Game of two halves
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.
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.
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