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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Chelsea & Liverpool to fight; Bolton & Boro play tonight

It has been an entertaining 48hrs of Champions League football, today is the turn of the UEFA Cup sides. More on that later.

Tuesday brought a first win of any English side at Real Madrid's Bernabeu stadium. Arsenal achieved the unexpected and a well earned win that not only gives them advantage on aggregate and an away goal, it gives them the urgently needed confidence that they can play well and win and aid their fight for position in the Premiership. They were excellent against a well filled Madrid side and can use the home advantage in the 2nd leg to perform just as heroically, only two domestic teams have beaten the Gunners at home so far.

Liverpool conceded within the last six minutes of normal time to a set piece they had studied before on re-runs and so Rafael Benitez is displeased with that. It was said that at half time the half in which Benfica would be doing their attacking was watered while the other half of the pitch was not, which would mean Benfica would attack on a surface that would make the ball slip faster and further. Nonetheless it is a single goal difference, we should have scored as Liverpool had played the better, and for 84mins they had held the Portuguese side in their own ground. I wouldn't be happy with a single goal from home if it were Liverpool so it is very much to play for indeed, and at Anfield we can get the encouragement and push needed to be victorious. But our strikers need to show more hunger for goals. I also hope for a speedy full recovery for Mohamed Sissoko.

Rangers were not expected to even be this far into the competition and including their name here shows their great commitment. It is a first too for Villarreal to be in the last 16 and to my knowledge they haven't lost a game yet in the competition. Last night Dado Prso inexplicably handballed for Villarreal's penalty but Peter Lovrenkrands snatched the opportunity to produce an excellent finish that was textbook, over and too high for the keeper Sebastian Viera but low enough to go under the bar. An influence for the Spanish side was the return of Argentinian Juan Roman Riquelme, depositing the penalty and making his usual tidy and creative role in midfield. But the Scottish side showed they can match their opponents and came forward with the confidence that they could even win the game, so in the return at the El Madrigal they can play with that same strong determination to go further into the quarter-finals, albeit without the now suspended Prso.

The big hype, the managers, the past history, the pitch. Again, little on the contest on the pitch and more on the rumours off it. When it finally came to head, both teams looked focused and eager to do battle where it matters, watered or not. Barcelona made the pressure on Chelsea up until Asier Del Horno's dismissal, after which the home side brought on emergency full-back Geremi for Joe Cole and came back. Barca poorly defended Frank Lampard's freekick and ironically it was Terry's determination to do so to Ronaldinho's that conceded Barca's equaliser. For a second consecutive season, Chelsea have emerged from a 1st leg against Barcelona in the Champions League 2-1 down, gone ahead first and had a man sent off. If this is down to deja vu, then the Nou Camp could set the scene for an even better contest, presumably with a fit William Gallas.

Tonight sees Middlesbrough host the 2nd leg vs. VfB Stuttgart in the UEFA Cup, Boro holding a 2-1 advantage. Boro defended well against Chelsea after conceding four without reply to Aston Villa at home, so it is expected they will actually keep Stuttgart on the back foot and disallow them possession to make any progress. With Aiyegbeni Yakubu and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink they have two strong and quick forwards that can be creative and dangerous upfront, a midfield leader in George Boateng alongside Gaizka Mendieta and Stewart Downing, and Gareth Southgate marshalling the backline with Franck Queudrue and Stuart Parnaby.

Bolton go away to the Velodrome stadium to thwart Marseille, after a close game at home where they had legally scored but were denied by a linesman's flag and had a good penalty appeal waived when Frederic Dehu handled in the box. Ricardo Vaz Te can add some flair if he starts, he has been quite impressive, with El Hadji Diouf out. Henrik Pedersen usually scores the goals that seem to win matches on their own and he is available. Kevin Davies continues to be very influential upfront or playing wide and Stelios Giannakopoulous is tenacious and tricky, so Bolton can overawe Marseille, at a stadium where the French side have failed to score in three games.



Blogger BlindJak said...

Good read Reds. On Chelsea I feel frustrated that the game was decided on, imo, an erroneous red but wish Jose didn’t make such a big deal of Messi's ‘gamesmanship’ as our own recent record in this dept doesn’t bare up under scrutiny.

Despite it all I’m proud of the boys that they were still able to take the game to Baca and still attack with intent despite the numerical disadvantage and am not too disappointed with the result in its context.

I don’t reckon we’ll get the result we need at the Camp Nou and am predicting a 2-2 (prediction could change depending on injuries in the next two weeks).

I don’t get to see the ‘Pool game but given the fact that Gerrard was on the bench did Raffa take Benfica a little lightly? I reckon you’ve more than enough in your locker to see them off at Anfield and will progress as comfortable winners. Also wishes to extended best wishes to Sissoko as some of the noises being made regarding his eye injury are beginning to sound very serious. Let’s hope it’s all just a bit of drama and he’s back in short order.

2/23/2006 2:32 pm

Anonymous Nturtle said...

Indeed Blindjak...such is football and things have not fallen Chelsea's way this is actually really unbelieveable that each side had an own goal! How often does that happen?!?!

Leaving Gerrard on the bench certainly must have had some impact...and I think 'Pool and Chelsea will both need a good game to get back they say..."the ball is round" - anything CAN happen!

Great update and intro to the UEFA cup and English teams that are still in the running Redsman!

2/23/2006 2:39 pm

Anonymous Lost Key said...

I believe neither Liverpool nor Benfica produced a good performance that night. This could be considered as the most uninteresting among the eight matches. Liverpool with their typical disciplined display but this time, plus the lack of imagination, they looked like had no interest in scoring away goal. Most Liverpool players were little bit tired after going through two high profile matches within a few days before this match and without Steven Gerrard ( I hate to say this but I believe it is true sometime, especially this time around) they seemed not having creativity and willingness to push for the goals

A 0-1 away defeat supposed not to be a big problem for defending champions. And I would like to see a repeat of last season performance against Olimpyacos or more recently against Luton, but to be honest, on current situation, I can not really see how the Reds could score 3 goals past Benfica if the Portuguese side manage to score first goal in Anfield (especially there is no Sinama Pongolle this time around). It is very important for the Reds to find early goal in the second leg and at the same time, watch their back.

I do think decent midfield players like Alonso and Riise should raise their characters and leadership skills to give command especially when Gerrard is not on the field. Carragher and Hyypia certainly can lead the team, but what Liverpool lacked last Wednesday was someone to lead and pushing for the real attack.

2/23/2006 4:47 pm

Blogger T said...

Excellent commentary and preview, Redsman. Also good quality comments BlindJak, Nturtle and Lost Key.

It was a definite shame that Del Horno did get sent off in the first half because of the imbalance that creates, but credit to Chelsea... they kept fighting hard for the rest of the match and were only undone by two of the most superb crosses you are ever likely to see. I agree BJ that it will be tough in the Nou Camp, but it is also diffcult to completely count out this Chelsea side packed full of quality players.

Really good commentary on the Liverpool match Lost Key. I only saw the highlights, but what I did see suggests that it was a match where Liverpool were intent to keep it tight and take their chances on beating Benfica at Anfield. The decision made by Benitez to rest Stevie G supports this theory. Your highlighted words certainly should be in the teamtalk made by Benitez in a fortnight!

Would also like to add my good wishes to Sissoko for a full recovery to what sounds a very serious injury. Last Sunday on EFT, Redsman and me wrote about his qualities and positive impact he has in the Liverpool midfield, and I hope it isn't long before he is back in there giving trouble to the opposition.

By the way, if you catch the Bolton match tonight watch out for the Marseille (and Nigeria) left-back Taye Taiwo. My brother has been talking about this player for about a year, and particularly his amazing shooting ability.

2/23/2006 7:22 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Thanks chaps, great comments, they practically hit home on their respective issues, right on the button.

It was certainly testing to face Barcelona, much less a man less, and it was courageous from Chelsea, that is what Mourinho should have mainly focused on. I heard he said about Sky Sports replaying the incident as they did with Hamann and Essien and so much is made of his reaction, but he did say he was very proud of his side. With a fit squad, particulary Gallas returning, and Barcelona can be susceptible on the backfoot on a pitch that the likes of Chelsea can play well on, I can't wait for the 2nd leg.

Thanks nturtle, felt the UEFA teams deserve their mention too. I was routing for them both and found Bolton just failed to up their gear when pegged back level through the interesting Ribery. I felt that someone as keen as Vaz Te should have been brought on earlier as Bolton needed someone more creative upfront. I noticed T's recommendation Taye Taiwo, who needs little encouragement to shoot, but impressive for me on the French side was Namandou Niang, with pace and tenacity and threatening to break through the Bolton defence, and stern Ivorian Abdoulaye Meite.

Again, great comments on Liverpool, looking to suppress Benfica, scoring would be a bonus but mainly to shut them out, yet we were suckered into the very same set piece that was studied beforehand. Hope that shows we should not take it for granted and strategically defend better at set pieces, getting to be a thorn in our side at present. Gerrard was said to have injured himself why he came on late, and it is logic to have him fit for 20mins and other matches, than to push him for 70 and lose him for three matches plus. Saying that, Liverpool need to get a grip, as lost key said, and play a faster skillful game without Gerrard.

And scoring is to be essential in the lead up to the 2nd leg. Great home advantage but nothing to be taken for granted. An early goal or two is a must if we are to progress, if we are to defend and play as European Champions. We will need to concentrate importantly on objectives rather than considering half the job done being at home. When we have Riise and Kewell attacking on the left, Finnan and Garcia on the right, it baffles about why we cannot score more than one. Our first defeat in Europe and we've faced stronger opponents so now we need to concentrate on a sturdy and porofitable league performance between now and the 2nd leg.

In reflection, Arsenal v Real Madrid, Liverpool v Benfica, Barcelona v Chelsea and Villarreal v Rangers just look on paper as an excelent array of games over two days.


2/24/2006 2:53 am


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