memorable games, exciting and free flowing football and a mouth watering final between Manchester United and Barcelona to look forward to on May 28th. Inspired by the Barcelona vs Real Madrid semi-final sparking a war of words between the side’s coaches, here is a look back at the best soundbites from this season’s competition.

Barcelona vs Real Madrid

“Next year they might as well give the cup directly to Barcelona. The team is sad, but we knew it was an uphill battle. The name of the match is Mission Impossible IV. Once again it was the referee that didn’t allow us to dictate the outcome. We knew we could beat Barca, but the referee didn’t let us.” – Cristiano Ronaldo after the second leg defeat

“Why does this happen? Barcelona are a fantastic team. I don’t understand why Pepe was sent off. It paved the way for Barcelona to finish the tie. I said nothing to the referee. I just laughed and applauded his decision without saying anything. I’d rather say no more because if I tell him and UEFA what I really think my career would end here and now.” – Jose Mourinho after the first leg defeat to Barca.

” He is the f—— chief, the f—— boss of the press room” – Pep Guardiola (on Jose Mourinho) ahead of the tie.

Arsenal vs Barcelona

“I could understand the referee’s decision if there was four, five, six seconds in between and you make a chip or something, but one second from his whistle to my shot is a joke. But he’s been bad all evening, he’s been a joke all evening, whistling against us, I don’t know why he’s here tonight, I think he’s a joke.” – Robin van Persie (after being sent off for kicking the ball away)

“I am still convinced that in the second half they weakened a lot and that at 1-1 if it had stayed at 11-11 we would have won this tie tonight.” – Arsene Wenger after defeat to Barcelona.

Inter vs Tottenham

”Everyone is so scared of Bale. Maicon is the best right-back in the world. But Gareth killed him.” – Rafael van der Vaart after the 3-1 Spurs win at White Hart Lane

”Gareth was brilliant but the whole team was brilliant – all of them. We outplayed Inter. We were much the better team from start to finish. It was an outstanding performance, one of the greatest nights the fans have seen at White Hart Lane.” – Harry Redknapp after 3-1 home win over Inter

“Me going to Barcelona? Yes, I really hope that, but only as a Tottenham player in the next round of the Champions League.” Gareth Bale after the Inter win.

Inter vs Schalke

“The chat I had with Leonardo in the dressing room confirmed that he is a serious person; I’m glad we had it and I think he is too. “My estimation of Leonardo hasn’t changed. For me nothing has changed because I know how cruel football can be and you have to keep going without losing heart.” – Inter president Massimo Moratti following Inter’s 5-2 defeat against Schalke

There is bitterness and it is hard to digest. We got into difficulty in the vital moments. I really believed in it for sure because we played well in the first half, but we did not have any chances to score goals.” – Leonardo after Inter’s elimination.

Chelsea vs Manchester United

“The Ramires one was clear.  I didn‘t see the other one. I said to him [the referee] it should have been a penalty.” – Carlo Ancelotti after Chelsea were denied a penalty in the first leg against Man Utd.

“I put Fernando in the team because his skills and ability could be good for us. I thought for a lot of time to take this decision whether to start with Fernando for this kind of game.” – Carlo Ancelotti defends starting with Fernando Torres over Didier Drogba in the second leg.

“I think we played very, very well against a very, very good team. Chelsea played a big part in that game today and there were moments after they had gone down to ten men in the second half and still had a go so credit to them, but I thought we were the better team on the night.” – Sir Alex Ferguson after the second leg win over Chelsea.

Milan vs Tottenham

“Over two legs Tottenham had one shot on goal and scored. The best team doesn’t always win.” Zlatan Ibrahomovic after defeat to Spurs.

“I enjoyed the occasion, but no, I couldn’t say I enjoyed the 90 minutes. You’re looking at that clock and you want it to go and that 90 minutes to be up. It’s a great achievement for this club being in the last eight of the Champions League, it’s amazing what the players have done and if people can’t appreciate and enjoy this tonight then they shouldn’t be involved in football, it’s fantastic for everybody.” Harry Redknapp after the second leg against AC Milan.

And finally….

“Have you seen the last six World Cups? It is better going to the dentist I suppose… The important thing is the Champions League has proved itself since its inception. It is better than the World Cup. It is unbelievable. There are some fantastic games. Yes, you have to get through the group stages before you get to the really exciting stage but it is a fantastic tournament.” – Sir Alex Ferguson is a big fan of the Champions League

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