Approximately 11 months ago or so, everyone was proclaiming from the rooftops that Bayern would rule the world for years and that the German giants had not only ended Barcelona’s reign, but they had replaced the Catalan club. A few mere hours after Munich watched their Champions League aspirations get crushed by a titanic Real Madrid outing, it seems impossible that the Bayern steamroller was halted so swiftly and firmly. But, perhaps an even bigger story than Bayern’s sudden failure with Pep at the helm, is this Madrid team THAT dominant? A 4-0 destruction of a team that, at least halfway through March, was still seen as the mightiest squad in the world…what does it all mean?
The scariest part of this Madrid show of power is that the team still feels like there is building to be done. Benzema will, inevitably, be replaced with someone better. Whether it be a Luis Suarez or someone else, the spearhead of the attack will be better. On top of that, Gareth Bale will only CONTINUE to improve and mix into this squad. Chelsea may have shown how to defend compactly and counterattack against Liverpool at the weekend, but Madrid just gave a master class on how to do it best…the difference between a High School diploma and a Doctorate.
No matter who Madrid catch in their sights for the Champions League final or their final La Liga fixtures, it feels like everything is rolling downhill for Madrid right now. Ronaldo is back in Ballon D’Or form, Di Maria actually lets us forget how one-footed he is, Modric finally fits, Bale is actually working towards his transfer fee value, Casillas AND Diego Lopez are playing fantastically, and the rest of Madrid seems to be following suit. Heck, Sergio Ramos just scored a brace!
There is very little about what Madrid did in Germany that was not amazing. To shut down Bayern Munich is just as impressive as scoring 4 against them on their own turf. If it was not for the quick reaction of players to constantly surround the referee at all times, they might even be likable. This is now a team to be feared, and a team that will remain largely unchanged once the next campaign rolls around.
The craziest part of this story is that Madrid could be this dominant and still not take the CL or La Liga title home this season! If Atletico stay on top and do not surrender points (even their last match against Barcelona does not seem like a likely drop of points), Madrid will miss La Liga. The two teams remaining in the Champions League feel like the only teams with the know-how to challenge Real (Real Madrid dwarfs them both exponentially in talent though). To imagine such a remarkably talented team missing out on major silverware makes for a fantastic storyline…so which story will still be written? No matter what, we are witnessing the pinnacle or might from this Real team…just ask Bayern…they will probably be having nightmares for months!
With all of our favorite European seasons starting to enter into the home stretch, it also means that the Champions League is starting to get back on track. One of the most intriguing aspects of this Champions League competition will inevitably be that fact that several teams will have the entire season outlook riding on their CL performance. Teams like Manchester United and AC Milan that are struggling mightily within their own league, yet CL glory could erase any woes (i.e. Chelsea last season). Then, there are teams that will be hoping that their Champions League journey will be coupled with domestic success so that the team can enter the off-season with the ability to draw the best players in the world. How did teams fair? Let’s take a gander…
The easiest story of these fixtures to convey will be how Paris Saint-Germain completely dismantled Bayer Leverkusen. As a team that is built to bring home French league titles with little difficulty, the Parisian giants will have moved their gaze to Europe’s biggest prize some time ago. Although the emergence of AS Monaco in France makes life slightly more difficult for Zlatan and co., it will definitely be a hollow success if they are unable to couple Ligue 1 with the Champions League title.
They certainly have one of the most potent attacks in world football, and you can never feel safe when Ibra gets in the mood for scoring. While they may still be a year or two removed from their best chance at the European crown, PSG could definitely still be one of the teams in the mix when we get down to the last four squads. This 4-0 destruction in Europe’s elite competition will certainly sound the warning bell for the rest of the teams…and PSG will hope to continue this type of run. As we approach the summer transfer window, we are already hearing rumors about the long list of stars that will be tempted by a big contract and a trip to Paris. There can be no doubt that PSG will grow stronger as every transfer window passes until they obtain their ultimate prize.
The other game on 2/18 was Barcelona attempting to prevent Manchester City from creating some European history to match with their recent growth in English stature. For 53 minutes, Manchester City proved that they are reaching the level necessary to match up with the best teams in Europe. A season ago, the Citizens seemed unprepared for the level of play that met them in the Champions League as they went out of the competition with almost a whimper. However, this game seemed to be the perfect opportunity for City to finally announce themselves. Then, with Messi attempting to break through on goal, City defender Martin Demichelis brought down the amazing Argentine.
A red card, an extremely questionable penalty (a free-kick seemed more appropriate), and the following Messi goal made them (unsurprisingly) start faltering. It is difficult enough to chase Barcelona with 11 men, but chasing their passing style with 10 men is nigh on impossible. It is easy to see how Barca were able to double their tally in the 90th minute and Manchester City will have a huge mountain to climb when they visit Camp Nou. If Barcelona march on, City will definitely feel that they had their Champions League campaign cut off prematurely. Having been one of the few teams to be on the winning side against Bayern Munich for the past few seasons, the momentum certainly seemed to be riding with the Citizens. However, Barcelona (especially in light of recent struggles) will definitely have a hard time convincing anyone that they are a potential CL favorite…it truly seems like their invincible mystique from a few short years ago has genuinely worn off.
The Champions League is almost like Christmas every single time that it comes back around. For me, the product on the field would have to be amazing in order for me to put up with so many Heineken commercials. From this set of games, Barcelona escaped, Leverkusen already look beaten, PSG are growing into the behemoth we have always been terrified of, and City will feel hard done by their result. Even though the World Cup is looming, the Champions League still rules the roost. Plus…I never grow tired of that anthem…goosebumps every single time…A CHAMPIOOOOOOON!
Considering that AC Milan are staring down the barrel of a Serie A finish that provides them with absolutely zero European football next season, there is serious importance riding on how they progress in the competition this year. As the game against Atletico Madrid got started, it was obvious that the Milan players were also aware of the club’s need to make an impressive European run. Milan were definitely the superior side for the opening half, but their inability to finish their chances could be their fatal undoing in the CL. Even after the half, despite looking a little more energetic, Atletico still seemed to be the second best side on the pitch. However, Atletico have the insanely in-form Diego Costa…and an 83rd minute header means that Atletico will be returning home with an away goal in hand.
Although Milan do still (and will always) command significant respect, will any marquee player truly want to join Milan over some of the other options that will certainly be available if Milan crash out of the CL and fail miserably in Serie A. It was already surprising that Keisuke Honda chose his big club destination by joining, what seemed to be, a sinking ship…but, AC Milan do not seem to have the same situation ahead of them as when Liverpool started to experience the same situation. Milan do not seem to be having a large influx of money coming in at any point to help them try and rejoin Europe’s elite and they also seem to have an amazing inability to choose a competent manager…failing at this point could have repercussions that are felt in Milan for years to come.
Over in London, Arsenal had to face last year’s champion and the club that is easily the early favorite to be celebrating once the last Champions League fixture has been played. The biggest news before the first whistle was Arsene Wenger sticking with his impressive attackers from their recent victory over Liverpool and keeping Olivier Giroud on the bench. But, with the pace of the Arsenal front-line seeming to actually unnerve the German giants in the opening minutes, it seemed that Arsenal might complete the bounce back from their Liverpool thrashing with a great showing against the biggest scalp (currently) in Europe. It seemed destined to be Arsenal’s night as Ozil stepped up to take a penalty after only 8 minutes of play…but the German’s spot-kick was too tame for a keeper of Neuer’s talent and it seemed to deflate the English team.
In the 37th minute, another English squad in the Champions League would suffer a red card and the deflation that is associated with losing a player. Arsenal’s keeper Wojciech Szczesny brought down Arjen Robben in the box and, despite some impressive antics from Arsene Wenger and a bit of embellishment from the Dutch winger, the red card to Arsenal’s keeper would begin the downward spiral for the Gunners. Amazing work from Philipp Lahm and a great game from Toni Kroos would be tough to handle with a full complement of players, and Arsenal were helpless to watch as the might of Bayern started to crash down upon them. Considering the might of Munich, Arsenal will believe that a 2-0 scoreline will have been the best result that they could have hoped for after Szczesny went off and, despite the impressive nature of Munich this season, there is still hope remaining in London.
Two teams from England played in their Champions League fixtures this week…and two English teams received red cards. Two teams from Spain played in the Champions League fixtures this week…and two Spanish teams walked away victorious. Although, as soon as you start to think that the Champions League is the least bit predictable…it will knock you for a loop. That is the beauty of the Champions League and the reason why we will all be tuning in every time that anthem plays and every time the fixtures kick-off. (cue Champions League anthem)
Barcelona traveled to the San Siro Wednesday, where they were stunned by AC Milan. AC Milan took the lead in the 56th minute after a Kevin-Prince Boateng goal. Milan then secured the win in the 81st minute when Sulley Muntari scored to give the home side a 2-0 lead heading into the second leg at the Camp Nou.
AC Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri was happy with his team’s performance after the match.
“The lads played well in defensive terms and didn’t let them near our penalty area. We know Barcelona kept possession for about 65 percent of the time, but we had five or six very favorable situations where we got the final pass wrong,” Allegri said.
It was actually 72 percent possession for Barcelona according to ESPNFC’s match stats. However, despite all the possession, AC Milan actually had more scoring chances in the game, and capitalized on them. Milan outshot Barcelona 8-7 in total shots and 3-1 in shots on goal.
Barcelona interim coach Jordi Roura said the poor playing conditions contributed to the team’s loss.
“They defended with a lot of organization. It was difficult to play, they stuck lots of players close together, the pitch was like a potato-field, not right for a match like this, which made it difficult for us,” Roura said.
If Roura thought Milan defended with a lot of players in this game, he should wait for the second leg at the Camp Nou. With a two goal lead and playing away from home, you can expect AC Milan to pack it in a try to maintain their two goal lead in order to move on. Milan could surprise everyone and come out attacking, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
“At the Camp Nou they will sit back, we need to go at them and hope we have better luck than here,” Barcelona midfielder Pedro said.
The second leg may not be very exciting if Milan try to hold on to their lead by playing 11 in the box, however, it will certainly garner interest. The way Barcelona have cruised through La Liga and drawing AC Milan in the Champions League, many thought Barcelona could cruise through the Champions League this season. Barcelona have not been knocked out of the competition yet, but it will be a difficult task to move on with a 2-0 deficit.
Written By: Eric Stoyanov, Contributing Writer, soccerprose.com
With only 16 teams remaining in the Champions League, any team realistically has a chance. So let’s take a look at some of the results from this week. We have already recapped the Manchester United v. Real Madrid match, so it will not be included in this post.
Let’s first take a look at Paris Saint-Germain. The French leaders beat Valencia Tuesday 2-1 away from home. Now PSG will play the second leg at the Parc de Princes. However, they will be without striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was sent off in stoppage time. Also, according to ESPNFC, “UEFA’s disciplinary panel will meet at the end of February to decide whether PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic should be banned for an extra game.” If he is suspended an extra match, that could hurt PSG if they are to advance to the quarterfinals.
Despite an away win for PSG, Juventus claims the best week in the Champions League. Juventus beat Celtic 3-0 away from home, which pretty much puts them in the quarterfinals unless Celtic has a miracle up their sleeve. Celtic manager Neil Lennon was not too pleased with the referee’s performance in the match.
“I thought he was very poor. I thought he was very pro-Juventus. I was disappointed with his performance to say the least,” Lennon said according to ESPNFC. “They were being fouled, manhandled. Every time one of my players tried to move he was held. He should have given a penalty on at least two occasions.”
The final game of the week featured Shakhtar Donetsk v. Borussia Dortmund. This game ended 2-2, with everything to play for in the second leg.
The Champions League always presents exciting matchups and games and this week was no exception. Other than Celtic, every team has a reasonable chance of advancing to the next round, which will set up for an exciting round of second leg matches. Let us know whom you think will advance to the quarterfinals and predictions for what team will win the Champions League this season.
Written By: Eric Stoyanov, Contributing Writer, soccerprose.com
Manchester United was able to secure a vital away goal at the Bernabeu Wednesday. The match between Manchester United and Real Madrid ended in a 1-1 draw, which will ensure an exciting second leg match at Old Trafford. Following the match, Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho said Manchester United did not play to win, a statement many have made of Mourinho’s teams when they face Barcelona.
“They came here to defend well,” Mourinho said according to ESPNFC. “They came here to not concede space and goals, and they did not play to win. But they know they have in attack very important players with great potential that out of nothing can create chances and score goals.”
Real Madrid dominated United statistically outshooting United 28 to 13 in total shots and eight to six in shots on goal. Madrid also out possessed United 61 percent to 39 percent. However, at the end of the day, the result of the game is all that matters. And the final result has United manager Sir Alex Ferguson feeling confident about their chances of moving on to the next stage of the Champions League.
“All in all we created a lot of chances in the match and played some good attacking football at times. I’ve got to be pleased, they’ve dug in to take us back to Old Trafford with a chance. We’ve got a big task but its within our grasps,” Ferguson said according to ESPNFC.
Another big storyline with this game was Cristiano Ronaldo facing his old manager and club. Ronaldo was able to make an impact against his former side, scoring a fantastic header to tie the match and give Madrid a chance in the second leg. Despite scoring, Ronaldo said he did not want to celebrate the goal against his former club.
“I did not want to celebrate the goal out of respect, as I played there for six years. I grew up there, and I have a special affection [for Manchester United],” Ronaldo said according to ESPNFC.
If Real Madrid is knocked out of the Champions League at this stage, it will be a major disappointment to add to their disappointing season in La Liga. There are already questions regarding Mourinho’s possible departure after the season. One of the main reasons Mourinho was brought in at Madrid was to win the Champions League and end the clubs drought in the competition. If he fails to win, you have to wonder if an early Champions League exit will be the deciding factor in his departure from the club after the season.
Written By: Eric Stoyanov, Contributing Writer, soccerprose.com
For anyone that was lucky enough to see the Champions League match between Manchester United and Real Madrid, there may never be another occasion where the ball is launched at the goal as much as it was during this particular span of 90 minutes. Madrid spent the entirety of the game seemingly intent on testing Davi De Gea and the United defense while United managed to create shots out of very little actual attacking impetus. All of this resulted in an amazing match that saw a set-up being created for a titanic match when the two teams go to Old Trafford.
The only player wearing a Manchester United kit that will believe his performance was worthy of such an important game should be De Gea. The young shot-stopper was called upon constantly throughout the game and he is the main reason United still have a chance of getting through to the next round. Fabio Coentrao could have easily made the game 1-0 in favor of Madrid extremely early in the game if De Gea had not pulled off a finger-tip save and pushed the ball onto the post. Although his proficiency at crosses is still in question, the way that he caught extremely hard shots instead of having to punch or parry them away proves that his pure shot-stopping ability may be top-5 in the world (and he’s only 19).
United will need to place more emphasis on their defense and in the center of midfield once the tie at Old Trafford takes place. Although many were pleased that Sir Alex had chosen such an attacking line-up for the trip to Spain, United seemed constantly outnumbered in the midfield and they were only allowed a few actual sequences where they were able to build into the attack. In fact, most of United’s actual chances were from an occasional defensive lapse or a quick counter attack.
Although United will hope to finish off the tie at home, they should realize that if Angel Di Maria stays on the post during corner kicks, they would not have scored. Considering how many attack-minded players they had on the field, this is somewhat discouraging. Although the score ended in a draw, Madrid will certainly feel that they have the upper hand going forward. Considering that a large contingent of the team has either played at Old Trafford or in other English football stadiums before, home-field advantage may not be enough for Rooney and co. to progress this season.
Written by: Andrew McCole, soccerprose.com
The tie of the Round of 16 has to be the match between Manchester United and Real Madrid. Although the tie would typically garner a ton of respect and TV viewers just because of the history that these two teams possess, this tie gets the added benefit of seeing one of the world’s greatest players going up against the club that he became a household name with. Cristiano Ronaldo will be going up against a United team that houses many of the players that were with him as he burst onto the world scene.
Manchester United will have the most complete scouting report available when it comes to CR7. Most of the players that will be on the pitch for Manchester will have spent a significant amount of time with the Portuguese playmaker and they will be completely aware of the danger he possesses. However, CR7 is never the same player from year to year and his talent continues to grow as he gets older. If United hope to keep Ronaldo at bay, a combo of Valencia and Raphael would probably be the best method that United have. Both are fast and can perform relatively thorough defensive duties, but even that might not be enough to hold CR7.
The worst news for United is that Ronaldo is in a deep vein of scoring form. A hat-trick against Sevilla in his last match will mean that United will face Ronaldo at a level befitting a player of his potential. The worst part is that the more focus Ronaldo is able to garner and the more United have to focus on the Portuguese winger, the more likely one of the other Madrid stars is to pop up and snag a goal for the Spanish giants.
On the flip-side, the men in Manchester United jerseys are dominating in their domestic league and they are showing all the signs of a truly dominant United squad. In their most recent fixture against Everton, Rooney looked great attacking and defending, De Gea was stopping anything and everything, and Robin Van Persie still seems to be scoring at the slightest chance.
Although I’ve never been one to grasp at phrases, we definitely seem like we are about to witness two immovable objects crashing against each other. For United, a victory over Madrid would only solidify their success this season. For Madrid, continued success in the Champions League would be the only thing to have their season be seen as a success. One thing is for certain, this titanic tie will provide some fantastic football…make sure you are watching.
Written by: Andrew McCole, guest contributor, SoccerProse.com
The matchups have been set for the final 16 of the Champions League. The round of 16 matchups are as follows: Galatasaray v. Schalke, Celtic v. Juventus, Valencia v. PSG, Porto v. Málaga, Arsenal v. Bayern, Shakhtar Donetsk v. Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan v. Barcelona and Real Madrid v. Manchester United.
Obviously, since these teams made it to the final 16 of the Champions League, all the games should be entertaining and hopefully close. However, it is interesting to note how some of these teams, that are supposedly the best in Europe, are struggling in their respective leagues. Schalke is currently seventh in Bundesliga, which is only good enough for Europa League qualifying. Valencia is currently 11th in La Liga, 25 points behind league leaders Barcelona and seven points from Champions League qualifying. Arsenal is currently fifth in the Premier League, 15 points behind league leaders Manchester United and two points from Champions League qualifying. Finally, AC Milan is currently seventh in Serie A, 14 points behind league leaders Juventus and six points away from Champions League qualifying.
All of these teams have made it through Champions League group stages to become one of the final 16 teams to compete to become the champions of Europe. However, the teams mentioned above would not make the Champions League next year if the season ended today, and they are not close to competing for the title of their respective leagues.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Barcelona, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, PSG and Juventus are all currently atop their leagues. I found it interesting how far away these teams are in terms of success in domestic leagues. In theory, this would create some lopsided results in the round of 16. But, one of the great things about the Champions League, similar to March Madness with NCAA men’s basketball, is the ability for lesser teams to upset the favored teams. This is why a team like Chelsea was able to win the Champions League last year.
With all this said regarding the matchups, arguably, the most interesting matchup after the announcement Thursday was Real Madrid v. Manchester United. Jose Mourinho was brought into Real Madrid to win a Champions League title. In addition to that, there are also several other interesting storylines associated with this game. The first of these storylines is related to Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho has been under fire recently for poor results. Madrid is currently 13 points behind Barcelona in La Liga and Mourinho has pretty much conceded the La Liga title for the season. This has lead to speculation that he will depart the club at the end of the season. Mourinho has also expressed his desire to return to the Premier League and also the possibility of managing Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson retires, if ever. As the Telegraph has mentioned, this two-leg competition may be a tryout for Mourinho to possibly take over at the club.
The other interesting storyline is Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford. This is Ronaldo’s first return to Old Trafford since he departed for Real Madrid. It will be interesting to see the reception he gets and how he performs at his old playing field. If Real Madrid is to advance, Ronaldo will need to have two good performances to help his team get closer to winning that coveted Champions League trophy.
Written By: Eric Stoyanov, Contributing Writer, soccerprose.com
Real Madrid haven’t had the best of luck of with buses ever since Sergio Ramos dropped the Copa del Ray off the top of one and it was unceremoniously crushed beneath it. In fact, one might even wonder if they had been cursed by the man who had to hammer the bloody thing back into to something resembling a trophy. At any rate, prior to each match the driver of the Madrid team bus parks it illegally on the street, near the players entrance, so they can leave quickly without too much fuss. Now as some of us who have been to Spain know, the traffic laws are very liberally interpreted, and for my part I got out of a 50 Euro ticket in Sevilla with a kind word and a sandwich. However this particular copper was incorruptible and did her part to pay down the national debt.
Funny enough…seems the same thing happened on their American tour last year…Maybe she’s a Barcelona fan, but I’m sure the bus will be parked their next week, and maybe she’ll be waiting.