El Crapico

I wasn’t massively surprised to see that tonight’s so-called El Classico turned out to be nothing of the sort, but I didn’t expect it too be anywhere near as bad as it was.

I also didn’t expect Real Madrid to go gung-ho and play into Barcelona’s hands, and why should they have? We all know what happened in the Nou Camp earlier in the season when they tried to go toe-to-toe with Barca.

But what I couldn’t believe was Barcelona allowing themselves to get sucked into Mourinho’s trap in the 1st half.

Why did they let the game become scrappy and stop – start with the awarding of endless free kicks? They then also got involved in rolling around and play acting, just adding to the lack of flow and playing into Jose’s hands.

That’s what Jose will have wanted, he didn’t want a classic football match as he knew his side would lose and up until mid way through the 2nd half the plan seemed to be working.

No doubt Mourinho will point to the red card as the reason for Real’s defeat, but I’m not so sure as I thought Barca were starting to get on top at this stage.

I also believe Mourinho played with fire and got burnt with Pepe, as he is one of those players with the potential to get himself sent off. He was always going to be a risk in the heat of the midfield tonight with his brand of tackling.

I heard Andy Townsend saying it was never a red card. I’m not so sure, it was a dirty tackle and I thought Pepe deliberately scraped his studs down Dani Alves’ shin.

It was one of those decisions where the player is a touch unlucky to see red, but lucky to get away with a yellow. Ultimately, if Pepe doesn’t make the reckless tackle, he doesn’t give Alves the excuse to act like he’d been shot in the leg.

The red card will no doubt add fuel to Mourinho’s endless claims of ‘victim status.’ How he can never play against Barcelona with 11 men, etc.

For this reason I was pleased that there were no interviews at the end, as it would just have been Mourinho rolling out his usual mantra about how UEFA, FIFA, the Pope, and everyone else in the world is against him and his team.

He always comes out with the same rubbish time and again, it’s almost as boring and monotonous as listening to politicians. No doubt it will come in time though.

In the end some football was played and again Messi delivered the goods. His 1st goal was good finishing, the 2nd was world class.

I did notice in the disgraceful scenes at the end of the 1st half that Messi just casually walked off the field minding his own business, taking just a glance across at the childish scuffle and choosing to keep out of it.

Messi clearly prefers to concentrate on his football rather than getting involved in all the stupid stuff. Maybe that’s why in a side as good as Barcelona are, he stands out.

How did Schalke get this far?

Three weeks ago I poured scorn on the fact that apparently everyone wanted to play Schalke as they were the weak link left in the champions league draw.

Tonight I realised why they were given that tag as they looked like what their position tells us they are – an average midtable side in the German league.

Apart from the keeper, they were absolute garbage. They offered nothing, they gave Man Utd easy possession at the back and in midfield, there was no urgency from them and nothing in attack either, and on top of all that they had a manager who seemed incapable of changing anything.

What must Raul have been thinking during all this? Here is a man with a European record second to none, reduced to a spectator. It must have been humiliating for him.

Luckily for Raul, Ryan Giggs only took one of his 4 or 5 great chances. I hear a lot of people banging on about how great Giggs is – and yes he is in great form. But his finishing is one aspect of his game that has never improved and did he miss some chances tonight!

The Schalke keeper had a good game, but most of the reason why they remained in the game as long as they did was down to the awful finishing – the game should have been over at half time.

Credit has to go to Manchester United though as they played well and controlled the game. At no stage did they ever look in any trouble and such was the difference in class, Ferguson was already talking about resting players for the 2nd leg in his aftermatch interview.

I doubt he has ever had an easier night in Europe at such a late stage in the competition.

Two in two for Heurelho Gomes

It’s hard enough facing Real Madrid with 11 in form men on the field, it must be all but impossible taking them on when you have a goalkeeper that gifts Cristiano Ronaldo two goals.

Gomes clearly didn’t think he had helped the Madrid cause enough when he dived up and over Ronaldo’s tame shot last week, as this week he managed to fumble a routine strike through his hands and into the back of the net to finish off Spurs slim chances of going through.

Gomes is always prone to one of these, he pulls off some remarkable saves at times, but you always know that there is one of these coming somewhere down the line. He is very much like David James was in his prime – if that’s what you want too call it.

Reliable keepers are hard to come by, this is clearly why Alex Ferguson is so keen to keep Edwin van der Sar on at the club beyond the end of this season. He might not make saves of the quality that Gomes can at times, but you never see him chuck one in like Gomes did tonight.

van der Sar is more steady, reliable and consistent. Gomes can make unbelievable saves at times, but match them with unbelievable clangers at other times.

It was never likely to be for Harry Redknapp and Spurs tonight, they had a go in the first half and on another night they could of had a couple of penalties. But once Gomes had blundered, that was it.

I know the tie was already dead, but I did find the sight of Jermain Defoe coming on with around 30 minutes left and Spurs needing just the 6 goals a touch amusing, Defoe usually more than 30 minutes to get in 6 decent first touches, let alone 6 goals.

The striking department is an area that Harry Redknapp badly needs to reinforce if Spurs are to move up to the next level.

Spurs now have to pick themselves up for the rest of the league campaign, they are still in with a chance of getting the last champions league spot, while they also have to be careful not to get caught by Liverpool for 5th place.

There was also no major surprises in the other quarter-final with Schalke going through. Everyone will be telling us that Man United are already in the final, but I’m sure we have been here before.

United have a great record of getting to the semi-finals and getting knocked out, and apparently Schalke were the weak link in the draw ahead of the quarters, Ferguson and United would be well advised not to underestimate the Germans.

Barca come up short again!

Not for the first time in recent years, Barcelona failed at the Semi-final stage of the Champions League as Inter Milan sent them out of the tournament on Wednesday.

Last year against Chelsea, Barcelona rode their luck and only got through after a series of controversial refereeing decisions and a last minute goal, the year before that Manchester United saw them off over two legs with relative ease, and if my memory serves me right, United even missed a Nou Camp penalty as well.

This time was the turn of Inter Milan. The stats from Wednesday’s game show that Barcelona had all the play, but what did they achieve with it?

The answer is ‘not a lot’.

There seemed to be no urgency or tempo to Barcelona’s play. The ball just kept going slowly from left to right and back again, for all Xavi’s possesion he never produced any killer passes.

Did Guardiola get his tactics wrong in picking Dani Alves in a more advanced role? When Alves plays at right back he is forever bombing forward and creating the overlap, and adding an extra attacking option.

On Wednesday we seen none of this, when the ball headed out to Inter’s left I found myself expecting to see another Bacra man come charging into shot to create the overlap, due to Guardiola’s selection this wasn’t happening and I believe it played into Inter’s hands.

In the end all that came from Barca’s right was a series of long aimless crosses that were meat and drink to Walter Samuel and the rest of his well drilled defence.

It all became too predictable from Barca, all they did was come back inside and play narrow, Inter could see it all coming and apart from the disallowed goal at the death, the door was firmly shut down the middle of Inter’s defence.

Guardiola also made a strange substitution for me, taking Ibrahimovic off after an hour made no sense at all. Ok, he wasn’t setting the world on fire, but surely you need to keep the focal point of your attack on the pitch?

There was a ball fired across the Inter six yard box with around 10 minutes left and there was no Barca player there to add the finishing touch. It looked tailor made for Ibrahimovic, on such big calls are matches decided.

The refereeing wasn’t up to much over the two legs either, in the 1st leg Inter scored an offside goal and Barca had a definate penalty turned down.

The disallowed goal for handball at the Camp Nou could have easily stood on another night, and would have knocked Inter out. I suppose all in all you could say Inter had more decisions go their way.

They did have Motta wrongly given a straight red card for a (supposed) elbow on the diving Sergio though. But the fact was that Motta was on a yellow and probably would have collected a 2nd one at least for the incident.

Walter Samuel picked up a lot of injuries for a big man, but apart from his ridiculous time wasting exploits he and the rest of his defence were magnificent. It was a great effort to hold out with only 10 men for well over half the match.

Did Sergio’s play acting decide Inter’s tactics for them when he got Motta sent off? We will probably never know. Given the Italian nature to defend a lead, it was probably highly unlikely that Inter would have been any more attcking with 11 men on the field.

All the talk on Thursday was that it is a foregone conclusion that Inter and Mourinho only have to turn up to beat Bayern Munich in the final. As pointed out on this blog ahead of Bayern’s games against Manchester United, don’t underestimate Louis van Gaal and his team.

van Gaal is proven at this level and is a very tactically astute manager. Will he be good enough to take on Mourinho? That is another question alltogehter which only time will tell.

I just think the final will be a lot closer than people seem to think it will be, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bayern pull it off.

English sides struggling to stay in Europe

Arsenal’s new found character and fighting spirit of recent weeks came to their rescue again against Barcelona, seeing them just about keeping the contest alive with a fighting 2-2 draw.

Barca manager Pep Guardiola would probably have took 2-2 before the match, but after the 1st half he must be massively disappointed the tie is not all over.

Barcelona ran them ragged in the first 20 minutes with a magnificent display of attacking football. They also forced Arsenal into mistakes by aggressively closing the Gunners down and giving them no time on the ball, not something you would usually associate with a Barca side.

With a start like that it looked like Arsenal would be thrashed out of sight, and in truth they should have been by half time. They were only saved by a remarkable 1st half performance from Almunia, who I criticized last weekend for blowing Aresnal’s Premier League challenge.

One of his saves from Xavi in the opening few minutes was a truely world class save for me, I was almost taking all the criticism back.

He even earned praise from his former arch rival Jens Lehmann, who during a half time interview heaped praise on his performance.

But, it wasn’t to last, less than 30 seconds into the 2nd half, and with the help of some bad defending, Almunia managed to get himself in no mans land, to enable Ibrahimovic to lob him for the first goal.

His second goal came from none too good defending as well. I have heard people criticize Almunia for the this goal as well, personally, I think it was just a good finish.

Barcelona got an up close look at Theo Walcott, they must have been worried by his pace. I wonder if Wenger will be bold enough to give Theo a start in the return leg next week?

There are a lot of open spaces in the Camp Nou that Walcott may be able to expose, with Fabregas out, Walcott could now be Arsenal’s best chance.

Arsenal’s fight back in the last 20 minutes has given them a fighting chance, but it is going to take something extraordinary to get a win in Barcelona next week.

Manchester United didn’t fair much better against Bayern Munich on Tuesday either, it was almost as if they thought they had the job done after been gifted an opening (away) goal in the 2nd minute.

Ok, they played reasonably well in the 1st half, and they did have some chances to put the tie to bed. But they didn’t take them and got punished for it later on.

They should have known Bayern wouldn’t be a pushover, I got the impression that United took them a bit lightly, their 2nd half performance looked more like they were just going through the motions.

I don’t think for a minute that this tie is over, the idea that a United victory at Old Trafford is just a formality isn’t a belief I hold.

I believe that United will have to up their game a fair bit to win throught this tie, their squad is now getting stretched and they also have a big league game against Chelsea on Saturday. If they are not careful, their season could take a massive turn for the worse over the next seven days.