1. Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes – First off, I don’t like this new Champions League set up. 2 games a piece on the Tuesday and Wednesday and then rinse and repeat the following week, it feels light to me, a little cheap. Like arriving on a lads holiday in Tenerife all excited only to find we’ve got to share double beds. I like my European Cup midweeks to be choc a bloc full of world-class football. Like a carnival or a fair ground – Sure, you might not go on all the rides, you might just want to play the ring toss all night, but it makes it all so much more exciting to have all the other stuff flashing about around you. Just to know you can dip into them if you want. If it was just a ring toss and that one where you throw darts at cards to win a fish in bag, on their own in a field it’d be rubbish. It wouldn’t feel as special or as grand. It also makes it much harder to write these, as I have to actually pretend I’ve watched them all rather than just cherry pick things from the highlights package. See? They just aren’t really considering me in all this, humbug!
2.Reffin’ and Blinding – Refereeing controversies were the order of the day. An inconsistent and rather haphazard performance in the previous day’s AC Milan – Manchester United encounter was made to look astutely professional by the goings on in Wednesday’s measly two matches. Arsene Wenger thought it was one of the most ridiculous and “laughable” things he’d seen in his long career in football, and from a man who managed Pascal Cygan, that’s saying something. Referee Martin Hansson’s decision to let Porto pull a fast one (in both senses of the word) from an indirect free kick to score the winner in the Gunners 2-1 defeat at the Dragao, was certainly a bizarre one but technically a correct one. Jamie Redknapp on Sky blamed Sol Campbell and Lukasz Fabianski for “not being alive”, though thankfully not “literally” for once, and David Platt thought the referee “shouldn’t have got involved” which is surely the point of the referee in the first place? Excellent punditry aside, Hansson didn’t marshal the situation well at all in my view and his worst error was not booking himself for obstruction since he was clearly standing in big Sol’s way preventing him from doing any kind of defending at all. If only he’d had that kind of excuse at Stoke. Oh yeah, and he was the same guy who failed to spot Thierry Henry’s hand of god part deux against Ireland. Who’d be a ref? No seriously…I’ve never understood it.
3. Norwegian Wood – Even more farcical goings on in the Bayern Munich vs. Fiorentina game where the 3rd Mitchell brother, Tom Henning Ovrebro, the man famously chased furiously by Michael Ballack, like a deleted scene from the Bourne Identity, during Chelsea’s controversial defeat to Barcelona in the semi’s last year, put in another disastrous performance at the Allianz Arena. In addition to missing several nasty fouls, a blatant dive and a clear offside for Bayern’s winner, he also disallowed a goal for the German side to pull play back for a penalty. Former Premier League ref Dermot Gallagher decided it was “a Norwegian thing”, like salmon and suicide presumably, since the referee who’d done the same thing in Barca’s final win over Arsenal (incidentally the last time big Sol scored for Arsenal, to bring a nice symmetry to this article) was also a Noggie. And guess who the forth official was that night? Yep, you guessed it, Tom Henning Overbro/Mitchell. Fortunately Bayern (and Barca) scored, preventing lengthy discussions about the merit of such ridiculously officious decisions, the refereeing equivalent of traffic wardening, but the suitability of Norwegian officials for such important top flight games was brought up again, literally, by Redknapp and crew on Sky after the game. “They’re just not up to it” apparently. If only we had such high standards for punditry.
4. Iron, Lyon, Zion – Real Madrid escaped an embarrassment at the Stade Gerland on Tuesday, by only losing to Lyon by one goal. Despite Ronaldo’s heel clicking they were fortunate to not concede at least 3 and as such go into the return in a fairly promising position. However with Madrid, who knows? They’re a baffling team and always have been, prone to capitulation at any minute if their Decepticon’s, sorry Galactico’s, don’t show up. They’re just as likely to win 4-0 of course, but I’ve got a sneaking suspicion Lyon will lose 2-1 and go through.
5. Any Dream Will Do – The aftermath of Manchester United’s first win over AC Milan at the San Siro has seen the Rossoneri’s Clarence Seedorf, David Beckham and manager Leonardo, as well as sections of the Italian press, down play the disaster of loosing the first leg at home whilst conceding 3 goals by proclaiming they will certainly score at Old Trafford now they know they can rattle United’s back line. This may well be true, however what’s also true is that they’re unlikely to get any younger in the intervening days and as such, by 70 odd minutes United will be able to walk the ball into their net at will, as they practically did for Rooney’s second on Tuesday. Johnny Evans, the man who seemed most terrified of the red and black stream coming towards him is unlikely to play after Sir Alex Ferguson demonstrated his willingness to unpack his hairdryer outside of the dressing room, but it’s not a cert, as new England captain Rio Ferdinand will have almost certainly gotten himself injured or slept with a team mates wife by the time the match rolls round.