Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Celtic 0-2 Arsenal


William Gallas
A deflection and an own goal helped Arsenal overcome Celtic to leave the Gunners with one foot in the Champions League group stages.

Arsenal took the lead two minutes before the break when William Gallas inadvertently diverted a Cesc Fabregas free-kick past Artur Boruc, and Gary Caldwell put through his own net in the 71st minute.

Only Barcelona and Dinamo Moscow, in the previous round, had beaten Celtic in the previous 36 European matches at Parkhead.

But Arsene Wenger's side enjoyed a comfortable second half to leave them in a commanding position ahead of next week's play-off second leg.

Barcelona have also lost at Celtic Park during that run, along with the likes of Juventus, AC Milan and Manchester United, but Celtic failed to put their latest visitors under serious pressure.

Although both sides had enjoyed comfortable away wins in their opening league wins on Saturday, Celtic manager Tony Mowbray opted for radical alterations to his frontline while Arsenal were unchanged following their 6-1 win at Everton.

Mowbray dropped Scott McDonald and Marc-Antoine Fortune and played Aiden McGeady up front alongside Georgios Samaras, who scored the stoppage-time winner against Dinamo Moscow in Russia in the previous round.

Scott Brown came into right midfield while Caldwell returned after missing Saturday's 3-1 victory at Aberdeen through suspension.

Arsenal looked more comfortable in possession from the start, finding space in front of Celtic's back four.

Andrey Arshavin was causing problems when he drifted in from his position on the left of Arsenal's three-man attack, and Fabregas and Denilson were always looking to break forward from midfield.

Arsenal were playing the ball through Celtic and it needed a last-ditch block by Caldwell on Robin van Persie to stop the Gunners profiting from one such move, with the offside flag raised before Arshavin fired home the rebound.

However, Celtic had a good chance to hurt Arsenal on the counter-attack when Shaun Maloney released McGeady down the left after Van Persie's free-kick was cleared.

The Republic of Ireland international rode one challenge and lofted the ball towards Brown but Thomas Vermaelen did enough to put the midfielder off.

Celtic tightened up in central midfield, although a slip by Massimo Donati allowed Arshavin the chance to run at the Celtic back four, with Boruc getting down comfortably to save his deflected effort.

Full-back Andreas Hinkel then created Celtic's best chance of the half when he burst into the box and cut the ball back for Maloney.

The Arsenal defence closed him down but the ball fell for Brown, whose low shot was well saved by Manuel Almunia.

Celtic looked like they would comfortably survive until half-time but luck was against them after Caldwell was penalised for a foul on Fabregas 30 yards out.

The free-kick was rolled short to the Spaniard, whose 30-yard drive bounced off the back of Gallas and spun into the opposite corner to where Boruc was heading.

The game almost drifted beyond Celtic within a minute of the restart after Landry N'Guemo miscontrolled a simple take in the centre circle.

Arshavin carried the ball to the edge of the penalty box before slipping the ball outside to Van Persie but the Dutchman shot past the far post.

Denilson soon curled just wide from 20 yards following another Arshavin run while Fabregas dragged a left-footed shot just wide from a similar distance after Gallas had easily won a 50-50 challenge with Donati.

McGeady had dropped deeper after the interval and Mowbray made a double switch in the 56th minute with McDonald and Fortune replacing Donati and Samaras.

Celtic struggled to create chances but Gallas made another crucial interception when he cut out Fortune's low cross as McDonald waited at the far post.

Abou Diaby replaced Arshavin and immediately played a key role in Arsenal's second goal.

The substitute burst forward and set up Gael Clichy for a low cross that was turned home by the outstretched boot of Caldwell.

Only McGeady looked capable of creating anything for Celtic and most of the final 20 minutes was played out in the middle third.

Celtic vs Arsenal Preview


Cesc Fabregas
Arsenal could be without up to four of their key players for the first-leg of their Champions League play-off game with Celtic.

Winger Theo Walcott is ruled out of the game with a back injury, whilst there are serious injury doubts over Bacary Sagna, Cesc Fabregas and Denilson.

Sagna took a knock in Saturday's 6-1 win over Everton while Denilson (groin) and Fabregas (hamstring) will also be assessed on Tuesday although Gunners boss Arsene Wenger believes the Spaniard has a better than 50-50 chance of playing.

Midfielder Abou Diaby has recovered from a groin injury but defender Johan Djourou (knee) remains on the sidelines.

Celtic have injury woes of their own with Dutch defender Glenn Loovens having limped out of Saturday's 3-1 win at Aberdeen with a knee problem and winger Shaun Maloney picking up a knock. Both will be assessed on Tuesday after training on Monday.

Gary Caldwell will return to the Hoops defence after being suspended for the trip to Pittodrie.

Celtic (from): Boruc, Hinkel, Naylor, Caldwell, Fox, O'Dea, Loovens, Scott Brown, N'Guemo, Donati, McGeady, McDonald, Samaras, Fortune, Killen, Maloney, Zaluska, Crosas, Caddis, Ferry.

Arsenal (from): Almunia, Sagna, Vermaelen, Gallas, Clichy, Eboue, Song, Diaby, Fabregas, Arshavin, van Persie, Eduardo, Mannone, Bendtner, Denilson, Ramsey, Wilshere, Gibbs, Silvestre.

Wenger paints a European picture


Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger believes the unquenchable thirst for money among top clubs will lead to a European League being formed in 10 years time.

The Arsenal boss flew in to Glasgow today for the first leg of the Champions League play against Celtic tomorrow night and claimed that there was no financial pressure on him to get to the group stages of the competition.

However, in the context of discussing whether Celtic or Rangers would be a welcome addition to the Barclays Premier League, Wenger expanded his views on the future of the game.

And in doing so, the Frenchman claimed greed could eventually put an end to the Champions League.

"I believe you have two parts of Scottish club football; you have Rangers and Celtic and then the rest," the Frenchman said.

"I would say that Celtic and Rangers could compete, certainly, in the Premier League in the top eight. "The other teams at the moment are not equipped for that.

"But I see more of a European League developing in time anyway. "The national leagues will survive, but maybe in 10 years you will have a European League.

"The way we are going now financially, even the money coming in from the Champions League for some clubs who spend so much money will not be enough anymore because the income is basically owned by UEFA and they distribute the money to the clubs.

"I'm not sure 100% that I am right, but I feel that there are some voices behind the scenes in our game aiming to do something about a European league, especially if the rules become too restrictive for the big clubs as things currently stand."

Wenger continued: "If a European league (does happen) the question is whether clubs will transfer from a national league or whether it is a franchised European league.

"That's the question people will have to answer.

"I personally believe only in sporting merit, so if one league is created there has to be promotion up and down. "But that would be, practically, very difficult to resolve.

"I do not want to kill the national leagues so each team should have to play in the national league and in Europe.

"That means the Euro league taking place in midweek and the national league over the weekend.

"All this would mean having two teams, basically."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ballack likes the diamond


Michael Ballack reckons it is up to the Chelsea players to make Carlo Ancelotti's diamond formation work.

New coach Carlo Ancelotti has abandoned the use of wingers and replaced them with two strikers and a midfield diamond that struggled to get the better of Hull in their opening game at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Chelsea won 2-1 thanks to a late strike by Didier Drogba but at times the space afforded them by Ancelotti's midfield was exploited to the full by Phil Brown's side.

The system works superbly when going forward but if the midfield four are not tracking back when possession is lost, it leaves yawning gaps for the opposition to exploit.

Ballack was a half-time substitute for John Obi Mikel as Ancelotti looked for more aggression in the second half.

Now the midfielder is hoping for a place in the starting line-up against Steve Bruce's side at the Stadium of Light and he remains convinced the system can work.

"Everybody is a little bit expectant about what we can achieve this year," said Ballack.

"We have a new manager and we play a new system.

"We played it under Jose Mourinho when I arrived and it feels different not to play with wingers and to play with two strikers.

"So tactically things will be different for us but it depends how you implement it, by which I mean you can play any system with good players and they have to show their ability.

"It is not about the system, it is about how individuals perform on the pitch and whether they do the right things, so it is not as simple as just picking a system.

"In a diamond your attention is more on controlling the play, you have more ball in midfield and one more man there as well.

"So you gain a small advantage through the centre but there's more hard work for the four midfielders because they have a lot of work to do on and off the ball in this system.

"But there are many ways to win, there's not just one way to play football and you can have success with any system if you play it right.

"It is not all about the system we play, that's just a new thing for us that we have to adapt to."

Coach Ancelotti is pleased with the response from his squad and the way they are getting used to his diamond system. Their quality has prevented him from adding a 'marquee signing' to his squad as yet.

The Italian remains adamant that unless a top player becomes available at the right price, the current squad has enough ability to be successful this season.

"I have seen them playing in the system we want to use and I have options with so many great players to choose from," said Ancelotti.

"We have not had to spend lots and bring in many new players because we are happy with our squad."

Chelsea are unlikely to have any of their injured contingent back in time for the trip to Sunderland.

Juliano Belletti (Achilles), Alex (groin) and new signing Yuri Zhirkov (knee) are almost certain to miss out.

Joe Cole and Paulo Ferreira are also sidelined with knee injuries.

Xavi: Barca will keep attacking


Xavi and Messi
Barcelona midfielder Xavi has warned his side will stay true to their attacking philosophy ahead of the new season.

The Catalans swept their way to the La Liga and Champions League titles last year under their first-year coach Pep Guardiola and started the new season with a 2-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao in the first leg of their Spanish Super Cup tie last night.

Barca had gone behind against the run of play when Oscar De Marcos struck in the 44th minute, but second-half goals from Xavi and Pedro gave Guardiola's side an advantage heading into the second leg at the Nou Camp next Sunday.

Barca's league campaign does not begin until a home date with Sporting Gijon on August 31, which comes three days after they play Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Super Cup, but Xavi believes the Catalans are already hitting their straps.

"We are happy, especially with the outcome," he told Marca after last night's game.

"The team maintains the winning momentum and we don't get tired of winning.

"We have the same coach, the same approach and we will play an offensive game that is attractive for supporters and for us."

Guardiola was also pleased with his side's display, although he believes they must show more patience in attack.

"We did well in the first 25 minutes but we attacked too fast and were ineffective. We need to build up," he said.

"Athletic is a great football team and the players play for the shirt. We will do well to take them seriously.

"The result was good but we must do better."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ferguson blasts the fakers


Man United boss Sir Alex Ferguson insists players who pretend to be injured in order to cause stoppages are "killing the game".

Ferguson's men were involved in a controversial incident during last Sunday's Community Shield at Wembley when defender Patrice Evra went down injured but Chelsea played on and scored, with referee Chris Foy playing the advantage.

The Scot claims referees are finding it increasingly difficult to differentiate between genuine instances when the game needs to be stopped to treat injuries and when players are trying to trick them into blowing the whistle.

A further complication is that the decision to stop play is not entirely in the official's hands, with some players still opting to abide by what Ferguson calls the "unwritten rule" to kick the ball into touch when a player goes down, injured or otherwise.

Ferguson feels if players only went to ground when genuinely injured, the referee's job would be much easier.

"This unwritten rule has come into the game and opportunist players have just overdone it. They have overcooked the whole thing," he said.

"Last week Evra was through and into the last third of the pitch, the referee stops it and (Michael) Ballack gets up. It could have been a serious problem so he stopped the game.

"Then when Evra is fouled, Chelsea don't kick the ball out, the referee plays on and we lose a goal.

"It is a grey area and something has to be done about it.

"The players are killing the game. The players' unprofessionalism is killing the game. Not the referees. The problem is how much the referee can tolerate when the players lie down pretending to be injured.

"There is no doubt that this unwritten rule about players kicking the ball into touch has been exploited to ridiculous degrees now."

Ferguson added: "I spoke to my players about it and told them not to kick the ball out, that they should let the referee decide when to stop the game.

"But the players wouldn't do it. If players don't put the ball out they get stick off opposing players and opposing fans.

"If a referee stops the game twice when players go down and on the third occasion he decides to play on, he makes a rod for his own back.

"Last Sunday, Chelsea had plenty of time to kick the ball out when Patrice Evra was injured after being fouled by Michael Ballack."

Police confirm Celtic Euro date


Strathclyde Police have confirmed Celtic's Champions League play-off round first leg with Arsenal will go ahead at Parkhead on Tuesday, August 18.

There had been doubts about the date of the fixture due to a U2 concert taking place at Hampden Park on the same night.

Police had concerns over the volume of traffic moving in and out of Glasgow but have now issued a statement which read: "Strathclyde Police acknowledge that this will be a very busy time for the city, but as with any major event, public safety will be paramount

"Contingencies will be in place across the whole of Strathclyde to ensure the safety of supporters and members of the public, not only for the match but also for the U2 concert at Hampden Park."

Assistant chief constable Fiona Taylor, head of operational support, added: "It will be crucial to the success of the evening that fans come early for the match and use public transport where possible to avoid delay.

A Celtic spokesman said: "Congestion in the east and south of Glasgow will be at unprecedented levels with the concert at nearby Hampden Park.

"The stadium will open at 6.15pm and there will be live entertainment ahead of the vital Euro clash."

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