Chelsea win the Champions League

 
Finally, they’ve done it. A season that looked to be disastrous under Andres Villas-Boas ends with Chelsea winning the double under Roberto Di Matteo.
At times, it wasn’t pretty. Organised and resolute defending where the team knew their strengths and weaknesses, or negative football – call it what you like, it’s effective. Chelsea have won the Champions League, beating the mighty Barcelona on the way as well as Napoli, Benfica and Bayern Munich.
They’ve had their graft and determination greeted by luck, but you make your own luck. Bayern had 43 shots on goal to Chelsea’s 9, but 22 of Bayern’s were blocked; even the most stout believer in defensive positioning coming before overplayed heroics would have to admit that that is fantastic defending. Gary Cahill and David Luiz were incredible, while Ashley Cole put in a Man of the Match performance, putting to bed (ahem) the claims that he’s finished as a top-flight full-back.
There were horrible Munich misses, with Mario Gomez perhaps the worst perpetrator. But Chelsea had an effect on some of those misses – pressure on players contributes to them snatching at shots, bodies flying in puts an attacker off. Stats won’t show that. They did have their luck, though – they’re lucky that Arjen Robben’s penalty in extra-time was dreadful. It really did just feel like it was their night.
Of course, the only stat that really matters is this: Bayern Munich 1 – 1 Chelsea after 90 minutes.
 
Munich
(picture from Markus Unger on Flickr)
The way the game was played was no real surprise; Bayern set out to retain the ball, keep possession and keep creating chances. Chelsea set out to frustrate and then counter, just as they did against Barca. They were organised and they did have periods of slight domination.
And yet, after winning the FA Cup and the Champions League, Di Matteo’s full-time job at the club – we’re told – is still not set in stone for next season.
Roman Abramovich has always wanted the Champions League, and now he’s got it. He apparently also wants the style to go with the winning; he wants to be entertained. Fine. Give Di Matteo the chance to bring in his own players, as this is still Villas-Boas’ side. Allow him to build his squad, implement the style that Roman wants and keep that winning feeling.
Cahill, Luiz, Bertrand and Mikel have all now played in a Champions League final and won. Ramires and Daniel Sturridge have played large roles in a victorious campaign. Petr Cech, Juan Mata, John Terry and Frank Lampard are all winners of the highest regard. Marko Marin is coming in in the summer, as will others no doubt. These are the foundations. They can win ugly, now give Di Matteo a season or two to make it pretty.
There were plenty of signs of good, attractive, intelligent play from Chelsea on Saturday night. There were periods where they seemed to attack at will – maybe Bayern allowed them to come out a little so that they could then counter, but it didn’t work all that well as Robben, Franck Ribery and Gomez all had poor games (partly due to Chelsea’s defending).
One move in particular showed that Chelsea can strut with the best of them: a low cross was met with a cheeky backheel from Drogba on the edge of the box; Lampard squared it intelligently for Salomon Kalou, who tested Manuel Neuer at his near post.
The late equaliser, though, after Thomas Muller had stolen in at the back post to give Munich the lead, had no perceived grace about it. A thunderous header from a thunderous man who cut a forlorn figure for most of the game but didn’t once show any sign of frustration. He chased, he harried, he lost out most of the time – but Didier Drogba knew his role. He would get his chance eventually, and good God did he take it.
And with what was possibly his last kick for Chelsea, he crowned them champions of Europe.
 
Drogba celebrates
(picture from rayand on Flickr) 

The post-match celebrations seem to irk a few which, with Twitter in its default setting of OUTRAGE, was no real surprise. EVERYTHING John Terry does is AWFUL, of course. ALL. THE. TIME. Terry decided to celebrate in his full Chelsea kit which he must have been wearing under his suit, which he was wearing in the stands due to his suspension.
 
John Terry
(picture from Ronnie Macdonald on Flickr)
Terry wasn’t the only player to do this – the other players who were banned also did it, but they came in for significantly less criticism (i.e. none) than the former England captain did. Given that Terry isn’t a likeable human being in any way, it’s hardly surprising, yet the internet’s insistence that he shouldn’t lift the trophy was ever so slightly baffling.
The Champions League isn’t just won in the final, and Terry has played a magnificent part in the European campaign, not to mention some outstanding performances in other competitions this season. John Terry, to be blunt – and putting Liverpool to one side for the moment – has been fantastic this season.
So when his club, a club he has been with for over seventeen years and a club he has made more than 300 league appearances for, wins the Champions League, he’s allowed to be a little bit happy about it. His actions in the semi-final that brought him the red card were unjustifiable but that doesn’t mean he should be stopped from performing his duty as captain in lifting the trophy.
And the Roy Keane comparison is pretty nonsensical, as people are allowed to do things differently and that doesn’t make them wrong. Just as Terry’s actions could be interpreted as arrogant and twattish, Keane could be seen as a miserable, self-centred sod who didn’t want to celebrate with his team on one their defining nights. Cheer up, Roy – it’s not all about you.
Congratulations Chelsea – Champions League winners 2012.
 
Main picture from rayand on Flickr.

Champions League final ticket prices are indefensible

Fancy going to the Champions League final? That’ll be £300, please..

Just as a side-note: it had to be lions, didn’t it?

“In everything that we do, football must always be the first and most important element that we take into consideration. Football is a game before being a product, a sport before being a market, a show before being a business.” – UEFA’s first of ‘eleven values’, which are listed on their official website. 

It was announced yesterday that, in order to be at Wembley for the Champions League final on 28th May, you will need to pay around £150. Yes, that’s one-hundred-and-fifty pounds for what is essentially a couple of hours of entertainment. The general public could be forced to pay up to £300 to go and see the crowning of the eventual European champions. Fans of the two finalists will only have to pay £80 each, and both finalists will be allocated 50,000 tickets. But that is still eighty pounds per-person. And that’s forgetting about the £26 booking fee, or “administration fee” as UEFA have decided to call it.
The international governing body, FIFA, have come in for a lot of critiscm recently regarding the way in which they run the game but it is UEFA, this time, who are concentrating on revenue rather than what they should be focusing on. It is quite clear that the governing bodies of football are not thinking about the fans. They are barely even thinking about the sport. The beautiful game that we all love to watch is being tainted by the very people who control it.
The UEFA director of competitions, Giorgio Marchetti, was quick to defend the high prices. He was quoted in The Guardian as saying “when you compare it to other events, we don’t think that the Champions League final is overpriced. We do not want to squeeze every single penny out of the market”.
That last sentence really riles me, and I’m sure it annoyed every football fan across the country and probably across the continent. By setting such obscene prices, squeezing ever single penny out of the “market” is exactly what UEFA are doing. Ticket prices are high enough in this country (paying over £50 to go and see the club your support and love is simply unacceptable) but this is a new level of obscenity. This is taking advantage of fans who, let’s be honest, will be so desperate to get to see this final live that they will, inevitably, pay £300 to get inside Wembley.
Michel Platini
That price, though, isn’t the end of it. UEFA justified the £26 booking fee (or £36 for those outside of Europe) by saying that there were “costs involved”. What are these “costs”? Printing? Laminating? A holding fee? Postage? Unless the tickets are gold-plated and have a holographic image of Michel Platini doing a little dance, I can’t see how UEFA can defend this price. How can anyone possibly justify such an obscene sum of money for what is, essentially, printing costs and putting a thin piece of material in an envelope?
The news of ticket prices did come on a particularly bad day for football and its leaders as FIFA attempted to make English football fans pay to watch the World Cup, while UEFA wanted the European Championships to become pay-per-view. Thankfully, the European Court ruled against them, but this is yet another example of the powerful rulers at the top of the footballing ladder taking advantage of the little people down at the bottom. Fans are exploited in every way possible and this will be shown when 11,000 Champions League final tickets go on sale in the coming weeks and, undoubtedly, 11,000 tickets will be sold. The section of football fans who are lucky enough to have that sort of money, and be able to spend it on such things as a football match, will, of course, snap up these tickets and will be singing “Que Sera, Sera” in no time, and I don’t begrudge them for that.
What I do have a problem with, though, is the fact that UEFA are actually defending this. Marchetti explained that, presumably because Michel Platini bemoaned the lack of children at last season’s final in Madrid, “some tickets from children [were put] at a discounted price”. Marchetti stated that there was a discount of “50% for the child”. While this may be technically true, the fact of the matter is that, for a child to go the match with an adult (at a “discount” price), it would still cost £338.
Of course, UEFA will defend this pricing by saying that they will put more money back into the game. I, personally, cannot see this happening. Members of UEFA will line their own pockets with the money that will be made from the selling of tickets, although I would suspect that the owners of Wembley will receive a proportion of the money eventually made, which will help with some of the debts that are yet to be fully paid off.
Quite simply, this justification isn’t good enough. Many football fans are becoming disillusioned with the sport and it is no surprise given the way that the governing bodies rule. UEFA should be setting an example to European clubs who already out-price many loyal fans. Marchetti suggesting that the ticket prices for the final are OK because these are the prices that are being charged nowadays doesn’t sit well with me and many other fans as those sums are overpriced in the first place.
Everyone knows that football is a business nowadays. Football isn’t a sport before being a market, a show before being a business.” The people at the top of the game, in setting these record-high prices for the final, are squeezing every single penny out of said market. The sad fact of the matter is that football fans can’t do anything (or, rather, won’t). The 2011 Champions League final will be a sell-out and UEFA will label it a success. The most annoying part of all of this is not the prices, not even the poor attempts at justifying the prices, but the fact that fans can’t do anything about it.

Fabregas leads as Arsenal waltz past Braga


The graceful, fluid and beautifully structured Arsenal that is craved by English football are well-and-truly back – and they’re bigger, stronger and more forceful in front of goal.

A mesmerising performance from Cesc Fabregas was only half the story as Arsenal cruised past Portuguese side Braga in fine style, scoring six goals without reply in their first Champions League group stage match.
Fabregas scored two and was heavily involved in three more goals as Andrei Arshavin finished off a fine move, while Marouane Chamakh continued to impress in an Arsenal shirt as he scored his third goal for the club. Mexican Vela came off the bench to score two as Arsenal recorded a magnificent victory against a poor Braga side.
With Theo Walcott, Abou Diaby, Nicklas Bendtner and Aaron Ramsey all out through various injuries, the curse of last season, where Arsenal lost nine key players to injury at some stage in the season, seemed to be continuing. The game would have been perfect for Walcott as his pace would have torn Braga left-back Silvio to pieces.
Nevertheless, Arsenal were clearly set up to attack Braga, who were making their Champions League debut. Arsene Wenger chose to play Chamakh up front in what looked to be a lone-striker role. The Gunners, though, used the wings well, meaning that Nasri and Arshavin could push forward, while Jack Wilshere and Fabregas attacked through the middle at will.
Captain Fabregas nearly a won a penalty in the first minute, going down under the challenge of Pinheiro Moises, after a clever Chamakh run to the front post was wasted as Samir Nasri’s low cross went straight through the Moroccan strikers’ legs.
The formation was working beautifully for Wenger’s side, with Alex Song sitting back in midfield allowing Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna to run forward and help fuel free-flowing attacks.
The support to Chamakh was imperative during the match, and Braga’s defence was not able to cope with the runs and clever passes of the Arsenal team. After a simple ball through the Braga defence Chamakh stormed past Moises in the penalty area only to be met by Braga goalkeeper Felipe, one of six Brazilian players in the Braga starting line-up. Chamakh was brought down by the ‘keeper, giving Fabregas the relatively simple task of firing the penalty into the corner, just above the diving frame of Felipe. Arsenal were in command of the match within ten minutes, and they never looked like losing it from thereon in.
Braga were slow in closing down the Arsenal midfielders which meant that Fabregas and Wilshere often had plenty of room to manoeuvre, and it was the Englishman that had the next chance for Arsenal.
A clever chest-down from Nasri was controlled expertly by the eighteen-year-old and the midfielder, who went on loan to Bolton last season to gain some much-needed Premier League experience, volleyed a controlled shot straight at Felipe, who parried to safety. Braga, though, were under siege from the total football of North London.
A packed Emirates Stadium saw Arshavin double his side’s lead just before the half-hour mark, cleverly shooting near-post after Fabregas had jinked past the Braga defence and played a through ball to the Russian. Arshavin gave the ball away quite a few times in the first half, sometimes ruining what looked to be good moves for Arsenal. The former-Zenit St. Petersburg midfielder was substituted late on in the second half for Emmanuel Eboue, who made little impact.
The five-time Premier League champions, though, secured their advantage before half-time, this time through impressive striker Chamakh. The former-Bordeaux forward, who scored fifty-six goals in his time in France, slotted home after an ingenious flick from Wilshere on the edge of the box. Chamakh has now scored three goals in three home appearances for Arsenal; an impressive stat for a player who was not known for his goal-scoring potency in his 230 appearances for Bordeaux.
The French-born striker, though, has established himself as a strong, agile forward in Europe, and his performance against Braga did nothing to dent his fine reputation. His hold-up play and target-man-like stature allowed Arsenal’s attack-minded midfield to get at Braga at every moment.
Wilshere and Fabregas, particularly, took advantage of this. The half-time interval did little to help Braga, who found themselves four-nil down and out of the contest completely after the Spanish midfielder headed home his second of the match. The Arsenalistas, as Braga are commonly known, were again slow to close Arsenal down, giving Arshavin far too much time to pick out a cross from just inside the area. His deft cross found Fabregas in the middle and the maestro was never going to miss a free-header from that sort of range.
Arsenal were controlling the game in apparent ease and so could have been forgiven for taking their foot off the gas, especially with a tough Premier League game away at Sunderland this weekend.
They didn’t, however, and, four minutes after scoring his second, Fabregas very nearly secured his hat-trick. A shot from inside the area was deflected, but not saved, by Felipe, and was still heading towards goal. If it wasn’t for a Moises clearance, Fabregas would have had a well-deserved three goals.
Chamakh was brought off for Vela after the hour mark which meant that Arsenal had to change their shape somewhat and, with Denilson also coming on for Song, they took a few minutes to adjust. It wasn’t long, however, before Vela got in on the goal-scoring action.
The young forward, who hasn’t quite made himself a regular in the Arsenal first-team since joining a few seasons ago, latched on to a deft through ball from Arshavin. The assist was to be the Russian’s final action of the evening, but Arsenal were certainly not done.
With just over five minutes to go Wilshere played a delightful, and rather uncharacteristic, ball over the top of the Braga defence. Fabregas brought the ball down brilliantly on the edge of the area, giving the former-Barcelona youth player the chance to score his third of the night. The midfielder, who struggles to get into his national side’s first eleven with the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta in his way, played a selfless ball to Vela, who was in a better position, and the Mexican duly finished off, completing the rout.
A win against a poor Braga side should not be cause for huge amounts of optimism, but does show that Arsenal can play sizzling football. Braga were very poor at the back and offered little going forward, with the front-three of Alan, Matheus and Paulo Cesar struggling to get a real foot-hold in the game. Arsenal, on the other hand, were solid at the back, with Laurent Koscielny and Sébastien Squillaci both impressing on their European debuts for the Gunners, and strong going forward. Fabregas was immense but the game was certainly not controlled by one player; the creativity of Wilshere was exciting to see as he slotted into the well-oiled Arsenal midfield with great ease, while Nasri and Arshavin were constant threats when aiding the notable Chamakh.
Could Wenger’s faith in his youngsters finally be paying off as they look a much better side, both in the Premier League and now in Europe?

Crouch guides Tottenham back into the Champions League

A Peter Crouch hat-trick capped of a fantastic night for Tottenham Hotspur as the London club reached the Champions League group stages for the first time in their history.

 

Crouch opened the scoring with a header within five minutes, with fellow English striker Jermain Defoe doubling Spurs’ lead just before half-time.
Another header from the lanky striker all-but-ended the match as a contest, while a late penalty was calmly put away by Crouch as Tottenham powered past Swiss side Young Boys. Defender Senad Lulic was sent off after giving away the penalty.
Tottenham will have been feeling very luck after last week’s poor performance in the first leg against the Swiss side. Spurs lost 3-2 to Young Boys after being 3-0 down after thirty minutes. Goals from Sebastien Bassong and Roman Pavlyuchenko saved Harry Redknapp’s side in Switzerland.
After defeating Stoke at the weekend Tottenham were ready for a stern test from YB. Redknapp selected a strong side to play at White Hart Lane, with Defoe putting off necessary surgery in order to play up front alongside Crouch, with Ledley King able to play a rare midweek game with his injury problems.
Redknapp had called for attacking football before the match and he certainly got his wish. With just under five minutes gone Saturday’s goal-hero, Gareth Bale, crossed in to find Crouch at the back post, unmarked. The England forward headed in from close range, giving Tottenham that early goal that they so badly craved.
The first half lacked clear-cut chances but when they came Tottenham’s way they were taken. After a clever chip from Bale, who was beginning to pull the strings for Spurs in the middle of the pitch as well as on both flanks, Defoe brought the ball down and brilliantly finished to put Tottenham two-up. The ball went in off the post but Young Boys were not happy with the goal as Defoe seemed to bring the ball down with the use of his arm.
Tottenham were in control, though, with Defoe dragging a shot wide after Aaron Lennon had slipped him in before half-time. Spurs did have a slight concern at half-time as goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes picked up a leg injury, forcing the Brazilian to take a seat on the bench to be replaced by Carlo Cudicini. The Italian, who was making his return to first-team action after a horrific car crash last season, was rarely troubled by a poor Young Boys side.
The centre-back pairing of Michael Dawson and King will be crucial to Tottenham’s success this season as the club can look forward to more games due to the Champions League. King and Dawson were both excellent at the back with Vedran Corluka and Benoit Assou-Ekotto also putting in good performances at right and left-back respectively.
Tottenham continued, after the break, to press the Young Boys defence at every moment, with Tom Huddlestone and Wilson Palacios controlling the game in the middle. The speed of Lennon and technical ability of Bale on the wings make Spurs exciting prospects going forward, and it was from Bale, again, that another goal was created.
The Welshman looped in a high corner which was met firmly by Crouch, who was six yards out. The 6ft. 7in. striker powered home the header to all-but-finish off the Swiss side.
Crouch’s striking partner Defoe was brought off with half-an-hour to go, with Pavlyuchenko replacing the forward. It was always going to be Crouch’s night, though, and when Bale went down in the area after a Lulic challenge, Crouch stepped up to place the penalty into the bottom corner to round off his hat-trick and confirm Spurs’ place in the Champions League.
Tottenham Hotspur 4 – 0 Young Boys
Crouch 5, 60, (pen) 77
Defoe 32

Stubborn Braga defeat Sevilla

A resolute performance from SC Braga against Sevilla put them in contention for a place in the Champions League group stages.

Underdogs Braga were strong throughout and stopped the Spanish giants from gaining any control in the match, with a close-range goal from Matheus Leite Nascimento proving to be the difference between the two sides.

Sevilla had the better chances in a game which saw very few clear-cut openings.
After last season’s heroic second place finish in the Portuguese Liga, beating giants FC Porto and Sporting Lisbon to the Champions League play-off spot, Braga are looking to make it to the Champions League group stages for the first time in their history. After beating Celtic 4-2 on aggregate in the previous round, Braga came up against strong opposition in the first leg of the play-off.
Sevilla beat Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup only a few weeks ago and, although it was against a weakened Barca side, the win was a decent warm-up for the Rojiblancos. In Frederic Kanoute and Luis Fabiano the Spanish side had a powerful, strong front line, with Jesus Navas and Diego Capel providing great width for the team. Braga started with three up front with Brazilian striker Alan, who scored one of the goals against Celtic to send the Scottish side crashing out, one of the three.
A tight first half with few chances started relatively brightly with Jesus Navas forcing his way past Braga left-back Elderson to cross to Fabiano, who headed against the post, giving Braga the chance to clear. Sevilla looked strong on both flanks and Capel looked to have carved an opening for the first goal of the match as his cross was met by Kanoute in the middle, who finished calmly from inside the area. Celebrations were cut short, though, as the linesman ruled the striker to be offside. The first forty-five minutes were mainly played in the middle of the pitch, with both sides lacking the cutting edge in the final third. The game began to get hostile towards the end of the half as Leandro Salino was booked for a foul on Capel. Braga did have a chance to score just a minute before half-time but Matheus couldn’t lift the ball over Felipe, who had charged out of his goal to come and meet the striker, after a fine pass from Miguel Garcia and poor defending from Julien Escude in the centre of defence for Sevilla.
Braga made changes early in the second half with Silvio Manuel Pereira coming on for Garcia at right-back, while Brazilian forward Lima was brought on for Luis Aguiar. The changes seemed to have an impact on the Arsenalistas.
A fine cross to the back post from Silvio found striker Paulo Cesar who fired a header towards goal. Sevilla goalkeeper Andres Palop saved and parried the ball straight on to the head of Matheus, who headed home and wheeled away to be greeted by huge celebrations in the AXA stadium.
Sevilla did have chances as Kanoute played a wonderful ball through the Braga defence to a speedy Capel who, after making his way into the area, lost his footing and composure when it really mattered. Navas had earlier hit the side netting after getting into a good position.
Braga attempted to double their lead soon after as Alan shot from twenty-five yards after Sevilla failed to clear. The ‘keeper, though, was more than comfortable when it came to stopping the shot.
The Spanish side were beginning to get desperate as the game wore on and former Tottenham striker Kanoute volleyed a shot tamely wide after a long punt up field from Palop. Kanoute was later substituted for Alvaro Negredo in what was a frustrating night for the Mali striker.
With three minutes to go Sevilla midfielder Diego Perotti fired a shot over the bar, while Lima hit a stinging shot against the bar at the other end. The Spanish giants never looked to be able to break down the Braga defence. Braga were impressive at their home stadium but could find it difficult in the hostile environment of the Roman Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in a week’s time.
SC Braga 1 – 0 Sevilla
Matheus 62