Category Archives: Champions League

The Club World Cup is already forgotten — Here’s how it could be awesome

The Club World Cup came and went last week, with Bayern Munich winning the trophy and officially confirming what many long believed: the Bavarians are the best club football team in the world. It was Die Roten’s fifth trophy of 2013 and Pep Guardiola’s second since taking over for Jupp Heynckes.

The final was especially significant for Bayern Munich center back Dante. Not only did the Brazilian defender score a goal in the final, he also picked up his sixth piece of silverware this calendar year. Dante also took home a Confederations Cup winner’s medal in the summer on top of the five trophies he won with Bayern.

But Bayern were not the story of this event. Not after home team Raja Casablanca made a dramatic run to the final, taking down Copa Libertadores champions Atlético Mineiro along the way. A few of Raja’s players also took home some souvenirs from a living legend, Ronaldinho, after that match:

Some people seemed legitimately upset that the host team made it all the way to the final (like here and here). Others rightfully appreciated the Cinderella story of the Moroccan club. Whatever it means about the quality of the teams they defeated and ultimately lost to, it’s undeniable that Raja Casablanca’s run captivated both the Moroccan people and the global audience of the Club World Cup.

This tournament always raises the same issues: whether it is a worthwhile event in the first place, and the significance of one-off matches between teams from different confederations. We’ve all heard that for whatever reason, the Club World Cup just hasn’t caught on as a big tournament that clubs want to take seriously. A full week since the final was played, and this tournament is already an afterthought.

Football is a global game, and when you hear World Cup you think of the pinnacle of competition. But the Club World Cup has rarely lived up to that billing.  What can be done to improve this floundering tournament that has so much potential?

How can we see more of this?

dinhofreekick

And this?

The are two things that can be done to make both fans and clubs care a lot more about this tournament: invite more teams, and give out a lot more prize money. Steve Graff write a nice piece on how to improve the Club World Cup for VAVEL.com with similar suggestions. My solution is slightly different, but the general idea is the same.

First, the prize money. The current payout breaks down like this: Winner gets $5m, runner up 4m, third place: 2.5m, fourth: 2m, fifth: 1.5m, sixth: 1m, seventh: 0.5m. That’s not very much money for a team like Bayern Munich, who received over 50m euros from the Champions League. Here’s some more info on Champions League payouts, for those who are curious.

So, in order to make every team take this tournament a lot more seriously, we need to up the stakes. It’d be nice to multiply those payouts by 10, but to be more realistic, let’s go with 5x the current purse. That means the winner gets $25m and the runner up, $20m. Enough to make winning a significant temptation, even for a European team.

And how to finance that? Just add more teams: expand it from 7 to 14 teams. More teams makes it even more fun for the fans, but it also means more high profile players and more of a spectacle, which equals more sponsorship money.

We are keeping the host team. Raja Casablanca’s run to the final was a great story. A host team getting an auto berth is a classic part of a cup competition. We are trying to revitalize this competition. You have to keep the team that brings the home fans to the stadium. With potentially different hosts and the obvious advantage of playing at home, we could see a underdog story like Raja’s more often.

The winners of the Europa League and the Copa Sudamerica are automatically qualified. We are also bringing in some non-trophy winners. The finalists of each federation’s Champions League are invited, with the winners given an additional bye and the runners up entering the competition earlier. Here is a rundown of the seeding:

1. UEFA Champions League Winner

2. Copa Libertadores Winner

3. Europa League Winner

4. Copa Sudamerica Winner

5. UEFA Champions League Runner Up

6. Copa Libertadores Runner Up

7. CONCACAF Champion

8. CAF Champion

9. AFC Champion

10. Oceania Champion

11. CONCACAF Runner Up

12. CAF Runner Up

13. AFC Runner Up

14. Host country league champion

14 teams is a strange number for a tournament, so some teams are going to have to enter at different stages. The top 4 seeds are the UEFA and CONMEBOL trophy winners. They don’t come in until the third round of the competition. UCL and Copa Lib runner ups face off against champions of Asia, Africa, and North America. Here is how the bracket would look every year:

What does that really mean, you ask? Well, here’s how it would have looked for this tournament, given the winners and runners up of all the tournaments in question, assuming the higher seed wins each match:

Now this is starting to look like a Club World Cup that is worthy of the name. This bracket contains potential matchups of legendary European and South American clubs, and gives the weaker confederations plenty of chances to knock off the top dogs. The tournament also contains 5 different rounds of matches for the enjoyment of fans, and most teams only have to play one more game than they currently would under the existing format.

A few simple changes could make the Club World Cup a headline event, truly capable of determining the best team in the world.

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After disappointing losses, Real Madrid and Barcelona must retool for next season

For the second straight year, Real Madrid and Barcelona arrived in the Champions League semi finals with illusions of an all Spanish Clásico final, only to find themselves disappointed. Real Madrid almost completed the unlikeliest of comebacks in the final minutes against Borussia Dortmund as the legendary Estadio Santiago Bernabéu was raging. Los Blancos will rue their early missed chances, coming up just short against a Dortmund side that was ultimately the better team for most of the two legged tie. Barcelona, on the other hand, were without a fully fit Lionel Messi and were absolutely steamrolled by Bayern Munich, who are the likely favorites to lift the big-eared trophy at Wembley on May 25th.

Dortmund’s meteoric rise and Bayern’s emphatic victory are clear signs that the balance of power in Europe’s premier competition has shifted away from La Liga and towards the Bundesliga. Having led the pack in infrastructure, attendance, and low ticket prices for quite some time, the German first division can now genuinely claim to house the two best squads in world football. Bayern Munich look to only get stronger going forward, with Pep Guardiola replacing current coach Jupp Heynckes at season’s end. It also was revealed just before the semi finals began that Bayern activated the 37 million euro release clause in the contract of Dortmund star and full German international Mario Götze. It was a crucial blow for Bayern, scoring an incredible young talent and weakening their biggest domestic rivals in the process. Dortmund were able to overcome the ill timing of the news and even held off Madrid without Götze for most of the second leg. They might find it harder to maintain their success beyond this season, with Götze already heading for the exit and Europe’s wealthiest clubs hoping to swoop in and sign their other top players. Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski, Ilkay Gündogan, and Mats Hummels are rumored targets for Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Barcelona, respectively.

Whether the fates of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund head in different directions is a story for the future. At present, they will battle it out in the first all German final in European Cup history. But while the German clubs’ futures will have to wait to be discussed, the semi final exits of Madrid and Barcelona mean that questions surrounding them will be raised now. For Barcelona, they were utterly outclassed without Lionel Messi, doing nothing to disprove the notion that they are a one man team. Real Madrid were exposed for lacking of a system that can dictate the game against strong opponents, and have been consistently frustrated trying to break down organized and compact defenses.

So what does the future hold for the Spanish giants? If José Mourinho’s post-match comments on Tuesday were any indicator, Madrid’s future will likely be without the Special One at the helm. Potential replacements who’ve been mentioned by the Spanish media include Heynckes and PSG boss Carlo Ancelotti. Less likely candidates are Dortmund’s own Jürgen Klopp and Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas. Of course, there is still the possibility that Mourinho will sit down with club president Florentino Pérez and decide to remain at the Bernabéu. Whoever is in charge next year, it is of utmost importance that Madrid establish a strong sense of identity and unity, along with a coherent style of play.

A season without a Champions League or La Liga trophy represents a failure for Real Madrid, and failures generally lead to new Galácticos wearing the all white kit the following season. It’s been widely reported that PFA Player of the Year Gareth Bale is the primary target for Pérez, but Tottenham will not let go their star go without receiving a hefty sum in return. What is certain is that this year Madrid needed another reliable scorer to take the load off of Cristiano Ronaldo, and that was lacking in some key games. Bale has 24 goals in all competitions this season for Spurs, including several big game winners. Gonzalo Higuaín’s performance on Tuesday did not bode well for his future in white, and Madrid have been linked with a whole host of top forwards along with Bale. Among those linked is Robert Lewandowski, who obviously showed Madrid first hand the damage he can do around the goal, but is also reported to be a top target for Sir Alex Ferguson. Other names mentioned are Sergio Agüero, Edinson Cavani, Luis Suárez and, less likely, Radamel Falcao. Of that group, Agüero could be the most plausible acquisition; he has had a much tougher season this year than last, struggling with injuries, and City already have a number of forwards and are looking for more. Agüero began his European career with neighbors Atlético Madrid and reportedly desires a move back to the Spanish capital. If City bring in another big name forward this summer, they may be content to let Agüero leave.

While the forwards will probably garner all the Galáctico headlines, perhaps most important for Madrid to resolve is the situation with Xabi Alonso. The former Real Sociedad and Liverpool man has not indicated that will renew his contract when it expires in the summer of 2014. If Mourinho leaves as expected, Alonso may even wish to follow him to his next destination. The club must now decide whether to get something back for him this summer or watch him leave for free the next. Alonso had two uncharacteristically terrible performances against Dortmund, as Jürgen Klopp’s tactics effectively stifled the Basque passing maestro. Dortmund’s own Ilkay Gündogan, mentioned above as a potential target for Los Blancos, outplayed Alonso in a similar position in the center of the park. If Alonso goes, possibly along with Mourinho or for a Liverpool return, Gündogan could find himself on Pérez’s radar soon. PSG’s Marco Verratti and Sevilla’s Geoffrey Kondogbia are two other players linked to Madrid. If Ancelotti takes over this summer, Verratti might be easily convinced to join him in trading the French capital for the Spanish one.

Another name being touted as an Alonso replacement is Sociedad youngster Asier Illarramendi. A swap of Alonso for Illarramendi would be very intriguing, especially with La Real in position to secure Champions League football for the upcoming season. Madrid would get a promising young talent in exchange for the man who has been their engine in midfield for the past four seasons, while Alonso would return to the club where he made his professional debut. There would hopefully be the added pleasure of Alonso orchestrating La Real’s first Champions League campaign since the 2003-2004 season.

It is also possible, especially if Madrid spend big on forwards, that Pérez will determine that the players needed to replace Alonso are already with the club. Luka Modric was signed just last summer for 33 million pounds, and current Dortmund loanee Nuri Sahin is still on Madrid’s books. Then there are promising Castilla players Casemiro and José Rodríguez waiting to step up in the future. If there is no room in the first team when they feel they are ready, they will be looking for new clubs in due time.

One position where an upgrade is unquestionably needed is right fullback. Michael Essien performed admirably in that role a few times this season, but he is a natural midfielder and only on loan for the season from Chelsea. If Mourinho goes, Essien will almost certainly not be back. Álvaro Arbeloa is a good player, but lacks skills going forward, and Los Blancos have no quality replacement when he goes down injured. Madrid would do well to exercise the buyback option on former canterano Dani Carvajal, who has gotten the high-level playing time he needed at Bayer Leverkusen this season. Current Castilla defender Nacho is also an option at fullback, but prefers to play in the center of defense.

Madrid must get rid of some deadweight (Kaká, Ricardo Carvalho) and possibly a few others rumored out (Higuaín, Fabio Coentrão, Pepe), resolve the Xabi Alonso situation, and bring in a world class finisher, and they should be right back where they have been the past three years, with a very good chance to advance to their first final since they lifted the cup in 2002. Canteranos must be promoted or solid depth bought on defense, especially at right back. If the injury bug bites the back line again, squad players must be able to fill in. In order to have a shot at taking down Bayern Munich or a fully fit Barcelona, or solidly outplaying a Dortmund, Manchester United, or Juventus as they believe they should, Madrid must develop a better sense of identity and style of play. They must embrace the high pressing game, using their speed and physicality to out-hustle the opposing team. At every competition exit in the Mourinho era, and the several La Liga games that ending up costing them titles, Los Blancos have looked disjointed, lacking ideas, and been unable to finish when needed. In order to lift La Décima, Madrid must be able to impose their will on any opponent.

Turning to Barcelona, it is evident that change is also needed. Messi was not fit against Bayern, but even with La Pulga at full force, the Blaugrana would have been hard pressed to match Bayern’s intensity and physicality. The team clearly needs another attacking player to take the load off of Messi, preferably one comfortable out on the wing. Alexis Sánchez looks good against lesser La Liga sides, but has failed to prove he belongs with Barcelona in important matches. David Villa has not been the same since breaking his leg at the Club World Cup in 2011 and could sorely use a change of scenery. Potential summer acquisitions for the Catalans include Brazilian rising star Neymar, along with the likes of Agüero, Suárez, and Cavani. All would be interesting options and could add a new dimension to Barça’s already potent attack.

Fantasizing of Neymar playing alongside Messi is certainly fun, but where Barcelona need help most is at the back. With club icon Carles Puyol struggling for regular fitness, and two very attack-minded fullbacks in Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, the Barça back line was consistently exposed by top quality opposition this year. Gerard Pique seems to have regressed, and appears not capable of being the vocal leader in a central defensive partnership, like Puyol was for Barça and Sergio Ramos now is for Spain. Marc Bartra has shown promise, but was not ready for the biggest stage. After buying players at every position but center back the last several years, Barça must ink a player like Mats Hummels or Vincent Kompany. Puyol may play again for Barcelona, but his days as a regular are clearly numbered, and a long-term replacement must be found.

After yesterday’s loss to Bayern, Tito Vilanova insisted that Barcelona do not need a lot of changes, but he may find himself on the outs after failing to live up to Pep Guardiola’s lofty standards in his first season in charge at the Camp Nou. If the club does decide to retain Vilanova, he must do a better job of rotating his squad. The Blaugrana came into the tie with Bayern Munich in bad shape physically. Messi and Sergio Busquets were too injured to make an impact, while Xavi and Andres Iniesta looked clearly worn out and not at their masterful best. Alex Song was bought to spell Busquets, but spent far too much time on the bench all year. Cesc Fàbregas, also linked with a return to Arsenal in recent weeks, has not had sustained success as a forward, and should have been used along with Thiago in a better rotation with Xavi and Iniesta. The core players in this Barcelona side have all played a tremendous amount of games over the past 5 years and are obviously burned out.

Another thing Barcelona may consider is adopting a more defensive formation. They have scored plenty of goals this year but have also conceded way too many. With a fit Messi they might have scored against Bayern, but overcoming a 7 goal difference is a tall order even for the diminutive Argentine. If Barça come across their old leader Guardiola’s new team in next years Champions, they will need a different game plan, and that could maybe include two defensive midfielders. If they cannot part with the 4-3-3, and don’t bring in top class wide forward, Jordi Alba could be brought up the left wing, with another fullback like Adriano or perhaps Eric Abidal sitting behind him and helping the central pairing on breaks. Even Neymar and Hummels might not be enough against Bayern or Madrid if the fullbacks are consistently in a position to be exposed.

In the end, talk of Barcelona’s demise is exaggerated, and with a few good signings, better squad rotation, and most importantly, a fit Lionel Messi, they should be one of the favorites to win the Champions League again next year. Some players must be let go, like Alexis, Villa, and maybe even Cesc, and the proper reinforcements brought in. The jury is still out on whether Tito Vilanova is the right man to lead the team. He didn’t get a very fair shake this year with his health issues so it would be a bit of a shame to see him let go. The business of football is often not fair, though, and Barcelona have also been linked with outgoing Bayern boss Heynckes.

Both Real Madrid and Barcelona are still very good teams, and do not need complete overhauls as much as slight tweaks to return to the summit of European football. Bayern Munich are certainly not going away and should only continue to improve. Borussia Dortmund may be raided yet again this summer, but have a strong system in place to remain perpetually competitive. The English clubs will all be looking to come back stronger, and Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus have laid the groundwork to be competitive in the Champions League for years to come. No one is rolling over and letting the Spanish giants have their way, so they must make smart decisions in order to return stronger next season.

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¿Pueden remontar el Madrid y el Barça?

Después de los fracasos en Alemania la semana pasada, los dos gigantes del futbol español vuelven a su tierra para jugar la vuelta de la semifinal de la Champions. Tanto el Real Madrid como el Futbol Club Barcelona tienen un déficit bastante grande para superar, aunque sea mas posible para el Madrid debe al gol de Ronaldo fuera de casa.

El Madrid no ha ganado contra su rival de mañana ni un partido de los tres que se han disputado durante esta temporada. La derrota del miercoles pasado fue el peor partido de la época Mourinho, excluso al 5-0 en el Camp Nou en 2010. El equipo blanco necesitará todo el apoyo del Bernabéu, pero lo que más necesitará es un buen rendimiento de los defensores para que el Dortmund no marque el gol que hará el partido mucho más complicado. Cristiano Ronaldo recibió una lesión en la ida, pero no hay duda que el 7 estará en el campo mañana. Todo el club cree en la posible remontada, pero no va a ser fácil para Los Blancos.

La situación del Barça queda mucho mas difícil. Los azulgranas salieron de Munich sin un gol, y encima el Bayern parece un equipo mas fuerte que el Dortmund. Sin embargo, nada es imposible con el mejor jugador del mundo, Leo Messi. Era obvio que Messi no estaba a 100% en la ida, pero el argentino metió un golazo contra el Athletic de Bilbao el sábado, y el Barça necesitará toda su magia contra la máquina alemana. El club Catalán ya ha mostrado contra el Milan que sea capaz de marcar cuatro veces y remontar en el Camp Nou. No obstante, el Bayern es un animal diferente y los alemanes tienen mucha más potencia de meter goles. Si los visitantes metieran uno a Victor Valdes, sería casi imposible la remontada.


Que pensaís vosotros? Van a remontar los equipos españoles? Dejad vuestros comentarios abajo.

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Champions League draw preview

The Champions League semi final draw will take place Friday morning at 6 am EST. Here’s a look at the three possible outcomes, in order of my most preferred to least preferred:

Real Madrid – Borussia Dortmund

Bayern Munich – FC Barcelona

At long last, a big time Champions League match up between Bayern and Barcelona. The best team of the last 5 years (and maybe ever) versus the best looking team this season. In the other pairing, a rematch of the two who topped the Group of Death. I’d prefer Madrid to avoid Bayern and Barça completely, so at least one would be eliminated here.

Real Madrid – FC Barcelona

Bayern Munich – Borussia Dortmund

Two more Clásicos, and Dortmund gets a chance to finally beat Bayern this season. This also guarantees a Spain vs. Germany final, which would be fitting after this year’s Champions League, and the state of world football in general over the past 6 years. Losing another semi final to Barcelona would be crushing, however, and certainly spell the end of Mourinho in Madrid.

Real Madrid – Bayern Munich

FC Barcelona – Borussia Dortmund

The least preferred, obviously, given how unstoppable Bayern have looked all season long. Madrid will need to be at their very best to win this one. Barça – Dortmund, though, would be a very entertaining tie. Both teams can score in bunches, and Dortmund will be perfectly content to sit back, let Barcelona play tika-taka, and hit hard on the break.


All three possibilities would be great match ups; delightfully entertaining to a neutral observer, and nail-biting encounters for the fans of all four clubs. These teams are all incredibly talented and worthy of a berth in the last four. Unless UEFA has already chosen their ideal outcome (wouldn’t surprise too many, I’m sure), it will all be determined on Friday morning.

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Madrid top Galatasaray, on pace for Champs League semis

Turkish league leaders and surprise Champions League quarter finalists Galatasaray took on Real Madrid today in the Spanish capital. Madrid may have been lucky with the draw in this match up, but after a tough round of 16 against Manchester United which saw the Spanish giants go through after Nani’s controversial red card, Los Blancos needed a statement game today and they delivered.

Galatasaray did not come out to sit behind the ball and created some danger going forward, but that also left a lot of the space at the back for Madrid’s attackers to exploit. The Turkish defense was unlocked in the 9th minute when Mesut Ozil played a beautiful ball in for a streaking Cristiano Ronaldo, who beat keeper Fernando Muslera with a wonderful chip shot.

The early goal was a huge confidence boost for Madrid, but Galatasaray continued to get forward and create chances. Didier Drogba had a great look at goal from the top of the box in the 12th minute, but he blasted his shot over the bar. Drogba tried again from further out in the 26th minute with some power and this time found the target, but the ball was parried away by Diego Lopez.

The Turks’ efforts to find a goal continued to open up space for Ronaldo, Ozil, Karim Benzema, and the rest of the Madrid attack, and the home side found another breakthrough in the 29th minute. A cross from Michael Essien, filling in at right back on the day, went over the head of Ronaldo and two Galatasaray defenders to fall right at the feet of Benzema. It was a sloppy play and a bit of luck for Madrid, but the Frenchman slotted the ball in nicely at the near post to make it 2-0.

Despite looking clearly outclassed, Galatasaray were hoping to pull one back before halftime and had perhaps their best chance of the game in the 44th minute. A neat one-two from Emmanuel Eboué and Drogba put Eboué clear through the Madrid defense, but the Ivorian shot right at Diego Lopez, who had another fine game between the goalposts for Real Madrid. Lopez has played excellently since captain Iker Casillas went down with a hand injury, and should keep his place for as long as Madrid can go in this competition if his good form continues.

At halftime, Galatasaray playmaker and January signing Wesley Sneijder came off for defender Gokhan Zan, which solidified the Turks at the back but removed a big part of the attacking ingenuity. The second half seemed to be played at a much more relaxed pace, with Madrid comfortably in front and prioritizing a clean sheet at home.

The Merengues got a third goal in 73rd minute when an exquisite Xabi Alonso free kick found the head of an unmarked Gonzalo Higuaín, who came on as a substitute for fellow striker Karim Benzema. Higuaín did not even have to jump to meet the curling ball and guided it past Muslera for his first goal in the Champions League this season.

Some controversy arose shortly after when Galatasaray striker Burak Yilmaz went down in the Madrid penalty area. Yilmaz, who entered the game as joint top scorer in the competition, appeared to have been stepped on by Sergio Ramos, but was booked for a dive instead and will miss the next match. Ramos and Alonso also received yellow cards that will keep them out of the return fixture, but those could definitely have been intentional with an eye on the next round. Madrid hung on to finish 3-0 and now take a sizable advantage with them to Istanbul next Tuesday.

It was as close to a perfect performance as Jose Mourinho’s side could have hoped for today in the quest for La Decima. Ronaldo, Benzema, and Higuaín all scored, which is especially important for the confidence of the latter two, who have not been on top form this season. Maybe more importantly, Madrid did not concede any away goals, and if they score one in Turkey the tie is all but over. Credit to coach Fatih Terim and his squad for coming out to play in the Bernabéu, but the Turks were certainly inferior and perhaps paid the price for attempting to go toe to toe with Madrid.

Yesterday, Bayern Munich put in a dominant performance at home to Juventus while Barcelona were unlucky to leave Paris with a 2-2 draw to PSG. In today’s other match up, Málaga and Borussia Dortmund both had their chances but finished 0-0 at La Rosaleda. With the return legs set for next week, Real, Barça, Bayern, and Dortmund look to be in the best positions to progress, although no team, not even Madrid, is assured of passage to the semi finals just yet.

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Barça pound pathetic Milan 4-0, advance to Champions League quarters

After enduring two long weeks of journalists, detractors, and even their own fans proclaiming the culmination of an era of dominance, Football Club Barcelona were determined to not allow their historical run to end just yet at the Camp Nou today.

The writing was on the wall early for AC Milan after Lionel Messi blasted a beautiful left footed shot into the far corner of the net in just the fifth minute, leaving goalkeeper Christian Abbiati with absolutely no chance. After being outclassed by Cristiano Ronaldo in the previous two Clasicos, Messi showed up today to remind everyone that he is still the best player in the world. He was brilliant throughout, scoring two goals, constantly threatening the Milan back line, and putting his doubters to rest.

The game took a colossal swing in just two minutes late in the first half. First, a ball over the top was not properly cleared by Barça defender Javier Mascherano, and his poor header fell into the path of 18-year-old M’Baye Niang, who was in one-on-one with keeper Victor Valdes. Niang opted for a powerful shot, but it crashed off the far post, and Milan were unable to put the rebound home. Not even 90 seconds later, the ball was back in Milan’s half, and a failed clearance landed at the feet of Andres Iniesta. The midfielder quickly found Messi, who this time beat Abbiati at his near post as the home side were in full ascendancy.

Barcelona made a key change to the squad that lost two games to Real Madrid in a span of 5 days as well as to Milan in the first leg. Midfielder Cesc Fábregas started on the bench, and Spain striker David Villa got the nod up front. This brought Iniesta back into the midfield, always considered his ideal place, where he was crucial to his team’s dominance of the match. Villa did not put in his best performance but redeemed the manager’s decision to start him when he scored what turned out to be the tie-winning third goal in the 55th minute.

After such a great display at the San Siro two weeks ago, Milan were flat out awful for most of today’s match. They were clearly hassled by Barcelona’s aggressive pressing tactics, and often were unable to string more than two passes together, repeatedly losing the ball in their own third of the pitch. Only when Milan were down 3-0 and needing an away goal to go through did they even generate any sustained possession in Barcelona’s half.

One will have to question Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri’s decisions after this performance. In addition to starting with the unexperienced Niang, he left Sully Muntari, who scored a goal in the first leg, on the bench for Frenchman Mathieu Flamini.  Flamini suffered a head injury early on, and maybe that can explain his poor touches, wayward passes, and clumsy challenges, including a yellow card in first half stoppage time. He was mercifully removed in the 75th minute for former Barcelona man Bojan Krkic. Coincidentally, Milan played their best football of the game in the quarter hour that followed. By then, Allegri had also brought on Muntari and the Brazilian Robinho, and one must wonder what could have been for Milan if those two players had started the match. The Italian side brought more and more men forward searching for a deciding goal, but ultimately ended up getting caught out at the back. Barcelona hit them with a quick counter attack in stoppage time, which Jordi Alba finished to make it 4-0 as the Catalan crowd erupted in victory cheers.

Galatasaray also won today away at Schalke, putting 6 teams officially in the quarter finals. Bayern Munich are set to play Arsenal tomorrow at the Allianz Arena, but are already all but through after a 3-1 win in the first leg at the Emirates. That leaves tomorrow’s Porto – Málaga match up as the only unknown going forward. Bayern, Madrid, Barça, Juventus, and Borussia Dortmund may all be thought of as favorites to take the trophy, but the mathematics of the draw mean that at least two of these teams will feature against each other in the next round. Barcelona, meanwhile, has gone from the brink of elimination to being considered perhaps the most likely side to lift the cup at Wembley in May.

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