Tag Archives: Champions League

Liverpool stun Man City in Champions League quarter-finals

Mohammed Salah, Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain and Sadio Mané all scored as Liverpool took control of  their Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City.

The Reds ran out 3-0 winners in the first leg at Anfield, leaving Pep Guardiola’s team shell-shocked and needing to regroup before this weekend’s crucial derby against Man Utd, when they could clinch the Premier League title.

Liverpool made their home advantage count, scoring all three of their goals before the half-time break. City took control of the game in the second half but failed to register an away goal despite their attacking intent.

Jürgen Klopp’s side lost intensity after the interval but are now in prime position to qualify to for the semi-finals if next week’s second leg at the Etihad Stadium goes their way.

Security concerns cast a shadow over this eagerly-anticipated clash when City’s team coach had bottles and other objects thrown at it en route to Anfield.

Guardiola said after the game: “We come here to play football, and I don’t understand this situation. The bus is destroyed, and I didn’t expect this from a club which is prestigious like Liverpool. Of course, it is not Liverpool it’s the [fans]. But hopefully, this doesn’t happen again.”

Failure

Having endured a torrid journey to the stadium, City’s evening got even worse as the match officials failed to spot Mohammed Salah was marginally offside in the build-up to Liverpool’s first goal in the 12th minute.

But even the most die-hard Blue must accept that Liverpool were hungrier, more determined and fully deserved their victory on one of the great nights of European football at Anfield.

Guardiola erred tactically by starting Ilkay Gündogan in midfield. Seemingly overwhelmed by the occasion, the German had a poor game and failed to step up to when needed in his role as a box-to-box player.

Liverpool’s defending was brilliant on the night, allowing the front three of Salah, Mané and Roberto Firmino to stay high up the pitch, ready to counter-attack, which was how the first goal was scored.

Leroy Sańe sloppily gave away possession deep in the Liverpool half, James Milner drilled the ball down the right, and Salah had anticipated the options when playing in Firmino who got a shot off.

City’s clueless defending saw Kyle Walker failed to clear the danger, allowing Salah to score and send the home fans wild.

Unstoppable

Moments later, Milner was too strong for Gündogan, and the ball was released to allow Oxlade-Chamberlain in space just outside the box before he thundered an unstoppable shot past ‘keeper Ederson and into the top left corner.

Guardiola turned away and closed his eyes in disappointment and disbelief at the concession of such a goal.

City lacked character and organisation in defence, with Aymeric Laporte, an excellent centre-back, struggling out of position throughout the match.

With Andy Robertson and Mane on the left flank causing problems for Walker, Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi looked like strangers in the centre, failing to deal with Liverpool’s menace.

Firmino set the scene for the third, pressing from midfield before releasing the ball to Salah who attempted a cross that was blocked.

He calmly regained the ball before lifting it towards the far post, cutting out Kompany and finding Mané who headed accurately past Ederson who did not stand a chance.

Impressive

The second period saw Liverpool defending for most of the 45 minutes, but doing so expertly and remaining organised, allowing no space for Sané or Raheem Sterling, who came on as a replacement for Gündogan, to run in behind.

Trent Alexander-Arnold was particularly impressive at right-back. Up against Sańe, the 19-year-old was composed and played a big part in preventing City from creating any clear-cut chances.

Liverpool left-back Robertson also looked sharp, intercepting crucial passes, and has established himself as a fixture in Klopp’s starting XI.

Attacking hungrily to try and cross the ball in the danger area, the  £8m signing from Hull City is looking increasingly like a real bargain for such as a developed young talent.

Only the horrific pre-match scenes outside the stadium took a shine off Liverpool’s night, and Klopp apologised before kick-off, saying: “I have to say sorry for Liverpool FC.”

The tie is not over, but it is hard not to see Liverpool scoring at the Etihad, meaning City would need to score five times if they concede on the night.

Former kings of Europe now live in the shadows of their success

Once the kings of European club football, AC Milan have been looking decidedly less regal in recent seasons.

After 21 games, I Rossoneri currently sit seventh in Italy’s Serie A with 31 points – 23 behind leaders Napoli and 12 off the Champions League positions.

Last summer AC Milan’s new Chinese backers spent over 200m euros on the likes of Leanardo Bonucci, Ricardo Rodriguez, Andre Silva and Hakan Calhanoglu with the aim of building a squad strong enough to challenge for the title and qualify for the Champions League.

However, none of those players have lived up to their price tags, with striker Silva, brought in from Porto for 38m euros, already being linked with a move away from the club.

Centre-back Bonucci, signed from Juventus for 42m euros, has not been able to reproduce his outstanding form for Juve in Milan.

Some would argue that even spending 200m euros on several players in the current market is not enough when judged alongside the astronomical sums paid for the likes of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Philippe Coutinho.

But even with Chinese money behind them, do AC Milan have the financial firepower to compete with likes of Manchester United, PSG, Barcelona and Real Madrid?

Instability

Another major issue facing the San Siro-based outfit is a lack of managerial continuity.

Milan have had nine different team bosses since 2009, and only one of those – Massimiliano Allegri (2010-14) – has lasted for more than one full campaign.

For the past decade, the club have been locked in a cycle of new manager inheriting someone else’s players, buying new ones but not being give enough time to revive its fortunes. Then a new man is hired, and so it goes on…

This season they have already sacked Vincenzo Montella and appointed club legend Gennaro Gattuso (pictured) to take his place.

The renowned hard man of the Italian game was running Milan’s youth team and has limited managerial experience.

Gattuso made 387 appearances for Milan between 1999 and 2012, so has plenty of goodwill from the fans on his side. But will his twitchy owners show patience if results don’t improve during the remainder of this season?

Past glories  

Milan’s current struggles are a far cry from their former glories.

They are joint-second with city rivals Inter in the list of Italian league title winners with 18 Serie A crowns, behind Juventus who lead the way with 33. They have won the Coppa Italia five times, and have seven Supercoppas Italiana to their name.

Milan have won the European Cup and Champions League seven times, but have not lifted European club football’s premier trophy since 2007. They have failed to win Serie A since the 2010-11 season. Juve have since reigned supreme.

After their last Scudetto win, followed by a runners-up spot in 2011-12, Milan’s fortunes tailed off dramatically, both domestically and in European competition.

At home, in the past five seasons they have finished in third, eighth, 10th, seventh and sixth positions; Champions League football is no longer a given for one of Europe’s most storied and successful clubs.

Hope for the future?

In 2016, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – who had controlled the club for three decades – finally sold it to the Chinese investment management company Sino-Europe Sports Investment Management Changxing Co.

The jury is still out among Milan’s supporters on whether the new owners, headed by chairman Li Yonghong, can restore their club to its former status among Europe’s elite.

In the short term, the team are in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia after beating local rivals Inter, and can still qualify for next season’s Champions League by winning the Europa League if their Serie A fortunes fail to reignite.

So, all is not lost for AC Milan even though there are not the same team they were 10 years ago.

But they have new owners who are willing to spend as they seek to recreate their successes under Arrigo Sacchi, Fabio Capello, and Carlo Ancelotti.

Rashford stars as United progress into the knockout stages

In terms of pure spectacle, this had nothing on Manchester United’s trip to the Emirates at the weekend.

Nevertheless, sandwiched between that 3-1 over Arsenal and this Sunday’s Manchester derby, securing United’s qualification to the Champions’ League knockout stages for the first time since 2014 would likely still have been the top priority for Jose Mourinho.

CSKA posed much more of a challenge at Old Trafford than they had at home back in September, when they were hammered 4-1, but United had to come from behind at Old Trafford to ensure they will finish top of Group F.

A two-minute salvo from Romelu Lukaku and the superb Marcus Rashford proved enough to maintain their 100% home record this season, and send the Russian side into the Europa League.

Rampant Rashford

Rashford only spent a minute or two on the pitch against Arsenal on Saturday, and the rest watching on with likely mixed emotions as good mate Jesse Lingard notched a brace to stake his claim for a starting spot at home against City. After this display, it will be a proverbial selection migraine for Mourinho against the Blues.

The 20-year-old striker was at his scintillating best against Moscow, beating the usually robust pairing of Vasili Berezutskiy and Sergey Ignashevich almost at will and acting as the spearhead of United’s attack despite the presence of his £85m partner.

It was Rashford who sparked the game into life in the third minute, racing onto a through ball from Lukaku before striking the foot of the post with Igor Akinfeev in the Moscow goal well beaten.

Ten minutes later, he forced the keeper into a smart save down to his left after being teed up by Juan Mata.

Sucker punch

It was then time for another young Englishman to come close to breaking the deadlock.

‘It took United a while to get going again after the restart, but when they finally kicked into gear, they blew CSKA away’

Luke Shaw, something of a forgotten man at Old Trafford after a seemingly never-ending battle with injuries (and at times, his own manager), came close to marking his first start in over 200 days with a sumptuous goal when he met Antonio Valencia’s cross on the volley, only to be denied by an impressive reflex stop from Akinfeev.

The rebound fell at the feet of Lukaku, but it didn’t even seem to surprise the Old Trafford faithful when the Belgian striker could only find Akinfeev’s gloves from a couple of yards out.

As half-time approached, it was time for United to receive a dose of the medicine they had given to Arsenal at the weekend. CSKA had created very little in the first half, but they caught Shaw napping to play Mario Fernandes in down the right side, who picked out Vitinho on the edge of the box with his pull-back.

The Brazilian struck at goal, but despite his best efforts to get out of the way the ball hit Alan Dzagoev, standing in what appeared to be an offside position, before nestling in the corner of the net.

Even the CSKA players took a moment before celebrating, but the decision was indeed the correct one as Daley Blind, who had slid off the pitch in an attempt to block the initial cross, was playing Dzagoev onside.

Like London buses

It took United a while to get going again after the restart, but when they finally kicked into gear, they blew CSKA away.

In truth, Paul Pogba wholly underwhelmed in his final game before beginning a three-match suspension after being sent off at Arsenal.

However, he did offer the fans a glimpse of what they’ll be missing for the 64th minute equaliser, chipping an inch-perfect ball into the path of Lukaku, who easily held off Vasin before poking a volley past the stranded Akinfeev to level the score.

There are some United supporters who are yet to fully warm to the big Belgian, but his decision to immediately grab the ball out of the net and run back to kick-off United’s search for a winner, in lieu of any celebration, goes firmly along with the philosophy of the club and should be noted.

And so it was that just a minute later, there was a reason to celebrate for United.

Moscow, still scrambling after the first goal, failed to clear a hopeful long ball, and Mata showed his flair for the creative by chesting and volleying a perfectly weighted through ball into the path of the rampant Rashford, who buried his left-footed strike into the far corner to complete the comeback.

‘Strong reaction’

Most would expect the away support to be disgruntled, watching their side throw away a lead in a little under three minutes, but the Moscow fans instead whipped off their shirts in unison.

Maybe they were making a point about it being positively tropical compared to what they are used to in Moscow. Brave but a bit pointless.

After making six changes to his side for the game, Mourinho declared himself pleased with the performance.

“In the second half, we had that strong reaction, we really didn’t want to lose the match and I think the boys played professionally. I was pleased with the attitude of the players. They had pride to play.”

But despite securing qualification ahead of second-placed FC Basel, Mourinho refused to speculate on the identity of United’s last-16 opponent, instead saying he wanted to “shut up and forget about it”.

“I think it doesn’t matter which team we get in the draw – I don’t think that team will be jumping with happiness to play against us.”

Seven of the best comebacks in sports history

Trailing Atlanta by 25 points in the third quarter you could have been forgiven for switching off the TV as a New England Patriots fan watching the 2017 Super Bowl.

However, lead by 39-year-old Tom Brady, the Patriots launched a stunning comeback, described as the best in Super Bowl history, with Brady becoming the first quarter-back to win five Super Bowl rings.

With a great comeback always comes the turning point; Julian Edelman’s phenomenal catch for a first down, under pressure from three Atlanta players, with two minutes left on the clock proved to be exactly that, allowing James White to level the game on a two-yard run.

After that Super Bowl thriller, here are seven more of the best comebacks in sport, some you may of heard of, others maybe not.

 

Lasse Viren – 10,000m – 1972 Olympic Games, Munich

Lasse Viren
@JO_Montreal76

On the 12th lap, Finish runner Lasse Viren was tripped by Emiel Puttemans sending him sprawling to the surface, with Moroccan runner Mohamed Gammoudi also getting caught up in the aftermath.

Gammoudi was down and out, picking up an injury in the fall. Viren however, was straight back to his feet with a 20m deficit to make up and 12 and a half laps to go.

That might not sound like too much, but in an endurance race making up gaps that size is one of the toughest tasks. Not only do you need to have enough energy to get to the end of the race, you need to find the speed to catch up to the rest of the pack.

Incredibly, it only took at matter of seconds for Viren to find himself back in contention, with the crowd cheering him on as he recovered back to the leading pack.

Viren then produced an unprecedented last 600m to take the gold medal in a world record time – one which still stands as the fastest ever 10,000m at the Olympiastadion in Munich.

 

England – 1981 Ashes, Third Test – Headingley

England, Ashes 1981
@CricketopiaCom

With Australia up 1-0 after two Tests, the 1981 Ashes headed to Headingley, where Australia looked set to take a 2-0 series lead.

In a match where England were forced to follow one after the first innings, a victory was so unlikely that England had odds of 500-1 to win.

However, Ian Botham, who just resigned as captain due to poor performances, had other ideas, producing a total of 149 runs, giving England a small lead of 129, forcing the Australians to bat once again.

A lead which you would have expected the Australians to claw back, yet an inspired bowling display the following day from Bob Willis, saw him take eight wickets for 43 runs, as Australia fell for just 111 runs. Suitably fired up, England went on to win the series 3-1.

In what was described as Botham’s Test, it was only the second time in history a team won a test match after being forced to follow on.

 

Nick Faldo – 1996 US Masters – Augusta

Norman and FaldoHaving lead the first three rounds at the 60th US Masters, Greg Norman went into the fourth and final day with a six-shot lead over Britain’s Nick Faldo.

Norman and Faldo were paired together for the closing round, and after seven holes Australian Norman, despite have his lead reduced to four shots, still looked on course for victory.

While Faldo continued a flawless day, Norman who had never won the Masters in 14 attempts, completely collapsed over the next 11 holes, and twice found the water for double bogeys.

Faldo’s score of 67 was the best that day, while Norman’s 78 was one of the worst. It was one of the most astounding comebacks and collapses in golfing history, handing Faldo his third Masters title.

In a great show of sportsmanship, afterwards Faldo and Norman embraced, the Englishman almost seemed more upset for Norman than the Australian himself did.

Faldo told the press afterwards: “I honestly, genuinely feel sorry for him. He’s had a real rough ride today.”

 

Manchester United – 1995/96 Premier League 

Eric Cantona
@ManUtdArchives

In a glittering managerial career that spanned over 39 years, Sir Alex Ferguson was certainly no stranger to a comeback, a trait that defined the teams he managed.

The one that sticks in the memory are the 1999 Champions League Final where injury-time goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær completed a famous treble for United.

Their comeback to win the 1996 Premier League though is one that is overlooked. With Newcastle United 12 points ahead in January, no-one would have bet on on Fergie’s team winning the title.

Going into the season with a young squad and little spending, a 3-1 loss on the opening day to Aston Villa, saw BBC pundit Alan Hansen famously say: “You never win anything with kids.”

Newcastle, meanwhile, had a storming start after a big-spending summer. However a run of fives losses in seven games after January, while United went on a near-perfect run spurred on by the return of Eric Cantona from an eight-month suspension, saw Fergie’s men overhaul them in the title race.

This as well as Ferguson’s mind games prompted a famous quote, or rant, from Magpies manager Kevin Keegan live on Sky Sports, as United went on to win the title by four points.

YouTube Preview Image

 

Houston Rockets vs San Antonio Spurs – NBA, 2004

Perhaps one of the best one-man comebacks in history, with Houston Rockets 10 points down against San Antonio Spurs in the final quarter, Rockets swingman Tracy McGrady score 13 points in 33 seconds to secure a 81-80 win for the Rockets.

McGrady scored four consecutive three-pointers – one was part of a four-point play – his last one coming 1.7 seconds before the end to secure the victory.

Liverpool, UEFA Champions League Final – Istanbul, 2005

Liverpool fans in Istanbul 2005
@FBAwayDays

Keeper Jerzy Dudek was the hero as Liverpool fought back from 0-3 deficit at half-time to shock the giants of AC Milan, winning the Champions League on penalties in one of the most famous comebacks European Football.

Struggling in the league at the time, the Merseyside outfit produced a number of shocks against European giants, including Juventus and Chelsea, on their way to lifting the club’s fifth Champions League trophy.

Most expected an AC victory, and by the interval Milan fans were already celebrating victory, after Paolo Maldini and a double from Hernan Crespo sent them into half-time with 3-0 lead.

However, a Liverpool team with Steven Gerrard leading them could never be written off, and it was their captain fantastic who headed them back into the game.

Vladimir Smicer was an unlikely hero, really putting pressure on AC after his long-range attempt was fumbled by Dida to bring Liverpool right back into the game, before the outstanding comeback was completed when Xabi Alonso pounced on the rebound from his own penalty which had been saved by Dida.

The Italian side was totally stunned by the comeback, having completely dominated the first half, and despite golden chances to win it, Dudek produced an incredible double save from the shellshocked Andriy Shevchenko to send the game to penalties.

Liverpool’s Polish keeper then replicated Bruce Grobbelaar’s famous “spaghetti legs” to put off Milan’s usually reliable penalty takers and bring the trophy back to Merseyside.

 

Team Oracle USA – America’s Cup 2013

America's Cup 2013The 34th America’s Cup saw challengers Team Emirates New Zealand take an 8-1 lead, just one point away from victory.

That was before the defenders Team Oracle USA brought in British sailor and five-time Olympic medalist Sir Ben Ainsley as a tactician for race six.

Despite this Oracle fell 0-6 behind after eight races, due to penalties they had imposed on the, and by the twelfth race New Zealand just needed one more victory as they led 8-1.

However, with Ainslie’s presence now being felt, Team Oracle were flawless and they won the next eight races to stage an extraordinary comeback to defend the trophy.

The gruelling competition was the longest-running America’s Cup series in history.

Why are so many ex-footballers taking to our screens?

Since leaving Manchester United in the summer, Ryan Giggs has become the latest high profile ex-player to step into a TV studio and chance his arm at punditry.

The Welshman’s transition from Old Trafford’s left wing, to the ITV sofa, (via the dugout), is a path trodden by many in recent years. Tune in to football coverage, be it on TV, radio or the internet, and you’ll struggle to not find the opinions of a former player.

So why exactly are so many ex-pros finding their second careers within the media?

Peter Lovenkrands played at the highest level for clubs such as Rangers, Schalke and Newcastle United, and also represented Denmark in two major tournaments.

As is the case for many an ex-sportsperson, replacing the buzz of competition proved difficult following his retirement.

Struggle

Yet, while nothing can ever replicate the feeling of 90 minutes on a football pitch, for Lovenkrands, media work provides the perfect way to remain closely involved in the sport.

“I don’t think you’ll see many more now going from punditry to coaching”

“For me, it’s the closest thing to playing. When I stopped playing, [punditry] was the thing that helped me get over missing it,” said Lovenkrands, who co-commentates on German Bundesliga games.

He explained: “There’s a thing in the football world, people who don’t have anything to go into after playing kind of struggle, and some people get depression, even.

“It’s something that a lot of players find hard. I even find it hard still sometimes when I’m sitting in commentary, you think ‘I want to be out there, I want to be playing’.

“But by sitting watching and talking about it, that’s the closest thing to getting the atmosphere in the stadium and being [out] there. I really enjoy it and that’s what helps me get over  retirement.”

Enhanced

Lovenkrands working as a summariser. Pic @lovenkrands11

Giggs may believe that coaching or management is the closest thing to playing.

After the disappointment of being overlooked for the United hotseat, some might argue that his regular appearances on our TV screens serve only to keep him ‘relevant’ in the eyes of fans and club owners alike, reminding us of his suitability for a role in management.

In his excellent book, Living On The Volcano, Michael Calvin discusses the way in which Tony Pulis left his post at Crystal Palace, only to find himself the new manager of West Brom, thanks to a little help from the media.

Wrote Calvin: “He maintained his profile as a media pundit, refused to enlarge on the circumstances which led to him leaving Palace by ‘mutual consent’, and watched the stakes rise. He would join West Bromwich Albion almost as soon as his gardening leave ended.”

Gary Neville, of course, is a fine example of an excellent pundit who enhanced opinions of his highly thought-of coaching ability, by educating (rather than patrionising) us on screen.

“I think these days you’re one or the other; you’re either a pundit, or you’re a coach”

Neville provides no catchphrases, no clichés and certainly none of the ‘faux-intelligence’ displayed by many of his peers on alternative channels.

However after three tournaments with England as part of Roy Hodgson’s backroom staff and a short-lived spell as Valencia manager, Neville himself feels it will be difficult for him to step from commentary box into the dugout once again.

But what about everybody else? Jamie Carragher once joked on Sky’s Monday Night Football that “no pundit on TV will ever get a job again, he’s [Neville] ruined it for us all”.

Praise

Lovenkrands, who now works for Rangers TV, makes the point that the demands and differences between working ‘on-pitch’ and working ‘on-screen’, may make it difficult for others to follow in Neville’s footsteps.

“I think these days you’re one or the other; you’re either a pundit, or you’re a coach,” said the 36 year old.

“He [Neville] was kind of the first one to go from being a proper Sky pundit, to go and take the Valencia job. Even though he was a pundit, he had the England job, but that’s not full-time.

“I praise him for taking the chance and trying to go and do his thing. I love him as a pundit, I think he’s fantastic. Him and Jamie Redknapp are two of my favourites.

“But I don’t think you’ll see many more now going from punditry to coaching.”

Caution

Neville’s success as a pundit can be attributed to his obvious desire for hard work, his undoubted knowledge for the world of football from training ground to boardroom and, quite simply, his knack for talking honestly and passionately on air.

Lovenkrands takes on Chris Sutton during an Old Firm Game
Lovenkrands takes on Chris Sutton during an Old Firm game

Other pundits choose to go down a different route, offering controversy and sparking vicious debate amongst viewers, listeners and people within the football industry alike.

Neither approach is wrong or right; success for Neville could look different to success for Robbie Savage. Either way, they are both successful.

For Lovenkrands, controversy should come with a hint of caution.

“I’ve spoken about that with people before and a lot of people say you can go two ways. One is knowledge, knowing so many things. And then there’s the controversial side of it,” said the Dane, who still holds a close affinity with the fans of many of his former clubs.

“Chris Sutton, for example, has been quite controversial with a lot of things, especially up here in Scotland. He’s had a lot of criticism because of the controversial way he’s been talking about the game.

“But for me that becomes a little bit like the X Factor and Simon Cowell, where somebody’s being negative. The same as Strictly Come Dancing where one of the judges will be negative, it creates a lot of interest for people watching it because they’re thinking ‘what’s he going to say next?’.

Controversial

“I feel like you have to be careful when you’re going down that road because I don’t like being hated. I like to be positive, but of course you have to be honest if certain things don’t happen right.

“A lot of people don’t care about being controversial and that seems to have helped them in getting more jobs because people want to hear what they have to say, even if they maybe don’t like what they’re saying.

“My view on it is you can be negative and controversial, but try to put a positive spin on it and not upset too many people.”

The reality is that football is a sport in which no matter how positive one may be, someone will always be upset.

Like anyone, footballers can be sensitive to the comments of others; they are human beings after all.

Criticism

John Terry has been the captain of his club and country, played in major games in front of some of the most hostile supporters, and faced public disgrace over his racist comments to a fellow professional.

Yet for Terry, receiving criticism from Robbie Savage over his form last season was not something he planned on taking lightly.

He responded by comparing his own successful career to Savage’s, and insinuating that criticism offered by a less successful player was not welcome.

“You try not to be too controversial and there’s a limit, I feel. You can be critical, but about football and not being personal at all”

Lovenkrands however believes that criticism is to be expected as a footballer, as long as opinions never become personal.

Having played with Joey Barton at Newcastle, the Liverpudlian’s current situation with Rangers could potentially have put Lovenkrands in a tricky situation.

“Sometimes it’s something you need to think twice about. But if you want to be in that kind of business you have to just say what you feel because you get paid to be honest and talk about what you see,” said Lovenkrands, who finished his playing career in the Championship with Birmingham City.

“If I feel like there’s certain things that have happened that I feel are negative, I have to say it and I have to just deal with it. To be fair, most people in the football world would understand.

“You try not to be too controversial and there’s a limit, I feel. You can be critical, but about football and not being personal at all.

“I think that’s the fine line I’m finding as a commentator.”

Lovenkrands (right) prior to co-commentating on a Champions League match. Pic @lovenkrands11.

Allegiances

Carragher and Neville hold the prestige of being one-club defenders who gave everything for Liverpool and Manchester United respectively.

Whilst their rivalry on the pitch has turned to admiration in the studio, the passion they have for their old clubs still remains.

Yet a major strength of both, is that through their media work you would struggle to work out their allegiances.

Being fair and balanced is a must for any journalist, however, were the ex-defenders to work for their club’s own TV channel, would their approach be encouraged to change?

Shedding some light on the subject of bias, Lovenkrands said: “The Rangers commentary that I do, it’s for Rangers TV, so I don’t need to be biased in any way.

“I really enjoy that because I’m a Rangers fan as well so when they score I can celebrate and be part of it in that way. That’s really exciting.

“But when I do the German football, or sometimes when I’ve done Premier League games, or Scottish football for radio, then of course you have to make sure you commentate on both teams and be professional about it.

“I like that as well, that I have to be that aware.”

So to revisit the original question as to why football coverage is now saturated with former pros, each individual will have their reasons. Some will say the salary appeals, whilst the job security far outweighs that in management or coaching.

Others may see it as a profile booster, a public job interview every time the ‘ON AIR’ light is switched on. For those who have no interest in coaching, media work provides a no-pressure involvement with the game.

But for Lovenkrands, his reasons are far simpler. “I just love football,” summed up the former striker.

“I get carried away when I commentate so when a goal happens, no matter what team it’s for, in the Bundesliga for example, I get carried away and start celebrating.

“That’s the way it should be. It should be coming across for people to listen to that you’re excited about your job and what you’re doing.”

Five loan players who returned to haunt their clubs

On-loan goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski recently put in the performance of his life for Empoli to thwart his parent club Roma in Serie A.

The Pole stood firm against the likes of Mo Salah and Edin Dzeko as strugglers Empoli held high-flying Roma to a goalless draw, leaving them four points behind leaders Juventus.

Loan players often have clauses in their temporary deals to prevent them from playing in competitive matches against their clubs – in England this is pretty much standard practice.

But there have been enough instances of it happening across continental Europe to warrant us selecting a top five of players whose clubs were left to rue the day they let them go on loan.

5. Lukasz Skorupski (Empoli vs. Roma)

Skorupski was in commanding form (Credit: Gabriele Maltini)

The most recent of the bunch, Skorupski played for Empoli last weekend and had one of the games of his career. Saving multiple shots and keeping out Stephen El Shaarawy in the 93rd minute of the game.

It opens up the age-old debate: is the player putting in a super-human effort because he’s playing against his parent team to prove a point? Only Lukasz knows the answer to that.

It’s hard to imagine, though, that Roma boss Luciano Spalletti will be pleased with his performance…

4: Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich vs. Juventus)

Kingsley Coman is the world’s new young footballing superstar, having played for Paris Saint Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich, all before he turned 20 years old.

Bayern signed him on a two-year loan deal with an option to buy in the summer of 2015.

In March, he returned to Juve and gave them cause for regret about the conditions of his loan by scoring the final goal against in Bayern’s 4-2-comeback win at the Allianz Arena in the Champions League.

I think it’s fair to say he might not be too welcome back in Turin anytime soon….

You can watch Coman’s goal here.

3. Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea)

9763772
Courtois denies Gary Cahill (Credit: Javier Soriano)

Before the build-up to this game there was a lot of controversy surrounding the decision to allow Thibaut Courtois to play against Chelsea.

This was due to Courtois having a clause in his loan contract not allowing him to play against his parent club; however, Fifa reversed this ruling, allowing him to play.

Atletico thanked their lucky stars that Fifa got involved because the Belgian pulled an amazing performance out of the bag, thwarting multiple Chelsea attacks and helping Atletico advance to the next round in the Champions League.

His performance evidently underlined his qualities for the Blues, and he became their first-choice goalkeeper as of the next season.

2. Anderson Talisca (Besiktas vs. Benfica)

Anderson Talisca is one for the Football Manager heads reading this article. He’s an incredibly talented Brazilian youngster who is on the books with Benfica.

The 22-year-old attacker is somewhat reminiscent of Ronaldinho or Juninho when he’s standing over a dead-ball situation.

It was surprising to see him go on loan to Besiktas at the beginning of the season; however it was even more surprising to see him come on at half-time with Besiktas trailing 1-0 to Benfica in the Champions League.

What happened next isn’t something you see everyday. Talisca hit the ball sweetly from a direct free kick and the ball whistled into the top corner. He did this in the 92nd minute to earn Besiktas a draw against his parent team.

You can watch Talisca’s wonder goal here.

1. Fernando Morientes (Monaco vs. Real Madrid)

Back in 2004, Fernando Morientes, a player unwanted by Real Madrid and loaned to Monaco, scored a goal in each leg which helped condemn his parent club to the unthinkable.

The striker had a point to prove against his parent club, who had decided he was ‘not needed’.

What better way to prove yourself than scoring two goals and knocking your team out of the Champions League in the semi-finals?

Seeing as he was on his way to Liverpool the next season anyway, it was the perfect parting shot for Morientes.

BT Sport’s European coverage is a welcome change

For as long as anyone can remember, it has been common practice in UK football broadcasting to hire cliche-mumbling ex-professionals who bore viewers on a regular basis.

TV producers believe that only veterans who have been there and done it can provide insight into the game. Sometimes they do, but fans also have to put up with mind-numbingly obvious analysis from pundits such as Jamie Redknapp and Michael Owen.

It’s a failed logic, that being an expert at playing the game automatically makes you an expert at reading and talking about it. Within weeks of their retirement, the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes are placed on our screens.

Producers must have had no idea if they will do well or not, but the logic applied because they were great players.

Last year Sky ran endless adverts announcing that Thierry Henry was joining their ‘team’, highlighting some of his mesmerising goals and rightfully showing that he was one of the greatest players our league has ever seen.

However, his main contribution has been lots of long, rambling sentences that has offered little or zero input into the games we’ve been watching.

Mundane

Of course, it’s wrong to pretend that only one type of footballer-turned-pundit exists. In the latest generation there are several that offer a lot to their viewers, the likes of Jermaine Jenas, Danny Higginbotham and Gary Neville (before his step into management) stand out.

The reason for this is because they clearly do their research and try to offer more than just the obvious analysis that any true fan can already see.

“Fans don’t want to be treated like children who don’t understand the game because they never played it professionally”

Despite an increase in these type of pundits over recent years, broadcasters have still stuck to their old ways, picking mundane legends of the game for the top live games.

And this is why BT Sport’s European goals show has been such a welcome addition to the sporting television schedules.

The show is anchored by James Richardson, a fan favourite ever since he hosted Channel 4’s Football Italia show in the 1990s, supported by journalists Julien Laurens, Rafael Honigstein and James Horncastle.

Right off the bat, you can see that all of these guys know what they’re talking about – they offer a real depth of knowledge of players and teams that most English viewers will not know much about.

Focused

However it’s not just the fact that they’re journalists and not ex-pros that makes them so valuable. There’s a real chemistry at work as they debate teams, players, managers, clubs and the game itself. They’re also very comfortable in front of the camera, an attribute that is often overlooked in this industry.

The same team also feature in BT Sport’s Champions League goals show, a programme that British TV has needed for a long time.

Similar to the NFL’s Redzone, it offers viewers the option of watching the best bits from every game as it happens. A very simple and effective idea that no one has come up with in the UK until now.

The programme is great however because it offers so much more than just highlights of the goals as they go in. Julian, Rafael and James give viewers the chance to learn about these great European teams we have been in awe of for so many years.

Impressive

For far too long coverage of European games in this country has focused fully on the English teams involved – understandable perhaps a few years ago but less forgivable these days.

English fans already know all there is to know about their teams, and are enquiring enough to want to learn more about why an impressive Borussia Dortmund side won, than why Tottenham lost.

Fans don’t want to be treated like children who don’t understand the game because they never played it professionally.

They want knowledge from people who know what they’re talking about, have worked hard to get to the top of their profession and who are deep down, fans who love and are invested in the game as much as us.

That’s a criteria that BT Sport’s European coverage has met perfectly. It’s the perfect example of what an industry has needed for a long time.

Image courtesy of soccershouts

Messi, Suarez, Neymar – oh my…

Arsenal fans could have been forgiven for rolling their eyes and thinking ‘not again’ when the Champions League last-16 draw was made.

Their team’s reward for beating Olimpiacos 3-0 in Athens to secure a place in the knockout stages was yet another tie against Barcelona.

With one win in eight Champions League encounters since 1999, and Barca’s formidable front three in fine form this season, the omens were not good.

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar had scored 91 goals between them this season ahead of this week’s first-leg clash at the Emirates Stadium, leaving the red-and-white half of north London fearing the worst.

And yet, Arsenal could take encouragement from the fact they’d had the patience and killer instinct to beat Bayern Munich 2-0 at home in the group stage, when Robert Lewandowski was Europe’s hottest striker.

Enticing

However, this time out, the Gunners’ defence was facing arguably the current three best players in the world. For 70 tense minutes, the Catalan magicians were frustrated and contained, but they still ran out 2-0 winners.

“Not a single errant touch ever allows the ball to go astray for someone to nick it off their foot”

Messi plays as if he knows at some point he will find a way through. It’s like watching the best kid in the playground; he plays without a care in the world, he knows he will get the better of you eventually because he is that good.

The Argentine entices his pursuers to get close to his body, skin tight, before a exchanging quickfire passes with his closest team mate and suddenly he is the other side of his opponent in a blink of an eye.

At times. you don’t see the ball, the movement is so quick. Sometimes you’re left wondering has he even seen it himself?

The trouble for any team facing the European champions is that no matter how hard or difficult a pass that they receive, every player kills the ball. Not a single errant touch ever allows it to go astray for someone to nick it off their foot.

Life-saver

Arsenal managed to keep Suarez quiet for most of their defeat to Barcelona, although even on a quiet night he still managed to thunder a shot against the base of the post and glance a header just wide. Barca’s threat mostly came from Messi and Neymar.

Neymar had his work cut out against former La Masia graduate Hector Bellerin. But when he did trick his way around the right back, the Emirates crowd held its breath as Neymar cut in from the left hand side with just Petr Cech to beat.

“The three strikers came out and warmed up together by themselves, a close-knit bond that only helps them create moments of pure genius”

But the Arsenal keeper’s outstretched leg blocked the shot – another life-saver from the former Chelsea man.

Per Mertesacker was supposed to be ‘exposed’ at the back, but although his lack of pace at times hinders Arsenal’s defence, his reading of the game is hugely important and he was forever intercepting passes and through-balls that would have cut Arsenal to shreds.

Laurent Koscienly seemed to be tasked with hassling Messi off the ball. At times he came off worse, but the odd challenge and tackle won was greeted with a huge encouraging roar from the supporters, especially if it sprung Arsenal into a counter attack.

Exposed

Hard work and patience were required by the hosts, and it seemed to be paying off until an attack broke down leaving their backline exposed. Memories of the counter-attacking goals scored by Monaco a year previous flooded back as the three amigos combined.

“In a dangerous area, Flamini’s decision-making is more often than not the stuff of nightmares”

Suarez fed Neymar who tore down the left with Bellerin trailing in his wake. He cut in again with Cech to beat but, perhaps mindful of his earlier miss,  squared to the amazingly unnoticed Messi who, with all the time in the world, beat Cech. The energy inside the ground was evaporated within seconds.

Arsenal had fallen victim an attacking front three that possess not only extraordinary talent but a real spirit of camaraderie.

The relationship between the trio is the nucleus of their formidable form on the pitch.

Pleasure

When the Barcelona team came out to warm up, the three strikers came out and warmed up together by themselves, a close-knit bond that only helps the players create moments of pure genius.

For the neutral, it’s a real pleasure to see this amount of talent on the pitch. For opposition supporters, all you can do is sit tight and hope for the best.

The second goal came from the spot after a stupid foul by Mathieu Flamini.

He regularly enjoys telling experienced defenders what to do or where to go, but when the time comes for him to do the right thing in a dangerous area, his decision-making is more often than not the stuff of nightmares.

Messi dispatched the penalty and left Arsenal with a mountain to climb for the sixth year on the trot in the last 16. Time to focus on the Premier League…

Image courtesy of Nacho from Flickr Creative Commons