Champions League Round-Up

Pressure on Carlo Ancelotti was lifted momentarily by a comfortable win in Copenhagen as a double from Nicolas Anelka eased Chelsea to a 2-0 victory. This was Copenhagen’s first defeat at home in the Champions League and some credit should be given to Chelsea given the circumstances of their disintegrating season. The Champions League is now their only realistic trophy left to challenge for this season and the desperation to put in a performance was clear for everyone to see. However, Chelsea fans should not get carried away with this performance. It was Copenhagen’s first competitive match since December 7th and they were off the pace: a shadow of the team that impressed so well in the group stages.

Chelsea struck early on in the seventeenth minute as Anelka took advantage of some slack concentration from Gronkjaer by powering in a shot from just inside the edge of the area to put the Blues in front. Many would have expected this to be a perfect opportunity for Torres to get off the mark for his new club, but he spurned many good chances, an off-target Ramires shot left him with a sight of goal but his first touch let him down and allowed Copenhagen keeper Johan Wiland to fend away the danger. His poked shot was again saved by Wiland whilst Mathias Jorgensen tackle prevented him again from scoring

But yet again it was the Frenchman who was showing the Spaniard how to finish. Chelsea wrapped things up when Anelka again finished clinically with a first-time shot from Lampard’s beautiful pass in the fifty fourth minute. Chelsea have all but booked their place in the quarter finals, a step further then last season. A good omen for Chelsea is that Carlo Ancelotti last won the Champions League in 2007 with a Milan side in a similar situation: struggling in Serie A and knocked out of the Italian equivalent of the FA Cup.

In the Stade Velodrome, it was a story of defence rather than attack as Marseille played Manchester United out to a dour 0-0 draw lacking in cutting edge and passing quality. Both teams set out not to lose the opening game, were well organised and were determined to give nothing away. The tie is now delicately poised in the return leg at Old Trafford with Manchester United obviously the favourites, but they will have to remain aware of the away goal that may cost them dearly when they meet again. Undoubtedly injuries to the likes of Evans, Ferdinand, Giggs may have influenced Ferguson’s defensive priorites. Nani was lively in the first half but Heinze, the former Manchester United man, shackled him in the second half in a game where defensive quality prevailed over attacking purpose. Conservatism away from home has been Manchester United’s vice this season and though they have only lost twice away from home this season, they have drawn a majority of their away games and they may rue not getting the away goal which may have helped them ascend to the quarter finals. All to play for.

In the other matches, Bayern Munich last year’s runners up, went some way towards gaining vengeance over last year’s winners Inter Milan – defeating the Italian giants 1-0. Mario Gomez struck a late winner courtesy of a rare Julio Cesar spill from an Arjun Robben shot late on in what was a significant blow for the Italians. Bayern played the better football throughout with Franck Ribery and Robben hitting the woodwork whilst Samuel Eto’o was repeatedly denied by keeper Thomas Kraft in an open match. Robben was exceptional showing his quality and an obvious desire to help his team go that one step further this season in their search for Champions League glory.

Real Madrid will have to wait to gain vengeance over Lyon as they were held 1-1. The French giants knocked Real Madrid out in the same round last season. The Spanish giants will be confident of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time since 2004 but Lyon are still in contention to make the last eight for the second season running. Former Lyon player Karim Benzema put Madrid ahead a minute after coming on as a second half substitute before Bafetimbi Gomis hit a late equaliser atoning for missing a first half sitter to leave the tie in the balance.

Matthew Williams


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