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Posts Tagged ‘Champions League’

Tomorrow (Sunday 15 May) sees the final day of the English Premier League. Unlike every other weekend, when matches are spread out over Saturday, Sunday and Monday, on the final weekend all matches kick off on the Sunday at 3pm.

Leicester City have already won the Premiership title, which is a refreshing change and a remarkable achievement. Last season, Leicester were struggling to avoid relegation, and only a few years ago, in the 2008-09 season, they were in the third tier division (confusingly known as League One). From 2009 to 2014 they were in the second tier (the Championship), gaining promotion to the Premier League at the end of the 2013-14 season. Since the inception of the Premier League in the 1992-93 season, Leicester are only the second team outside of the ‘big four’ (Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal) to win the Premiership title; the other time was Blackburn Rovers in 1993-94.

Some of you may know that the team I support is Chelsea, who as defending title holders have had a terrible season. They look set to finish 9th, although if they lose and Stoke win they could finish 10th. Even if Swansea City win and Chelsea lose, Chelsea’s goal difference is so much better than Swansea’s (16 better) that it is nigh on impossible for Swansea to finish above them.

Fittingly, Leicester City play their final game of the season at Chelsea, last year’s champions. Another twist to this story is that Leicester’s popular manager, Claudio Ranieri, was Chelsea’s manager from the 2000-01 season until the end of the 2003-04 season, when he was replaced by José Mourinho. I expect both the team and Ranieri will receive a good reception at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho, of course, started this season as the Chelsea manager on his second spell at the club, but after a string of disastrous results he left in December 2015, and Chelsea have been managed since by interim manager Guus Hiddink.

But, probably the  most intriguing story of this weekend will be whether it is Manchester City or Manchester United who finish in 4th place and get the last Champions League spot. Manchester City play away at Swansea, and Manchester United have a home game against Bournemouth. Man U not only need to win their match, but they need Man City to lose to Swansea in order to finish 4th. If Man City draw and Man U win, both teams will finish on 66 points, but Man City have a much better goal difference. On paper, Man U should beat Bournemouth. Although Swansea are down in 11th place, they have won their last two games, so will be no push over for Man City. It is conceivable that Man U will get the dream results that they crave. 

 

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Leicester City were crowned as champions a few weeks ago, and last year’s champions Chelsea cannot finish higher than 9th, and could finish as low as 10th. The big fight tomorrow is which team in Manchester will get the coveted 4th place spot.

Should Man U fail to finish in 4th I anticipate that their manager, Louis van Gaal, will be sacked. They are in the final of the FA Cup, but this competition has become so much less valued in the last decade or so that I don’t think winning it will save his job. If, on the other hand, Man U do get 4th place then I think van Gaal will hang on to his job, even though he is quite unpopular with the fans. Since Mourinho was sacked from Chelsea in December there have been persistent rumours that he would be replacing van Gaal at Old Trafford. We shall have to wait and see.

Whether it is Man U or Man City who fail to qualify for the Champions League, it will be deemed a disaster for the club that misses out. Man U have the most prolific record of any English team over the last few decades, and Man City have won the Premier League title twice in the last few seasons, and this year got as far as the semi finals of the Champions League. The rivalry between the two Manchester clubs has been intense over the last few seasons, but this weekend one side of the city is going to be very disappointed and the other side will be relieved, if not elated. 

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Ryan Giggs turned 40 last week, and is still going as strong as ever. Many newspapers celebrated his remarkable career. He has been playing top-class football since the age of 17, playing all his games for Manchester United and Wales. As of the writing of this article, he has appeared an amazing 953 times for Manchester United (including 611 appearances in the Premier League, which is a record), and 64 times for Wales.

I thought I would include links to two of the many many articles that have been written about this remarkable Welshman in the last week. The first is from Wales’ national newspaper, The Western Mail. The link to the actual story is here.



The Western Mail, the national newspaper of Wales, ran several articles celebrating Ryan Giggs turning 40.

The Western Mail, the national newspaper of Wales, ran several articles celebrating Ryan Giggs turning 40.



But, just to show that it is not only the Welsh press who have been celebrating his career, here is a link to a story about Giggs’ enduring career from The Guardian, an English newspaper.



This article, from The Guardian newspaper, celebrates Ryan Giggs' enduring career.

This article, from The Guardian newspaper, celebrates Ryan Giggs’ enduring career.



It will be interesting to see how much longer Giggs carries on playing. Although he has lost a little of his phenomenal pace, he still seems to have the hunger to play top-flight football, and has looked after his body very very well so shows no sign of his body breaking down as so often happens to sports players once they reach their mid 30s. Let us hope that he continues to light up the football stadia of Europe for as long as he still enjoys it.

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Last night (Wednesday the 15th of May), Chelsea became the first team ever to hold both the Champions League and Europa League titles. They beat Benfica 2-1 with an added-time goal from Branislav Ivanovic to claim the title.


Chelsea claimed the Europa League title, becoming the first club to hold both the Europa League and Champions League titles.

Chelsea claimed the Europa League title, becoming the first club to hold both the Europa League and Champions League titles.


Of course, on the 25th of May Chelsea will lose their Champions League title, when Bayern Munich play Borussia Dortmund in an all-German final. Chelsea didn’t even make it beyond the group stages, and therefore entered the lower-tier Europa League.

Under their “interim manager” Rafa Benitez, Chelsea have also secured Champions League football for next season by finishing in the top four in the English Premiership. So, all in all, it has not been too bad a season under Benitez. Speculation is rife as to who will replace Benitez when he departs Stamford Bridge in the next couple of weeks. Most people are expecting José Mourinho to leave Real Madrid and return to Chelsea. Mourinho himself strongly hinted as such after Real’s exit from the semi-final stages of the Champions League, saying in his post-match press conference how he was much loved in England, and in particular by one club. However, one never really knows with Chelsea, their owner Roman Abramovich apparently had his sights set on Pep Guardiola, but he accepted a position with Bayern Munich several months ago to start in the new season.

Meanwhile, the coveted 4th spot in the English Premiership, the last place which qualifies a team for next season’s Champions League, is still to be determined. What makes it all the more intriguing is that it will go to either Arsenal, or their arch North-London rivals Spurs. Spurs play Sunderland at home, Arsenal play Newcastle away. Both games kick off at 4pm this Sunday (19th of May). With Arsenal on 70 points and Spurs in 69 points, Spurs need a win to secure the 4th spot, whereas Arsenal only need to win if Spurs should also win. If both finish with 70 points, Arsenal have a much better goal difference so will secure 4th place.

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Tomorrow (Saturday), my team Chelsea are playing in the UEFA Champions League final against Bayern Munich (Bayern Munchen). The annual Champions League final is the biggest game in football next to the World Cup Final. For the team who wins, it represents a bonus of some £50 million in increased revenue.

For English teams, if they finish in the top 4 of the domestic English Premiership, they qualify for the following season’s Champions League, a huge fillip to their revenues. This season (20011-12), Chelsea have failed to finish in the top 4, for the first time in quite a few years. However, should they win the final tomorrow, they will be allowed to defend their title next season, meaning Tottenham Hotspur, who finished 4th in the Premiership, will not qualify. Needles to say, Spurs fans are willing Bayern Munich to beat Chelsea.

The final standings in the English Premiership (2011-12 season)

Why do I, someone who grew up in Pembrokeshire, support an English club based in London? It’s all because Chelsea happened to win the 1970 FA Cup final, which was the first one I remember.

Chelsea Football Club

Within a few months of this win, my parents had bought me a Chelsea football kit, which I used to wear when I played my “fantasy” games outside in the back garden. My heroes of the 1970s team were Peter Bonetti, the Chelsea goalkeeper, and Peter Osgood, the centre forward. This might indicate my schizophrenia over my preferred footballing position, sometimes I wanted to be a goalkeeper and sometimes I wanted to be the one scoring the goals!

Chelsea didn’t enjoy a huge amount of success between 1970 and 2003, but that all changed when the club was bought by Russian billionaire Roman Abromovich. In addition to spending hundreds of millions of pounds on new players, he brought in José Mourinho, the manager who had taken Porto to the Champions League title in 2004. Under Mourinho, Chelsea enjoyed their most successful period in their history, winning the Premiership back-to-back in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons, the FA Cup in 2007 and the League Cup in 2005 and 2007. Mourinho left under suspicious circumstances in September 2007, and since then Chelsea have not kept a manager for more than 1 season. This season started with André Villas-Boas as the new coach, but he was sacked in March of this year, to be replaced by the “interim” coach Roberto Di Matteo. The switch of manager seems to have turned Chelsea’s season around, they went on to win this season’s FA Cup, beating Liverpool in the final, and have made their way to the final of the Champions League, the biggest prize in club football.

Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who bought Chelsea F.C. in June 2003

This is the second time Chelsea have reached the final, they lost to Manchester United 6-5 on penalties in 2008. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we can win it this time around, I will be glued to the TV tomorrow evening, hoping all the money Abramovich has spent in the last 10 years can finally see Chelsea claim the ultimate prize.

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