Euro Football Round-up/CL QF Preview 27 Mar 12

Last Tuesday was a record breaking day for Lionel Messi. Barcelona beat Granada 5-3 at the Nou Camp, as Messi hit a hat-trick to make him Barcelona’s record all time goalscorer. Goals 232, 233 and 234 equalled then beat Cesar Rodriguez’ 57 year old record. Messi continues to break and set new records and standards of excellence every time he steps foot on the pitch. As Madrid only struggled to a 1-1 draw away to relegation threatened Villareal this win also moved Barca to within 6 points of the La Liga leaders. One stat that has gone relatively unmentioned is that whilst Messi was breaking the record, Granada were becoming the first away side to score three at the Nou Camp this season.

Onto the weekend and Messi again found the net, this time scoring just the one as Barcelona defeated Mallorca 2-0 on the party island. After their recent stutter Madrid got back into full flow with a 5-1 thumping of Sociedad in the Bernabeu to keep their two game cushion on the Catalan giants. Doubles from Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain were complemented by a Karim Benzema strike as the Basque club were swatted aside. Ronaldo’s goals were his 100th and 101st in La Liga, amassed in just 92 games, a quicker scoring rate than Madrid legend Alfredo di Stefano. The Portuguese superstar has scored a goal every 73 minutes this La Liga season, a phenomenal record, however Higuain has bettered that with one every 72 minutes. Benzema meanwhile weighs in with a very respectable goal every 100 minutes. This trident are a supreme attacking force and along with the likes of Ozil and Di Maria have this season put paid to the myth that Jose Mourinho’s sides are always boring.

Below the two giants of the Spanish game, the battle rages for Champions League places. Valencia had been cruising in third but they’ve lost their last two games, including defeat at home to bottom club Zaragoza. With Malaga winning 2-1 away to Espanyol at the weekend they have drawn level with Valencia on 47 points. 5th placed Levante fell 3 points behind their rivals for Europe losing 2-0 to Osasuna. New coach Miguel Angel Lotina has revitalised Villareal’s fortunes as they’ve claimed 4 points from their last two games including that draw with Madrid. El Submarine Almarillo are now 6 points clear of the drop zone and will hope they can drag themselves to mid table respectability before rebuilding for next season.

In the Bundesliga Bayern Munich continued their winning ways but after their recent goal feasts had to settle for a more regulation 2-1 win over Hannover. Dortmund however refuse to give in to the pressure applied by the Bavarian giants and found their own goal-den touch with a 6-1 away victory over Koln. Schalke continued their recent run of good form, defeating a woeful Leverkusen side and moving into 3rd place as Moenchengladbach succumbed to a 2-1 home defeat to Hoffenheim. At the bottom Kaiserslautern lost 2-0 to Freiburg and are 6 points adrift of 17th place Hertha Berlin. The rest of the relegation places however are very much up for grabs. Only 5 points separate 11th to 17th with 7 games to play.

Italian champions Milan are doing all they can to retain their title. On Saturday they showed resilience to come from a goal behind against Roma. Dani Osvaldo opened the scoring for Roma but a double from the irresistible Zlatan Ibrahimovic gave Milan the points. Milan, despite Zlatan’s presence, had looked lacklustre until the introduction of Kevin-Prince Boateng in the second half. The Ghanian had been absent with injury since the 4-0 demolition of Arsenal last month and showed as he came back into the side why many now regard him as important to Milan as Zlatan and Thiago Silva are. Juventus kept the pressure on and the gap at four points as they won the Derby dell’Italia, defeating Inter Milan 2-0 at Juventus Arena, the veteran Alex Del Piero showing he’s still the man for the big occasion with the crucial second goal. After dropping points last week, Lazio bounced back in the battle for 3rd place, with a 1-0 win, taking advantage of Napoli and Udinese only managing draws against Catania and Palermo respectively. Very little changed in the relegation stakes as the bottom 7 clubs were all involved in draws.

Ligue Une continues to intrigue as Montpellier and PSG trade top spot on a weekly basis. This week, PSG stuttered to a 1-1 draw at home to Bordeaux, allowing Montpellier to take the top spot back. The south of France club duly obliged, beating local rivals Saint Etienne 1-0 at home. In the race for third and the final Champions League slot, Lille, Toulouse and Lyon all won leaving Saint Etienne the big losers of the week and being 3 points adrift of that trio.

Whilst the French title seems to be a straight fight between two clubs, Holland still looks like providing the most open title race with 5 points separating the top 5. After last week’s mauling by PSV, Heerenveen bounced back to defeat VVV-Venlo 4-1. PSV meanwhile went to Amsterdam and were comfortably beaten by Frank de Boer’s ever improving Ajax side. AZ maintained their single point lead over the Amsterdammers with a close 1-0 win over RKC Walwijk. Steve McLaren’s Twente also struggled, only drawing 1-1 with relegation threatened ADO Den Haag.

Champions League preview

Europe’s biggest competition reaches the quarter final stage and on Tuesday it’s the ultimate David versus Goliath clash as APOEL Nicosia host Real Madrid. APOEL have impressed at every stage this season, becoming the first Cypriot club to reach the group stages, then the knockout stage before taking Lyon out on penalties to reach the quarter finals. In past seasons Madrid have struggled in the knockout phases, Lyon in particular causing them grief on a few occasions; however this Madrid side under Jose Mourinho is a different beast. At the start of the season I tipped Madrid to win the Champions League and I can’t see APOEL upsetting that prediction at this stage. Madrid should have enough to take a lead of at least 2 goals back to the Bernabeu for the 2nd leg.

Tuesday night sees Chelsea visit Lisbon to take on Benfica. With Chelsea struggling to reach the Champions League through their Premier League position, caretaker boss Roberto Di Matteo is under immense pressure to deliver the trophy itself to Stamford Bridge. Benfica will certainly not roll over for them and make it easy and the Estadio de Luz is a very tough and intimidating place to visit. Chelsea have looked tired and leggy in their last few games and I fancy Benfica to take advantage of this with a 2-0 home victory giving them an excellent chance to reach the semi-finals.

The following evening Marseille host Bayern Munich. Marseille have been out of sorts for much of 2012 and only progressed to this stage because Inter Milan were even more inept. Bayern meanwhile are on a roll and have the incentive of a final being held in their home stadium to aim for. Many in Munich feel they are destined to make that final and I can’t see Marseille putting up much resistance at this stage. It won’t be a walkover in the south of France but I expect Bayern to take a lead of at least one goal into the second leg.

The glamour tie of the round is at San Siro as Milan host Barcelona. This is a contest in the true traditions of the European Cup; champion versus champion; 6 times winners versus 3 times winners and reigning champions; a repeat of one of the greatest finals performances ever, Milan’s 4-0 romp in 1994. Of course Barcelona are now the dominant side, possibly the greatest side of all time and are looking to be the first back to back winners in the Champions League era and the first since, yep you guessed it, Milan. Crucially for Milan they will be missing defensive lynchpin Thiago Silva. He like Zlatan is completely irreplaceable and Barcelona are more equipped than any other side in Europe to take advantage of the Brazilian’s absence. Even with Silva, Milan were looking at a really tough tie, without him I can see Barca dominating both legs, coming out two goal winners in each.

Il Capocannoniere