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All Things Footie | Tuesday, April 13 | Jordan

Catching up

I’m trying to think of something to write, and “What’s the point of scheduling a football match for 12:30 on Good Friday and not putting it on the TV?” is the best I can come up with.

I’ve not updated for a while, so I guess I’ll start at the start and go back to last week . . . .

The bookies must have been rubbing their hands with glee last Wednesday night, after the three favourites for the Champions League crashed out. AC Milan and Arsenal are undoubtably two of the most accomplished all round sides in Europe; and Real Madrid’s Galacticos almost make up for their defensive frailties—all were favourties to progress after good first leg results (some better than others, mind)—so what happened? The easiest to understand are Real Madrid, who—despite their incredible collection of attacking talent and fat Brazillian ex-World Player of the Years—seriously lack defensive steel. A partially converted central midfielder and a nineteen year old are the only defenders the team have; supported by two of the most attacking full-backs in the World, four creative midfielders, two forwards and a hideously talented but ever so cavalier goal-keeper. A lot of teams could score 8 goals against Madrid over two legs.

It’s more difficult to explain how the phenomenally well-organised AC Milan managed to concede four goals without reply—and the only answer can be desire. That and Juan-Carlos Valeron. Every footballer you hear talk about Valeron, from Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry to Alessandro Nesta and Andri Shevchenko, rave about the Spaniard. Louis Saha said recently that Henry and Valeron were the two best players in the World to watch, as did Vieira. The fact that an ageing player for a (largely) unsuccessful Spanish side gets so much recognition outside of his own country says all it needs to. Michael Ballack took Bayer Levekusen to the Champions League Final on his own, and I think Valeron can do the same for Deportivo.

Chelsea’s victory over Arsenal represented only the Premiership leaders’ fifth defeat in all competitions this season. It’s easy to blame a pyschological hangover from the previous weekend’s game against Manchester United (that the Gunners also lost) but I think it’s far simpler than that. On the day—6th April, Highbury, London N5—both teams were so close in terms of ability, desire and big game players all over the park, taht it could have gone either way. After a titanic 90 minutes in which both sides had periods of domination, a final burst of energy from the wonderful Wayne Bridge sealed the game. Arsenal were too exhausted to mount anything resembling a meaningful comeback in the last few minutes, and Chelsea won. I wish The Blues good look in the Semi-Finals (which they’ll win easily; Monaco will not score) and likewise in the Final.

Chelsea winning the Champions League would be a victory for Millionaire Playboys and big-business, but it would also be a success for my favourite football personality, Claudio Ranieri, and for young English talent: John Terry, Wayne Bridge, Glen Johnson, Joe Cole. The fact that Terry is the only ‘Real’ Chelsea player may or may not be significant, but to see an English captain lift Europe’s big trophy would stir a little pride in even the staunchest anti-nationalist (my cold, hard, self for instance). I can’t say I like Chelsea, but I certainly prefer them to United. Maybe that’ll change, maybe it’s just because Claudio Ranieri is everything that Alex Ferguson isn’t (funny, honest, fair, intelligent, able to laugh at himself), but regardless, I’m happy to wish the Tinkerman’s team the very best.

With the excitement of the Champions League over, it was time to get back to the Premiership over Easter, and for Arsenal fans to remember what winning feels like again. In 1999, on the way to the treble, United played seven games in 23 days; two against Juve and two against Arsenal along with Wimbledon, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds. This season, Arsenal have played 6 games in just 16 days; two against United, two against Chelsea, along with Liverpool and Newcastle. The scheduling by the good people of the Premier League and the Football Association Challenge Cup has been absolutely atrocious. To play an FA Cup Semi Final on Saturday morning, a Champions League Semi-Final on Wednesday night, then Liverpool on Friday morning, it’s no wonder that come Sunday afternoon the team looked dead on their feet against Newcastle. After their 4-2 thrashing of Liverpool, it was a hard earned point that Arsenal took away from at St James’ Park, and one that kept their record-breaking 32 game unbeaten ‘start’ to the season intact.

After their taxing solitary game in midweek, Chelsea managed to drop two points against Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, and a further three yesterday at Villa Park, surely consigning their title Challenge to the same small, round filing cabinet as Manchester United’s. It’s no surprise that such a ‘new’ team as Chelsea’s struggled to keep themselves psyched up over an entire season, and I think we’ll see a far steelier challenge from them next year.

That’s a lot said about the big two, but there was some pretty interesting stuff going on below them this weekend too. Wolves seem to have decided that they’re not really interested in staying in the premiership, which is a shame—I kind of wanted them to stay up. All in all there are six teams in serious danger of relegation, two of which are down already (sorry Mickey, sorry Dave), and three of which are on the same number of points at the moment. Of those three, both Kevin Keegan’s Manchester City and Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth have the ability to pick up a few lots of three points, which will easily be enough to keep them from sinking; Blackburn and Leeds on the other hand . . . .

The problem with both the Yorkshire sides in the bottom six is that they really struggle to create chances. Both have forwards capable of scoring goals, but they both lack the creativity in vital areas that’d allow the likes of Andy Cole and Alan Smith to keep them up. It will come down to a question of which team fights for it more, and believe me there’s plenty of fight in both, but I suspect that Leeds’ tricky run in, finishing on May 15th with a trip to Stamford Bridge, could be one fight too many.

That’s all I can bring myself to write today, I’m sure I’ve ignored your team’s efforts; if I have then just bring it up in the comments below.

Before I go, I’d just like to thank Doncaster Rovers, Ross County, Airdrie, Plymouth, Carlisle, Hibernian and Stirling. My accumulator just wouldn’t have been the same without you.

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