Reuters Soccer Blog
World Soccer views and news
La Liga had a familiar look to it on Tuesday morning.
Wealthy behemoths Real Madrid and Barcelona top the standings on goal difference after each recorded emphatic wins against opponents who were utterly outclassed.
Villarreal, through to the Champions League group stages after finishing fourth last term, were thrashed 5-0 by Barca at the Nou Camp on Monday night, a day after Real Madrid romped to a 6-0 victory at Real Zaragoza.
Barca’s financial clout was underlined by the fact that coach Pep Guardiola was able to start without Spanish World Cup-winners Xavi and David Villa as new signings Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez scored on their home debuts in the league.
Short and sweet today with little news on Monday and plenty of action to look forward to this week.
Manchester United will look to stretch their Premier League lead against Newcastle United on Tuesday, though will their Wembley antics distract them? ‘A hole lot of trouble for United’ read one headline.
How can the upcoming domestic matches beat this week’s European action for goals? 19 were scored in Thursday’s four Europa League quarter-finals, with a further 18 coming in the four Champions League last eight ties on Tuesday and Wednesday.
What the top leagues around Europe do have however is drama, with most leagues set to go down to the wire, whereas only two out of eight of next week’s quarter-final second legs are in the balance.
Where to start after four brilliant Champions League quarter-finals, even if the intrigue for next week’s second legs has all but gone from three of the ties with Barcelona leading Shakhtar Donetsk 5-1, Real Madrid 4-0 up against Tottenham Hotspur and Schalke 04 in total charge against holders Inter Milan after the 5-2 triumph at the San Siro.
However, the appetite has most certainly been whet for the very probable ‘Clasico’ semi-final between Real and Barcelona, a meeting of the world’s two best players Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. April 26 or 27 and May 3 or 4. Do not miss these dates. Not that Spain’s two leading clubs are thinking that far ahead.
A few days ago, Real Zaragoza president Eduardo Bandres said: “The Spanish league will be a matter totally and absolutely between two teams, among other things because the system for distributing television rights determines that it will be this way. It is unique in Europe and because of this the Spanish league is one of the most boring in Europe.”
The television channels would beg to differ, as they regularly run adverts or open their coverage of matches from La Liga claiming it is the ‘best league in the world’ with clips of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi running in the background.
United, who visit Porto, have not looked like European and English champions recently and have a lot to do to reach the last four after last week’s disappointing 2-2 draw with the Portuguese side at Old Trafford.
So, here we go again. For the fifth successive season, Liverpool will face Chelsea in the Champions League.
Villarreal v Arsenal
Manchester United v Porto
Liverpool v Chelsea
Barcelona v Bayern Munich
Manchester United or Porto v Villarreal or Arsenal
Barcelona or Bayern Munich v Liverpool or Chelsea
Liverpool will perhaps be marginal favourites in the all-English quarter-final after knocking Chelsea out at the semi-final stage in 2005 and 2007 but their fans will need no reminding that last season, when Chelsea got to play the second leg at home, it was the Londoners who came through.
Spain overcame 44 years of underachievement on the international stage when they were crowned European champions at Euro 2008. Not only did they win the tournament, but their players, their style and their attacking ambition were hailed around the world.
However, that success appears to have had a detrimental effect on their domestic teams, who have traditionally been some of the strongest performers in Europe’s club competitions.
Less than a year after being forced out of Villarreal, who tired of what they said were his excessive privileges and lack of commitment, Juan Roman Riquelme is at the centre of a similar storm at Boca Juniors.
A sequence of listless performances from the enigmatic number 10 prompted public criticism from team mate Julio Cesar Caceres. And it all sounded very familiar.