European Football Round-up/CL Preview: 6 March

Jurgen Klopp is likely to be a man in demand this summer. He’s being linked with jobs at Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur and is also seen as the heir apparent to Joachim Loew as Germany’s national boss. Borussia Dortmund however will be fervently hoping they can keep their inspirational coach. This weekend saw Dortmund take a massive step towards a second successive Bundesliga title as they overcame Mainz 2-1 at Westfalenstadion. With perennial title favourites Bayern Munich falling to a 2-0 loss at Bayer Leverkusen, Dortmund now have a 7 point advantage with 10 rounds to go. Meanwhile former giants of the German game, Hamburg fell even closer to the relegation trap door after being humbled 4-0 at home to Stuttgart. There are probably enough teams worse than Hamburg to ensure they stay up, but fans who in recent times have seen the likes of Rafael van der Vaart, Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong strutting their stuff will demand significant improvement.

Juventus remain undefeated in Serie A this season; however they have drawn 12 of their 25 games and suffered again from an inability to put away the minnows this weekend. Chievo visited Juventus Arena and came away with a point after a spirited performance secured a 1-1 draw. With reigning champions Milan steamrollering Palermo 4-0 away from home, the Rossonero hold a 3 point lead over their Turin rivals, although Juventus have a game in hand. If they are to take their first title in nine years, Antonio Conte’s men will need to start taking maximum points on a more regular basis. In the Derby della Capitale, Lazio completed the double over home side Roma with a 2-1 win. Roma’s owners and fans seem firmly behind Luis Enrique’s project but losing both Derby’s this season will sting the pride of the Romanista’s.

In La Liga, Barcelona proved that they are no one-man team as they defeated Sporting Gijon 3-1. Despite Lionel Messi being suspended the Catalan giants still came away with what was a straightforward win. They even managed to cope with 10 men for much of the second half, as Gerard Pique was harshly dismissed. Their rivals, Real Madrid, continued their steamroller-like progress towards the title however with a dominant 5-0 victory over Espanyol. Perhaps the only surprise from this result was that Ronaldo only got the one goal. Last week I wrote about the woes of Zaragoza, whilst they are still rooted to the bottom of the table they did clinch a morale boosting 2-1 victory over Villareal. They’ll need to hope their fortunes are turning around if they are to even dream of escaping the drop. That result has also left Villareal in real trouble, only 3 points ahead of the drop zone. They had started this season in the Champions League and being tipped for the top 4 yet again. Their season however has coughed and spluttered and  they now find themselves battling for their La Liga lives over the last 13 games of the season.

Carlo Ancelotti’s PSG returned to the top of Ligue 1 this weekend. A 4-1 demolition of relegation threatened AC Ajaccio combined with Montpellier’s draw with Dijon leaves the Paris club top by a point. Current champions Lille could only struggle to 2 -2 draw with Auxerre to leave themselves 8 points adrift of PSG. Lyon, so dominant through the first decade of this century and fellow Champions League contenders Marseille both suffered defeats that leave them struggling to achieve European football next season. Lyon lost 2-0 away to Nancy, while Marseille went down 1-0 at home to Toulouse.

Steve McLaren, vilified in his homeland yet seen as something of a messiah in Twente, saw his team enliven the race for the Eredivisie title. Twente visited top of the table PSV and dished out a 6-2 hammering. That result leaves them a point behind AZ, 3-1 winner s over Almelo, but with a game in hand. Frank de Boer’s Ajax are also doing all they can to get back in the mix, running out 4-1 winners at the AmsterdamArena over Roda JC. With 10 games left to play, Feyenoord in 6th are only 5 points off the top and they along with 5th placed Heerenveen may also harbour hopes of finishing top of the pile come the seasons end.

Champions League Preview

Tonight Arsenal host AC Milan in a ‘Mission Impossible’ style tie. Milan take a 4-0 aggregate lead to North London and all but the most ardent Arsenal fan sees no way back into the tie for Arsene Wenger’s men. Milan are in good form and after scoring another 4 goals this weekend will be confident their vast European experience can see them comfortably through. Arsenal will however go into this game with no burden of expectation and on the back of morale boosting victories over their arch rivals Tottenham and fellow fourth placed contenders Liverpool. Dare they dream? My shout? Arsenal to win the match, but only by a couple of goals seeing Milan triumph on aggregate.

Also this evening Zenit St Petersburg will take 3-2 lead to the Estadio de Luz as they take on Benfica. This tie is finely balanced and it may be that Benfica’s two away goals prove crucial. Zenit could suffer from the fact that the Russian League is still on its winter break, a lack of match fitness may catch up with them. I see Benfica just edging this one.

On Wednesday APOEL Nicosia host the first ever Champions League knockout round tie to be held on the island nation of Cyprus. Lyon are the visitors and hold a slim 1-0 lead from the first leg at Stade Gerland. Lyon continue to struggle in Ligue 1 and will be determined to progress in Europe’s premier competition to boost morale around the club. With only a one goal advantage though, APOEL will remain dangerous opposition, Lyon will need to call on all their European experience to navigate this tricky match. For me, Lyon will just about do enough to get through to the quarter finals.

The final tie from this week’s round of matches is at the Nou Camp. Bayer Leverkusen visit Barcelona. The reigning European champions hold a 3-1 lead from the first leg in Germany and Pep Guardiola will be confident his team can finish the job in front of their home fans. Leverkusen were not embarrassed in the home leg but would need a miracle to come away winners in this tie. I’m going for Barcelona to triumph by at least two goals on the night and to progress to the next stage.

Il Capocannoniere