Tag Archive: UEFA Champions League

By Tony Alvarez
Following Tottenham finishing fourth a position which would normally put them in the qualifying rounds of the Uefa Champions League, many fans who are not supporters of the North London side or Roberto Di Matteo‘s Chelsea have been caught in two minds about who they want to win the Champions League.
Of course Chelsea finished the season in a disappointing 6th place but all will be forgotten if they can win in Munich on Saturday and be crowned European Champions for the first time.

Continue reading


By Tony Alvarez

Last night I’m sure many of you saw Chelsea beat current European Champions in the home leg of their Champions League semi final clash.

Despite their visitors being favourites for the tie Chelsea defied the odds and recorded a 1-0 win thanks to a strike deep into first half stoppage time from Didier Drogba.

Despite their win which was undoubtedly impressive it is only half the job done and Barcelona are still marginal favourites to progress to next months final in May.

It would not be the first time Barcelona have lost away in England and still progressed in the tie.

Last season on route to their Champions League win the Spanish side lost 2-1 to Arsenal at the Emirates before using their home advantage in the 2nd leg and recording a 3-1 win to progress.     Continue reading

By Laurie Fitzgerald

Today’s draw in Nyon for the last 16 of this year’s UEFA Champions League will look a little bit bare of English names.

It will include the fewest number of Premier League entrants since this stage of the tournament became a straight knockout following the shock exits of Manchester United and Manchester City.

This means that it will be the London duo of Arsenal and Chelsea that will be flying the flag for England in Europe’s elite competition going into the new year.

The great news for both sides is that they won their groups, meaning they will avoid the continent’s biggest names until at least the quarter-finals.

Teams such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich will be initially avoided, which will delight both Arsene Wenger and Andre Villas-Boas.

However, this doesn’t ensure that either side will get a kind draw as there are still some dangerous teams in the firing line that could halt their progress.

Italian giants AC Milan and Manchester City’s conquerers Napoli are possible oponents, as are potentially difficult trips to Russia to face the likes of Zenit St. Petersburg or CSKA Moscow.

Experienced campaigners Lyon are never a team to be taken lightly, especially after defying the odds and turning round a 7-goal deficit in their final group game to edge out Ajax on goal difference.

However, there are some attractive possibilities; whilst they knocked out United last week, there’s no doubt that Basel look the best possible draw available to the capital outfits.

Also, the two sides that progressed with Arsenal and Chelsea into the knockout stages in Marseille and Bayer Leverkusen respectively could be ideal line-ups and are more than beatable.

Either way, it is going to be a difficult route to the final with many of the big sides set to avoid each other and therefore likely to get through to the last eight.

But a kind draw for both the Gunners and the Blues will increase hopes of reaching the showpiece event at the Allianz Arena come May.

As for the Europa League draw, the Manchester duo join Stoke City in the last 32, with the English trio avoiding one another until at least the last 16.

There are some big names joining United and City through the Champions League trapdoor, with Ajax, Porto and Valenica amongst the names having to change their European priorities.

Plus with other clues such as Atletico Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Schalke, Twente and PSV Eindhoven also in the running, it will be unlikely that England’s representatives will find an easy path.

But Stoke have gathered in momentum throughout the campaign, while United and City are capable of winning the tournament – depending on how seriously they decide to take it.

So what do you think? Who do you want your side to get in today’s draw? Leave a comment and let us know your views.

By Laurie Fitzgerald

The next 48 hours could see as many as three English sides exit the Champions League at the group stage for the first time since the Premier League was allowed four participants.

Group stages of Europe’s elite competition are often viewed as dull affairs with the usual suspects progressing with relative ease.

Not this time around; while the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have qualified at a canter, the trio of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea are fighting for their European lives.

All of them are assured of European football after tonight, but they will want to ensure it is in the less attractive and profitable Europa League.  

Tonight, Chelsea take on Valencia in Group E knowing that anything less than a win or a goalless draw will see them drop into the last 32 of UEFA’s sister competition.

While their home form during the campaign has garnered two wins, it’s the Blues’ paltry record on the road of two draws and a defeat that has left Andre Villas-Boas’ team on the brink.

Their defeat away at Bayer Leverkusen a fortnight ago means that they now have to overcome one of the top teams in Spain.

Although Valencia have been weakened in recent seasons following the sales of David Villa and David Silva, they still pose a serious threat to Chelsea’s progress.

Things aren’t faring much better for Silva’s new side on the European front; while Manchester City have been unbeatable domestically, their first season in the Champions League has proved far more difficult.

In a tough Group A containing Bayern, Villarreal and Napoli, Roberto Mancini‘s men have come unstuck on a few occassions, most notably in their away trips to Naples and Munich.

Those losses have left them third in the table, and even a win at home to the already-qualified Bayern tomorrow evening won’t guarantee their place in the knockout stages.

City will need a favour from a Villarreal side that have lost all five games to deny Napoli taking the runners-up spot, which will be guaranteed with a win at the El Madrigal.

However, they aren’t the only ones from Manchester sweating on qualification; United are in the best position of the three, sitting second in Group C.

But defeat away to FC Basel will see the Swiss outfit cause an almighty shock and take the place of the English champions in the last 16 along with Benfica.

A draw would be enough for Sir Alex Ferguson‘s men, but even that won’t secure top spot, a possibility not available to City and slim for Chelsea.

So even if they all scrape through, there is a good chance they will face Barca or Real in the next round and leave their revived Champions League hopes in the balance once again.

But they are permutations that are far away; right now, three of England’s biggest clubs have to make sure their European adventures this season don’t continue on Thursday nights.

So what do you think? Will the English sides make it through to the last 16? Or will any, if not all three sides drop into the Europa League? Leave a comment and let us know your views.

By Tony Alvarez

Following the clubs victory in the Carling Cup meaning they gained automatic entry into the Europa League and then their relegation from the Premier League, Birmingham find themselves with a very busy calendar playing almost every other Thursday in Europe as well as a 46 game League season.

 Much is made of the European hangover (struggling to win after European fixtures, mainly when the game in Europe is away) especially if it is the clubs first season in Europe, much has been made of Stoke’s fortunes this season, after every European fixture they have lost their next Premier League game.

So far this has not been a problem Birmingham City have suffered from heavily, they have played 5 fixtures in the Europa League including qualifiers, in the league fixtures after the European games Birmingham City have won 2 lost 2 and drawn one. Its not the greatest of records but its not too poor, its also a good point that the 2 losses and the draw were after their first 3 Europa League games, maybe the side have become accustomed to playing League games after a Thursday night Europa League games.

The only problem this leaves for theMidlandsside is they are always playing catch up with their promotion chasing rivals, they are unable to fulfil many midweek fixtures due to European commitments, they are also made to play on Sunday’s most weeks leading to them having to continually chase teams down.

However so far the club are doing this incredibly well, they are currently 8th in the Coca Cola Championship, however they have two games in hand on most of the sides above them and should they win those games in hand will be second in the table and just a single point behind current leaders Southampton.

Having said that things do seem to be getting tougher for Chris Houghton’s men, on Saturday they hostBrightonwho started the season in flying form and despite dropping off the pace a bit in recent weeks, remain a danger to any side.

After Brighton, Birmingham host Belgium side Club Brugge then the symptoms of a European will be tested with a trip to Reading who on their day can beat any side in the League.

I think it would be difficult for any club to challenge in a division which involves 46 League games then up to a potential 3 more in the play offs as well as domestic and European cups which they could progress in. But if anyone can do it thisBirminghamsquad is capable, it may not be the biggest squad but it has a lot of Premiership quality.

I think fatigue will set in, meaning the club will have a winless spell at some point later in the season if Birmingham continue their present form up until then any potential dip will not matter too much however if they are 6th when any dip happens they could find themselves missing out on promotion all together.

What are your thoughts? Can Birmingham continue to perform in Europe and on a domestic front? Is the squad big enough and strong enough for the amount of fixtures they will have? Do you think Birmingham can achieve promotion r a play off place this season? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts

If you are on Twitter please follow us @sfts1

By Tony Alvarez

Following his two goals in two starts for Arsenal including one on his Champions League debut which saw him become the youngest Englishmen to ever score in the competition, many sections of the press and the public are hailing the abilities of the young Arsenal star and also claiming he should be ahead of Theo Walcott in the pecking order for club and country.

Although I missed Chamberlain’s man of the match performance againstShrewsburyin the Carling Cup due to a holiday I was present to watch his Champions League performance against Olympiakos and I may be going against the grain but he didn’t overly impress.

 He had moments of magic and showed he has real ability and huge potential but at the moment from what I saw at the moment it’s just potential and not realised something I’m sure the lad himself would be happy to admit.

The following is not slating the boy but more a hope people don’t overhype him prematurely the same way they have with pretty much every young player showing a bit of promise for the last few decades at least.

 There were many flaws in his performance some you may of noticed on the TV others were off the ball and would not have been highlighted.

 The biggest problem I would say is his off the ball running he never runs in behind the defence always wanting the ball to feet, this makes him incredibly easy to defend against, say what you will about Walcott’s technique but one thing its never is easy.

Chamberlain showed a huge ability to run onto either foot and perform off both sides which will always be encouraged. But he needs to work so he can get in the position to be able to run at people, Sagna probably had the worst game I’ve seen for him in an Arsenal shirt, it can’t all be blamed on Chamberlain but he gave him no option or out ball.

Despite being deployed as a winger for his time at Southampton Chamberlain still appears to have no idea where to be when defending to be fair to him he does get back to try and be an extra body but he has no idea where he is supposed to be and does not track runners.

For me Chamberlain is also not fit enough for the Premier League, the game against Olympiakos wasn’t the fastest pace it was not slow but I’ve seen a lot quicker. At times in the second half Chamberlain went and stood at right back and sent Sagna up ahead of him as he did not have the fitness to get up and down, unsurprisingly he was substituted shortly after.

The problem I think, especially from what I heard from around the Emirates is that Chamberlain is very good at the things Walcott isn’t (e.g. delivery and composure on the ball) because Arsenal fans have had varied levels of frustration with these aspects of Walcott, Chamberlain’s emergence has been like a breath of fresh air, however I think the fans are overlooking all the plus sides of Walcott’s game. 

Some where between the two is the perfect player, one journalist commented “Chamberlain, if only he had Walcott’s pace, if only Walcott had Chamberlain’s feet” whilst being partially correct I think this also taps into the lazy journalist aspect of claiming Walcott only has pace, Lionel Messi doesn’t brand you one of the worlds most dangerous players on pace alone.

It is also important to point out that both players are still improving of course that is clear with Chamberlain as he’s very young people seem to forget Walcott is no old man due to his emergence nearly 6 years ago now.

For me at the moment if I had a straight choice between the two Walcott would be starting every time and I think most Premier League defenders would prefer to face Chamberlain than Walcott, in the future this may change and given the technique Chamberlain posses I would not be surprised if at some point he is moved more central.

What are your thoughts? Do you think too much hype is around Chamberlain at the moment? Who would you pick between Walcott and Chamberlain? Do you se ea central role in the future for either of the two? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts

If you are on Twitter please follow us @sfts1

By Tony Alvarez

Following bothManchestersides failure to win in the Champions League last night the English sides involved in the competition (Arsenal,Chelsea,ManchesterCityand Manchester United) record stands at played 6 and won just 1.

 There has only been one defeat in these 6 fixtures which shows the English sides are not performing terribly but we are used to all four English sides strolling through the group stages usually at a canter.

The win of course came from Chelsea’s victory at Stamford Bridge over German side Bayern Leverkusen, whilst there have been draws for Arsenal in Dortmund, United away to Benfica and at home to FC Basle and a City draw at home to Napoli with the defeat being suffered my Man City away at Bayern Munich.

But the English clubs poor run in Europe goes deeper than just the Champions League, in the last round of Europa league matches not a single English side won, Championship side Birmingham lost out to Portuguese side Braga, Tottenham could only manage a draw in Greece against PAOK, Stoke could only manage a draw against Dynamo Kiev of the Ukraine and Fulham drew with Dutch club FC Twente.

All together that’s 10 matches and only one English win, its not panic stations for any of the clubs as its only the first round of group games but it does ring alarm bells when we’re used to our clubs being so dominant.

I am aware that some of the clubs were not at full strength and fielded weakened teams either due to injury or just as Europe is not their main priority, Tottenham are the main culprits of this ( I say culprits its not a crime and this is not a dig at Tottenham).

The record could get worse tonight as Chelsea face a very tough trip to the Mestella to face a strong looking Valencia side, those of you unfamiliar with Spanish Football will disregard Valencia as they have continually lost key players over the past few years but this time last week they drew with the mighty Barcelona and were sititng top of La Liga until a weekend defeat at Sevilla.

The club don’t really have any star names but with that comes no egos they are a good squad who work hard for each other, saying that the Chelsea back four will not want to take their eye of striker Soldado for too long as he is in a rich vain of form.

Arsenal face a much easier game on paper as the Greek side Olympiacos visit the Emirates stadium, Olympiacos lost at home to Marseille in their last Champions League fixture and look to be the weakest side Arsenal will face in their group.

Although I thinkChelseamay struggle I can see both sides winning and changing the fortunes of English clubs in the Champions League.

Despite United’s two draws so far I still see them winning their group with ease as no one in their group can worry them and after already visiting Benfica the hardest trip is out of the way.

Before the group stages I would of predicted Man City to progress into the last 16 but having watched both their fixtures I am now unsure, they were hammered by Bayern Munich and the score line could have been a lot worse, although City could have had a penalty early on which would of turned things round, Napoli proved they will be no pushovers and City will have a tough time in Italy and although Villarreal are under achieving they are no whipping boys.

Although I think its odd that English sides have only recorded one win of the last possible 10 in Europe I think its by no means a sign the gap is closing between European minnows and our clubs, a point away to Benfica is not a bad result for United although Basle earning a point at Old Trafford was a shock.

Dortmund are the German champions and Arsenal done well to get a point out there especially considering the turmoil they had been through following the mauling at Old Trafford.

City to be fair have been drawn in the group of death and whilst I expected a win againstNapoliit was no forgone conclusion.

What are your thoughts? Are the rest of Europe catching our teams? What’s behind the lack of English victories in Europe? Will Chelsea and Arsenal make amends for this tonight? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts

If you are on Twitter please follow us @sfts1

By Laurie Fitzgerald

It says everything about the past 12 months in the career of Joe Cole that his loan move to Lille on transfer deadline day was not one of the biggest headlines.

Last summer the England midfielder was the prized Bosman transfer of the summer, with Arsenal and Tottenham battling for his services before Liverpool swooped to give Cole a three-year deal.

Many were hailing the East Londoner to spearhead a revival under new manager Roy Hodgson and bring better times back to Anfield.

But his league debut saw him given a straight red card against the Gunners, and unfortunately for Cole it only got worse from there.

Niggling injuries throughout the campaign didn’t help, but when he did get on the pitch he looked a shadow of the player that helped Chelsea to three Premier League titles.

Since the turn of the year and Hodgson’s departure from Merseyside, Cole started just three games – and two of those were in the Europa League.

So while better times have arrived at Anfield under Kenny Dalglish, it was not inspired by Cole, who knew he needed a fresh start to breathe new life into a faltering career.

Thankfully he may have found a place to do that in the unlikely setting of France with Lille.

At the age of 29, Cole could have taken the simple option of joining another Premier League club and go through the motions of a comfortable lifestyle he has grown used to.

Instead, by joining the French champions he is testing himself not only as a player but as a person who still has the desire to have more success within the game.

Having come through the ranks at West Ham, there has always been a perception that he has never wanted to stray too far from his London roots.

But by going to a new country with his young family and aiming to settle into a culture unfamiliar to him deserves great respect.

More importantly for a player with such gifted ability, he also has a platform to rediscover the talent that made him so important for both club and country.

Not only is he playing for a strong side in an underrated league, but he also has the added bonus of playing regularly in this year’s Champions League.

Last weekend saw Cole make his debut by coming on during his new team’s 3-1 win over St Etienne as he works his way up to full fitness after such insignificant playing time in 2011.

He still found the time to set up Ludovic Obraniak‘s goal that clinched the three points, and with confidence and match sharpness growing every week he can become the playmaker of this side if he rediscovers his best form.

Cole has already pointed out the difference in his new surroundings, saying, “There are a lot of things changing and it’s a big challenge. But every day I go into work, it becomes a little bit familiar and i think to myself ‘yeah, I’m in the right place here.'”

Hopefully by the end of the season, Cole will have proven to his doubters just how right his move to France proved to be.

So what do you think? Will Cole rediscover his best form in France? Leave a comment and let us know your views.

By Tony Alvarez

While many of the numerous media outlets in the UK will be talking about Sir Alex Ferguson swearing in a press conference moaning about his treatment from the FA, the Super Cup tie between Champions League holders Barcelona and Europa League winners Porto or Arsenals failed bid for Gary Cahill something much more important happened yesterday.

 I am talking about the deal that has kept Plymouth Argyle existing as a Football club which was agreed with little time to spare before the 6 o’clock deadline which would see the club become extinct.

Its not often that Plymouth Argyle are hailed as more important than Barcelona but in yesterdays case they well and truly were, a club playing in a show piece game that no one really cares about should not take preference over the survival of a club who were formed in 1886 and who turned professional in 1903.

Although the deal is not yet complete as the Football League amongst others still have to agree to it the future for the club looks a lot brighter than it did at 5 o clock last night.

The deal had been complicated by the involvement of Blue Square Bet South side Truro City‘s chairman Kevin Heaney in Bishop International because under Football League rules no-one can be involved in the running of two clubs.

I have no emotional tie to Plymouth I feel that needs to be made clear but no Football side with a history this long should cease to exist and ruin many fans lives, even as an Arsenal fan I would be really unhappy were Tottenham to fold.

I for one hopePlymouthcan bounce back from the difficulties they have had in the past few years and start to rebuild themselves and be as competitive on the pitch as they were in the Championship just a few years ago.

The club who sit 22nd in League two with one point and a minus 8 goal difference kick off their first game since being saved at 3 o clock today when they host Crewe who are yet to pick up a point this season.

Are you glad of Plymouth’s survival? Is it a sign of the sorry financial state of Football that teams are struggling to exist? Do you think Plymouth can kick on from this and start climbing the Football Leagues again? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.

If you have Twitter please follow us @sfts1. Thank you

By Laurie Fitzgerald

This week saw the beginning of the qualifying rounds for the group stages of both the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.

However, the excitement for the beginning of each could not have been of greater contrast.

While the Champions League continues to be the pinnacle of European football, the interest in it’s sister format appears to dwindle with each passing season.

The main reason for this appears to be the difference in financial rewards from participating in each competition.

Take Tottenham for example; Last season, they gained £28 million from reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League. This year they participate in the Europa League, and they would only pick up a quarter of that total even if they go on to win the Europa League.

Clubs aren’t going to have the same drive and desire to do well in the competition if they get very little in return.

Another issue is the huge burden the Europa League brings onto a club’s fixture schedule.

Last season’s Champions League winners Barcelona played 13 games to lift the trophy. Europa League winners Porto competed in 19 matches for their European silverware.

There are too many clubs allowed to qualify (48 from the group stage onwards) with a focus on quantity rather than quality, and include many club minnows that have no chance of making an impact on the tournament.

This means that television companies and potential sponsors would rather pay the big money for Champions League rights instead of acquiring Europa League rights as there is a significantly greater chance of getting big games.

But this is the fulcrum of the problem; UEFA aren’t going to worry too much when the formula of the Champions League provides them an unlimited moneypit.

The format of their most prized possession will not change merely to improve the second tier of European competitors. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But the Europa League needs fixing, and they need to find a way to attract a greater stream of revenue as well as making it more appealing to those that qualify.

One possibility is to dangle the carrot of the Champions League over the tournament as a reward for the winners.

Suddenly you’ll find the likes of Spurs, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen going all out to win the Europa instead of potentially viewing it as an unwanted distraction.

A second solution is to restrict the number of teams to compete to 32 from the group stages. This would create a greater number of high-quality games and increase the interest from sponsor and television networks.

However, these decisions aren’t up to myself or other football fans that feel the same way.

It’s up to UEFA to find common sense in improving the commercial appeal of the Europa League, and providing supporters two European competitions to get excited about.

What do you think? What needs to be done to improve the Europa League? Leave us a comment and let us know your views

%d bloggers like this: