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.