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Paulo Dybala nears Palermo exit as bidding war begins

Paulo Dybala has enjoyed a prolific season in Serie A and has attracted both Arsenal and Juventus.

Paulo Dybala has enjoyed a prolific season in Serie A and has attracted both Arsenal and Juventus.

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Paulo Dybala is set to be the subject of an intense bidding war between Arsenal and Juventus with Palermo owner Maurizio Zamparini claiming a sale will take place in April with Dybala’s representatives having been given permission to travel to both London and Paris to seek offers for the 21-year-old forward.

We will sell Dybala by the end of April, Pierpaolo Triulzi has the green light from me and is going to Paris and London to listen to offers, then we’ll evaluate them together.

Dybala has enjoyed a prolific season in Serie A netting thirteen goals in twenty nine appearances attracting the interest of Arsene Wenger who may eventually be put off by Palermo’s £30million asking price.

Palermo have found the crux of their business model in identifying talented young players from South America and presenting them with a pressure free environment to begin their career in Europe before selling them to a major force for a sizable profit. The names Javier Pastore and Edinson Cavani spring to mind as two of the more recent examples of Zamparini’s business model.

It is difficult to see just where Dybala would fit in at Arsenal given the wealth of attacking talent already at the club.

There is a real fear that Theo Walcott may leave the club sooner rather than later with the club’s hierarchy believed to be particularly unenthused at the prospect of dealing with the 26-year-old’s representatives in contract talks once more which would perhaps present an opening for Dybala.

The futures of Joel Campbell and Tomas Rosicky are also in doubt as we approach the summer transfer window with the Costa Rican World Cup star having been unable to impress at the Emirates before being loaned to Villarreal as part of the Gabriel Paulista transfer.

The move itself would represent a significant shift away from Arsenal’s prudent transfer policy over the past decade. Of course the London club have shown their ability to part with huge fees to attract the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez over the past two summers yet spending such a significant figure on a player with just two seasons of top-flight experience is a certain risk which doesn’t entirely fit with Arsene Wenger’s ethos.

The Frenchman has been known to take a chance of players over the course of his spell with Arsenal but never at such a sizable fee with only Francis Jeffers and Jose Antonio Reyes being expensive disappointments at the club. Wenger has often had much more success when taking players for very low fees and moulding them into first-team stars for example Alex Song and Kolo Toure.

It is believed that Juventus remains the player’s first choice with Dybala himself having publically spoken of his admiration for the Italian Serie A and its teams,

As I child I followed all championships, but always chose Italian teams on the PlayStation. I love all the championships for their diversity, but Italy remains the best choice for players from Argentina, especially because of the importance given to tactics.

AS Roma hold an interest in the player too but following last season’s expensive pursuit of Juan Iturbe it would be a surprise if the club were able to commit financially to Dybala and Palermo.

Juventus themselves may well be facing a summer of change with the club expected to reshuffle their forward line. The long pursuit of Fernando Llorente from Athletic Club has ended up being a disappointment with the Spaniard having not replicated the quality shown with the Basque club in Turin.

Carlos Tevez may also leave Juventus this summer with the former Manchester United and City striker believed to desire a return home to Argentina with former club Boca Juniors. Tevez’s contract in Turin runs until June 2016 however the Italian giants may well allow the 31-year-old to leave a year early especially given the quality he has provided in European competition with Juventus set to reach their first Champions League semi-final for over a decade.

If Juventus were to part with the £30million required to sign Dybala it could well be the deal which kick-starts the transfer market in earnest with the futures of Domenico Berardi and Simone Zaza then becoming an issue.

Berardi is currently on loan at Sassuolo from Juventus and with the 20-year-old forward having twenty six Serie A goals in his two seasons with Sassuolo it is expected the Italian champions will bring him back to the club. If Juventus were to sign Dybala then there would have to be numerous departures in the forward line to avoid a bloated squad.

Zaza on the other hand is a player who was sold to Sassuolo outright by Juventus on the condition that Juve could buy him back for £11million this summer. Zaza has enjoyed a breakthrough season with Sassuolo scoring eight league goals along with being handed his first Azzurri cap by Antonio Conte. If Dybala was signed it would make such a deal wholly unlikely and could bring Tottenham Hotspur back into play with the London club holding a strong interest in 23-year-old Zaza.

Paris Saint-Germain are a club on the periphery of the Dybala transfer saga with it seeming more likely that the player’s representatives are attempting to drum up interest from the French giants. PSG may wish to rejuvenate their forward line this summer with Zlatan Ibrahimovic approaching the end of his career and Edinson Cavani enduring a second straight difficult season in France.

However given the Financial Fair Play restrictions placed upon the club last year, they have to be very careful in monitoring their spending and with home-grown players regulations always a worry it could be the case that Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette would be their preferred option.

Palermo would welcome the cash injection from the sale of Dybala with it still as yet unclear as to whom may replace the skilful Argentine. Former Real Madrid youth prospect Alberto Bueno, now plying his trade with Rayo Vallecano, has been muted as one possible target for the Italian club who sit eleventh in Serie A, just three and four points behind Internazionale and AC Milan respectively, in their first season back in the top-flight.

Palermo may also have to contend with another departure this summer with Dybala’s partner in crime Franco Vazquez also muted to be heading towards the exit door at Renzo Barbera.

Bayern Munich reach near perfection in Eternal City

Bayern Munich's players celebrate in front of the travelling support at full-time. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Bayern Munich’s players celebrate in front of the travelling support at full-time. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Every so often you see something in football that makes your jaw drop, yet next to no words follow. FC Barcelona’s comprehensive domination of Manchester United in the 2011 European Cup final was one such occasion, as was Germany’s 7-1 victory over hosts Brazil in the semi-final of this summer’s World Cup. Last night Bayern Munich forced another such moment with their 7-1 victory over AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, a scoreline which nobody could have predicted.

It was by no means a surprise that Bayern Munich won, that isn’t the issue, it was clear before kick-off that Pep Guardiola’s side has a wealth of talent however this wasn’t a mismatch on paper. Roma, despite finishing second in Serie A last season, are perhaps, due to the exit of Antonio Conte at Juventus, the best team in Italy. Under Rudi Garcia, Roma have returned to Europe’s top table and can be considered, quite fairly, an elite team.

Bayern Munich, however were on another level in the Italian capital last night. It was quite captivating just how close the Bavarian giants came to reaching football perfection, a description solely reserved for Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team in more recent times.

Throughout last season Bayern Munich were impressive, winning the Bundesliga title, German Cup and reaching the last four of the European Cup. It is fair to say that in spite of all that success there was always a feeling that something just hadn’t quite clicked into place as yet, this is by no means a criticism of Bayern as adapting to a new coach, especially one as unique and demanding as Pep Guardiola, is always likely to take time.

Last night however felt to me like the line in the sand performance. The moment where Bayern have entered that sphere that most football teams are never able to, the sphere that Guardiola’s Barcelona reached between 2009 and 2011. Everything seemed to click into place.

Interestingly enough it was Roma who started the match the better with the hosts galvanised by Manchester City’s rather inexplicable failure to hold onto a 2-0 lead away in Moscow. A victory from Roma would have sent the Italians to the top of the group with qualification a serious possibility. Gervinho was busy running through the gap of Boateng and Benatia in Bayern’s back four and Rudi Garcia’s side were comfortable in possession inside their own half.

Of course this was just a five to six minute period but it looked as if we were in for a classic cagey, yet enthralling, European tie.

Then with what seemed like a flick of a switch Bayern turned things up a gear. Arjen Robben received the ball inside Roma’s penalty area and punished Ashley Cole for showing him inside to a shooting lane in the most emphatic way possible. Robben arrowed the ball past Morgan De Sanctis and into the far corner. This is the moment Pep changed the game.

The first shot of celebration on camera was between Guardiola and Neuer however it was more a case of Guardiola giving Neuer instructions. One of the keys to Guardiola’s success as a coach has been a quick pressing game and a high defensive line. Bayern’s defensive line had actually been uncharacteristically deep until the goal, to the visible frustration of Guardiola on the touchline, and it appeared that Neuer had been instructed to tell the defence to push up and thus start controlling the game as well as pushing further forward himself.

From this moment we saw a totally different shape from the visitors. Bayern’s defensive line pushed right up to the half-way line and penned Roma into their half.

Two of Roma’s most influential players, Francesco Totti and Miralem Pjanic were taken completely out of the game. This was the beauty of Bayern’s tactical switch. Roma now had no single outlet to retain possession or possibility to clear the ball and regain their own shape.

The only thing Bayern had to worry about was Gervinho nipping into the space between the two centre-halves and beating the offside trap however this is not a sustainable model of attack given the 50/50 nature of being called offside. Again another means of Bayern holding control.

Boateng and Benatia sat on the halfway line whilst Juan Bernat and Xabi Alonso pressed with speed and penned Totti and Pjanic into a small circle just inside the left side of Roma’s half, thus taking them out of the game completely. With Roma’s midfield bypassed, Bayern could solely focus on attacking and putting pressure on the two full-backs, Torosidis and Cole, who were both enduring nightmare performances.

Singling out one player can fully illustrate Bayern’s development as a team under Guardiola. Xabi Alonso’s pressing work in the midfield was surprisingly quick for a player not known for his speed. In his position last season was Toni Kroos, a player whom Pep Guardiola was hugely reliant on during that period. However one of Kroos’ weaknesses is his physical attributes, he isn’t an energetic midfielder and doesn’t have the tools to press quickly and then regain a shape.

His outstanding talents all come with the ball at his feet, which in a Guardiola team, may be too one dimensional to excel. With Alonso’s willingness to press came a tactic which took Roma’s midfield out of the game and allowed Bayern to show their footballing dominance in the form of seven goals.

An illustration of Bayern's effective high defensive line. Totti and Pjanic are totally cocooned inside the small red circle, outnumbered by the trio of Bernat, Boateng and Benatia. Alonso and Bernat's pressing work ensure that the pair have no time on the ball as well as forcing Roma deeper and deeper towards their penalty area.

An illustration of Bayern’s effective high defensive line. Totti and Pjanic are totally cocooned inside the small red circle, outnumbered by the trio of Bernat, Boateng and Benatia. Alonso and Bernat’s pressing work ensure that the pair have no time on the ball as well as forcing Roma deeper and deeper towards their penalty area.

What followed was a football team hitting their absolute peak and an opposition team having absolutely no answer. The shots rained in on De Sanctis’ goal and despite a drop in intensity in the middle period of the second-half, the final score could have read a lot worse than 7-1 from a Roman perspective.

Guardiola was keen to urge caution following last night’s result, claiming Bayern “must do better” before labelling the scoreline “an exception” however you would expect nothing less from a coach always in pursuit of total perfection. Last night we saw a football team with natural talent that we have been aware of for the past 2-3 years, however we saw the first real moment of total acclimatisation to Guardiola’s system and one which cannot be reversed and for the rest of Europe, that is indeed a worrying prospect.

Real Madrid stars look ahead to European Cup Final

Written by Chris Winterburn

Ahead of Saturday’s European Cup final between newly crowned La Liga Champions Atletico Madrid and fierce rivals Real Madrid a number of Carlo Ancelotti’s players have been speaking about the honour of finally playing in a European Cup final and just what it would mean to be able to complete Real’s pursuit of La Decima with a victory over their most unloved of adversaries.

Lisbon and Adidas prepares for Saturday's UEFA Champions League final. Photograph courtesy of Adidas.

Lisbon and Adidas prepares for Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final. (Photograph courtesy of Adidas)

Angel di Maria has really enjoyed a breakthrough season at the Bernabeu under Carlo Ancelotti. After reportedly being one of two names the former Milan boss had to choose from to be sold last summer, di Maria earned a stay of execution through Cristiano Ronaldo who reportedly asked for the Argentine not to be sold and the former Benfica winger has certainly delivered.

There was absolutely no question about his talent however during the Jose Mourinho era at Madrid it appeared as though di Maria struggled to play with a team ethos and often that contributed to rather unbalanced Real Madrid teams, particularly in the UEFA Champions League. This term however it has been a completely different story.

The arrival of Gareth Bale was expected to spell the end for di Maria however the Argentine has thrived. His overall game has improved and a willingness to work across the line to support either Marcelo or Fabio Coentrao and this has earned him a key place in Ancelotti’s team. The crowning moment was the display in the most recent La Liga Clasico in late March. Di Maria was arguably the best player on the pitch and was a key element in Madrid’s three goals.

Di Maria’s performances in Europe have been equally impressive and it is expected he will play a key part in Saturday’s Lisbon showpiece with the former Benfica suggesting it to be a dream to play in a European Cup final,

“The truth is that to be in the Champions League final is a dream come true. There have been a lot of seasons where I have only reached the semi-finals, and missing the opportunity of reaching the final. It’s a real joy to be part of this final.”

Angel di Maria is an adidas ambassador and wears the Predator Battlepack boots. For more information visit www.adidas.co.uk/worldcup or to join the conversation visit @adidasUK #allin or nothing

Asier Illarramendi has found first team opportunities rather limited since his £32million move to the Bernabeu last summer however the clever midfielder may well find himself thrust into action on Saturday evening courtesy of Xabi Alonso’s suspension.

Illarramendi was touted as the long-term successor to Xabi Alonso in the Real Madrid team although it appears this season has been rather more of a tool to get Illarramendi acclimatised to life with Los Blancos. When he has played he has impressed with a neat range of passing complementing the midfield tempo nicely and it is expected he will be more of a regular feature next season as Xabi Alonso enters his thirty third year

“We are fine. I think that during the season we have been up and down but now we are fine. We have the desire, the hope and above all the commitment to win it. Atletico will be a really difficult rival. This year they had an incredible season. But we are excited, motivated and we must win.”

A key point to pull out from that quote is the significance of the final three words, ‘we must win’. Defeat is not an option for Real Madrid on Saturday. After waiting twelve long years to reach another European Cup final since their triumph in Glasgow the club is finally in a position to complete La Decima, which according to former player Fernando Hierro has become ‘an obsession’.

Asier Illarramendi is an adidas ambassador and wears the Nitrocharge Battlepack boots. For more information visit www.adidas.co.uk/worldcup or to join the conversation visit @adidasUK #allin or nothing

Angel di Maria has enjoyed a phenomenal season under Ancelotti and claims it is a 'dream' to take part in a Champions League Final.

Angel di Maria has enjoyed a phenomenal season under Ancelotti and claims it is a ‘dream’ to take part in a Champions League Final. (Photograph courtesy of Adidas)

Twenty one year old centre forward Alvaro Morata has been another bright point to come out of Real Madrid’s campaign. Whilst he isn’t playing as much as perhaps he would at other clubs due to the performances of Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo, Morata has still contributed a healthy nine goals in all competitions and the home-grown talent is eagerly anticipating Saturday’s final and the positivity it will bring to Spanish football,

“I think it’s a tremendous joy for Spanish football and for the city of Madrid. I’m very proud. I was born here in Madrid and the truth is that this is something really great. It will be a hotly disputed final, two teams which have had a very good season, especially with this trophy. The best team will win, and we hope to win.”

Alvaro Morata is an adidas ambassador and wears the Adizero F50 Battlepack boots. For more information visit www.adidas.co.uk/worldcup or to join the conversation visit @adidasUK #allin or nothing

Much has been made of the impact Carlo Ancelotti has made at Real Madrid. After going through ten coaches since the 2002 final it finally appears as if the club has found the man to guide the team in Europe.

He is a coach who can keep control of the squad without being too divisive. Ancelotti’s experience as this level is well documented and both Alvaro Morata and Asier Illarramendi are keen to publicise the impact he has had on a team who finally looks to be reaching its undoubted potential,

AI: “He [Ancelotti] is a man that generates confidence. He is a quiet man and all the football players feel comfortable with him. He is helpful and the coaching staff in general is very good.”

AM: “The coach brought maturity most importantly he was a football player. He knows the players’ way of thinking, their behaviour and that’s important. If a player is not ok or needs help from the coaching staff, the coach knows it: he has been in the same situation as a football player.”

Alvaro Morata, Angel di Maria and Asier Illarramendi have all been speaking to Adidas this week in order to promote the newly released ‘World Cup Battle Pack’ boot range.

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Scout Report-Alberto Moreno, 21, Left-Back, Sevilla

Alberto Moreno making a hugely important challenge on Benfica's Lima during the Europa League final.

Alberto Moreno making a hugely important challenge on Benfica’s Lima during the Europa League final.

Written by Chris Winterburn

If way back in August Sevilla’s Alberto Moreno would have dreamt of how he wanted his upcoming season to play out then I doubt it would have differed too much to what reality had in store for the Seville born full-back.

Making twenty eight La Liga starts, playing a key role in winning the Europa League and to top it all off being named in Vicente del Bosque’s provisional 30-man Spain squad for the upcoming World Cup finals in Brazil were just three of the main positives to come out of Alberto Moreno’s twenty first year.

Moreno’s outstanding performances over the last eighteen months have not gone unnoticed further afield that Spain however with Premier League giants Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool all harbouring an interest in prising the young full-back away from his childhood club.

Alberto Moreno Perez as he is known officially will not be an easy transfer target for a whole host of England’s top flight due to the fact the full-back signed a significant new contract as recently as October 2013 which was set to keep him at the club until at least 2018. However as we have seen with even more regularity over recent seasons signing a new contract often just means your transfer fee will be a few million higher.

Moreno has caught the eye through his enthusiastic way of playing the full-back position. All the instances of marauding forward and impressive technical ability that saw the continent stand up and take notice of Jordi Alba not too long ago are prominent in Moreno’s game too. Moreno is perhaps more suited to playing a defensive position than Alba and his crossing is a lot better too however he lacks the explosiveness which made Alba Barcelona’s main transfer target when it became apparent Eric Abidal’s career with the Catalan giants was coming to an end.

In order to evaluate just how far Alberto Moreno has progressed this past season we must go back to last summer when Moreno first caught the wider European eye. Whilst the Spanish national team were away in Brazil competing for the Confederations Cup the Under-21 team were in Israel competing for the European Championship.

Much of the press attention was on Thiago Alcantara who captained the side. It was widely expected at that time that Thiago was going to the first of many new signings of the post Alex Ferguson era at Manchester United, this was not to be the case. As a result Moreno escaped attention, Alvaro Morata took the majority of the headlines with his goals whilst David de Gea was outstanding in goal.

What did become clear however is that Alberto Moreno missed just one game throughout the entire tournament. Spain won every match they played and Moreno was a sizable part of that success.

His marauding forward runs ably supported the likes of Isco, Morata and Thiago in attack, he often beat the right sided full-back for pure speed and was able to produce a quality delivery into the penalty area when asked.

He may not have been the media’s star of the tournament but the people that mattered could see his progress.

Although he had been fully promoted to the Sevilla first team the previous February it was his performances in Israel which convinced the Sevilla management to utilise him as first choice at left-back for the 2013-2014 campaign. Moreno went onto impress during Rio Ferdinand’s testimonial at Old Trafford with a confident defensive display down the left.

Fast forward nine months and we see a completely different Sevilla and completely different Alberto Moreno.

After a summer of financial woes placated only by the sale of the club’s two prized assets, Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo, Sevilla looked set for a season in the wilderness. Then came the reprieve. Due to financial issues at Malaga resulting in a UEFA suspension, Sevilla qualified for the Europa League. Unai Emery’s side had a challenge to aim for as well as a much needed financial boost to get the necessary talent in to move forward.

Moreno despite being just twenty one, has had to mature quickly. The pressures of regular first-team football are huge and Moreno has dealt with them very well indeed. The full-back has handled the press attention which comes with being the next star in the Seville crown whilst maintaining the levels of performance which earned him recognition in the first place.

From a footballing perspective Moreno is everything you would want in a full-back. He is quick, although not blisteringly so like a Gael Clichy or a Jordi Alba but quick enough to ghost past an opponent nonetheless however he is also strong.

On countless occasions this term Moreno has been forced to cut infield whilst in possession in order to play a clever slide rule pass in behind to either Bacca or Gameiro. When doing this Moreno has been faced with physically stronger central midfielders and defenders but he has an uncanny ability of being able to shake them off.

The styles of Moreno and Luke Shaw are eerily similar in that regard. Playing regular La Liga football from such a young age like Shaw, Moreno has been able to develop physically in a way which allows him to more than match adversaries, he can keep control of the ball when dribbling forward through his ability to come out the better of shoulder to shoulder challenges and the like.

With Liverpool looking for a better quality, long-term replacement for Jose Enrique this is a trait Brendan Rodgers is bound to view as positive. Continuing along the Liverpool centric line of argument, Moreno is also a clever footballer in that he knows when to use his pace to get into position to receive the ball.

A map of Alberto Moreno's typical movements within Unai Emery's system. Moreno looks to venture down the left hand side and reach the byline before putting in a cross to Bacca however he can cut inside on an overlapping run with Reyes and then place a short pass into Bacca's feet.

A map of Alberto Moreno’s typical movements within Unai Emery’s system. Moreno looks to venture down the left hand side and reach the byline before putting in a cross to Bacca however he can cut inside on an overlapping run with Reyes and then place a short pass into Bacca’s feet.

With Liverpool’s passing game being based around short, quick tempo passes the opportunities for one two’s are significant. Moreno has shown an ability to initiate a one two pass with a teammate and then get into a position far ahead of the defender as a result of his speed before receiving the ball in a better attacking position. This would also pique the interest of Manuel Pellegrini whose Manchester City side too looks to kick start passing moves in a similar vein.

The attacking side of Moreno’s game was perfectly highlighted in Sevilla’s 2-0 victory over Real Betis in the second leg of the Europa League quarter-final in which Moreno recorded assists for both goals with exquisite, indefensible crosses into the penalty area.

Football wise Moreno is all but there, his talents are clear for all to see, as are his physical attributes and he is only going to get better. What is a worry however is whether or not a move to Liverpool or Manchester City will be a summer too soon for him.

The biggest game of Sevilla’s season was Wednesday’s Europa League final. The Andalusian club were victorious in a penalty shoot-out but rode their luck in normal time with Benfica under the spell of the Guttmann curse wasting numerous gilt-edged opportunities in front of goal.

Moreno struggled. Despite showing an innate ability to defend under pressure with a goal saving tackle on Lima early in the second-half the young full-back was in real trouble all evening long.

Admittedly he received little help from Jose Antonio Reyes just in front of him but Moreno’s positioning was inconsistent and at times wild. Early on in the second half it looked as if Moreno was trying to make too big an impact on the match and he ended up almost on the right side of midfield for one Benfica attack with the left midfield area left completely unguarded.

Several heavy touches and slips later and it looked as if the occasion was all too much for the highly rated Spaniard with it only through good fortune and the performance of Beto in goal that Moreno wasn’t punished for one of his errors.

This could very well have been a one-off but these are the slight measures upon which club’s make final decisions on purchasing a player. In Sevilla’s biggest match of the season, on the grandest stage available to the club, Moreno struggled. Of course he is young and it shouldn’t be a surprise but with both Manchester City and Liverpool looking at immediate first choice left-backs it is something to bear in mind from their perspective.

With the hype around Luke Shaw due to both his nationality and the price tag Manchester United appear willing to pay for him it is likely Alberto Moreno will not be the standout transfer of the summer should a move to England materialise however you would expect clubs to see the outstanding footballing ability Moreno possesses and how he has managed to hone his craft in such a short space of time.

With all this in mind it wouldn’t at all be a surprise to see Moreno move to pastures new this summer and with Liverpool and Manchester City believed to be assessing other targets it would take a brave individual to bet against Real Madrid attempting to secure solidity at left-back for the next decade with a late move for Moreno.

Scout’s Rating- 7/10

Follow Chris Winterburn on Twitter @Chriswin4

On the eve of another semi-final Jose Mourinho laments Chelsea’s past European misfortune

Written by Chris Winterburn

Ahead of tonight’s UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg against Diego Simeone’s outstanding Atletico Madrid team, Jose Mourinho has spoken of his bemusement at Chelsea’s misfortune in European competition over recent years.

The Portuguese coach is looking once more to become the first coach to win Europe’s top prize with three different teams however despite all his previous successes Mourinho has never been able to guide Chelsea to the final with the club falling at the semi-final stage in two of Mourinho’s three full seasons in charge at Stamford Bridge.

Jose Mourinho has spoken of Chelsea's misfortune in Europe, particularly in semi-finals and feels Chelsea deserved to finally win the competition in 2012. (Photograph courtesy of AP)

Jose Mourinho has spoken of Chelsea’s misfortune in Europe, particularly in semi-finals and feels Chelsea deserved to finally win the competition in 2012. (Photograph courtesy of AP)

Mourinho will be hoping Chelsea’s bad luck in semi-finals does not strike again this evening with the Europa League holders holding a slender advantage over Atletico due to the fact the deciding fixture is played at Stamford Bridge. With the aggregate score at 0-0 there is no away goal for Chelsea to defend or indeed rely on so should Atletico score tonight the complexion of the tie will be completely different for Mourinho’s men.

Speaking to adidas to promote Gamedayplus, Jose Mourinho suggested that when Chelsea finally did win the Champions League in 2012 it was justice following all the disappointments of the previous decade,

“I think Chelsea winning the Champions League was like bringing justice to a team that was a very strong team in the Champions League for about a decade. Chelsea has had everything in the Champions League, we lost that semi final against Liverpool with a goal that was not a goal and the next year we lose the semi-final on penalties.”

It is a well known fact that is was Roman Abramovich’s great desire to see his Chelsea lift the European Cup. After years of lavish spending without continental success the Russian oligarch turned to the youthful Andre Villas-Boas, fresh off Europa League success with FC Porto, to guide Chelsea to the holy grail of the Champions League title.

Villas-Boas and Chelsea simply did not work, issues with individual players and confusing tactics left the club facing an ignominious exit for the Champions League at the hands of Napoli. Roman Abramovich dismissed Villas-Boas and brought in trusted first-team coach Roberto Di Matteo to guide the club at the very least until the end of the season. Di Matteo had the backing of the players and somehow through fantastically focused performances and a degree of luck guided Chelsea to the Munich showpiece.

Mourinho in the same interview goes onto state how it was destined to be dramatic when Chelsea did finally reach their goal of lifting Europe’s top prize,

“Finally Chelsea won the Champions League so I think it was to bring justice to a group of players that were there fighting season after season and reaching semis and reaching finals and being stopped to do more and finally Chelsea did it also in a dramatic way also with extra time and penalties.”

Chelsea’s victory in the final over Bayern Munich seemed to have given Roman Abramovich a new lease of life in terms of controlling Chelsea. It had appeared that the years of European disappointment and bad luck had seen the Russian’s desire to spend significant money on players wane however since Didier Drogba’s decisive spot kick in Munich, Chelsea have gone from strength to strength and are well placed to reach a third European Cup final.

Chelsea will need both Liverpool and Manchester City to drop points between now and the end of the season if Jose Mourinho’s team are to win the Premier League once more and it does seem as though the Champions League is the club’s best chance of silverware this season. After a defensive masterclass at Anfield on Sunday Chelsea are facing a similarly strong defensive unit in Atletico Madrid which could make for yet another, shall we say unappealing match for the neutrals.

Jose Mourinho won’t care, nor should he. His main goal is to reach the Champions League final and then win it. Whilst he recognises how Chelsea deserved their success in 2012, there is absolutely no doubt that the ‘Special One’ would love nothing more than to guide Chelsea to the trophy. It has been his ambition since he left Porto in the summer of 2004 and for one reason or another he was never able to achieve it.

With there little more than six hours before kick-off in tonight’s clash it is certain that European Cup semi-finals involving Chelsea rarely pass without drama and we can expect as such this evening.

“José Mourinho was speaking to promote adidas Gamedayplus, bringing together the best of the UEFA Champions League in one place. To find out more visit adidas.com/gamedayplus or join the twitter conversation @adidasfootball”

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Porto fall glaringly short as Sevilla march on into the semi-final

Sevilla celebrate their early goal which levelled the tie and set the Spanish side on their way to the semi-final stage of the competition. (Photograph courtesy of Getty Images)

Sevilla celebrate their early goal which levelled the tie and set the Spanish side on their way to the semi-final stage of the competition. (Photograph courtesy of Getty Images)

Written by Chris Winterburn

FC Porto headed to Andalusia this evening holding a slender 1-0 lead from last week’s first leg in Portugal however with the important duo of holding midfielder Fernando and top scorer Jackson Martinez both missing through suspension it was always going to be a difficult evening for Luis Castro’s side.

Right from the off Sevilla flew out of the traps. Unai Emery’s side looked hungry and pressed high up the pitch using Ivan Rakitic as a reference point in the middle of midfield, every single player knew where they should be in relation to the Croatian and it made for a very fluid opening half hour performance from the hosts. Porto looked weak through the middle without Fernando and despite the best efforts of Steven Defour the Belgian is simply not as effective a holding midfielder. Without Fernando, Sevilla were able to flood the middle of the pitch and were rewarded for their efforts with a penalty inside four minutes.

Carlos Bacca went down rather easily, even a couple of steps after the initial challenge from Danilo however the former Santos defender’s challenge was clumsy and gave the Colombian an opportunity to go to ground. Ivan Rakitic converted the penalty with ease and the Sanchez Pizjuan was set for a historic European evening.

Eliaquim Mangala is reportedly moving closer and closer to a summer switch to Manchester City however the French defender didn’t cover himself in glory with his display this evening. In fairness Mangala is given a lot of work to do, he is playing in what is probably the weakest Porto side since early this millennium and it shows. This evening however, particularly in the first half Mangala was given the work of two defenders courtesy of Alex Sandro’s incredibly short sighted approach to the match. The Brazilian full-back looked to go forward at every given opportunity but was so slow in tracking back to his position that Mangala had to then cover the left-back position as well as his own area through the centre.

It seemed as if Benfica’s performance at White Hart Lane was the model for Porto this evening with the fluidity in movement between defensive positions essential the Jorge Jesus’ team’s success in London. The two full-backs surged forward whilst Garay and Luisao the two central defenders moved into wider positions to cover the space, holding midfielder Fejsa then filled in at centre half. For Porto it was an incredibly poor imitation with a lack of balance and discipline. Mangala moved to the left to cover Alex Sandro whilst right sided full-back Danilo didn’t go forward which left fellow defender Diego Reyes rather unsure of his position. Had Fernando been in the side to offer a bit more protection ahead of the defence then perhaps Sevilla wouldn’t have been able to take such advantage of Porto’s defensive lapses.

Sevilla after taking a 3-0 lead into the half-time break were given a setback when right sided full-back Coke was needlessly sent off for a second yellow card after a clumsy challenge on Ricardo Quaresma. What was most disappointing about Coke’s dismissal was just how the Spaniard picked up his initial yellow card in the midst of a melee in the first half. This red card changed the game, giving Porto a lot more time on the ball and a spare man to always pass to however the Portuguese side just didn’t have enough up front without Jackson Martinez.

Quaresma looked the most likely to make something happen however the former Chelsea and Barcelona winger was far too inconsistent in his decisions when on the ball which has been an unfortunate theme of his entire career. With Sevilla down to ten men and Porto without a manager after Luis Castro was sent to the stands early in the second half, it was certainly a gamble to throw on Juan Fernando Quintero, the starlet of Pescara’s Serie A campaign last term. Heralded as the next big thing, Quintero was sizably hugely disappointing this evening with the Colombian barely looking interested.

On too many occasions Quintero received the ball then played a pass only to not bother making a run to look for the return ball, it made Porto’s late attacking moves look rather laboured and ineffective with Sevilla seeing the final stages of the tie out with ease despite Quaresma’s late consolation strike.

As Chelsea did at times last year, FC Porto looked like a team with an ‘interim’ first team manager in that there was no direction about their play. The lack of defensive stability in the first half followed by Ricardo Quaresma’s all too common willingness to try and play the game on his own showed Porto in a really poor light without the discipline of Fernando.

Ivan Rakitic did his market value absolutely no harm this evening with the Croatian captain putting on a masterclass from the middle of midfield. When you look at teams such as Manchester United and Liverpool who are perhaps lacking a driving force in the middle of midfield Ivan Rakitic would fit the bill perfectly. The Croatian was always willing to receive the ball in the middle of the pitch and then turn and look to run at Porto’s midfield before playing in either Bacca or one of Sevilla’s wide players. He was constantly involved in the match and really drove his team on from the start, he was also a calming influence following Coke’s dismissal when the tie looked to be swinging in the favour of Porto.

The Europa League semi-final draw takes place tomorrow and it is a very Iberian dominated affair with Benfica and Valencia joining Sevilla and Juventus in the hat. Sevilla would welcome domestic rivals Valencia whilst all teams would hope to avoid the outright favourites for the competition Juventus. Whilst Sevilla fully deserved their victory tonight the lack of quality within Porto’s squad was highlighted and it will take a significant rebuilding job to take the Portuguese giants back to Europe’s top table any time soon.

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Paris Saint-Germain prove they are more than just pretenders with victory over Chelsea

Written by Chris Winterburn

Paris Saint-Germain dispelled the belief that the perceived lack of competition in Ligue 1 would hinder their chances in the Champions League with a 3-1 victory over Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea at the Parc des Princes this evening, despite giving up a one goal lead inside the first half.

Much was made of the attacking qualities in the French Champions’ locker before the kick-off and it was no surprise when the hosts went one goal to the good inside three minutes after a very positive start on the front foot. Chelsea were caught cold by the pace of the Parisians’ attack and Ezequiel Lavezzi slammed the ball past Petr Cech when the ball finally fell into a shooting position after impressive work on the flank by Blaise Matuidi.

Javier Pastore sealed the 3-1 victory with a sensational individual goal in injury time. (Photograph courtesy of Reuters)

Javier Pastore sealed the 3-1 victory with a sensational individual goal in injury time. (Photograph courtesy of Reuters)

Jose Mourinho’s decision to play Andre Schurrle as a lone forward cum attacking midfielder this evening was pondered by the media prior to kick-off as possibly a message to owner Roman Abramovich with regards to the purchase of a striker in the summer, however it must be said that the German winger by trade put in a commendable shift. Schurrle consistently harried the defensive pairing of Alex and Thiago Silva and then had the energy to put Marco Verratti under pressure when the ball was moved onto the Italian.

Paris Saint-Germain seemed to have stunned themselves such was the early timing of their opening goal with Laurent Blanc’s side unsure whether or not to pile forward and try and take further advantage of Chelsea’s sluggish start. The home side did in fact show a hint of indecisiveness and elected to sit back on their one goal lead and it allowed Chelsea to compose themselves and gain a foothold in the contest. It was the sort of faux mercy that Europe’s elite tend not to show after taking a lead and that is something Paris Saint-Germain will have to learn from should they progress to the semi-final stage.

Chelsea’s equaliser came through a rare Thiago Silva mistake, the Brazilian defender seemed to get the timing of his challenge ever so slightly off and Oscar was felled by a trailing leg. Eden Hazard comfortably stepped up to wrong foot Salvatore Sirigu with his penalty finding the bottom right hand corner of the net.

Marco Verratti will come in for criticism tonight as the Italian gave the ball away a few times too many however the former Pescara midfielder was crucial to PSG’s ball retention throughout the match. Seldom did you see the French champions play an aerial ball from their own penalty area, the hosts much rather preferred to play the ball out from Sirigu and Verratti was often the recipient. As Marouane Fellaini found last night in a similar position, against a team who presses high up the pitch at pace it is a thankless task receiving the ball from the goalkeeper as you have to turn, often be faced with two or more men and try and slide an inch perfect pass through a miniscule opening.

Verratti did manage to retain possession more than people realise as well as running himself into the ground to create an opening for others to pass into. It was a rather sacrificial performance with Verratti giving up potential rave reviews for his own performance for the good of the team.

The match had slipped into a lull after the break with neither team looking particularly threatening going forward, Chelsea happy with their away goal and PSG rather puzzled with regards to how to regain their earlier tempo. PSG were given a significant helping hand by David Luiz just after the hour when the Brazilian gave away a sloppy free-kick wide on the left hand side in a position where PSG were looking unlikely to develop the move. The man of the match Lavezzi went on to deliver an almost perfect delivery into the gap between the goalkeeper and the line of defenders with David Luiz putting the ball into his own net.

An injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic not long after saw the introduction of Lucas Moura. The direct running of the former Sao Paulo starlet caused Chelsea real problems and Moura’s positivity proved to be infectious to the rest of the team.

Chelsea had lost their momentum courtesy of both the goal and the introduction of Fernando Torres in place of the hard working, if isolated, Andre Schurrle and PSG took full advantage of the newfound room in midfield, Thiago Motta orchestrated the tempo without so much as a second glace from Chelsea’s forward line. It seemed only a matter of time before another PSG goal came.

In truth it looked as if both teams had settled for the result as it stood heading into injury time, until €42million substitute Javier Pastore received the ball in the right hand corner of Chelsea’s half. The Argentinean playmaker seemed to flick a switch and turn on the style out of the blue with his nimble feet seeing him beat three Chelsea defenders before powering the ball past Petr Cech at his near post to send the Parc des Princes into an ecstatic frenzy just seconds before the full-time whistle.

Jose Mourinho was unsurprisingly disappointed with his team after conceding a late goal labelling the manner in Chelsea allowed Pastore to score as “ridiculous.” Mourinho continued on what appeared to be the words of a frustrated man by suggesting it would be “difficult” to overcome the 3-1 deficit with Chelsea “not a team full of talent to score a lot of goals.”

On the topic of PSG, Laurent Blanc’s men showed that they were far more than wealthy pretenders this evening with the widespread quality in the side showing them to be a class above Chelsea, despite a difficult period following the equalising goal. Thiago Silva was a rock at the back with the captain’s reading of the game cutting short Chelsea attacks before they had even had chance to develop, giving away the penalty was the only blotch on his copybook.

There are worries for Laurent Blanc ahead of Tuesday’s return leg at Stamford Bridge with Marco Verratti and Zlatan Ibrahimovic both being substituted through injury with Ibrahimovic appearing to have pulled a hamstring which will almost certainly see him miss the trip to London. Lucas Moura’s twenty minute cameo did however show that there are options from the bench to replace Ibrahimovic without too much of a decrease in production.

With the heavyweights in the competition all in a good position to progress to the semi-final you have to feel that PSG showed tonight that they have a good mentality as well as individual quality on the pitch. A year ago we saw a team which perhaps wasn’t ready for the pressures that come with latter stage Champions League football however this year they have taken that next step. Despite a set-back following their early opening goal the French side remained largely positive in the second half and with this added to their obvious footballing qualities, it is easy to see them being more than a match for any of the side’s left in the competition.

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4