Thursday, February 17, 2011

UEFA Champions' League Review

Say what you like, no-one expected what we got this week in the UEFA Champions' League. Tottenham Hotspur kept up their startling run by taking a 1-0 lead in their two-legged tie with AC Milan, while Arsenal came back from a goal behind to defeat Barcelona at the Emirates stadium in a victory touted as perhaps the finest of Arsene Wenger's career. Meanwhile, Shakhtar Donetsk defeated Roma 3-2, while Valencia and Schalke 04 played out a one-all draw.

The biggest headlines of the week's action took place at the San Siro when Italian firebrand Gennaro Gattuso has been charged with Improper Conduct after headbutting, and threatening to choke and punch Tottenham coach Joe Jordan. The player's agent says Jordan provoked the shirty midfielder with certain remarks, claims both strenuously and predictably denied by Spurs boss Harry Redknapp. The solitary goal came from Peter Crouch who devoured an Aaron Lennon cross in the sevety-eighth minute. The return leg will be at White Hart Lane on Wednesday March 9th.

Not a good week for the Italians then, as Claudio Ranieri's Roma were spliflicated by a surging Shakhtar. The Ukrainians only mustered half the shots and only barely over 41% possession but still were able to scrape together a victory at the Stadio Olimpico and must surely be considered almost a lock to progress to the Quarter-Finals such is their home field advantage. Ranieri - no certainty to be Roma's manager by season's end - must now focus his attentions on marshaling his men into Serie A's European positions.

After his very vociferous month on Twitter, Jack Wilshere led the Gunners to victory against a Barcelona team tagged "Best Ever". Though Barca dominated the first half, the boys from North London were able to peg back the Catalans and it was Andrei Arshavin who slotted home the winner, polishing off good work by Samir Nasri. Matched up against Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta, Wilshere was magnificent and the much-maligned Laurent Koscielny justified some of his sizeable transfer fee with easily the best game of his short Arsenal career. Los Cules still managed 66% possession though and still hold a crucial away goal. The tie is far from over.

The round's scoring got underway at Valencia as Roberto Soldado put the home side ahead against Schalke. The equaliser came from Spanish maestro Raul, who tied the match with his seventy-first goal in European competition even though the Germans were on the back foot for much of the tie. Even allowing the Spaniards to dominate the ball, the Germans may have managed the best chances of the match as Junmin Hao was denied by a wonderful save from Valencia custodian Vicente Guaita Panadero.

All four ties remain very much alive. This season's been a wonderful one so far in all the major leagues: the rise of Borussia Dortmund in Germany, AC Milan's resurgence in Serie A, the most even EPL season in recent memory and the implacable brilliance of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Though 2010's World Cup may not have been one for the ages, the season following it certainly has been.

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