Game of two halves

Cyprus Today - - SPORT - with Rev Walker c/o cyprus­to­day@ya­

MANCH­ESTER City 2-3 Manch­ester United — how do Citeh’s vo­cif­er­ous fans feel now? Giv­ing it all the “Oles” and “Cam­pi­ones” ver­bals is all well and good when the game is all but over, but do­ing so with a full half of footie to play against your cross-town ri­vals? Not so good.

At half time ev­ery­thing was hunky dory; Citeh were two goals to the good against a frankly aw­ful United, the ti­tle was in the bag what could pos­si­bly de­rail the Citeh train? In a word: ar­ro­gance. It’s one thing the home fans giv­ing it large but when the play­ers in­dulge in the same way against proud op­po­nents who are backed in a cor­ner with noth­ing to lose? A sure-fire recipe for a touch of Schaden­freude en­sues.

United’s Paul Pogba-in­spired come­back wasn’t even par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive given the way that the Citeh mid­field and de­fence did a van­ish­ing act wor­thy of David Blaine, but it was note­wor­thy in that it con­firmed to many knowl­edge­able people in the game that Citeh are vul­ner­a­ble to op­po­nents that don’t bow down to them — as Liver­pool had shown twice pre­vi­ously and would do again four days later.

All this re­sult has done is slow down Citeh’s charge to the ti­tle, but hope­fully the rest of the teams in the “world’s best league” would have taken note and will up their games next term. That said, Pep’ll prob­a­bly splash out another £300 mil­lion to main­tain the sta­tus quo.

Who saw that com­ing?

When the Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter-fi­nals draw was made you would have got long odds on Roma and Liver­pool pro­gress­ing against Barcelona and Citeh re­spec­tively, and yet progress they did.

It’s a funny old Cham­pi­ons League sea­son where the team lead­ing the Ital­ian league (Ju­ven­tus) can get ham­mered by the team that are fourth in La Liga (Real Madrid), while Barcelona who are 15 points clear of Real can get turned over by Roma who are fourth in Serie A and trail Ju­ven­tus by 21 points. Con­tin­u­ing that theme, Liver­pool who are third in the Premier League com­fort­ably saw off Manch­ester City 5-1 on ag­gre­gate de­spite trail­ing them in the league by 17 points. All of which proves . . . well, not a lot ac­tu­ally, other than the fact that on a knock-out ba­sis any­one can beat any­one else, es­pe­cially at the top level of the game.

While it’s true that Roma over­com­ing a first-leg three-goal deficit qual­i­fies as a shock, was it re­ally? Barcelona’s 4-1 win in Spain was far closer than the score­line sug­gests, with Roma knock­ing in two com­i­cal own goals to set Messi and co on their way. Apart from these de­fen­sive aber­ra­tions Roma showed more than enough go­ing for­ward to give them hope in the sec­ond leg and in Rome a tor­pid Barca, per­haps short of com­pet­i­tive match fit­ness given their walkover in La Liga, had no an­swer to the Ital­ian club’s power and pace. It’s even pos­si­ble that Citeh were struck down by the same ail­ment as Barca; too used to hav­ing things their own way in the league, when it came down to the nitty gritty of a scrap they were found want­ing.

Both Barca and Citeh will have plenty of time to re­flect on where it all went wrong but they will be de­serv­ing win­ners of their re­spec­tive leagues. Whether or not that will sate their ap­petites for big­ger and bet­ter things I can’t say, but in re­al­ity these clubs, given their do­mes­tic sit­u­a­tions, along with Bay­ern in Ger­many and PSG in France, should be do­ing much bet­ter in the Cham­pi­ons League which, as we are con­tin­u­ally be­ing told, is the pin­na­cle of mod­ern club foot­ball.

Man of the week

Deep into time added on with Real Madrid and Ju­ven­tus locked at 3-3 and ex­tra time loom­ing, a penalty is awarded to Real. In the af­ter­math of the de­ci­sion, goal­keep­ing icon Gigi Buf­fon loses his rag and is sent off to be re­placed by a sub­sti­tute keeper. Ron­aldo scores, Real get out of jail and Buf­fon is left to re­flect on what was al­most cer­tainly his fi­nal Cham­pi­ons League ap­pear­ance and the ugly way it ended. For cor­rectly giv­ing the penalty and rightly, while un­der huge pres­sure, red-card­ing the in­can­des­cent Buf­fon for dis­sent and man­han­dling of an of­fi­cial (which in it­self is a mas­sive nono), Premier League ref­eree Michael Oliver is my top per­former of the week.

Team of the week

Petr Cech, Ar­se­nal; Ash­ley Young, United; Ce­sar Azpilicueta, Chelsea; Jan Ver­tonghen, Spurs; Leighton Baines, Ever­ton; Paul Pogba, United; An­der Her­rera, United; Chris­tian Erik­sen, Spurs; Ay­oze Perez, New­cas­tle; Alexis Sanchez, United; Marko Ar­nau­tovic, West Ham. Man­ager: Jose Mour­inho, United.

This week’s big games

To­day: 2.30pm Southamp­ton v Chelsea; 5pm Burn­ley v Le­ices­ter, Palace v Brighton, Hud­der­s­field v Wat­ford, Swansea v Ever­ton; 7.30pm Liver­pool v Bournemouth; 9.45pm Spurs v Citeh. To­mor­row: 3.30pm New­cas­tle v Ar­se­nal; 6pm United v West Brom. Mon­day: 10pm West Ham v Stoke. Tues­day: 9.45pm Brighton v Spurs. Wed­nes­day: 9.45pm Bournemouth v United. Thurs­day: 9.45pm Burn­ley v Chelsea, Le­ices­ter v Southamp­ton. Fri­day: 9.45pm Mill­wall v Ful­ham. Not par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers — Scot­tish Cup semi-fi­nals — to­day: 2.15pm Mother­well v Aberdeen. To­mor­row: 4.30pm Celtic v Rangers. Could be fun in a throw­back to the ’70s dig-out­y­our-Doc-Martens kind of way — Cham­pi­onship — to­mor­row: 2pm Wolves v Birm­ing­ham.

Game of the week has to be tonight’s fix­ture between Spurs and Citeh as the former look to se­cure a place in the top three while the lat­ter aim to put the ti­tle and a hor­ren­dous last week of foot­ball to bed this week­end. Will Citeh bounce back? Or will a hope­fully full-strength Spurs pre­vail? I don’t know the an­swer but I fully ex­pect this game to be a cracker between two sides who love to at­tack.

For­mula One

Chi­nese Grand Prix — to­mor­row: 9.10am. Lewis Hamilton, come on down! At 17 points down to Se­bas­tian Vet­tel af­ter two less-than-per­fect races, Mercedes have the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to re­store some bal­ance to the F1 ti­tle race. Shang­hai has been a happy hunt­ing ground for both Mercedes and Hamilton with five wins apiece to this point; if they can’t win here then they are in big trou­ble.

Last year Hamilton drove his usual mas­ter­ful self in the rain but a peek at the long-range fore­cast shows good weather for to­mor­row, which will give some en­cour­age­ment to Fer­rari and Vet­tel.

But — and it’s a big but — as long as there are no sna­fus this week­end ex­pect Hamilton to take the flag first with Vet­tel a not-tood­is­tant sec­ond.

And fi­nally

Last week I asked for the name of the English keeper who won the Euro­pean Cup with two dif­fer­ent teams. The an­swer is Jimmy Rim­mer, who was an un­used sub­sti­tute be­hind Alex Step­ney when United beat Ben­fica in 1968, and was Villa’s num­ber one cus­to­dian in their win over Bay­ern in 1982. Though the game was only nine min­utes old when Rim­mer had to come off in­jured, his replacement Nigel Spink pro­duced a man-of-the­match-wor­thy per­for­mance as Villa beat Bay­ern 1-0 through Peter Withe’s un­tidy fin­ish. I know it’s get­ting bor­ing but John Grundey was first yet again with the cor­rect an­swer.

This week: only one player has scored hat-tricks in each of the top four di­vi­sions in Eng­land, the FA Cup, the League Cup, and for his coun­try — name him.

Look, it’s bad enough that Ge­off (Vic­tor Mel­drew) Mur­ray sup­ports not one but two footie teams but he’s re­ally start­ing to an­noy me now.

Three times last Satur­day he was told to go forth and mul­ti­ply dur­ing the Ar­se­nal-Saints game, and when he left the con­fines of Jes­sic’s to con­verse with people watch­ing the game out­side, on each oc­ca­sion Ar­se­nal scored. Form your own con­clu­sions. (If it were down to me I’d shoot the soand-so.)

English ref­eree Michael Oliver shows a red card to Ju­ven­tus’s Ital­ian goal­keeper Gian­luigi Buf­fon

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