Tag Archives: Champions League

Sandro gives Harry Redknapp a selection headache

Joe Jordon, Tottenham Hotspur’s assistant manager, is not the only person to have perennial “beef” with the bearded and occasional barbaric AC Milan captain Gennaro Gattuso. Like Gattuso on Jordon, the Spurs midfielder Sandro must have fancied grabbing the 33-year-old by the throat rather than the hand after the final whistle at the San Siro back in February. For despite Sandro’s courageous display on the pitch, it was the Italian’s childish petulance off it that so cruelly stole the headlines.

Injuries to Luka Modric, Tom Huddlestone and Jermaine Jenas, gave Sandro the chance to shine in Europe’s biggest competition in Milan, albeit in an untried and untested central midfield partnership with the combative Wilson Palacios. Neither were overawed by the occasion, and despite Palacios being his combative best, it was the young Brazilian who really caught the eye, using an admirable dose of intelligence and grit to halt any Milan advances while also readily setting up new ones for his own team. A single goal by Peter Croach was enough to send the English club back home 1-0 up.

While most spectators were anticipating a baptism of fire for the South American – how wrong were we? – his manager Redknapp had plenty of faith in the youngster’s ability to make an impact in such a match. Sandro, on his Champions League debut, outshone a gifted yet ageing AC Milan midfield, none more so than a frustrated Gattuso whose histrionics overshadowed the 22-year-old’s man of the match performance.

Speaking after finally ending a year-long pursuit of Sandro after agreeing a fee that could rise to £9 million with his former club Internaciol, Redknapp beamed: ““He is an outstanding young player. He is the verge of the Brazilian team, he has already played for Brazil and captained the U18s, 19s and 21s.

“He is strong and he looks a very, very good player so I am looking forward to getting him here.”

Judging by his footballing credentials, Redknapp had every right to purr with delight at the deal. Sandro had already captained a Brazil u-20s to glory at the 2009 South American Youth Championships in Venezuela, before making his full international debut in September 2009 coming off the bench in a qualifier against Chile.

But for those thinking this was an average player’s five minutes of football fame, think again. In the return leg at White Hart Lane, Sandro, as dominant in the middle of the park as he was in the away leg, was the catalyst to the Londoners’ sturdy stalemate, a winning result if ever there was for a draw as it saw them progress into the quarter-finals at the very first attempt.

Yet more options can sometimes cause more problems. Sod’s law gives Harry Redknapp a section headache as the former Internacional player is now starting to produce similar displays in the Premier League. And with Modric and Jenas now fully fit, and Tom Huddlestone back in full training, it would take a very brave, perhaps silly, manager to break up a so far winning formula.

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Unashamed Mourinho plots Barce revenge

A late Gerard Pique goal saw Barcelona beat Inter Milan 1-0 at the Camp Nou, yet it is the Italian side who go through to the Champions League final at the Bernabeu after winning 3-2 on aggregate.

Many are now praising the Inter boss Jose Mourinho as the “master-tactician” (Henry Winter). Yet with Barcelona having 86.4% of possession tonight – a CL record –  it’s hard to agree.

Yes, Inter played the majority of the match with ten men, as the former Barcelona midfielder Motta received his marching orders after appearing to hit Sergio Busquets with a trailing arm in the opening half.

Yet, a defensive philosophy – with time-wasting compulsory – was always a priority for the Italian side. Another staggering stat was that Inter had 67 completed passing, compared to Barcelona’s 555.

What Mourinho did, and what he also attempted at Chelsea when they faced Barcelona in 2007/08, was to unashamedly send a team lacking any offensive intend.

If being a master-tactician involves ordering 11 professional footballers to stand behind the ball at all times, feign injury, forget the simple logistics of taking a throw-in or a free-kick, then there’s no doubt that Mourinho is the master. But then so too is Phil Brown (arguably a poor man’s Mourinho).

Not wanting to play and attempt to beat Barcelona at their own game is generally viewed as clever. Think Burnley going to the Emirates and playing offensive, open football against Arsenal, hopeful of some kind of result. Silly really, wouldn’t you agree.

Mourinho was only going to beat Barcelona on his own terms. But that doesn’t mean Inter are better – or played the superior football – than Barcelona over the two legs. Far from it.

Mourinho’s tactics were only going to be as effective as their deceitful display allowed them to.

Time-wasting, trickery, committment and, to some extent, astute positioning, were all part of Mourinho’s unashamed master-plan. Only Mourinho dares abandon his team’s usual playing style, in favour of victory. A bold move which pays huge dividends, seeing as it’s Inter in the final and not Barcelona.

But let’s not allow tonight’s contest to get lost in translation. Mourinho showed tonight that he has many admirable facets, and a few unruly ones.

A winner? yes; a passionate leader? indeed; an unashamed tactician? 100%.

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Didier Deschamps will spare Liverpool’s blushes

With a matter of five games remaining in the Premier League, the end of the season is almost upon us. Which means that many clubs will already be plotting their revival on the next.

Out with the old and in with the new, will ordinarily be the order of the summer for most clubs as they seek reinforcements amongst their playing squad. Only this summer may yet see the biggest movers and shakers in football occur in the dugout.

Only one team wins the league, and so 19 teams will be classified as losers – particularly if you happen to finish in the bottom three. However, this year comes a fourth team that have extra cause for concern.

Underachievers

Liverpool were acknowledged as serious title contenders having run Manchester United close the previous season. Nine months on since the opening day of the 2009/10 season and Liverpool face not only losing out on yet another Premier league title; they also seem in danger of becoming the biggest underachievers in 2009/10, by failing to finish fourth and, therefore, missing out on the final Champions League qualification spot for next season.

Liverpool sit glued to sixth position in the league, six points adrift of Manchester City in fourth, having played a game more. With only four matches remaining for Rafa Benitez’s men – bar a miracle – Gerrard and co will have to brace themselves for yet another stint playing in the good gestured Europa League.

However, Liverpool may find themselves heading into the competition as reigning champions, if they manage to get past Athletico Madrid and either Hamburg/Fulham in the final. But such a feat will do little in softening the blow to Liverpool’s star players, particularly if other clubs – i.e. Chelsea or Manchester City – come in for them offering not only vast amounts of money, but a quick-fire return to Europe’s biggest stage.

Yet, will that be an incentive for Torres and Gerrard to remain faithful to the Merseysiders? Unrest at boardroom level continues to disrupt the club, with Benitez becoming increasingly impatient at the lack of support from the board – particularly financially.

Benitez Juventus bound

But the board argue Benitez has had ample money to spend in order to create a Liverpool side that should be equipped to sustain a strong charge on both the league and Europe’s biggest prize, every season. Failing to win the league and also losing out on Champions League qualification, arguably places more blame on the manager than the men upstairs.

Even disgruntled Liverpool fans are starting to vent their anger at the manager, with many suggesting the Spaniard has achieved all he can at the club.

Reports indicate Benitez is heading out of Liverpool and the English game – towards pastures new in Italy. Juventus seem the popular choice amongst the tabloids, yet such small-talk remains unreliable.

But if Liverpool decide to part company with Benitez, they will do no better than filling the position with the Marseille manager Didier Deschamps.

Despite telling reporters that he will shun the French national team in favour of honouring his two-year contract that he signed at the beginning of the current campaign, it may be a little harder to ignore Liverpool should they seriously put together a proposal to poach the Frenchman.

If Liverpool only take a glance at Deschamps’ managerial CV, they will soon realise it will be a punt worth taking.

Miracle man Deschamps

Deschamps started his managerial career at Monaco. The former Monaco midfielder led the side to the French League Cup title in 2002/03 before guiding them to their first Champions League final in 2004, eventually losing out to the special one’s Porto 3-0 in Germany. The following season started badly and quickly fell apart, with Deschamps resigning after a heated disagreement with the club’s president.

Role on Juventus in 2006 and all that tasteless baggage of the Italian side being relegated to Serie B after being found guilty of match-fixing their way towards the Scudetto title. No bother. In comes the Frenchman to take the Old Lady back to Serie A at the first attempt. Add winning the Birra Moretti Cup – after defeating Inter and Napoli – and you have Deschamps working miracles yet again.

Unsurprisingly, Deschamps resigned shortly after Juventus were confirmed Serie B champions. Unsurprisingly, it was reported the Frenchman left Juventus due to ongoing clashes with the board.

A return to Marseille was next up for a manager who already had a reputation of being his own man. Deschamps signed a two-year contract last summer, and nine months into his first season as manager, Marseille currently occupy top spot in Ligue 1. Many are now backing them to stay there come May, suggesting a possible league title to go along with the Coupe de la Ligue they won back in March – the club’s first major trophy since 1995.

It seems Deschamps’ expertise lies in rejuvenating clubs from the depths of despair. Ask any Liverpool fan today, and they’ll tell you Anfield has seen far better days. The club are seeped in despondency, with an uncertain future very much a reality.

Come the summer, should Liverpool appoint Didier Deschamps as their new manager if Benitez leaves, it will be the club’s most astute signing ever.

But should Liverpool part company with Rafa Benitez? And if so, is Didier Deshamps the right man to take Liverpool back to winning league titles?

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