Reuters Soccer Blog

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Soccer Break Monday

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SOCCER-SPAIN/Good day everyone and welcome to a new week. Following a great weekend of footballing action and with so much at stake over the next few days in Europe, there is plenty to discuss.

Let’s begin with a look at the FA Cup quarter-finals, and please add the weekend of April 16/17 to your diaries as the Manchester derby will make its way to Wembley for the semi-finals while Stoke face Bolton.

There was drama in Spain (see photo), Barcelona’s thriller in Sevilla ending 1-1 to see their La Liga lead cut to five points.

Could Real yet pip them to the title? And will Real’s highly sought after coach Jose Mourinho remain at the club?

Serie A is not as good as it thinks it is

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SOCCER-ITALY/Serie A leaders AC Milan visit Juventus this weekend in one of the showcase matches of the Serie A season but hardly anyone is expecting a “good game”.

I can count on one hand the number of top class matches in Italy this term where excitement, technical proficiency and flair have won the day.

Champions League returns — can anyone stop Barcelona?

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/BUSQUETSHow we’ve missed the Champions League. It’s nine weeks since the line-up for the last 16 was completed and a couple of months since the draw offered up a handful of belting ties, including Inter Milan v Bayern Munich in a repeat of last season’s final.

We’ll have to wait a week for that one, with the more leisurely format these days meaning we see just two matches a night. This week, we can look forward to AC Milan v Tottenham and Valencia v Schalke on Tuesday, with Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk and Arsenal v Barcelona on Wednesday.

Serie A gets wackier as Leonardo joins Inter

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SOCCER-ITALY/Italian soccer on the pitch has a largely undeserved image of being boring, with 1-0 wins and catenaccio supposedly the norm.

Off the pitch Serie A is surely the craziest league in Europe with match-fixing scandals, coaches being sacked the day before the season, and players and managers switching between rivals like they were picking teams in the school playground. 

What will Inter Milan do with rebel Rafa Benitez?

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SOCCER-CLUB/World, European and Italian champions Inter Milan have been stunned by coach Rafael Benitez’s attack on their lack of ambition.

The Spaniard, after just six months in charge, has called for signings in the January transfer window or else he will speak to his agent about his future.

Inter v Bayern means repeat of 2010 Champions League final

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SOCCER-SPAIN/Holders Inter Milan will face Bayern Munich, the team they beat to clinch the trophy last season, in the Champions League last 16 with a repeat of the 2006 final also due after Barcelona were drawn to meet Arsenal. 

Bayern might actually be favourites given Inter’s struggles so far this term while Barca and Lionel Messi destroyed Arsenal in the quarter-finals second leg last season despite the two sides’ similar style of play.

Can Mourinho triumph again in Champions League or have Real peaked too early?

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Jose Mourinho’s gamble of swapping Champions League holders Inter Milan for recent underachievers Real Madrid looks to have paid off following a group stage where his new side excelled.

In contrast, Inter stumbled through to the last 16 in wholly unconvincing fashion, suggesting the coach with the Midas touch was right to bet the Italians would not be able to repeat the highs of last season’s glorious treble.

An Englishman abroad? Rooney might not have fitted the bill

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/So Wayne Rooney says he would only have left Manchester United to go abroad. Could the fact that foreign suitors seemed shy to express any interest have anything to do with his sudden U-turn to stay at the Premier League club?

Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho was right in his prediction that Rooney would stay after all. He told United to ”give me call” if the striker’s departure was on the cards but never went further than that.

Is Benitez at fault for Inter implosion?

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SOCCER-ITALY/A lack of fit players, lack of effective training, lack of buys, lack of hunger, lack of Jose Mourinho.

The possible reasons for Inter Milan’s troubles, which leave coach Rafael Benitez clinging to his job, are widespread and not all his fault but the treble winners have to do something to reverse their steady decline.

What has happened to Maicon and Nesta?

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONSMaicon was hailed as the best right back in the world not so long ago but Tottenham’s Gareth Bale has terrorised him twice in two weeks and Inter Milan fans are beginning to wonder if they should have cashed in and sold him to Real Madrid after all in the close season.

In the opposite San Siro dressing room, AC Milan’s Alessandro Nesta will also be getting a little twitchy after being exposed by Real Madrid on Wednesday.

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