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Back in 1998, the legendary German sweeper Franz Beckenbauer waved his hands over a crystal ball and foresaw: “I can see a time, not that far into the future, when all the biggest games will be between clubs, not countries.”
No competition more emphatically proves Der Kaiser’s point than the Champions League. The realm in which Europe’s premier clubs duke it out resumes on Tuesday and Wednesday evening with the first half of the round of 16 first legs.
After more than three months spent gathering dust while the World Cup did its best to stake a claim for international football’s superiority, here’s everything you need to know about how to gorge on the Champions League’s return.
Reigning Serie A champions Milan host Tottenham Hotspur at San Siro on Valentine’s Day. Spurs manager Antonio Conte, should he continue his recovery from gallbladder surgery, will return to the scene of his last league title, finishing a yawning 12 points clear of Milan with fierce rivals Inter in 2021.
In a rematch of the 2020 Champions League final, Paris Saint-Germain face Bayern Munich on Tuesday night. This will be the fourth time in six seasons that the perennial champions of France and Germany have met. Although, familiarity has hardly bred any friendliness in what promises to be a spiky and star-studded affair.
Two former classmates go head-to-head as Edin Terzic’s frugal Borussia Dortmund hosts Graham Potter’s costly assortment of acquisitions on Wednesday evening. The two managers formed a friendship after studying for their Pro Licence on the same FA coaching course in 2018. “I have my fingers crossed for him for every game,” Terzic said of Potter, “with the exception of the two against us.”
Scott Parker will be thrown into the deep end for his first taste of Champions League football as a manager when he leads Club Brugge into the last 16 against a Benfica side that has lost once all season. Parker has also only lost once since taking over from Carl Hoefkens in the new year. However, his Brugge side has only won once, drawing five of his first seven matches at the helm.
Man Utd 4-0 West Ham
FROM OLD TRAFFORD – Manchester United secured what was ultimately a comfortable 4-0 win over West Ham in the WSL on Saturday evening, but it took a flurry of second goals to get the job done.
Katie Zelem broke the deadlock from the penalty spot shortly after half-time, before game-changing substitute Lucia Garcia scored twice either side of one from Hayley Ladd.
United made a dominant start and on a few occasions worked the ball into good areas on the flanks and in the wide channels. The best of those openings saw Ona Batlle cross to Alessia Russo, whose side-footed volley missed the target from front and centre.
Russo looked to be through moments later after a clever flick from Nikita Parris, but Hammers defender Grace Fisk got a vital toe to the ball and shut down the chance.
The atmosphere was much flatter than might have been expected for an occasion such as this, but the crowd united in their disapproval of referee Emily Heaslip’s decision not to award a penalty when Ladd went down from a Hawa Cissoko nudge. In the immediate aftermath, the same United player crossed from the right, but Leah Galton headed straight at Mackenzie Arnold.
Another penalty appeal came and went in the closing stages of the first half when it was Galton who went down chasing a long ball. Again, cries from the crowd, again Heaslip was un-moved.
Despite some opportunities, United hadn’t done enough to properly test Arnold by the break, while West Ham’s only real sight of goal by then came in an earlier scramble with a cross into the six-yard box – the only outcome was Mary Earps needing lengthy treatment for a foot injury.
But United came out with a little more vigour after the restart. Russo fired just over with a bullet header, while Galton couldn’t stretch far enough to connect with a cross from the right. But it ended up being Zelem from the spot that broke the deadlock during that spell, sending Arnold the wrong way after Russo’s legs had been taken by the sliding Cissoko.
The second goal shortly after the hour was the result of a higher tempo and more intensity in the press. Hammers full-back Risa Shimizu was caught on the ball and before the visitors knew it, the ball was in the net, with Ella Toone spotting the run of Garcia in behind Cissoko and the substitute calmly finishing beyond the reach of Arnold – there was no hint of offside.
Having not been at their best earlier on, United were cruising by the late stages. West Ham’s resistance was broken and the third from Ladd didn’t come as a surprise. With gaps opening up, Batlle got forward with purpose and laid the ball back to the Welsh midfielder, whose left footed finish nestled in the bottom corner.
Earps had to make a couple of late saves to preserve her clean sheet. Instead of seeing the lead cut to 3-1, United then made it four when the lethal Garcia was in the right place at the right time to tap in the rebound from Martha Thomas’ initial shot.
GK: Mary Earps – 6/10 – Shook off an early knock. Mostly a spectator until a couple of late saves preserved the clean sheet.
RB: Ona Batlle – 8/10 – Always looked threatening when she burst forward right until the end when she laid on the third goal.
CB: Maya Le Tissier – 7/10 – Distributed the ball so well as she has become known for.
CB: Millie Turner – 7/10 – Cleared the ball from potentially dangerous positions several times to ensure it never actually became a threat.
LB: Hannah Blundell – 8/10 – Played with so much energy up and down the left.
CM: Hayley Ladd – 8/10 – Consistent as always on both sides of the ball and added a late goal for good measure.
CM: Katie Zelem (c) – 8/10 – Sat deep in open to try and create, but also stopped West Ham playing. Cool and composed from the spot to break the deadlock at a crucial time.
AM: Ella Toone – 7/10 – Pulled into wide channels to connect with United’s wingers and try to pull West Ham out of their shape. Killer pass created the second goal.
RW: Nikita Parris – 6/10 – Looked an early threat in the first half, including a very good flick to make a half chance for Russo. Withdrawn not long into the second.
ST: Alessia Russo – 7/10 – A mixture of trying to bulldoze her way through and some neat interplay.
LW: Leah Galton – 7/10 – Made her 100th United appearance looking for another ‘big stadium’ goal. Didn’t get on the scoresheet but made the second goal by winning the ball high up the pitch.
SUB: Lucia Garcia (55′ for Parris) – 8/10 – Made all the difference off the bench.
SUB: Martha Thomas (66′ for Leah Galton) – 7/10
SUB: Rachel Williams (80′ for Russo) – 6/10
SUB: Aoife Mannion (81′ for Turner) – 6/10
Marc Skinner – 7/10 – His team played with more tempo after the break. Also started to ring the changes after going 1-0 up to keep things fresh at the top end of the pitch.
GK: Mackenzie Arnold – 6/10 – Made a few basic saves but stood little chance with the goals.
RB: Risa Shimzu – 5/10 – Guilty of losing the ball to present United with their vital second goal.
CB: Grace Fisk – 5/10 – Sat a little too deep for the second goal and ended up playing Garcia onside when Cissoko had pushed up.
CB: Hawa Cissoko – 6/10 – Had a really solid first half with a number of big tackles and interventions. But was done by a Russo cutback moments after the restart to give away a penalty.
LB: Kirsty Smith – 5/10 – A tough day against her former club.
CM: Dagny Brynjarsdottir (c) – 4/10 – Identified as a threat beforehand and really didn’t have that impact until it was way too late.
CM: Lucy Parker – 5/10 – Struggled to lay a glove on United, even in the first half.
RM: Emma Snerle – 4/10 – Got no spare change out of Blundell.
AM: Honoka Hayashi – 5/10 – Looked promising when she got hold of the ball, but it happened so little that it didn’t really matter in the end.
LM: Viviane Asseyi – 5/10 – Not involved enough to make a difference, either when on the left or later when she moved into the ‘number nine’ role.
ST: Amalie Thestrup – 5/10 – An evening of hard graft with minimal service.
SUB: Lisa Evans (64′ for Thestrup) – 5/10
SUB: Izzy Atkinson (69′ for Snerle) – 5/10
SUB: Shannon Cooke (79′ for Cissoko) – 5/10
SUB: Kate Longhurst (79′ for Hayashi) – 5/10
SUB: Anouk Denton (79′ for Smith) – 5/10
Paul Konchesky – 6/10 – His side defended pretty well for 45 minutes but will rue giving away a penalty and then slack defending for the second goal.
Player of the match – Lucia Garcia (Man Utd)
Barcelona 1-0 Real Madrid – Liga F: Player ratings as Rolfo penalty wins tight Clasico
Fridolina Rolfo’s second-half penalty decided a tight Liga F Clasico for Barcelona against Real Madrid on Saturday evening, earning a 1-0 win which sent the Catalan hosts 13 points clear at the top of the table.
Madrid started boldly, resisting the natural urge to hunker down against the revered might of their rivals and instead tried to put Barcelona under pressure. Although, that’s not to say that the Catalans didn’t stroke the ball around the Estadi Johan Cruyff turf, picking out angles which would have tickled the Dutchman nicknamed Pythagoras in boots.
Alberto Toril’s visitors limited the runaway league leaders to just a single shot on target in a diligent and disciplined first half which saw Real offer just as much attacking threat – even if neither goalkeeper was overworked.
With the second leg of a Champions League last-16 tie to come against Roma on Wednesday, Jonatan Giraldez made four changes to the Barcelona side that could only earn a 1-0 win in the Italian capital last midweek. After a frustrating opening hour devoid of any discernible chances, the 31-year-old coach turned to his bench.
Caroline Graham Hansen was one of the additions and swiftly found herself on the end of the clearest opening of the match. Sneaking in at the back post from the second phase of a corner, Graham Hansen had ample space to meet the cross but nodded a limp effort into Misa Rodriguez’s gloves.
The Norwegian winger proved more potent as the provider. Moments after teeing up Patri Guijarro for a similarly weak header, Graham Hansen was on the end of a quickly taken free kick, tossing the ball into the middle of a chaotic penalty area. Amid the maelstrom, Athenea del Castillo – one of Real’s substitutes – hooked her right arm and leg around Salma Paralluelo, who gratefully accepted the invitation to tumble to the turf, earning a penalty which left Toril wagging his finger in disbelief and disgust.
Rolfo nervelessly slotted her spot kick into the bottom corner with just 13 minutes left on the clock. As Madrid desperately tossed bodies forward in search of an equaliser they may not have needed with a different referee, Rolfo had space on the counter to add a second which wasn’t forthcoming.
Real Madrid may have lost their 11th consecutive Clasico – every edition of this fresh rivalry – but they can take confidence from becoming the first team to limit Barcelona to just one goal in a Liga F game this season. Although, with the sting of defeat and injustice still raw, that will offer little consolation.
GK: Sandra Panos – 7/10 – Always alert when forced into defensive intervention even after large swathes of inaction.
RB: Lucy Bronze – 6/10 – Tentatively grew into the game, offering an overload down the right which Ana Maria Crnogorcevic very much needed.
CB: Marta Torrejon – 5/10 – By her lofty standards, Torrejon was uncharacteristically slack when building up from the back.
CB: Mapi Leon – 7/10 – Capable of slicing Madrid open with a scalpel of a left foot.
LB: Fridolina Rolfo – 6/10 – Despite her natural attacking instincts, Rolfo made sure to track back (begrudgingly) when Madrid mounted a sporadic attack.
CM: Aitana Bonmati – 7/10 – Popping up all over the pitch, invariably in a square of green grass unblemished by a white shirt.
CM: Ingrid Syrstad Engen – 7/10 – Sweeping up at the base of midfield, one of the few fixed points around which the buzzing Blaugrana shirts pivoted.
CM: Patri Guijarro – 6/10 – Unerringly comfortable in possession even in the tightest of spaces.
RW: Ana Maria Crnogorcevic – 3/10 – Lacked the craft and guile to trick her way down the right.
ST: Geyse – 4/10 – Sloppy with the timing of her runs and her tackling – little details that stood out in the absence of any clear chances.
LW: Salma Paralluelo – 6/10 – Increasingly drifted infield to limit her isolation and open a channel out wide for Rolfo to canter into. In the right place to tempt Del Castillo into a rash challenge.
Caroline Graham Hansen (60′ for Crnogorcevic) – 8/10 – Injected an urgency and elegance into Barcelona’s frontline which changed the game.
Asisat Oshoala (60′ for Geyse) – 5/10
Keira Walsh (60′ for Engen) – 5/10
Irene Paredes (67′ for Torrejon) – 5/10
Vicky Lopez (83′ for Paralluelo) – N/A
Jonatan Giraldez – 6/10 – Ultimately his changes made the difference but will be worried about the lack of chances Barcelona created for an hour.
GK: Misa Rodriguez – 7/10 – Not exactly adhesive with her handling but got her gloves in the way of plenty of shots and crosses.
RB: Kenti Robles – 5/10 – More concerned with taking the ball off the toes of Paralluelo rather than picking out a teammate once she had won possession.
CB: Ivana Andres – 6/10 – The captain delivered an uncompromising display, heaving the ball clear when left with few other options.
CB: Kathellen Sousa – 7/10 – Exploited her supreme swiftness across the turf to track as many red and blue blurs as she could.
LB: Sofie Svava – 7/10 – Proved to be a stubborn obstacle which Crnogorcevic struggled to hurdle.
CM: Sandie Toletti – 7/10 – Safe rather than spectacular with her passing but gobbled up a raft of loose balls in midfield.
CM: Claudia Zornoza – 5/10 – Unnecessarily overeager with her work off the ball at times.
AM: Caroline Weir – 6/10 – Hassled the Barcelona backline diligently but saw precious little of the ball.
RW: Maite Oroz – 5/10 – A veteran of all 11 Clasicos, Oroz skirted around the fringes of the contest.
ST: Esther Gonzalez – 6/10 – There is no lost cause for the infectious scraper.
LW: Linda Caicedo – 5/10 – The Colombian prodigy flickered in and out of the game.
Naomie Feller (60′ for Esther) – 5/10
Athenea del Castillo (70′ for ) – 3/10 – Provided precisely the opposite impact Toril was looking for.
Olga Carmona (70′ for Caicedo) – 5/10
Freja Olofsson (86′ for Zornoza) – N/A
Alberto Toril – 5/10 – Set his side up in an admirably obdurate shape that defended beyond their penalty area. Unfortunate to be undone by a soft spot kick.
Player of the match – Caroline Graham Hansen (Barcelona)
Folarin Balogun makes admission over Arsenal future
Folarin Balogun has confessed ‘no door is closed’ as he prepares to make a decision on his future with Arsenal.
The 21-year-old striker has excelled during his loan spell with Stade Reims in Ligue 1, firing home 17 goals in 27 games, but will return to Arsenal in the summer as the French side do not have an option to make the move permanent.
When he returns to the Emirates, Balogun will have just two years remaining on his Arsenal contract and will rejoin an attacking group that features both Gabriel Jesus and Eddie Nketiah already.
90min understands that Arsenal currently have no plans to offload Balogun in the summer but are prepared for crunch talks with the England youth international before making a final decision, and Balogun himself has confirmed as much.
“Contractually I have to go back,” he said. “Because the loan was only for one year so that was always the agreement.
“But I wouldn’t, um, I’m not sure what is going to happen in the future. A lot could happen in football, a lot could change, and it just depends on the conversations we have between me and the club in the summer, and we’ll see what happens.”
Asked whether his future could be in France, Balogun responded: “Yeah I mean there’s no door that’s closed.
“Of course I have had a good year here and to a lot of people it makes sense for me to come back here. So yeah I mean I don’t know what the future will bring. But definitely I would advise young players to come out here. It’s a really, really tough league, a league that will help you to improve. You get to play in crazy atmospheres. If you’re ready to take yourself out of your comfort zone, I would advise any young player, I would advise any young player to come here.”
Internationally, Balogun has been called up to the England Under-21 setup after missing out on a place in Gareth Southgate’s senior side, but the United States have spoken with the striker about switching allegiance.
On this edition of Talking Transfers, part of the 90min podcast network, Scott Saunders, Graeme Bailey & Toby Cudworth discuss the race to sign Jude Bellingham, Antonio Conte’s Tottenham future, Roy Hodgson’s return to Crystal Palace, Erling Haaland’s contract, Mason Mount & more!
If you can’t see this embed, click here to listen to the podcast!
Man Utd 4-0 West Ham
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