By Bilal Zaidi
I have been writing for TA Magazine as their ‘specialist sports writer’ and this was this months article on the Champions League, FA Cup reaction and title chances.
After a long break from European club football, the continents most prestigious tournament kicked off again on the 19th of February. For the British teams there were some tough ties lined up with Liverpool and Arsenal both facing Italy’s finest in Inter Milan and AC Milan respectively. Manchester United and Chelsea started their ties away to Lyon and Olympiakos, and Celtic the only Scottish team left played host to Barcelona.
Liverpool were the only side to achieve a victory after scoring two late goals to beat Inter 2-0 while Chelsea played out for a 0-0 away draw. Carlos Tevez scored a late equaliser to cancel out Benzema’s impressive opener to give Manchester United a vital away goal taking them into the second leg at home to the French champions. Arsenal dominated the home tie against AC Milan and were unlucky not to snatch at least one goal in the last minute where Adebayor hit the bar with a header from young Theo Walcott’s cross. Celtic will be disappointed after leading twice to Catalan giants Barcelona and letting that lead slip away to lose 3-2 with Messi scoring twice and Arsenal old boy Henry also getting on the scoresheet.
What does this mean for each British football club left in the champions league? Liverpool have a great chance of progressing even with Inter having a formidable home record. Liverpool have been there before and they have a great chance of seeing out the tie. It is important to note that just as the Arsenal result, both home teams didn’t concede an away goal which in today’s modern competition is becoming increasingly important. Arsenal however, face an experienced AC Milan side away from home with a youthful team. Even though I fancy Arsenal to score away from home, it will be a big ask to win but a score-draw could be on the cards if Arsenal perform to their potential. It should suit Arsenal with AC Milan being less reserved at home and an open tie should be a great for the spectators. I think the 0-0 draw could suit Arsenal in that they will have to approach the second leg with a positive mentality which should produce an open game where either team could take it.
Manchester United will be very happy to have got that vital away goal against a fantastic team and I would expect United to progress by taking control at home as can be expected of Chelsea. Celtic showed how brave they were but it didn’t pay off in the end with Messi spoiling the show in Glasgow, but for them to get this far is still a big achievement.
The next month should prove to be an interesting one for both the Champions League and the Premiership with Arsenal currently sitting five points clear of Manchester United. However, with Manchester United knocking the Gunners out of the FA Cup recently, the psychological advantage could be in Alex Ferguson’s camp. The 12th of April could prove to be a vital day in the title run in when Arsenal travel to Old Trafford to play for a potential ‘six pointer’. Only time will tell what the season will unfold into but it is clear to be one of the closest title challenges in modern history with three teams still definitely in it. Chelsea have to play Arsenal and United at home so they could still be in it, but most would agree it is now down to Manchester United and Arsenal to slug it out in the last 12 games remaining in the season.
The FA Cup result should have little significance in the title race apart from proving that Manchester United have a stronger squad than Arsenal. Whether Arsenal’s best eleven can go all the way to keep at the top of the table will be interesting to see and will depend a lot on the fitness of key players. A lot can happen in 12 games, that is a potential 36 points still to play for each team. Perhaps with the FA Cup out of Arsenal’s reach it could prove to mean they stay more focussed on the domestic league while Manchester United have one more headache to worry about. Or, it could work in the opposite way to spur Manchester United onto achieve even greater things with the FA Cup, Premier League and Champions League all still to play for.
The coming months will prove to be vital and it will boil down to which team wants it more. I have a sneaky feeling that there may be some surprises to come along the way, watch this space…
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