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An Intriguing Champions League Draw For English Teams

An Intriguing Champions League Draw For English Teams


The draw for the Champions League first knockout round was made on Monday morning and with it brought mixed fortunes for the English clubs left in the competition: Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.

Image Courtesy of patoborrego,

Image Courtesy of patoborrego,

PSG vs Chelsea
As a Chelsea fan, I’m relatively happy with the draw. For the second successive year (albeit a round earlier), Chelsea meet French champions PSG. Chelsea’s reward for winning the group means that they travel to Paris for the first leg, with the return leg three weeks later at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea have a far stronger squad this season and, without sounding too confident, I can’t see them making the same mistakes as they did last season when they lost the first leg 3-1 in Paris. The first leg will be a tighter affair this time around and I think that a score draw will be enough for Chelsea to then win the tie at Stamford Bridge in front of their own fans. It will be a close game whatever happens but I think Chelsea will have what it takes to secure their place in the quarter-final.

The way Chelsea have performed this season, both in Europe and in the Premier League, has, at times, been breathtaking. Jose Mourinho has once again instilled a swagger of confidence and belief amongst the players and the team look relentless in their pursuit of glory. That being said, a great team can’t be judged on half a season and only time will tell if this Mourinho team can be considered one of the greatest. Despite everything that the Portuguese manager has achieved in the game there is one thing missing from his decorated CV, Champions League glory with Chelsea.

If Chelsea are to go on and win the Champions League this season, they will have to navigate their way past the French Champions PSG and summer signings Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa could prove the difference. Costa’s battle against former Chelsea defender David Luiz will be intriguing and although PSG have the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani in their ranks, both have failed to impress on previous visits to Stamford Bridge.

Image Courtesy of Christian Del Aguila,

Image Courtesy of Christian Del Aguila,

Verdict: I’m predicting a tight game but Chelsea’s Champions League experience will prevail and the tie will be won in the second leg at Stamford Bridge, with Chelsea sealing their place in the Quarter Finals.


Arsenal v Monaco
Arsenal, for once, will be very happy with their draw for the Champions League knockout stages. They will play against a Monaco side that only scored 4 goals in six games to qualify. For that reason, Arsenal must be confident of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time since 2008. Arsene Wenger will return to his former club and, on paper, you could argue that finishing second in the group has given Arsenal an easier draw than London rivals Chelsea, who finished first. In recent weeks Arsene Wenger’s future at the club has been called into question but by avoiding the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Wenger will have a chance to silence his critics.

There is a long way to go of course but Arsenal will be confident of reaching the Quarterfinals and then, who knows far they can go? With the first leg at the Emirates stadium, it will be important for Arsenal to start well and they will be looking to take at least a two-goal lead with them to France, to help protect them in the second leg. Arsenal have real quality going forward this season and Alexis Sanchez will relish the opportunity to play against an ageing Monaco defence.

Verdict: If Arsenal can reproduce anything like the performance they did against Galatasaray in Matchday Six against Monaco then there will only be one outcome in this tie. Arsenal will comfortably progress to the next round.


Image Courtesy of Wonker,

Image Courtesy of Wonker,

Man City vs Barcelona
It’s a case of deja vu for Manchester City fans, as they prepare for another Champions League meeting with Barcelona. Last time Barcelona won 2-0 at the Etihad, and then 2-1 in the Nou Camp. However, with another years’ experience under their belts, can Manchester City make it through to the Quarter Finals for the first time?

There is something about Man City and the Champions League, which conjures up the feeling that it’s just not meant to be. For 10 years I had the same feeling – Chelsea came so close to winning the Champions League but always seemed to fall at the final hurdle. But then, when they did finally win it, it was in the most dramatic of circumstances.

I’m not saying that Manchester City are going to win the Champions League this season or even beat Barcelona but the manner in which they beat Bayern Munich and Roma to make it this far in the first place must give them hope that, even when the odds are stacked against them, they can beat the best teams in Europe. Whether Manchester City prevail and knockout Messi, Suarez, Neymar and co will depend to a great extent on the fitness of Sergio Aguero. The Argentine striker is currently out with a knee injury and is expected to be fit with time to spare before the two games against Barcelona, but without him, City lack that cutting edge. The likes of Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and David Silva, all playing at the top of their games give City hope but I just can’t see them beating Barcelona in the Nou Camp where the second leg will be played.

Verdict: Manchester City will be buoyed by the way they beat Bayern Munich and Roma to qualify for the knockout stages. But Barcelona have a wealth of attacking talent, arguably the best front three in the world and whilst it will be closer than last year’s tie, Barcelona will be Manchester City’s Champions League nemesis once again.

Image Courtesy of Football DirectNews,

Image Courtesy of Football DirectNews,

Premier League enters final sprint

As we head into the start of March, there is everything still to play for in the Barclays Premier League.


Race for the Title

It might seem to many that Manchester United have already got one hand on the Premier League title but for anyone who follows football, we all know that could all change in a matter of games. Manchester City, you will remember, were eight points behind with just six games to go last season and still managed to snatch the title in the most dramatic circumstances, so anything can happen.  12 points might seem like a lot but with Manchester United focused on the Champions League tie with Real Madrid in two weeks’ time, City’s early exit from the competition could work in their favour as they look to close the gap at the top.  Injuries will be key but if United can keep Van Persie and Rooney fit, it’s difficult to see them losing four games from now until the end of the season. For the neutral, though we hope for the drama and excitement of last season, but as Sky Sports pundit Martin Tyler so famously said at the time “I promise you will never see anything like it again”….I’m afraid I tend to agree.

Verdict: United will get their hands on their 20th league trophy.

Champions League Qualification

The battle for 4th is set to go to the wire as we eagerly await the North London derby this weekend. Gareth Bale’s blistering form has catapulted Spurs into 3rd place in the Barclays Premier League ahead of their London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal.

The Welsh international scored two wonder goals in Spurs’ stunning 3-2 win over West Ham this week to continue his outstanding form in front of goal. The man who flitted in and out of the Tottenham side for two years, following his arrival from Southampton, in 2007 has now become one of Europe’s premier performers. The Tottenham winger has scored 23 goals in an incredible season, with 9 goals in the last 7 games. He is the only midfielder on the continent to have had more than 100 shots this season and he alone has earned Tottenham 15 points this season.

However, with Bale’s outstanding performances single-handily carrying the team at the moment, the fans are beginning to question the performance of the other players around him. For their sake, they will be hoping the injury jinx doesn’t stand in the way of qualifying for the Champions League and that Bale will remain fit for the rest of the season. Indeed if you take away the goals Bale has scored this season, Tottenham would occupy 9th place in the table. A win for Tottenham will open up a seven-point gap over Arsenal and for me should see them seal one of the two remaining places leaving it down to Arsenal and Chelsea to battle over 4th place.

Talking of Chelsea, Rafael Benitez’s spectacular outburst after Chelsea’s midweek cup win at the Riverside was evidence that he has finally cracked under the pressure of the disgruntled Chelsea fans. As a Chelsea fan myself it’s ridiculous that we don’t get behind him and support the team because, as he quite rightly said in his post-match press conference, he will be gone at the end of the season and we will be left to lick our wounds as we face the prospect of another Thursday night Europa League campaign.  If the minority of fans don’t end their campaign to “Get Rafa Out” unfortunately this will turn nightmare into reality. Whatever happens at Stamford Bridge, come what May… Chelsea will be looking for their 10th manager in as many years.

Verdict: Europa League for Arsenal… I hope!

The Race for Europe

Swansea will fly the Welsh flag in Europe next season for the first time after their Capital One Cup success last weekend at the hands of Bradford. The biggest ever winning margin in the competitions’ 100 year plus history, leaving the two Merseyside clubs and West Brom to battle it out for the remaining places. Everton’s inconsistent form since the turn of the year has seen them disappear from Champions League contenders to be Europa League certainties and Liverpool have been inconsistent all season to say the least. In Suarez and Gerrard, Liverpool have two of best players in the league and they should have more points than they have. The Rodgers Revolution is a fascinating project but hasn’t reached top gear yet.

Verdict: Everton should have enough to hold on to 6th place but might be distracted by a possible FA Cup semi-final at Wembley should they beat Wigan. All eyes on the Merseyside derby at the start of May as Liverpool look to close the three-point gap. West Brom will fall just short but it must be said what a fantastic season for Steve Clarke and the Baggies.

Mid Table Mediocrity

The likes of Stoke, Sunderland, West Ham, Fulham, Norwich and Newcastle you would think are just about safe if they secure a couple more wins and will compete against each other to finish as high up in the table as possible.


QPR are in desperate trouble at the bottom of the table; seven points from safety and you have to wonder how they will cope both on and off the pitch should they fail to avoid relegation to the Championship. Huge transfer fees and a frightening wage bill don’t bode well for the West London club.

Harry’s magic hasn’t really worked its wonders yet. Despite a freak 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge in January, the team never kicked on. It’s now or never for QPR and this is where Harry Redknapp should come into his own. If anyone can oversee the great escape then he can but if they don’t start winning then I’m afraid they will be plying their trade in England’s second tier next season.

Reading, Aston Villa, Southampton and Wigan are all locked in a battle to survive but with Ricky Lambert scoring goals for Southampton on a regular basis and Wigan seasoned campaigners at avoiding the drop against all odds, I think they will survive leaving Villa – one of only six teams to appear in every Premier League season – and Reading heading through the trap door with QPR.

All in all, a fascinating climax to the end of another fantastic season of Barclays Premier League football.


Words by Dan Apostolos

Christmas – a time for fun, family and…!


Christmas is traditionally a time spent at home, with loved ones and family; a couple of days off work to sit back, relax and savour the festive spirit. But for footballers up and down the country the Christmas and New Year period is a whole lot more than this. It is a crucial time.

With nearly half of the season already gone in the top flight, the two Manchester clubs seemingly battling each other for the title, Chelsea with another new manager and “arry’s” QPR still looking for their first premier league win, every team is readying itself for the busy and potentially decisive festive period, which can often make or break a season. It doesn’t matter whether your team is chasing success in all competitions or you’re locked in a basement battle scrapping for every point to secure top-flight survival; every club wants the welcome gift of three valuable points this Christmas.

Most Premier League clubs will take part in four matches in a little over a week this Christmas.  However, cup commitments and European fixtures can lead to an even greater pile-up of matches…..not to mention the 3rd round of the FA Cup on the opening weekend of January.

Fixtures come thick and fast during the festive period and wintry conditions are hugely demanding for footballers, testing their fitness levels to the limit. With so many matches in such a short space of time, it is not uncommon for injuries to mount up and players’ form to suffer as they attempt to struggle through games without sufficient periods of rest.

Of course, tiredness and bad luck strikes every team at some point during a season but at Christmas time it can have far more damaging consequences. That said, the hectic festive fixture list is, of course, something of a top-flight tradition in England and given the quick turnaround of matches the reality of being swept aside by one of the top teams quickly disappears. The old cliché in football “there’s always the next game” springs to mind, offering comfort to the frontrunners in the New Year sack race.

Talk continues over the introduction of a two-week winter break in English football – once a distant whisper now a muted roar – but Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has hinted that FA Cup replays may have to be sacrificed to make it work. English football’s governing bodies used to palm off the idea of a mid-season break but it now seems a very possible reality.

The fundamental question is this – would you sacrifice your Christmas fix of football in favour of a mid-season break?

For the football scrooges out there the answer is fairly obvious but for anyone that plays football or loves watching the game, nothing beats the drama and excitement of the festive fixture list. Attendances are high. There’s a game on Monday; there’s another one on Thursday. It has been cherished by so many of us over the years and has an important place in our national football heritage. For now at least it’s here to stay.