Posts Tagged ‘Champions League’

& The Evil Superpowers out to curtail its mission.

That’s one way to stop him – Iniesta takes on Croatia


I am amazed at the current crop of journalists and fans who have now become ‘bored’ & disillusioned with the pure, passing game of the Spanish national side and the most-widely associated protagonists of  ‘tiki-taka’ football,  FC Barcelona. They say these sides are killing games with their passing, putting teams and viewers to sleep with their monotonous, robotic combinations.

But I believe the reason behind this sudden negativity aimed at the beautiful game, is the negative anti-football set-up which is becoming a regular theme in the new battle for silverware. How ever many times the pundits at the European Championships compared a team with a defensive mindset to doing “a Chelsea”, and no matter how annoying it was, part of the annoyance was that they had a point.

I was publicly slated on the evening of the Champions League final for my purist beliefs about how the game should be played, & how the Blues had now ruined what could have been potentially, three great games in the lead up to, & including the Allianz arena showpiece.

Roman Abramovich has bankrolled an impressive cast list at Stamford Bridge during his tenure as owner, and no way is every purchase aimed at a negative or defensive footballing mindset. They have great players, they have firepower, and they should utilise this. You are playing in UEFA’s elite club competition and representing English football in the most prestigious final of the calendar. For that reason alone, you should give your opponents and fans the respect they deserve by at least attempting a foray upfield before the eighty minute mark.

The historical beacon of bigotry, cheating and evasion that was Rangers FC, I think deserve a slither of credit for the shocking lack of attacking intent they portrayed at Ibrox against Messi and his beautiful Barcelona bandwagon in the Champions League in 2007. Under Rijkaard, the monopolisation of possession was starting to take shape prior to the leadership of Pep Guardiola through 2008-2012, who highlighted the style & introduced it to the masses.

Bayern captain Lahm aims to breakdown Chelsea

Walter Smith’s side were not able (that particular year anyway) to financially match the wages or go toe to toe on any level of talent or class with the Catalan giants – therefore their only option was to allow the football to be played out in front of them and for an embarrassment of possession to be forsaken in the hope their goal was not breached.

Lionel Messi was very aggressive in his post-match comments about anti-football, but we have witnessed Celtic ride their luck in the Camp Nou on occasion in a similar vein and not complained about the outcome when it was a positive one for the Hoops. What we require, is a new direction in the ongoing struggle against pure, beautiful, inventive football – and I think actually attempting to play football may, to a certain extent, work.

France were a massive disappointment  during these Championships – they came into the tournament on a great run competitively, with Laurent Blanc installing a belief in the players and the country, that they could replicate the past glories of World Cup ’98 and the 2000 European Championship in Belgium & Holland. Looking through their squad list, there was an abundance of great  flair players who could light up any game – and I’d lost count at the number of punters who had wagered Karim Benzema adding to his Real Madrid club total of thirty-two goals last season, by becoming the tournament’s top scorer.

Watching the quarter-final on Saturday against Spain was not only upsetting for the neutral, like myself, but bewildering for the French team it seemed who looked stuck between a rock and a hard place at times. At points during the match they looked threatening going forward, and when they put Spain under pressure, del Bosque’s side made mistakes.  Then they would remember the game plan outlined at the outset of the match to contain their opponents, and have to fight the natural urge instilled in themselves to exert their fluency and offensive charms.

On the domestic front, Real Madrid managed to stop Barcelona from a fourth consecutive league win last season aided by a glut of goals from a certain Portuguese superstar. When the El Clasico came about though – the tactics shifted slightly, and it seemed their main ploy was to dismantle Barca rather than go toe to toe.  Last season even though the possession statistics were heavily stacked in the Catalan sides favour, Los Blancos attacking prowess was almost identical and their daring was rewarded with a two one victory in the Camp Nou which all but finished off Guardiola’s side in the title race.

So are those now rebelling against their former love, bored with the actual tactic or frustrated with the antidote which has spawn in an aid to curb the success? The problem surfaces when teams are too scared to lose, rather than wanting to win. This in turn has produced an agenda focusing on the incessant and somehow, robotic, pass and move style modelled by Xavi & Iniesta et al, rather than further criticism which should be heaped on the men trying to eradicate the beauty of it.  If more managers and teams broke the shackles of their destructive strategy, and stood toe to toe with the tiki-taka culture – the positivity could return, and the winners would be two-fold. I expect Portugal to rise to the challenge on Wednesday – I hope the magnitude of the evening does not cause them to retreat into their defensive shells.


Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas has become another victim of Roman Abramovich’s crazy lust for instant success as he exits nine months into the Stamford Bridge hot seat. Seven have been axed by the owner during his tenure and with former Liverpool boss, Rafael Benitez, installed as the bookies favourite to be the next Chelsea manager, you can’t see him lasting much longer.

AVB as he became known, emerged on Abramovich’s radar following his domestic and Europa League treble winning feat of 2011 with FC Porto –any comparisons becoming clear yet? (He also was part of The Special Ones’ backroom team at Internazionale & Porto). Onlookers predicted he may follow Jose Mourinho’s European success by taking his Europa League winning graduates one step further to the Champions League –but Chelsea came calling for the new boy on the block, possibly too soon, and the crazy goldfish bowl of the English Premiership beckoned. He inherited a squad which was in a quandary and disorderly in its age and abilities. Something he also took on was some rather meddlesome experienced first-team stars and an owner with ideas above his station on how “his team” and “his players” should be playing.

Villas-Boas required a clear-out and if he had any hope of succeeding, John Terry and Frank Lampard had to go –their constant actions and undermining of the ex-bosses has hamstrung the club from the undoubted potential they have to contend for major honours in England & Europe. This combined with the Russian tycoon appearing at training and interfering in the dressing room would drive anyone to the brink, and the young Portuguese man has been on the back foot since last June. A season in the Premiership is hard enough to get to grips with –never mind doing so with the harsh media spotlight and criticisms which are lurking behind every dropped point or defeat. The ex-Porto boss required time to stamp his authority and footballing beliefs within the Blues team –to clear out the deadwood and the players which didn’t fit, and incorporate his own cast list on the Chelsea starting IX.

Out of the previous six bosses, only three delivered major trophies whilst Claudio Ranieri, Avram Grant and Guus Hiddink all made reasonable inroads in the Champions League without providing Abramovich with the holy grail of European elite success. Power struggles at a club are one thing – but in-fighting between coaching staff, lack of respect and resent for your first-team coach and colonial groups of squad players is a situation of unmanageable proportions of which the club dictator needs to shoulder the burden of responsibility for. I am certain that within the next few years, Andre Villas-Boas will emerge again as one of the most wanted men in European football –where Chelsea go next, is not as clear-cut.

As you may have noticed, another man by the name of Ken has started writing on here – & you would be correct in thinking he is not me, as I am me. But he hasn’t hacked on and just started rambling away at my behest. As part of an ongoing development within thebhoymcclay blog I have taken Kenny on as a wingman of sorts and his clever, witty and thought-provoking articles will be a great asset to the site. Hopefully with articles and previews such as this, we can also continue to explore new and fresher pieces which will hopefully benefit not only the blogger, but also the reader. Enjoy

This is my second matchday preview for Bundesliga Football and as I’m a reasonable lad,  I thought rather than you doing the research on one of the most exciting leagues in Europe – I would deliver the facts, figures and key players in the German top-tier directly to you.

Last week I managed to correctly predict Mainz 1-1 Hannover in Matchday 21, let’s see if we can make it two out of two!

Bayer 04 Leverkusen v FC Augsburg (18.02.2012 – 1430 GMT)

Bayer Leverkusen’s poor run of domestic form extended beyond the Bundesliga on Tuesday night, as a ruthless Barcelona side ran out three one victors at the BayArena in the Champions League – Matchday 22 however, throws up an altogether different prospect with the visit of relegation threatened Augsburg.

A battling display saw Bayer respond with a second-half equaliser through Michal Kadlec, but class eventually prevailed and the Catalan giants emerged with a two goal advantage to take to the Camp Nou in three weeks time. The visitors will be hoping these European exploits will enhance their slim hopes of taking anything back to Bavaria – but the signs are encouraging as Bayer were only victorious once in the league directly following their group stage encounters last year.

Augsburg played out a goalless draw last week at home to Nürnberg in the Swabian – Franconian derby and have shared the spoils in their last three encounters following the rückrunde, picking up vital points in their battle against the drop.  Their problem though has been finding the net – with only 19 goals in the for column in their previous 21 encounters this is in stark contrast to games involving Leverkusen, where goals are seldom in short supply.

Kadlec - a player once on Celtic's radar, swaps match shirts with Messi


Robin Dutt’s men routed Augsburg four one earlier in the season in their first ever Bundesliga encounter, and despite sitting sixth in the league, Leverkusen are struggling to capture any semblance of form which could see them claw back the ten points currently sitting between them and a Champions League spot. Matchday 21 saw them travel to the league leaders Borussia Dortmund and BVB found it tough against a well organised and stifling Bayer side. Die Werkself invited pressure and had Dortmund switching from their normal free-flowing style to a more direct route in order to make any headway, and in the end only a Shinji Kagawa gave the home side the 3 points.

Left-back Marcel De Jong and midfielder Tobias Werner are out for Augsburg after picking up injuries in the Nürnberg game and it appears both could be sidelined for up to ten weeks, whilst long-term absentees Nando Rafael, Moravek, & Dawda Ba are still unavailable. Creative spark Sidney Sam is still on the Leverkusen treatment table but Michael Ballack and Eren Derdiyok should make the squad. German midfielder Daniel Baier sits out a one match suspension for Augsburg for crossing the disciplinary threshold whilst Czech international Michal Kadlec returns to Bundesliga action for the home side.

Michal Kadlec vs Axel Bellinghausen

Bellinghausen will be hoping to impress on his return to the BayArena after departing at youth level in 1998. Returning from injury to replace Tobias Werner in the second half against Nuremberg last week, the German midfielder will looking for a starting berth in order to prove his fitness. If this does transpire, he could be facing Kadlec on his league return for Leverkusen following suspension, and he will be keen to showcase his own attacking prowess in the Augsburg defensive third. The tall left-back has been with Bayer now since 2008 and is now only five appearances short of his one hundredth game for the club.

Stefan Reinartz v Sascha Mölders

If Augsburg have any chance of staying in the top flight for any longer than one solitary season, Mölders has to add to his five goals so far this campaign. Having been an ever-present in his sides previous twenty-one encounters, his ratio of a goal for every nine attempted shots will have to improve. From the small & mesmeric Messi, to the tall and boisterous Molders – twenty-three year old Reinartz will enjoy a break from the Argentine superstar, but will have to endure a quite different test when up against the physicality of his compatriot.

Bundesliga Football Prediction: 3-1

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Danke Schon

Celtic cannot allow media outlets, pundits and commentators to overshadow this seasons’ achievements, in what is turning out to be a league campaign which will be secured through sporting integrity, diligence and hard work.

Notwithstanding the 10 point deduction, Celtic were four points ahead of the game and powering home like a thoroughbred. Neil Lennon’s’ warriors galvanized, confident and with the momentum of a runaway train – are on an unbeaten run which has not been emulated since a decade past when Martin O’Neill’s inspiration guided his own Celtic team – captained by the current manager – to a domestic treble. A swing in the Bhoys favour of seventeen points had already been overturned in a whirlwind period of fifty-three winter days and had left Ally McCoist and his Rangers team on the ropes. The knockout blow was to come, and everyone in green & white and across the city knew it – The Valentine’s day rebuff from HMRC has only brought the celebrations forward, and likewise with my experience from the closing stages of the 1999/2000 season – Rangers fans will want the curtain drawn on 2011/2012 as soon as possible. The only way Celtic can end this campaign negatively, is with a winning margin which does not reflect their on-field superiority.

Hours before the Govan Road was turned into a scene reminiscent of the Kim Jong-Ill funeral procession, Peter Lawell mirrored the viewpoint of the majority of Celtic fans when stating that the club does not, and will not need a strong Rangers side in the SPL for its own survival. Furthermore, Celtic would see this as a building block to a resurgent, and successful period in its history, where it would look to not only dominate in Scotland – but to take a significant step in European competition.

In Lennon, Celtic have a man who learned from one of the great managers of our times, and an individual steeped in hooped history. In his time as manager, Neil Lennon has, even this season, been close to the brink. At half-time at Rugby Park I was even doubting his managerial credentials, but again he battled back and from the depths of despair, Celtic resurrected their season beyond most fans own wildest dreams.

The squad built by Neil and his scouting network is young, dynamic and full of quality. Against Hearts recently, in the four nil Tynecastle victory, the average age of the starting XI was 23 – a statistic even the boss would have not envisaged at the start of his reign, feeling experienced individuals such as Jimmy Bullard and David James would be more beneficial than pure raw talent with little big game experience. Alex Ferguson was able to prove to Alan Hansen, that kids can win trophies – on top of last season’s Scottish Cup triumph, this Celtic team can gain an enormous amount of confidence and self belief with a domestic treble, the destiny of which, is very much within the teams control. A team which grows year on year, and can add silverware to its ongoing development – is conducive to building a historic and legendary legacy much, like the Lisbon Lions and Jock Stein created for themselves.

The next level of progression has to be the Champions League and the elite European competition has produced many Jekyll and Hyde results in the last eleven or so years staggered participation. Gordon Strachan, was able to guide his team twice to the knockout stages where even O’Neill could not, with a mixture of homegrown talent and experience from further afield. Bankier and Lawell now need to stand by their man, and with their full support and the stability of the team, they could be writing their own history.

Only time will tell how fulfilling any future domination can bring if the ongoing downsizing at Rangers continues – that is why it is up to the rest of Scottish Football to step up and show they can cement a challenge worthy of the leagues continuing funding and support.

" you come to mention it..."

One of the first occasions I set eyes on Mario, was during a highly-charged Champions League semi-final where the young eccentric number forty-five was having what appeared to be a touch-line rant at his own boss at the time, Jose Mourinho. Following Seville, many Celtic fans and neutrals have had an ongoing dislike for the egotistical Mourinho. He not only sent his Porto side out with barely a hint of sportsmanship that evening – but also, quite shockingly, neglected to acknowledge Martin O’Neills’ sides colossal effort in what turned out to be an enthralling struggle in the Spanish heat.

Therefore your sympathies at the outset, were with Balotelli. At first glance, even though you were totally enthralled at the theatre which was orchestrating itself out with the beautiful game on the pitch, there was a sense of worry as to why such an event had manifested itself during such a fixture? After a few minutes had passed it was revealed that the Italian youngster was asking the Portuguese boss for a substitution due to alleged racist chants directed at him from his own supporters wearing the black & blue from one half of Milan. A truly disgusting, but not unexpected act ,from supporters in Italy where unfortunately for a time this behaviour was accepted as the norm – Balotelli had only came on as a substitute twenty minutes from the whistle and ended the match by discarding his match shirt and throwing it to the ground in front of the vitriolic home crowd.

We fast forward twenty-months and to the Etihad stadium in last nights Carling Cup tie with Liverpool where the controversial star is returning after a knock which left him out of the equally polemically Manchester Derby on the 7th of January.

 “You can’t take your eyes off him”

Not a truer sentence has passesd from the lips of the much maligned, but mainly self-inflicted,pundit, Mark Lawrenson. From the team bus to the tunnel, pre-match warm up to the handshakes, to the pitch and the sometimes more encapsulating antics off it – Mario Balotelli is a character the type which has been missing from the spotlight of World Football for many years.  Last night was typical of his turbulent footballing career, City who were missing a few key men anyway, did not start the game or end it, in any sort of positive manner – the man in question could not control passes, at times stood statuesque and only broke a sweat chasing Charlie Adam after a foul and a clip on the ear from the ex-Ranger.  Thirty-five minutes into the game, he was replaced by Samir Nasri, gingerly leaving the field to muted and confused applause. Only a few days previously, social media was ablaze with Balotelli  trending following reports that on filling up his car with petrol, he held the pump overhead in jubilant exuberance and vowed to meet the costs of all other customers on the forecourt at that time.  Tales of this caliber are rarely given enough airtime within the media these days with the majority of stories focusing on the negative aspects of football, be it extra-marital affairs, drug & alcohol abuse or “illicit chanting” from supporters.

The Italian born forward seems to be singe-handily attempting to enhance the sports image, but with a fair share of his slightly idiotic actions he helps re-address the balance. That in itself is by the wayside, as a public figure he has entertained on & off the field so far this season and has helped catapult his side to the top of the Premiership – every headline that has centred around Balotelli this season has put a smile on my face whether it be football or firework related. Ian Crocker was against lambasted on Twitter during the week when the possibility of a Celtic Scottish Cup tie at Inverness arose following the few mentions he gave it during the defeat of Peterhead. For pundits, presenters and television companies, these upsets and “feel good” shocks are the lifeblood of keeping the neutral viewer South of the Border and further afield interested (we all know the rest of Scotland wants us to lose!), for the prosperity of ESPN, Sky Sports and Scottish football. So for “Super Mario” to be making such a name for himself after only just over a year in Britain, it keeps a healthy momentum of interest building around the beautiful game.

In the purest sense he probably isn’t the idea role model for children –  he is by far the worst and children from a technical aspect could not fail to be impressed with his skills – perhaps his temperament and work rate could be re-assessed in order to make a more rounded player, but I think trying to iron out his slight deficiencies would backfire on any respective manager looking to get a decent strike rate from the single-minded man. Not since the heyday of George Best, Paul Gascoigne or Frank Macavennie, has there been such spotlight and comment on one individual – the difference so far with Balotelli, is that he does not have the demons to go with it. Ill-mannered, stupid and sometimes irrational but his extroverted activities are for the most, comedic and done for no other reason than enjoyment and laughter – whilst his share in the City coffers have meant that his spare cash is not always frittered away, but often donated (see Petrol station scenario above) to others less fortunate than himself.  Driving around Manchester chucking notes out of his car window, giving a grand to a homeless man, and not to mention a couple of hundred to a local church – his good nature and love of life seems to shine through.

“The problem is because of his age, he can make some mistakes. He’s Mario. He’s crazy – but I love him because he’s a good guy.

They have not always seen eye to eye, but the words above of Roberto Mancini show that the Italian manager shows that the Italian manager has a real connection and belief in Balotelli’s abilities and maintains a fatherly outlook for the twenty-one year olds wellbeing. Mancini’s faith has been restored with a positive goal return of eleven so far this season, which is already one more than last term, and some startling performances to parachute the Blue side of Manchester into top spot. The return of the dark side to Carlos Tevez’s psyche has seen City’s three other star strikers given more of the limelight – which may in hindsight, have solved a possible selection headache for the manager. This positivity directed toward the Palermo-born star from the higher echelons is a far cry from his stint with Mourinho at the San Siro – a strained relationship which led to disciplinary problems and a public slaying by the Special One was not conducive to a productive player. If Balotelli can keep his focus on the pitch and enjoy his life in this country, I am certain he can fire his side to the Premiership title come May.

Chris "Evil Genuis" Sutton wants the ground to swallow him up after Basel defeat

In 2002, Celtic looked on course for the Champions League group stages after overcoming a shock 1st minute goal against the “supposed lowly” FC Basle, they took a three one advantage over to the Swiss side for the return leg.  What occurred next was a shock which at the time shook the club to its core, but by the end of the year had galvanised the team on a European run of some pedigree – The team managed by the former Spurs manager, Cristian Gross, took full advantage of their Celtic Park away goal to go through with a two nil triumph which added to the Parkhead side’s unwanted European record which, has not improved of much accord since.

Almost a decade on, Manchester United, having failed to beat the Swiss Home & Away, were dumped into the Europa League last night as their red & blue adversaries marched through as Group C Runners-Up with Benfica. The last time the Red Devils failed to advance through the groups back in 2006, Sir Alex Ferguson, dumbfounded and confused said “We probably lacked that experience and ability and when we needed top players they weren’t there”.

Basel fans in a sea of Red celebrate United's elimination

Since the humbling against their City rivals, United have stuttered and failed to impress in the League and been knocked out of the League Cup by Crystal Palace – the six one defeat has severely knocked United’s’ confidence and they have looked far from convincing in any matches since. Injuries have taken their toll in defence and an unsettled front line has shown as the Red Devil’s have only scored more than once in their last nine league matches. When probed or challenged this season, they have been unable to rely on their experienced players such as Giggs, Rooney or Ferdinand to inspire them to victory and the whole team has looked frail and disjointed. I do foresee a bright future for this squad – a great plethora of the finest young talent has been added – and this learning curve of defeats & eliminations will stand them in good stead for the coming seasons and their hunger for success will grow.

Manchester City also joined them in the Europa League second stage, after an impressive win against a depleted Bayern Munich side which ultimately meant nothing due to Napoli’s win at Villareal which sent Mancini’s men into third position. Ten points have been enough in most seasons to guarantee a passage into the last 32 of Europe’s elite, and this number or lower has also seen CSKA Moscow, Lyon, Bayer Leverkusen, AC Milan, Marseille, and both Apoel and Zenit in Group G progress through safely this time out – Nine was also enough for Celtic in 2007 & 2008 to go through to the knockout stage, but just not enough in Martin O’Neill’s first Champions League adventure in 2002.

City’s group appeared on paper – and on the park – much harder to navigate and it was a valiant attempt by them in their first full Champions League season – United are one of the old guard and to finish above their three opponents should have been easily achievable for a side managed by Ferguson. Manchester City have built on last season’s FA Cup triumph to remain unbeaten and unchallenged at the top of the Premiership with the immense array of talent they have all over the pitch. I feel Mancini now will not just want to concentrate on the League – but also send out a message to Europe in the form of a Europa League final win to showcase their presence on the big stage, much like Mourinho did in Seville before Porto went on the next year and won the big prize.

Celtic travel away to Udine next Wednesday knowing a win in Italy will send them past the group stages at their opponents expense due to their head to head record, and into the draw which will contain both halfs of Manchester & Stoke City and possibly Fulham, Birmingham City & Spurs. Atletico Madrid dispatched the Bhoys at Celtic Park last Thursday and despite a promising start by Lennon’s men, they could not convert their early pressure into a crucial goal. Udinese Calcio sit joint second in Serie A with AC Milan thanks to a dogged, determined and luck ridden performance at the San Siro last weekend to take the spoils against Inter Milan. Celtic will need not only to overcome a top side in Udinese, but also an unbeaten home record in all competitions this season. The Bhoys themselves have gone thirteen games domestically unbeaten, and with Gary Hooper & Anthony Stokes in rich veins of form in front of goal – aswell as competing in a healthy goalscoring dual – both teams go into the tie high on confidence.

The Parkhead sides away form improved markedly in France away to Rennes, combating two previous defeats in Sion and Madrid which proved a cakewalk for the home sides. Hopefully the lure of European football post-Christmas can galvanise the Bhoys to a special win – the confidence which can be generated from a convincing win at home to Hearts on Saturday could also assist with the mindset. Two weeks later a depleted Rangers visit, low on confidence in recent weeks, Celtic’s continual progression in improving points and performance should see them sweep aside their rivals like Hurricane Bawbag did to my neighbour’s garden shed. The Italian Job could therefore propel the Hoops juggernaut to greater things on the domestic scene, and I do predict an inspired side will go into the game with nothing to fear with long-term absentees through injury also rejoining the squad to add more depth, options and dimensions.