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    English Angle: Premier League Still A Class Apart In Champions League

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    Ali Swaidan
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    English Angle: Premier League Still A Class Apart In Champions League

    Post by Ali Swaidan on Fri Feb 27, 2009 12:04 am




    With the first leg of the Champions League last 16 having come and gone, the Premier League's big boys have emerged with their heads held so high they are in danger of detaching from their shoulders. Not one of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United were defeated this week - in fact, not one of Manuel Almunia, Petr Cech, Pepe Reina and Edwin van der Sar even had to pick the ball out the back of his net.

    Perhaps surprisingly, it is the Red Devils who will have the most to do in the return fixture. Despite dominating the play and creating a plethora of chances, they could only manage a goalless draw against Inter. As the reigning champions of England and Europe, and the clear favourites to complete a hat-trick of consecutive league titles, most would have expected a win against one of the Champions League's perennial underachievers - but Julio Cesar's assured glovework secured a clean sheet for the home side.

    Make no mistake, though - United were the better team at the San Siro, played the better football and sported the better individual performers. For while Cristiano Ronaldo, closely shadowed by a determined Davide Santon, forced save after save from the Inter goalkeeper, Zlatan Ibrahimovic concussed half the patrons in the Curva Sud when he wasn't busy trying - and often failing - to outfox John O'Shea on the left flank.

    Nevertheless, good footie or not, it ended 0-0 and Jose Mourinho's men have a real opportunity to upset Sir Alex Ferguson and his charges in the second leg. But when you consider that Barcelona took a blank score-sheet to Old Trafford in the semi-finals last year and were ousted, and that Van der Sar hasn't conceded a goal since November... well, Inter's chances of claiming that sought-after away goal seem rather slim, in actuality.

    Arsenal were the other Prem side to step out on Tuesday, and it was a typically eye-pleasing performance that saw them defeat Roma at the Emirates. However, for all their attacking flair and sumptuous pass-and-move football, Arsene Wenger's side could only put one goal past their utterly bamboozled opponents - not an unfamiliar outcome for the Londoners this season, in truth.

    One thing was underlined in bold, black ink in this fixture: Roma struggle to create any sort of attacking momentum when Francesco Totti doesn't get into the game. 'Er Pupone' tried his best but was left isolated due to Julio Baptista's ineptitude, while the likes of Rodrigo Taddei and Simone Perrotta lacked any sort of invention. And that's not even mentioning their woes at the back, where Philippe Mexes and Simone Loria executed an uncanny impersonation of Titus Bramble and Jean-Alain Boumsong in their Newcastle United pomp.

    So, wastefulness aside, the Gunners definitely hold the advantage heading into the reverse clash at the Stadio Olimpico. Furthermore, they could well have Eduardo da Silva back in action for the trip to Italy, meaning they wouldn't have to rely on the eternally frustrating Nicklas Bendtner to stick the ball between the sticks.

    Twenty-four hours later, on the other side of the English capital, Chelsea beat Juventus. For 20 minutes they were glorious; Salomon Kalou, of all people, played the killer pass to Didier Drogba who put the Blues ahead amid a magnificent spell from the home side. For the rest of the game, though, it was a struggle. The Pensioners grew weary, and Claudio Ranieri's men worked themselves back into the game - but to no avail.

    On the whole, it was a decidedly scratchy performance from Guus Hiddink's boys. Jon Obi Mikel spent most of the game tripping over his own boots, Michael Ballack offered little going forward, and Frank Lampard was nothing more than neat.

    But they won. Even when the Bianconeri worked their way into the game during the latter stages, the hosts held them off. It wasn't a pretty performance, but it did the job. A 1-0 result at Stamford Bridge - quite reminiscent of the Mourinho era, and a welcome diversion from the sometimes attractive but often fruitless exploits of Luiz Felipe Scolari's Chelsea.

    Lastly, but most certainly not least, comes Liverpool's triumph over Real Madrid. The Reds walked into the Santiago Bernabeu after all but gifting the league title to Manchester United, while Los Blancos had just demolished Real Betis to the tune of 6-1 in the Primera Division of La Liga. Speculation was rife over Rafael Benitez's future at Anfield; indeed, many had him as a shoe-in to succeed Juande Ramos in the Spanish capital at season's end.

    But the former Valencia boss refuted these claims after watching his side put on an impeccable display of knockout football. It was uber-defensive, but not exactly negative either. At no point did the Merseysiders give their opponents any room to work with. Fabio Aurelio stunted the lethal Arjen Robben's influence, with help from Javier Mascherano and Albert Riera; Xabi Alonso dominated the midfield despite the considerable efforts of Lassana Diarra and Fernando Gago; and Yossi Benayoun, the tiny Israeli playmaker, headed his side to victory to cap a incredibly hard-working performance.

    It was at once an ugly and beautiful showing from Liverpool, and one made remarkable by the fact Steven Gerrard was on the bench until late on, and Fernando Torres was limping almost from the first minute before being substituted around the hour-mark. The simple truth is that Benitez, despite his obvious faults as a manager, is a master of the European game; and his ruthlessly organised team outwitted and, on balance, outplayed the in-form Merengues. And with the Kop behind them in the return leg, it would be a brave man that bets against them reaching the quarter-finals.

    So there you have it: the England v Italy battle stands firmly favour of the former, while Rafa's Reds look very likely to maintain their irreproachable record in the Champions League. United excluded, each English team attained a perfect result: Arsenal lead Roma; Chelsea lead Juventus; and Liverpool lead Real Madrid.

    Thus, it would hardly be surprising if each Premier League participant proceeded to the last eight; indeed, it would probably be a shock if even one of them didn't. The home of football remains the king of the continental scene, in club football at least - and the rest of Europe have a lot of catching up to do.

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    Quiver
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    Re: English Angle: Premier League Still A Class Apart In Champions League

    Post by Quiver on Fri Feb 27, 2009 1:31 am

    Definitely, they are dominating it. The league has improved in the past few years, lower league teams also are doing well at the moment.

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