The four English clubs faced little resistance in the first leg of the first knockout round of the Champions League.
By Brian Glanville in London
Funny game, football. Last Saturday, I saw Fulham bravely take the game to Arsenal at The Emirates and fully deserve their goalless draw, even if their fine keeper, the Australian Schwarzer, had to make a number of excellent saves.
This by extreme contrast with the dourly negative approach of Sunderland, a week earlier. To give Sunderland their due, they did force a couple of commendable saves from the Gunners’ keeper Almunia, in the first half, but thereafter, they simply crawled back into their cavern.
Yet Fulham, who played so much bright and adventurous football at Arsenal, a week earlier had put up a pitiable performance at Old Trafford, virtually throwing in the towel and going down 3-0, when it might have been more. I suppose you could say that it’s all in the mind but surely, these were two unrecognisable displays.
Irreconcilable also were the displays of Liverpool within days of each other at Madrid and Middlesbrough.
Just as Manchester United excelled at San Siro – and I suppose I ought to mention that the highly accomplished Berbatov was another distinguished absentee from Wembley – fully deserving a win which strangely eluded them, so Liverpool rose gloriously above their recent domestic form – not to mention the form they subsequently showed against ‘Boro – to defeat Real at the Bernabeu, just in the middle of a long run of Real’s success; by contrast with a strangely slipping Barcelona.
Chelsea take a meagre 1-0 lead to Turin against Juventus. I saw both that home game and Arsenal’s against Roma; both 1-0 victories, Arsenal’s only from a penalty. After the Chelsea game I put a first Press Conference question to the new incumbent Guus Hiddink, largely to avoid a silent hiatus’ was he satisfied? Which rather to my surprise prompted an extensive answer to the effect that he wasn’t satisfied at all and wasn’t in any way satisfied with the physical condition of the team though as he observed, Juventus, though by then calling the tune, were hardly dangerous. Indeed, Amauri, the Brazilian striker with whom, as with Alex Del Piero, Juve have largely been relying for goals this season, was disappointingly ineffectual.
Overall this doesn’t strike me as an especially talented or threatening Juventus side, as evidenced by the way they have fallen behind the hardly coruscating Inter; who let in three goals last weekend at home to Roma. A Roma team which clearly came out to play in Milan, by contrast with its largely modest performance at Arsenal. There I though Francesco Totti, so highly praised and respected by Arsene Wenger before the event, looked a fish out of water, deployed up front rather than “in the hole,” where he could have enjoyed more time and space. Though the word was that he was not fully fit.
The Gunners badly need a fit Eduardo for the game at the Olimpico, not least because Andrei Arshavin, who set up the pitifully few chances they created against Fulham, is ineligible. Meanwhile, I just hope that not too many hapless Arsenal supporters are stabbed form behind in Roma tifosi fashion.