Arsene Wenger should leave Arsenal this summer

It’s not something to be said lightly. After all, no current Premier League manager has served for so long or given so much to the game. Yet this summer Arsene Wenger should leave Arsenal.

Arsenal have not won a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup. That same competition represents the club’s only chance of silverware this season. A win after extra time and penalties this evening leaves Arsenal facing either Sheffield United or Hull City in May’s final. However should Arsenal end the agonising wait for an accolade, it must be Wenger’s swansong, not the beginning of a new chapter for him at the club.

The Frenchman may have the final say on whether or not he signs a new contract, and indeed there has been talk of him being handed £100m to spend in the summer transfer window, but the time is right for Arsenal’s longest serving manager to go.

Incredible to say about a club who have consistently qualified for the Champions League, but Arsenal are stagnant. Their seasons have predictable peaks and troughs. This campaign, while they and their fans remained defiantly certain that their excellent pre-Christmas form would carry through to the end, everyone else waited for the implosion.

It wasn’t Schadenfreude on the behalf of  non-Arsenal supporters and analysts, it was just recognition of the Arsenal condition. Consistently inconsistent. The past few seasons have followed the same narrative. A slow start, concern over Champions League qualification only appeased by a strong finish from February to May.

This season however, boosted by the capture of Mezut Ozil and the form of Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal started strongly. They looked like genuine title contenders in the first few months of the campaign, but it just couldn’t last. The usual problems arose. A lack of strikers, poor performances against the other top teams, a lack of leadership when games got tight.

Heavy defeats to others in the title race have derailed Arsenal’s season and left them fighting for a place in the Champions League once more. Whilst shipping five and six goals against Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, what was more alarming for Arsenal fans was their capitulation to Everton last Sunday.

Watching the game at Goodison Park, there were two major talking points. It was striking to see how much Roberto Martinez’ side looked like the Arsenal of old. A team that passes the ball with aplomb and tears opponents apart with the speed of their play. The second thing was just how indecisive Arsene Wenger was when it came to substitutions.

He’s not a manager to make hurried changes, but with Arsenal 2-0 down at half time to the team threatening to put a stop to their incredible Champions League qualification record,  something had to be done. Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman were causing all sorts of problems down the flanks. Santi Cazorla was playing too central, allowing Baines space a player of his class can exploit. On the other side, Romelu Lukaku wasn’t being picked up by either Lukas Podolski or Nacho Monreal. This led directly to Everton’s second goal.

With Aaron Ramsay back in the squad after injury and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also available, the break or just after was the time to bring these players on and give the Everton midfield and defence something to think about. When did Wenger make these changes? With an hour gone and Everton 3-0 up.

Wenger can’t shoulder all the blame for not making changes in time. The players he selected to start the game have to step up and perform. That just didn’t happen and as a result Arsenal were blown away, not for the first time this season. Leaders seem few and far between on the pitch. Tomas Vermaelen is the captain but with a fully fit squad the Belgian would not make the starting XI. Why is a certified starter not handed the arm-band, someone such as Per Mertesacker or even Jack Wilshere? Because there is no one on the team right now who has shown the necessary leadership to be captain.

Wilshere and Ramsay are definitely future captain material, but they are still young and raw and they need a Patrick Vieira like figure to bring their game on to the next level. Paul Scholes may have drawn the wrath of Arsenal fans for his assessment of Wilshere on Sky Sports a few weeks back but he doesn’t seem the type to court publicity for his opinions. He was just giving his honest opinion.  A Jack Wilshere playing to his full potential would not just be good for Arsenal but for England too.

That is where Arsene Wenger has failed most blatantly, and perhaps the main reason the Gunners have not won a trophy in a decade. Wenger has not brought in a leader to replace the likes of Viera, Martin Keown and Tony Adams. Cesc Fabregas may have become that player had he stayed. Wenger has placed an emphasis on talented youngsters and while that project was and remains admirable it is nothing without the grit that a good leader adds to a side.

Ironically, the one player that could have contributed that leadership, albeit on a temporary basis, was Kim Kjallstrom. The Swede came to Arsenal in January, incredibly while nursing an injury that has kept him out until now. His experience may have been exactly what Arsenal needed for the second half of the season, but the decision to take him on injured, even with his parent club paying the wages while he remained out, was ludicrous.

Arsene Wenger’s detractors will point to Gervinho, Andre Santos, Sebastian Squillaci and others as examples of his inadequacy in the transfer market. That doesn’t do the man justice, as he was also responsible for signing Thierry Henry, bought for £11m and one of the bargains of the Premier League era. Nevertheless, the fact that flop Andrei Arshavin was Arsenal’s record transfer signing until Mezut Ozil shows a stubbornness on Wenger’s part to move with the times financially. While he has bought in some excellent players at reasonable fees, with Santi Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain two recent examples, he has yet to adequately replace Cesc Fabregas in the centre of midfield. Bringing in the 30 year old Mikel Arteta in the same transfer window that as Cesc left, with all respect to the former Everton man, was insufficient compensation for the loss of the younger Spaniard.

Manchester United have been criticised this season for their poor performances, and much of the blame has been put on the board and David Moyes for failing in the transfer market last summer. The last minute purchase of Marouane Fellaini at an inflated price has been questioned and rightly so. The Belgian has yet to prove his worth, and that money may have been better spent on a ball-playing central midfielder. But what of Mezut Ozil’s transfer to Arsenal? £42m for the German who, while undoubtedly a spectacular creative force, occupies a role in the team that other players already at the club could have filled.

The acquisition of Ozil brought Arsenal’s spending over the past three years close to £150m. This has been offset of course by the sales of key players Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri for a combined total of around £80m. The loss of this caliber of players certainly impacted on Arsenal’s ability to challenge for trophies, but it must be remembered that Tottenham Hotspur spent over £100m last summer and now look set to change managers for the second time since. Spending lots of money, whether you are a top six club or QPR, leads to expectations from the board and from the fans. Failure to meet those expectations usually proves to be the end for a manager.

David Dein leaving Arsenal in 2007 no doubt hindered Arsene Wenger. As Arsenal’s vice-chairman, he had a big part to play in transfer dealings during first decade of Wenger’s reign. Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas… All of these players were bought on Dein’s watch. In the interim, the club has been less of a force in the transfer market.

Thierry Henry was the first big-name player to leave in the aftermath of Dein’s departure. In the seven years since, Samir Nasri, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas, and Gael Clichy to name but a few have followed suit. Wenger said in the summer of 2011 that if Arsenal sold both Fabregas and Nasri the club could no longer be called ambitious. Both players left in August. Former Arsenal player Niall Quinn said recently that if Wenger was to stay at Arsenal past the end of this season Dein should be reappointed. Given that Dein left due to irreconcilable differences with the rest of the board, his return to Arsenal is unlikely.

Dein’s exit left Wenger without a key ally, and it has shown in transfer dealings in the meantime. With the exception of Ozil, there has been no major financial investment in a player in recent years. What Arsenal fan can honestly say that Arsenal have bought a world class striker since Robin Van Persie came to the club in 2004? Eduardo had the potential before his leg-break, but Chamakh? Gervinho? Even Giroud can’t be considered in the same bracket. Wenger’s supporters may point to constraints put on the manager while Arsenal continue to pay off the Emirates Stadium, but if £42m can be spent on Ozil, then why could Arsenal not secure the quality striker they desperately need? Wenger’s reluctance to buy a proven goal-scorer in January has cost them dear this season, with Nicklas Bendtner the only senior replacement for Giroud.

Wenger cannot bring the club any further. Three losses on the trot and the “Wenger Out” brigade are in full voice. Three wins and they are title challengers, before another loss has Wenger vilified by certain sections again. There is no consistency on the field, and no consistency to some of the support off of it. The average level-headed Arsenal fan, who appreciates how much Wenger has done for the club, must also recognize that the time is approaching for the Frenchman to leave. The average Arsena fan is grateful for the Arsenal legends Wenger brought to the club, for the Invincibles, for the style of play that at times made Arsenal better to watch than Barcelona. But the average Arsenal fan, without setting up Facebook pages on the issue, surely knows that it’s time for a new manager to come in and breathe new life into the team.

Wenger’s battles with Alex Ferguson and later Jose Mourinho were some of the most fascinating in Premier League history.  The trophyless Arsenal narrative would be but a bed-time fairytale for young Spurs fans were it not for goalkeeping errors in the 2006 Champions League final and the 2011 Carling Cup final. Arsene Wenger introduced a style of play to the Premier League that entranced Arsenal fans and neutrals alike, but this summer he must leave before his legacy is tarnished.

Sheffield United and Hull will have other ideas but an FA Cup to end almost a decade of drought would be the perfect goodbye gift from Arsene to Arsenal.

 

 

 

Courtois conundrum for Atletico raises issue over loan system

Tomorrow afternoon we will know the make-up of the Champions League semi-finals. After overcoming Barcelona, Atletico Madrid will be hoping to avoid Chelsea in the last four, and indeed the final should they make it.

Why? It’s not because they fear Jose Mourinho’s side, but rather because their first choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is on loan from the London side since 2011, and were Atletico to field him against his parent club, it would cost them in the region of €3m.

While there is no denying the short-term benefits of loan arrivals to smaller clubs, the system is weighted in favour of clubs like Chelsea. Clubs who can afford to buy high quality players then send them on loan to gain experience instead of parachuting them immediately into the first team. These high quality players in many cases end up playing in the same league as their parent club, yet clauses in the loan deal stipulate that they cannot compete against them.

A case in point is Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian striker joined Chelsea for around £17m (including add-ons) in 2011. After a relatively underwhelming debut season, the 20 year old has matured into an exceptional attacking threat. Not for Chelsea, however. He joined West Bromwich Albion on loan in the summer of 2012 and went on to score 17 goals in the league for his adopted club. That was more than any individual playing for Chelsea managed that season. He scored for the Baggies against Liverpool, and netted a hat-trick against Manchester United on the last day of the season before returning to Chelsea for the summer.

On transfer deadline day last September, despite featuring in two of Chelsea’s early league games, Lukaku moved to Everton on loan after being deemed surplus to the requirements of Jose Mourinho. This season he has again been in good scoring form, with 13 so far. He (along with other loanees Barry and Delofeu) has been a vital component of Everton’s pursuit of Champions League football, and of Chelsea’s title tilt. His two goals in the first Merseyside Derby of the season prevented Liverpool from taking all three points. He scored last weekend against Arsenal to once and for all dump them out of the race for the Premier League trophy.

It didn’t go unnoticed by other managers in the league that Mourinho may have loaned out Lukaku primarily to take points off of Chelsea’s direct rivals. The fact that he couldn’t play against his parent club may also have shaped the title-race. In a tight game at Stamford Bridge in February, Chelsea took three points with a late John Terry goal.

The Blues aren’t the only team who have used the loan system to their advantage however. When Sunderland beat Chelsea 3-0 in November 2010, on loan Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck put in a man of the match performance, scoring one in the process.

It might be naive to hope for a system where on-loan players can line-out against their parent club, particularly in the same league. But when it obstructs a young player’s opportunity to play in the biggest games, such as it could with Courtois, then the system is inherently flawed.

After three years as Atletico’s number one, the Belgian will decide on his future at the end of the current campaign. Chelsea view him as a long term successor to Petr Cech, and he may return to Stamford Bridge in the summer to challenge the Czech keeper next season. But were he to miss out on either a Champions League semi-final or final because his presence in goal would disadvantage his parent club, the only parties that would benefit would be Chelsea and Daniel Aranzubia, Atletico’s number two.

 

Bayern Munich vs Manchester United as it happened

After Real Madrid and Chelsea secured their places in the Champions League semi-finals last night, there are two more spots up for grabs at the Allianz Arena and the Vicente Calderon tonight.

With the score 1-1 in both games, Bayern Munich host Manchester United while Atletico Madrid welcome Barcelona to the Spanish capital.

This live blog will have regular updates on the Bayern-United game, but I’ll keep you informed of important goings on in Spain too.

Manchester United had concern over Wayne Rooney but he appears to have recovered enough to start the game tonight. Marouane Fellaini and Rafael sat out United’s last training session yesterday and won’t be available. Juan Mata, who put in an excellent performance against Newcastle at the weekend, is cup-tied.

Bayern Munich are without Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez due to suspension tonight. Thiago Alcantara, a former Manchester United target, is still out injured, as is Xherdan Shaqiri.

Team News:

Bayern Munich: Neuer, Dante, Ribéry, Mandzukić, Robben, Boateng, Götze, Lahm (c), Müller, Alaba, Kroos

Subs: Raeder, van Buyten, Rafinha, Pizarro, Weiser, Hojbjerg, Weihrauc

Manchester United: De Gea; Jones, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Fletcher, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Kagawa; Welbeck.

SubsLindegaard, Büttner, Ferdinand, Giggs, Januzaj, Young, Hernandez

You may have to refresh the page to update content. New posts will appear at the top. Comments on the games can be posted underneath or tweeted to me at @AlanKeane23.

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Full time thoughts: Bayern make their third consecutive Champions League semi-final but United wave goodbye to the competition. They won’t be dining at Europe’s top table next year. The first half wasn’t one for the neutral, as both sides failed to carve out many clear-cut chances. The second half started slowly too before an absolutely stunning goal from Patrice Evra sparked the game into life. That goal woke Bayern up and they replied immediately through Mandzukic.

Two more goals killed off the United challenge but in reality besides Evra’s goal the away side offered very little in attack. Wayne Rooney was clearly effected by his toe injury tonight. He had United’s best chance with the scores level but couldn’t direct a shot on target with the goal at his mercy. He looked uncomfortable striking the ball all night.

Bayern advance, but they have much to do to make the finals. They weren’t quite at their best and will face more potent opposition next time out.

90 + 3 mins – The final whistle goes at the Allianz Arena. In Spain too, Atletico Madrid have beaten Barcelona 1-0.

90 mins – Three minutes added. 1999 all over again? Probably not.

87 mins – Great strength shown by Pizarro to get a shot away under pressure from Vidic. He shrugs off the challenge but can only find the arms of De Gea.

86 mins – United players increasingly frustrated as this game nears its conclusion. Evra fouls Robben near the touchline.

83 mins – Substitution for Bayern. Claudio Pizarro on for goalscorer Thomas Muller, who receives a standing ovation.

80 mins – Substitution for United. Januzaj on for Danny Welbeck. The striker will look back with regret on his squandered chance at Old Trafford when he had just Neuer to beat.

No more goals to report in the other quarter final. Atletico are ten minutes away from a famous victory over Barcelona. 1-0 since the 6th minute, 2-1 on aggregate.

78 mins – Mandzukic could have added to United’s woes just now but he couldn’t make contact with an Alaba cross from the left.

75 mins – GOAL BAYERN! 3-1 on the night as Arjen Robben slaloms through the United defence and his attempted shot takes a heavy deflection off Vidic and past the helpless De Gea. That should be that.

73 mins: Bayern with 22 attempts to United’s 4 and 74% possession so far. Substitution for United as Hernandez comes on for Fletcher. Rooney will drop a little deeper. United have just over quarter of an hour to rescue this game.

71 mins – Good tackle from Vidic in the box on Muller. Sixty thousand Bayern fans scream for a penalty but the ref rightly gives a corner.

69 mins – Yellow card for Patrice Evra. The Frenchman brought down Robben as the winger looked to be straight in on goal.

66 mins – GOAL BAYERN! Thomas Muller gets a toe on a whipped cross from Arjen Robben! 2-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate. If United score another they will go through, so all is not lost for David Moyes’ men. That was Mullers 5th goal in this season’s Champions League competition.

64 mins – Mandzukic rises highest to head a corner just wide. Rafinha is on for Mario Gotze as Guardiola makes his first substitution. That presumably means Philip Lahm will go to midfield with the sub slotting in at right back. Slightly defensive substitution from Pep there?

61 mins – Wayne Rooney misses what looked like an easy chance! The goal seemingly at his mercy after Welbeck slid the ball across the six yard box, the United striker scuffed the ball wide.

57 mins – GOAL BAYERN! Mandzukic with an immediate response for the home side. A close-range header after a cross from the right hand side. You wait all night for a goal and then two come along at once. Away goals cancelled out, the sides are level and one must score to go through. Game on!

56 mins – GOAL UNITED! Patrice Evra with a screamer into the top right hand corner from 20 yards! Great work by Valencia in the build-up to get a cross in from the right.

54 mins – It’s taken until the 54th minute but Manuel Neuer finally has to make a save. He gets down to his left to save a Kagawa effort from 20 yards. One you’d expect him to save really.

53 mins – Vidic takes one where it hurts. blocking Mandzukic’s shot from the edge of the box.

52 mins – This game really needs a goal to liven things up. Neither side posing much of a threat yet though.

46 mins- Smalling lands awkwardly after corner number two for United early in the half. The young defender is ok.

20:47 – Second half is underway.

Half time thoughts – Of the two sides, Manchester United can claim to have had the better half. The away side have been fairly solid in defence, albeit against a lacklustre Bayern Munich performance. Neither side seem eager to throw caution to wind just yet, which is understandable with so much at stake. However Manchester United need a goal and so the second half should be a more open affair. If United push forward they are liable to be caught on the break by the pace of Ribery and Robben on the Bayern flanks but it’s a risk they have to take if they are to progress to the semi-finals.

45 + 1 mins: Boateng blasts a ball high and wide to end the first half.

45 mins – One minute added at the end of the half.

43 mins – Robben takes on four United players in the box and lets off a shot when he should perhaps have found his teammates in better positions. Smalling blocks for a corner which comes to nothing.

39 mins – Lahm takes Evra out on the edge of the Bayern box, hurting the United full-back but the referee waves play on. Carrick eventually puts the ball out so his team mate can get attention.

37 mins – Kroos has an attempt from the edge of the box which fails to threaten De Gea’s goal.

35 mins – Manchester United comfortable with everything Munich have thrown at them so far. The home side haven’t been at their best as of yet. A bit ponderous in attack.

30 mins – They’ve reached the half hour point in Munich and it’s all very tentative at the moment. Neither side really committing going forward because both fear a counter attack.

27 mins – Yellow card for Vidic for climbing all over Mandzukic.

26 mins – Ribery with a shot from distance after Valencia failed to close him down properly. Fizzed past the near post but De Gea had it covered.

23 mins – Bayern with a lot of possession in the last five minutes…

Whoops! Forgot to mention that Atletico Madrid have taken the lead against Barcelona! 1-0 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate after Koke scored in the 6th minute.

20 mins – Intricate play from Gotze releases Ribery. The Frenchman is flagged outside after he squared the ball to Muller in front of goal.

16 mins – Antonio Valencia has a goal disallowed for Manchester United! Both he and Kagawa were offside as a cross came in from the left and the Ecuadorian finished to no avail.

12 mins – Plenty of crosses early on from Bayern Munich. Not many reaching their target as of yet. Curious to see them deviate from their usual passing game but they do have the imposing figure of Mandzukic up front.

7 mins – Huge chance for United! Rooney gets the ball in space in the Bayern box and all he had to do was slide it left to Kagawa. The Japanese player had the time and space for a shot on goal. Rooney eventually opted for the shot himself which was easily blocked.

6 mins – Rooney instigates United’s first attack with a cross from the left. Dante clears easily.

3 mins – First half chance for Bayern as a Robben cross finds Thomas Muller. He fails to direct his header on target.

1 min – The field opens up for Arjen Robben who brings the ball from the half-way line to the edge of the box before distributing to Ribery. A cross from the Frenchman fails to find Mandzukic.

19:45- The teams are out and we’re underway!

19:40 – Philipp Lahm reverts to right-back tonight for the home side. He’s been playing a lot in midfield under Guardiola this year but with Mario Gotze back in the side and Thomas Muller dropping back into the centre, the captain moves back to defence. He’s been so good in his new midfield role, Roberto Martinez brought Leighton Baines to watch the German play recently. The Everton manager thinks Baines could make the transition to midfield in the years to come.

19:35- Bayern haven’t won in three games, their longest drought since early 2011. Though that could be something to do with the fact they have the Bundesliga wrapped up for a few weeks.

19:30- Guardiola on Sky Sports. Playing down talks of a second successive treble for Bayern, saying the focus is on getting to the Champions League semi-finals. The coach says his side will attack tonight, and that it would be mistake to play for the draw.

19:20-  Gary Neville has been tweeting his thoughts on how United can go through to the semi-finals;

19:15- United need to score tonight, with Bayern taking an away goal from Old Trafford. The omens are good as Bayern have not won their past four home games against English opposition. The first loss in the streak was against Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final at the Allianz.

19:12 – David Moyes on Sky Sports now. Talking about Bayern’s high back line and how United must exploit it.

19:00- So with 45 minutes until kick-off the teams are in. Shinji Kagawa starts for Manchester United tonight following an impressive display as a half time substitute in the first lef. Wayne Rooney also makes the first XI, having had a pain-killing injection after his toe injury.

Mario Mandzukic starts up front for the home side, the Croatian setting up Bastian Schweinsteiger’s goal at Old Trafford after coming on as a substitute. Mario Gotze begins in midfield instead of the suspended Schweinsteiger after being limited to a substitute appearance last week.

 

Premier League: 3 talking points after the weekend

Liverpool making their own luck:

Two penalties against Manchester United a few weeks back and two penalties yesterday at West Ham have been crucial to Brendan Rodgers’ side finding themselves top of the table with five games remaining.

However that’s not to say Liverpool have been getting it all their own way, as shown by West Ham’s equalizer yesterday. The fact is that Liverpool wouldn’t be getting penalties were they not creating chances, and they are top of the league by virtue of playing the most exciting football this season. They could still lose out if Manchester City come to Anfield next Sunday and win, but Brendan Rodgers deserves great credit for how his side have come from fourth place outsiders to title challengers.

Also, if there is a highly contested decision during a game, either video technology should be available to the referees or there should be no replay of it on the big screen. There can be no half measures. Liverpool players pointing to the big screen at Upton Park yesterday, screaming at the referee to watch Andy Carroll’s foul in the build up to West Ham’s goal while the referee refused to do so was farcical.

Norwich board take big gamble:

An underwhelming campaign thus far from Norwich City has led to the sacking of manager Chris Hughton. While lying fourth from bottom with five games left is bad enough, the fact that four of those five games are against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal leaves Norwich with much to do if they aren’t to be playing in the Championship next season.

Whatever the dire circumstances Norwich find themselves in, is it wise to sack Hughton at this stage of the season? Admittedly the team has been uninspired under the former Republic of Ireland international all season, but what makes the board think that this will change under the tutelage of youth team coach Neil Adams? Are they hoping for that “new manager effect” that sometimes lifts teams particularly in the early stages?

That doesn’t always happen. Ask Pepe Mel, the West Brom boss since December and Hughton’s final adversary as Norwich manager.  His first win didn’t come until mid March.

The final four games against the big sides pale in comparison to Norwich’s fixture next weekend. They come up against fellow strugglers Fulham in a game that could see the Canaries go eight points clear of Felix Magath’s side with a win. Depending on other results, three points for Norwich may leave them in 13th place by Sunday evening. For the club to disrupt the preparations for that game by sacking Hughton is a huge gamble.

 

McCarthy and Coleman thriving under Roberto Martinez:

Everton’s performances this season have been wonderful to watch. Yesterday was one of the best yet as they dismantled an Arsenal side who not three months ago were among the favourites for the title.

They may lose some of their key players during the summer if they cannot make their loan deals permanent. Striker Romelu Lukaku is certainly one they would like to keep, but Gerard Delofeu will more than likely return to Barcelona and Gareth Barry may also move on.

One thing is sure however, Martinez will be doing all he can to keep hold of Republic of Ireland internationals James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman. The pair have been key to Everton’s fight for a Champions League spot all season. Gareth Barry last week heaped praise on McCarthy, saying he was one of the best midfielders he had played alongside. Seamus Coleman is almost a certainty to be named in the Premier League team of the year. The Donegal man has been in outstanding form, chipping in with important goals from full-back.

All this is good news for Irish football fans, and if Everton manage to hold onto both players then they will only improve further under the astute Martinez. Darron Gibson may return from a serious knee injury before the end of the season, and with Aiden McGeady at the club since January, Martinez has a crucialrole to play in the development of important Ireland players in the Martin O’Neill era.

 

Featured Image: GETTY Images

Heineken Cup Reaction: Irish hopes rest on Munster

And then there was one. The weekend started with such optimism, with three Irish provinces in the mix for a Heineken Cup semi-final spot. For one reason or another, two fell by the wayside and now it’s left to Munster to carry the hopes of a nation.

Thomond Park was rocking yesterday and Toulouse just couldn’t cope with the intensity that Rob Penney’s men brought to the game. Munster were magnificent from the beginning and the away side looked beaten after only four minutes when Keith Earls dotted down in the corner. However they hung on and Keatley and McAllister traded penalties leaving Munster 4 points up at the break.

Five Munster tries in a superb second half did for Toulouse, with the home forwards dominating Picamole and company at the breakdown and in the set-piece. After struggling for scores against Leinster last week, Penney will be delighted that 6 different players crossed the whitewash for five-pointers yesterday.

Munster fans must have been worried when captain Peter O’Mahony was benched with a shoulder complaint early on but his replacement CJ Stander put in a man-of-the-match performance, with a try to top off an excellent effort at the break-down. Munster will need all their forward options for the semi-final in three week’s time.

So then it was Ulster’s turn yesterday evening to compete for a place in the semi-finals. Mark Anscombe’s charges welcomed to Ravenhill a Saracens side who in Chris Ashton boasted the top try scorer in the competition this year with seven in the pool stages.  Clermont Auvergne awaited the winners following their victory over Leicester in the afternoon.   Ulster began as favourites, and considering how close they ran Saracens after losing Jared Payne to a red card in the fourth minute, Rory Best to injury not long after, and Ruen Pienaar with half an hour to go, it was probably a title they deserved.

The northern province stayed within touching distance right until the end, and when Jerome Garces looks back on the Payne red card he may review his decision not to administer a more lenient punishment. The full-back did take his his opposite number Alex Goode out in the air, but although it was dangerous it looked entirely accidental as both men went for the ball. Ulster’s supporters were vocal from before kick-off but following that decision they acted as a 15th man and Saracens were lucky to emerge with a 17-15 victory.

Leinster travelled to Toulon today knowing that a win would set up a mouth-watering semi-final with Munster at the Aviva in three week’s time. It was always going to be a big ask however, facing the 2013 champions in their home fortress. The power of the Toulon pack coupled with the strength of Mathieu Bastareaud and running threat across the back line was much lauded before the kick-off. Both sides made mistakes early on, but even the withdrawal of Jonny Wilkinson early on didn’t hamper Toulon’s game plan unduly. They may have kicked for territory more if he had stayed on the field but their forwards were more than capable of battering Leinster into submission.

The sides went in level at half time with the score at six all. The first five minutes of the second half left Leinster with a mountain to climb however after a Giteau penalty was followed by a converted Chiocci try. Toulon went on to score a further two tries and two penalties while Leinster could only manage one penalty and a Jordi Murphy try late on. Even with Toulon reduced to fourteen men for the final ten minutes, Leinster could not camp themselves in enemy territory for long enough to launch any meaningful attacks. It was no fairytale European ending for Brian O’Driscoll but he couldn’t be faulted for his effort today. Mistakes were made by both sides but a few missed tackles and some poor handling contributed to Leinster’s downfall.

So Munster must travel to Marseille to take on Toulon three weeks from today. It will be interesting to see what sort of a proposition the French side are outside of the Stade Felix Mayol. One thing is for sure however, Munster’s pack must bring their A-game if they are to compete with the gargantuan Toulon forwards. O’Connell and O’Mahony against Armitage and Roussow. It promises to be some encounter.

Feature picture: inpho.ie

Everton v Arsenal: As it happened

Welcome to coverage of a game that will go a long way to deciding who takes the last Champions League spot. Everton host Arsenal this Sunday lunchtime and whoever wins will have fourth place within their grasp.

If Everton win today, they move to within a point of their opponents with a game in hand. If the Gunners win however, they’ll go seven points clear and feel they’ve probably done enough finish in the top four yet again.

The home side have not beaten Arsenal since March 2007, but they are second only to Liverpool in the Premier League form table. The Toffees have won their last four league games, while Arsenal have won just once in their past five away fixtures.

Ross Barkley should be fit for Everton after being substituted with a calf complaint in the win against Fulham. Republic of Ireland midfielder Darron Gibson is nearing a return to first team training after a serious knee injury.

Arsene Wenger can name Aaron Ramsay in his match-day squad for the first time in 2014. The Welsh midfielder had an incredible first half to the season before being sidelined with a thigh injury.

Team news:

Everton- Howard, Baines, Distin, Stones, Coleman, McCarthy, Barry, Osman, Naismith, Mirallas, Lukaku. Subs: Robles, Hibbert, McGeady, Deulofeu, Barkley, Garbutt, Alcaraz.

Arsenal- Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal, Arteta, Flamini, Rosicky, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud. Subs: Viviano, Jenkinson, Bellerin, Kallstrom, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Sanogo.

You may have to refresh the page to update content. New posts will appear at the top. Comments on the games can be posted underneath or tweeted to me at @AlanKeane23.

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Full time thoughts – It’s advantage Everton in the race for the final Champions League spot. They remain one point behind Arsenal but they have a game in hand. The two Manchester clubs still have to come to Goodison Park so it’s a difficult run in for Roberto Martinez’ men but based on today’s performance they should fear no one. They have two of the finest full-backs in the league, a solid midfield and real attacking threat. They have six wins in a row in the league, a club record, and if they can play in the same manner for the rest of the season they will be mixing it with Europe’s elite next season.

Arsenal were ten points clear of today’s opponents at the start of February. However a downturn in form has cost them dearly at the stage of the season when they usually kick on. The past few seasons it has been their performances in the run in that have allowed the Gunners to clinch a spot in the top four after underwhelming results early in the campaign. This year looked different and Arsenal fans dared to hope of a first title in a decade. However yet again it is the lack of consistency over the course of a season which has cost Arsene Wenger’s men dear.

The visitors never really looked like scoring today, with Olivier Giroud unable to convert the few half-chances that came his way. Creative influences like Santi Cazorla couldn’t get possession close enough to the Everton goal to threaten. The introduction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gave Arsenal a bit more potency in attack but it came after Everton had wrapped up the game with their third goal. The only bright side for Arsenal today was the return from injury of Aaron Ramsay. Their season stuttered once he got injured in December.

93  mins – Sanogo found by Sagna and the substitute finally beats Howard. But… He’s offside and it doesn’t count. Howard takes the free-kick and the final whistle goes.

90 mins – Three minutes added.

88 mins – Barkley shows great strength to hold off Arteta and takes umbrage to an arm to the face. He shoves Arteta and Baines has a go too. Capping off a torrid afternoon for Arsenal, Arteta is the one who gets a yellow card in the aftermath. Not a happy day for the midfielder at his former club.

85 mins- Substitution for Everton as loanee Lukaku makes way for loanee Gerard Delofeu. Lukaku caused problems all day for the Arsenal defence.

85 mins – Oxlade-Chamberlain with a thumping shot from 25 yards that Howard tips onto the crossbar and out for a corner.

84 mins – Oxlade-Chamberlain hip checked by Gareth Barry in the box. I’ve seen them given but the referee waves play on.

81 mins – Ramsay threads a pass into space for Cazorla to run onto but the Spaniard didn’t read his intentions and the ball rolls out of play. Sums up Arsenal’s day.

80 mins Substitution for Everton as former Aiden McGeady replaces goalscorer Stephen Naismith.

75 mins – Sanogo called back for a dubious offside. He dragged his shot across the goal and wide anyway.

 72 mins – Seamus Coleman really enjoying his afternoon. Another sublime bit of skill to make a fool of Monreal on the right. It’s not just Coleman though, every single Everton player looks supremely comfortable on the ball right now.

70 mins –  Substitution Final throw of the dice for Arsene Wenger as Sanogo comes on for Olivier Giroud. The French striker huffed and puffed today without really creating any chances of note.

68 mins – The visitors finally in possession and Cazorla gets a shot away that doesn’t really trouble Howard.

67 mins – Cheers following every Everton pass now as Arsenal can’t get near the ball.

65 mins – Substitutions for Arsenal. Ramsay and Oxlade Chamberlain on for Flamini and Podolski. Might be too little too late from Arsene Wenger.

62 mins – This could be a rout if Arsenal don’t regroup quickly. Coleman showboats down the right, doing keepy ups at full pace. He finds Lukaku whose pass reaches Barkley and the youngster shoots straight at the goalkeeper.

60 mins – GOAL! No sooner have I said that and Everton score on the counter attack! Mirallas surges forward in midfield and attempts to find Naismith. Scezny gets to the ball but pushes it back in front of the goal where Arteta seemed to get the last touch ahead of the on-rushing Mirallas.

60 mins – An hour gone at Goodison Park and while Arsenal have been brighter in the second half so far, they still don’t look much like threatening Tim Howard. Everton are looking to exploit the visitors on the break.

55 mins – At the other end Vermaelen does well to stop the ball from getting to Naismith who had nipped in behind the Arsenal defence.

53 mins – Mirallas is pressured by Sagna and brings the ball back into his own six yard box. Howard has to rescue the situation before Giroud pounces. Thirty seconds later Stones loses out to Cazorla on the left and an excellent Distin intervention is needed to stop Flamini from finding the target.

50 mins – Podolski finds some space on the left but John Stones comes across to cover. The 19 year old does well to get the tackle in and win a goal kick.

48 mins – Monreal sends in a dangerous cross after good build-up play from Arsenal, moving the ball across the field. No-one there to take advanatage of the ball in.

14:33 – Second half begins.

14:32 – Arsenal are back out early for the second half, talking among themselves. They need a big effort in the second half. Everton just emerging.

Half time thoughts – Arsenal have  lot to do if they are to overturn the deficit in the second period. Everton are getting joy down both flanks as the Gunners attempt to play through the centre. Baines has threatened down the left on a number of occasions and Lukaku had all the time in the world to come in from the right and pick his spot for Everton’s second goal. If Arsene Wenger doesn’t direct Cazorla to stay out wide, or bring on Oxlade-Chamberlain to give Baines something to think about, then it’s difficult to see Everton losing this. They looked very comfortable in the first 45 minutes.

45 + 2 mins – Howard gathers a cross with Giroud lurking. The half time whistle goes.

45 mins – Two minutes extra to be played at the end of the first half.

43 mins – Yellow card for Flamini who will miss the next two games. The French midfielder mis-controlled a pass and took out Barkley while trying to retrieve the ball.

39 mins – Two saves in a minute for Howard. First he parries a Podolski cross away from the on-rushing Giroud, then reacts acrobatically to tip away a Podolski drive.

37 mins – That was Lukaku’s 13th goal of the season and he tries to add to his tally almost immediately. He drags a similar effort to the left and wide.

33 mins – GOAL! Lukaku receives the ball in space on the right. No Arsenal player comes to meet him and the Belgian makes his way to the edge of the box and dispatches and unstoppable effort beyond the goalkeeper’s outstretched arms.

32 mins – Arsenal’s first corner of the game. Stones uncharacteristically shaky so far in this game and the young Everton defender miskicks the ball close to his own goal. Giroud unable to pounce before Everton clear.

30 mins – Scezny down smartly to stop a Mirallas effort creeping in at the near post. Everton’s movement causing Arsenal problems in the first half hour.

27 mins – Everton very comfortable at the moment. They’re making inroads down the left as Santi Cazorla is playing narrow and allowing Leighton Baines space to get forward. If Kevin Mirallas can get into the game more then Arsenal will need to shore up the right side of their midfield.

23 mins – Mirallas tries to find Naismith behind the Arsenal defence. A clearance from Mertesacker goes back to the Belgian who doesn’t trouble Scezny with a tame effort.

20 mins – Naismith gets on the end of a low McCarthy drive across the box but can only divert the ball into the arms of the keeper. At the other end, Giroud fails to connect properly with a searching Sagna cross.

17 mins – Good play from Everton results in a corner which Mirallas overhits.

13 mins – GOAL! Naismith finishes coolly after Lukaku’s initial shot is blocked by Scezny. This just after John Stones put his own team under pressure with a poorly executed pass across his own goal. Howard did well to rescue and set up the move that led to Naismith’s third goal in two games.

12 mins – Naismith with a dangerous tackle on Arteta. The forward escapes a booking. Arsene Wenger looks furious.

11 mins – Nice link up play between Mirallas and Baines but the full-back is judged off-side before he can find someone with a ball across the six yard box.

10 mins – Flamini tests Howard with a shot from distance after Distin fails to control a long ball.

8 mins – Substitution Ross Barkley on for Osman as the Everton captain is unable to continue. The captain’s armband goes to Leighton Baines.

6 mins – Early chances for Everton. Naismith fails to find Lukaku with a cross, Seamus Coleman eventually whips the ball in from the right and but it’s cleared to Sagna. Leon Osman takes the full-back out and gets a yellow card and a knock to the head for his troubles. He goes off to receive treatment.

5 mins – Podolski with another attempt which goes out of play even further from the goals than the last.

4 mins – Boos for former Everton midfielder Arteta.

2 mins – Lively start here. Podolski with Arsenal’s first shot. Wide to Howard’s left.

1 min – Close! Leon Osman lets fly with a volley from just outside the box. Narrowly sails past the top right-hand corner with the keeper beaten.

13:30 -And they’re off.

13:29 – Ross Barkley and Gerard Delofeu on the bench for Everton today. Kieron Gibbs is injured and Nacho Monreal takes his place at left full-back for Arsenal.

13:27 – They’re almost ready to kick-off on Merseyside. Remember a win for Everton would greatly increase their chances of finishing in the top four for the first time since the 04/05 season. A win for Arsenal will see the North London side put a near impossible distance between them and their opponents today.

13:25 – The teams are out. The tunnel in Goodison Park is barely big enough for the two sides.

13:20  – Everton’s on loan midfielder Gareth Barry has been talking up his team-mate James McCarthy this week, saying he’s one of the best midfielders he’s played alongside. High praise indeed, considering he’s played in teams with Steven Gerrard, Yaya Toure and Marc Albrighton.

Premier League Preview: Crucial weekend at top and bottom

Last weekend’s round of games saw a shift in power at the top of the table. With Manchester City and Chelsea both dropping points, Liverpool took full advantage with a convincing win over Tottenham Hotspur.

In the race for a Champions League place, Everton’s victory over Fulham saw them keep the heat on Arsenal. Fulham meanwhile remain rooted to the bottom of the table, five points from safety.

West Brom and Cardiff City played out a six goal thriller at the Hawthorns last time out, with a last gasp equaliser keeping the Welsh side within touching distance of safety, albeit with a game more played than last week’s opponents.

Here are the crucial fixtures this weekend:

Manchester City vs Southampton, Saturday, 12.45pm.

City dropped points at Arsenal last time out and need a win in today’s early kick-off in order to keep the pressure on Liverpool. They’re favourites against Southampton however, having lost just one of their last 19 Premier League games. Southampton had big win against a lacklustre Newcastle last weekend, consolidating 8th place in the table.  They haven’t lost in their last two meetings with City, drawing 1-1 at St Marys earlier in the season.

Kenyan midfielder VictorWanyama could make a return for the visitors. Sergio Aguero has resumed training but remains unavailable for City selection.

Chelsea vs Stoke, Saturday, 5.30pm.

Mistakes have cost Chelsea dear in their last two games. A John Terry own goal at Crystal Palace and three defensive mistakes against PSG have halted their momentum. Mourinho is less concerned about the defensive mistakes than he is about his strikers inablilty to score goals however, and it’s likely that an overhaul of the attack will take place in the summer.

Stoke won 3-2 at the Brittania in the reverse fixture and have four victories in their last five games. Interestingly, for all the criticism leveled at the Potters’ style of play in the last few years, they have only scored two headed goals all season. That’s the lowest of any side in the league.

Eto’o is still out for the home side, but Stoke welcome back Jonathan Walters from suspension.

Norwich vs West Bromwich Albion, Saturday, 3pm

Both sides hover just above the relegation zone and defeat for either side would mean a nervous run-in. The Canaries are unbeaten in last six at home and a victory could see them move up to 12th in the table. Pepe Mel has failed to turn West Brom’s season around. The midlands outfit have won just one of their last 21 league games. However a win at Carrow Road would put them level with today’s opponents with a game in hand.

Leroy Fer, who scored in victory against the Baggies earlier this season is still unavailable for Norwich. West Brom have received a boost in defence with the influential Jonas Olsson back from suspension.

Everton vs Arsenal, Sunday, 1.30pm.

The Toffees welcome Arsenal to Goodison Park for a high-stakes encounter at Sunday lunch-time. Everton are four points behind the Gunners with a game in hand. Roberto Martinez’ men have won their last four games in the league and have only lost one at home all season. The last time these sides met in the league it ended in a draw, however Arsenal took the spoils in the FA cup earlier this year. Victory for Everton puts them in the driving seat for fourth place, but they have the tougher run-in on paper.

Ross Barkley should be passed fit after being substituted with a calf complaint against Fulham last weekend. Aaron Ramsay makes a welcome return to the Arsenal squad for the first time in 2014 following a thigh injury.

West Ham vs Liverpool, Sunday, 4pm.

liverpool suarez carroll west ham southampton man city norwich west brom chelsea stoke

“Yeah… I’m just gonna go.”

Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll came to Anfield in January 2011 as a result of Fernando Torres’ move to Chelsea. Looking back now, it’s unbelievable to think that Suarez was the cheaper of the two. The Uruguayan has been in scintillating form this season, and has the opportunity to break the Premier League scoring record before the end of the season. He’s two goals from making it his own, and with six goals in his last five league appearances it’s difficult to see him not adding to that tally today.

West Ham will prove a different proposition for Brendan Rodgers’ men to the spineless Spurs outfit they encountered last weekend. Andy Carroll, now a permanent Hammers player following his £15m move last summer, will look to outmuscle an often-times defensively frail Liverpool back four, with another former Liverpool player Stewart Downing supplying balls into the big centre-forward.

Lucas Leiva made his return as a substitute for the Liverpool last weekend, and could make the starting line-up for the first time in almost three months. West Ham should have captain Kevin Nolan fit after coming off with a back problem in Monday’s win over Sunderland.

 

Champions League Review: 3 ties balanced but Dortmund doomed

With the first leg of the Champions League quarter finals over with, it’s time to reflect on this week’s performances and look forward to next week’s encounters.

Manchester United v Bayern Munich

On Tuesday night Manchester United entered unfamiliar territory as underdogs at Old Trafford. They were up against a much lauded Bayern Munich side under the management of the much lauded Pep Guardiola.

While United can’t claim to ever really have dominated the game, they did cause problems for Bayern and Danny Welbeck had two great chances. The striker was unlucky to have a goal disallowed early on but he should have done better with a later chance when one-on-one with Manuel Neuer.

United managed to strike first, with a wonderful Nemanja Vidic header off a Rooney corner. Bayern adopt zonal marking when defending set-plays and we’ve seen over the years that this tactic is open to exploitation. The German team further incapacitated themselves by neglecting to put a man on the posts.

Bayern had looked a bit lacklustre early in the second half, but that goal jolted them into action. Eight minutes after United took the lead, substitute Mario Mandzukic nodded down into the path of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the German blasted home on the half-volley. After that it was all Bayern. Antonio Valencia was lucky to escape a second yellow for a heavy challenge on Boateng, and Guardiola was seething when Schweinsteiger was sent off for a less robust challenge in the closing stages of the game.

The goalscorer will miss the return leg, as will Javi Garcia. However Mario Gotze was rested for the first leg and is a capable replacement for Schweinsteiger. Dante returns from suspension and will slot in instead of Garcia. With an away goal in the bag and home advantage for the second leg, it is difficult to see past Bayern for a semi-final berth. However stranger things have happened and if United can put in a strong performance at the Allianz Arena they have a chance.

You can see the two goals from Old Trafford here:

Barcelona v Atletico Madrid

In Tuesday’s other game Barcelona welcomed La Liga title rivals Atletico Madrid to the Camp Nou. This was the fourth meeting of the sides this season and it ended like the previous three, in a draw. Atletico manager Diego Simeone has exceeded expectations this season after the sale of lethal Colombian striker Falcao last summer. His side work hard to press teams high up the pitch and it has had the required effect against perceived bigger teams.

Falcao may have been the main man last season, but Atletico’s other striker Diego Costa has negated the loss in this campaign, scoring goals for fun and looking a threat every time he gets on the ball. He was an injury concern before Tuesday’s game but spearheaded the attack from the start. However he only lasted 28 minutes before having to be substituted with a hamstring concern. His fitness will be crucial if Atletico are to maintain their La Liga challenge.

His replacement on Tuesday night was the Brazilian Diego, who gave Atletico the lead in the 56th minute with an absolute screamer. Behind to the away goal, Barcelona responded quickly. Busquets was denied by Courtois before a sublime Andres Iniesta pass released Neymar for a cool finish in the 71st minute.

The score remained at 1-1 until the end and so Atletico Madrid have the slight advantage going into next week’s game at the Vicente Calderon. If they play their usual brand of high-tempo pressure football they have an excellent chance of advancing to the semi-finals, even without Diego Costa. But on the other hand, Lionel Messi.

All the goals from Tuesday night here:

 

Paris Saint-Germain v Chelsea

Last night saw the clash of two major egos as Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea took on a PSG team spearheaded by Zlatan Ibrahimovich. Both men were respectful before the game, playing down their own team’s chances while praising the ability of their opponents.

Ibrahimovich has been scoring at will all season, however last night he was well marshalled and came off with a hamstring injury in the second half after being ineffective in the main. PSG had taken the lead in the third minute from a Lavezzi half-volley which was a direct result of an uncharacteristically poor headed clearance from John Terry. An Eden Hazard penalty in the 27th minute levelled matters, and it remained that way until half time.

PSG were the more composed side in the second period, and it was further defensive errors which allowed the home side to take a 3-1 lead to Stamford Bridge. With Matuidi running towards the corner flag with the ball on the hour mark, David Luiz opted to barge into the midfielder from behind. From the resulting free, Luiz bundled the ball into his own net after it cleared everyone else. In the third minute of stoppage time Javier Pastore scored a brilliant individual goal, tempered somewhat by the quality of Chelsea’s defending and Cech’s goalkeeping.

After the game Jose Mourinho again did something to his strikers that they themselves seem uncapable of. He attacked. While noting that his defenders had been solid all season and were allowed to make the occasional mistake, he bemoaned his lack of strikers. He had opted to start winger Andre Schurrle as the furthest man forward and as such there was no one to get on the end of threatening balls from creative talents like Hazard, Oscar and Willian.

A two goal deficit is far from insurmountable, particularly at Stamford Bridge. However Mourinho must figure out in the coming days who is most likely to bridge the gap for Chelsea. It’s clear he doesn’t believe his strikers are up to the task.

Here are all the goals from Parc des Princes

 

Real Madrid v Borussia Dortmund

The Santiago Bernebeu is a difficult enough place to come without having five of your first team players missing. Add to that the fact that the 4 goal hero against Madrid in last year’s semi-final Robert Lewandowski was missing througt suspension, and Borussia Dortmund were always going to have a mountain to climb.

Madrid were ruthless from the off, with Gareth Bale poking the ball into the Dortmund net from close range in just the third minute. Isco added a second from the edge of the box in the 27th minute and Ronaldo wrapped the game, and more than likely the tie, up in the 57th minute, showing quick feet to get a shot away from eight yards out.

Out of all the quarter finals, this one looks to be beyond doubt. Home advantage may not help Borussia Dortmund in the second leg. Just ask Schalke, who Madrid demolished 6-1 in Gelsenkirchen at the last 16 stage.

All the goals from Madrid’s victory here:

 

 

He is Zlatan – Greatest goals and incidents in Ibrahimovich’s career

Zlatan Ibrahimovich was surprisingly humble before tonight’s Champions League clash with Chelsea, calling Jose Mourinho’s men the favourites to progress to the semi-final.

It’s not often you see humility from the Swedish striker, but then with a goal catalogue like this why should you?

 

He has  been one of the best strikers in Europe for nigh on a decade, and has played at some of the greatest clubs on the continent. Ajax, Juventus, AC Milan, Internazionale, Barcelona and now a PSG side intent on becoming a European superpower.

His goal-scoring record is phenomenal, averaging out at around a goal every 2 games throughout his career. He has never won the Ballon d’Or, but has a wealth of other accolades to his name. In these years of Messi and Ronaldo dominance, only Ibrahimovich can claim to have been as consistently brilliant. Such is his reputation in the game that the World Cup playoffs between Portugal and Sweden was a mere side show to the main act, Ronaldo vs Ibrahimovich.

His supreme confidence is backed up by his ability on the pitch, as seen above. However sometimes that confidence goes beyond scoring goals… This video shows what happens when Ibrahimovich loses his temper on the field, when journalists question his ability, and when he has to play second fiddle to a certain Lionel Messi…

 

What a man.

 

Manchester United v Bayern Munich: As it happened

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United will look to Rooney for inspiration tonight

Welcome to this evening’s Champions League live-blog.

It’s the quarter finals stage of Europe’s premier club competition, and tonight plays host to two cracking games. Manchester United welcome old adversaries Bayern Munich to Old Trafford, while first and second in La Liga meet at the Camp Nou where Barcelona take on Atletico Madrid. This live-blog is for the United-Bayern game, but I’ll keep you up to date with what’s happening in Spain too.

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And so to Old Trafford and the meeting of Manchester United and Bayern Munich. If the home side win tonight it would be a bit of an upset, but United have beaten the odds against Bayern before…

History won’t save United tonight if they don’t perform in all areas of the pitch however. Bayern Munich are the reigning European Champions and boast an embarrassment of riches in midfield. The visitors though will be without Thiago Alcantara and Dante tonight. Alcantara sustained an injury in league action at the weekend, while defender Dante  is suspended.

The team news is in:

Man Utd: De Gea, Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Buttner, Valencia, Carrick, Fellaini, Giggs, Rooney, Welbeck. Subs: Lindegaard, Hernandez, Nani, Young, Fletcher, Januzaj, Kagawa.

Bayern: Neuer, Ribery, Martinez, Robben, Rafinha, Boateng, Lahm, Muller, Alaba, Schweinsteiger, Kroos. Subs: Starke, van Buyten, Mandzukić, Shaqiri, Pizarro, Gotze, Hojbjerg

You may have to refresh the page to update content. New posts will appear at the top. Comments on the games can be posted underneath or tweeted to me at @AlanKeane23.

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Full time thoughts: United’s performance will have delighted manager Moyes and the fans. Not so much for the quality but for the commitment the players showed. They were second best in the first half with Bayern dominating the possession and dictating the play but second half they gained more of a foothold. Guardiola may be a bit disappointed with his side for losing some of their intensity in the second half but even with Schweinsteiger and Martinez suspended for the second leg Bayern should have enough to advance to the semi-finals. Ribery and Robben create too many chances for them not to score at the Allianz Arena.

93 mins – Full time comes somewhat bizarrely as Neuer’s attempts to take a goal kick  are hampered by paper being thrown at him by the United fans.

90 mins – 3 minutes added here.

89 mins – RED CARD! Schweinsteiger gets a second yellow for a late challenge on Wayne Rooney. Not the smartest move from the German knowing he was already on a caution. Bayern might feel hard done by after Valencia escaped similar action earlier.

88 mins – Yellow card for Javi Martinez for a cynical tackle on Hernandez, who had spun smartly. He was clear on goal if Martinez hadn’t taken him down. He’s out of the second leg for that caution though.

84 mins – Substitution for United. Hernandez on for Welbeck, who will be ruing his disallowed goal and his other missed chance in the first half.

81 mins – Mandzukic booked after fouling Nemanja Vidic in the air.

79 mins – Bayern haven’t dominated this half quite like they did the first but they’re still creating chances. Robben knocks a ball across the six yard box but Mandzukic isn’t in the wrong place.

78 mins – Incidentally Neymar has levelled for Barcelona at the Nou Camp. 1-1 there but Atletico have the away goal.

77 mins – Robben comes close after taking advantage of confusion near United’s goal. He drags his right-footed shot just wide.

73 mins – Substitutions: Buttner injured so Ashleyon in his place. Gotze on for Kroos. Valencia moves back into the United defence. Fortunate not to be down the tunnel.

72 mins – Valencia a lucky boy. Already on a yellow, he jumps into a challenge with Boateng and catches the German defender. The ref shows leniency.

70 mins – Gotze receiving instructions from Guardiola. He’s on next.

67 mins – An away goal for Bayern and Old Trafford is a little quieter, except for the corner the away fans are in.

66 mins – GOAL! United’s lead lasts just 8 minutes. Rafinho finds sub Mandzukic with a cross and the striker nods down for Bastian Schweinsteiger to thump in on the half volley from close range.

65 mins – Boateng stings De Gea’s hands with a shot from distance. The Spaniard holds on.

62 mins – Substitution. Muller off and leading goalscorer Mario Mandzukic on for Bayern. Guardiola’s side have scored at least one goal in their last 60 matches and it has been two years since they failed to score in an away fixture. An interesting half hour in store.

60 min – Kagawa races in behind the Bayern defence and Neuer has to punch clear. Schweinsteiger booked for a tackle on Carrick. The away side are rattled. Rooney wastes the free-kick.

57 mins – GOAL! A Wayne Rooney corner is directed brilliantly into the bottom left corner by the head of Nemanja Vidic. No-one picked up the captain and no Bayern players were covering the posts either. Game on!

56 mins – Chances both ends now as the game opens up once more. Fellaini should have done more controlling a high ball near the Bayern penalty spot and Schweinsteiger gets a shot off the other end.

53 mins – Muller, Robben and Schweinsteiger combine well to allow the Dutchman a shot at goal. Blocked away. United support is right behind their team and has been since before kick-off. No sign of a plane over Old Trafford tonight.

52 mins – Rooney gets a header on target following good play from Kagawa on the right. The Japanese playmaker has looked bright so far.

51 mins – Neither side dominating the in the early stages of the half. Still 0-0 in the other quarter final at the Camp Nou incidentally where Barcelona are hosting Atletico Madrid.

46 mins – Early chance for Bayern. Rafinha plays a ball through to Schweinsteiger who has crept behind the United defence but he fails to find the targer.

45 mins – We’re underway again.

20:46 -Second half about to begin and substitution for United. Giggs is off, and Kagawa on. Positive change from David Moyes, but it was forced due to a groin injury.

 

Half time thoughts: Bayern dominated that first half, and if their final ball improves they should be able to bag an away goal in the next 45 minutes. However United have had chances of their own, most notably Welbeck’s. They need to find a way to stem the flow of Bayern’s passing in the second half, as they can’t get their foot on the ball as of yet.

Roy Keane pleased with Mancester United’s commitment in the first half, and calls the home side’s problems “nice” ones because the chances Bayern have created in general haven’t been clear-cut.

45 mins – The half time whistle goes to boos from United fans. Not because of their team’s performance but because they thought the ref should have allowed United to take another corner. He’s not obliged to do so and the teams make their way down the tunnel.

44 mins – Valencia’s shot deflected over for a corner after Rooney and Welbeck cause problems at the edge of the box.

39 mins – Big chance! Boateng loses his bearings and allows Welbeck to race onto a through ball from Rooney. The striker tries to chip it over Manuel Neuer instead of drilling it hard and low and the keeper gets a hand to it. Moyes doesn’t look happy.

38 mins – The Old Trafford surface must be slippy. Everyone is losing their footing. Phil Jones more than most.

36 mins – An Alaba cross is heading towards Muller for a tap in but Vidic makes a vital interception.

33 mins – The game is opening up now. Commotion in the United box as Jones and Ribery both slip and the ball is cleared by De Gea. Seconds later, A Rafinha shot hits Buttner on the arm but calls for a penalty are waved away.

31 mins – At the other end Danny Welbeck bounces a shot in front of Manuel Neuer. The German keeper was always behind it though.

30 mins – Robben tests De Gea with a nice curling effort from the edge of the box. The Spaniard is equal to it and palms it to his right for a corner.

28 mins – The only thing saving the home side is the quality of Bayern’s final ball so far. Crosses haven’t reached their targets.

25 mins – United can’t string three passes together. All the play in and around their box. Arjen Robben popping up everywhere.

21 mins – A Vidic slip almost allows Ribery’s cross-field ball to reach Robben, but the Dutch winger mis-controls.

19 mins – United fans cheering any indication of passion from their team. It’s all they’ve got so far, as Bayern are playing keep-ball.

18 mins- Ribery with a speculative shot from distance. Well wide from the Frenchman, who came third in the Ballon d’Or last year.

16 mins- Ribery and Robben have such a good understanding of each other’s game. The two link up down the left to win a corner.

14 mins – United haven’t been out of their own half for the past five minutes. Valencia picks up a yellow card for a tackle on Lahm.

10 mins – A Ribery cross finds Muller in the six yard box but Muller doesn’t connect properly and United clear their lines. Chances for both sides early on.

8 mins – Neuer forced into a hasty clearance under pressure from United’s forwards.

7 mins – Arjen Robben curls a first shot a yard or two wide of De Gea’s right hand post. Nice passing from Bayern in the build-up.

2 mins- Danny Welbeck finds the net for United! But… Bayern get a free out for a high boot. Good work by Rooney and Valencia to set up the chance. That decision could have gone either way really but it’s given United and their fans encouragement early on.

1 min – And we’re off!

19:40 – With nothing left to play for in the Premier League, winning the Champions League is the only way United can take their place among the European elite next season. They’re quoted at odds as high as 6/1 to even beat Bayern tonight. 5 mins to kick-off.

19:35 – Roy Keane on ITV calls it a “big ask” for United tonight.

Lahm isn’t playing in the Bayern defence after all. He’s in the midfield with Rafinha slotting in at right-back.

19:25 – In the build-up to tonight’s game, Utd manager Moyes and veteran midfielder Ryan Giggs were in bullish mood. Moyes predicting that tonight would be the first of many times he will come up against Pep Guardiola, while Giggs had this to say;

“As players we don’t see ourselves as underdogs, we see ourselves as Man Utd playing at home in the Champions League and we can’t wait. These are the games that you want to be involved in as a player and we will go out there and try and win the game.”

19:10 – Injury and suspension have forced David Moyes’ hand too, with Alexander Buttner replacing the suspended Patrice Evra and Phil Jones at right back instead of Rafael. Record signing Juan Mata is ineligible in the Champions League.

19:05 – With Dante suspended, it looks likely that Philipp Lahm will play at  right-back. It’s a position that he’s pretty familiar with… It’s only this season under Pep Guardiola that the Bayern captain has pushed up into the midfield.

19:00 – As I said at the beginning Bayern are spoilt for choice in midfield. One of their stand out performers is Tony Kroos, who David Moyes is rumoured to be interested in buying this summer in an attempt to strenghten United’s centre. The German international has yet to sign a new contract at Bayern, however that’s not to say United will have an easy time acquiring his services.