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England's elite in pole position

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Phil McNulty | 22:01 UK time, Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The English elite were all handed hazardous assignments in the last 16 of the Champions League - but Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have established a solid platform to move forward into the quarter-finals.

Qualification is still a work in progress for all four, but there is now a clear opportunity for the Premier League to take up half the allocation of places in the last eight of Europe's elite competition.

Liverpool take top honours for an outstanding 1-0 win against Real Madrid in The Bernabeu, but there was real merit in the work of the rest of the so-called "Big Four" as they once again attempt to place their imprint on the latter stages of the tournament.

Not a goal conceded at home or away and a lead in three out of four ties tells the story of a job well done after the first round of games.

Rafael Benitez may have his failings when it comes to putting Liverpool top of the Premier League and keeping them there, but no-one can have any doubts about his expertise at navigating his way around Europe's most difficult locations.

And after more, in this instance groundless, speculation about his future as Liverpool manager in the hours leading up to the game, he delivered another example that he serves his case best when he sticks to football as opposed to the game's boardroom politics.

Liverpool's win was richly-deserved, based on the trademark Benitez template of solid defence setting the foundations for growing supremacy as the game progressed.

It was a match that exposed the supposedly resurgent Real under Juande Ramos as one-paced and carrying all the appearances of a spent force and Yossi Benayoun's late header was no more than Liverpool merited.

And victory was achieved, at least until the closing minutes, without the injured Steven Gerrard and despite the loss of an limping Fernando Torres on the hour.

There was little evidence that Real will enter the Anfield fortress and spring a surprise in a fortnight. Liverpool can plan for the quarter-finals and we are reaching the stage of the competition when their confidence grows and the other teams in the tournament have no particular wish to be drawn against them.

It is unwise to write off any side containing the talents on offer to Real, but Liverpool's fans will not have travelled home from Spain with any sense of trepidation after what they witnessed in The Bernabeu. I back them to qualify with comfort.

Chelsea were less convincing in their 1-0 win against Juventus, but make no mistake new coach Guus Hiddink would have taken that result before the start. The importance of not conceding a goal at home is self-evident and that priority was taken care of, albeit with the odd anxious moment.

It was a performance that mirrored Hiddink's opening win at Aston Villa, with early domination giving way to nervy times as the game went on, but two wins out of two is the start he and Roman Abramovich will have craved.


Claudio Ranieri's side may be ageing in parts, but veterans Pavel Nedved and Alessandro del Piero showed there is still life in mind and body yet and Juve will approach the second leg with genuine hope.

But Hiddink now has more time to work his methods into Chelsea's system and they will feel they can transform a slender advantage into a place in the last eight.

Arsenal and Manchester United will also be happy with their respective positions, but may just harbour a sense of opportunities missed after their encounters with Roma and Inter Milan respectively.

A 1-0 lead was a poor return in exchange for Arsenal's domination against Roma. The Italians are formidable on home territory, as Chelsea will testify, and boss Arsene Wenger must hope over-generosity in front of goal does not cost them in the second leg.

Arsenal's recent difficulties in breaking down defences has over-shadowed their outstanding defensive record in the same period, and it is a quality they will be called upon to demonstrate in Rome.

Most intriguing and finely-balanced of all is the latest round in the ongoing battle of the master managers Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho after the goalless draw between Manchester United and Inter Milan on Tuesday.

Manchester United looked vastly superior for long periods in the San Siro, but the presence of Mourinho in the equation will make Old Trafford a nervous place to be when they meet again.

Is there more to come from Inter? Will United, like Arsenal, be forced to sweat because of a failure to turn dominance into goals?

And will the enigmatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic actually prove that he can terrorise top English defences - something he has spectacularly failed to do so far in his career?

Taken at face value, Tuesday's game demonstrated that United - even without Wayne Rooney in the starting line-up - are much the more accomplished side and should see off their great old adversary's Inter side in front of their own fans.

"The Special One" will no doubt inject his own unique brand of mischief into preparations for the second leg, but realism suggests United will have too much firepower for the Italians.

Four games, no defeats, no goals conceded although no ties settled yet - but the smart money must be on the usual quartet of Premier League suspects being present in the next stage of the Champions League.


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  • Comment number 1.

    Judging by PERFORMANCES and not RESULTS (the opposite of what most of the press and fans wrongly do):

    UNITED were the better team vs Inter and particularly classy in the 1st half, but unfortunately the referees decided the outcome with the Adriano penalty and Ibrahimovic offside.

    ARSENAL deserved to beat Roma.

    CHELSEA did not deserve to beat Juventus who had the better of the play overall and 5 classic chances for the equaliser.

    LIVERPOOL were shocking against Madrid and did not deserve anything from the game as they did not show any passing, posession or attacking qualities, never looked like scoring and were on the back foot and their own half throughout.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    In a random way, the best performance is potentially the worst result. I thought Man U were outstading, but no away goal might be the killing of them.

    I hope the main man is right and we get 4 teams through, although I think one may become unstuck...and sadly \i think the wonderful to watch...less so to support Atsenal might be the one's!

  • Comment number 4.

    Even though I didn't rate them beforehand, I respect and appreciate United's performance the other night. I respect and appreciate Arsenal's performances at Milan and the Bernabeu.

    But with all respect, Liverpool's tonight was a load of rubbish at this high level.

    Completely outplayed for 90 minutes, no posession, no ability to pass or keep the ball, no attacking threat whatsoever, just trying to spoil the opposition's play as they normally do and not being so great at doing so.

    Is this what you call Benitez's tactical genius and masterclass in Europe, putting 11 men behind the ball with no attacking intent and hoofing it out? Trying to nick one from a set play? Had it stayed 0-0 would they score at Anfield playing like that? Probably not in a million years!

    Claiming their opponents have no pace, creativity or 2nd gear when they didn't perform themselves to even half of that level!

    Does anybody in their right state of mind honestly believe Liverpool deserved anything from this game?

    But this is why football is called the beautiful game. It's maybe the only game that gives a chance to the poor, the weak and the hopeless. It doesn't matter how bad you are, it only takes a moment. Juventus against Chelsea played 5 times as well as Liverpool and lost.

  • Comment number 5.

    Great blog.

    I expect all English teams to progress, however with varying difficulty. Liverpool are of course most prominently placed after a superb performance even the most optimistic of Liverpool fans would be proud of. And why not be proud; Real were quite average compared to a magnificent Liverpool, Alonso standing out in Gerrard's absence.

    As you've stated Phil, Arsenal will be disappointed not to come away from the Emirates with more than one goal, however I think spirits will be high after a convincing performance, regardless of the margin of victory.

    Chelsea have done just enough I feel; hardly an inspired result but a result none the less. Not conceding at home will be the key to their progressing into the next stage. On a side note, Phil have you noticed any change in Chelsea's style of play? I certainly haven't (aside from winning of course). I didn't expect any miraculous transformations overnight under Hiddink, I just feel that Scolari was plain unlucky in his reign. To me, this is the same old Chelsea team, doing just enough and no more.

    United will be in the same boat as Arsenal, disappointed that they couldn't achieve a more favourable result but will be heartened by the fact that they dominated the likes of Ibrahimovic and Adriano at the San Siro for a full 90 mins. The atmosphere & fans at Old Trafford will force the ball into the net for them.

    On another note Phil, what did you make of Torres' reaction after being taken off by Benitez? Didn't look too pleased but surely an injured player can understand if their manager replaces them?

    Perhaps a case of over-enthusiasm, wanting to get one back on the Real fans?

  • Comment number 6.

    Good blog Phil, but I wish someone could explain to me why Liverpool can win almost 'comfortably' at the Bernabeu and yet not beat almost half of the premiership at home?

  • Comment number 7.

    Nice post Phil! I think Liverpool's task is the easiest among all Big Four. I think Arsenal will have some difficulties in Rome, but no conceding a goal in London will play to their favor. Manchester United will destroy Inter at Old Trafford and I don't think Chelsea will progress with a narrow win or a draw in Italy. EPL is becoming stronger and stronger from year to year. As a United fan, I'm afraid of facing Bayren Munich in the next round, after their massive result today. The got everything to win it this year. Barcelona is huge this year too. In my opinion and based on the performance of all teams so far, and if there is any judgment in football, Man Utd and Barcelona will meet in the final if they don't next round.

  • Comment number 8.

    UNITED were the better team vs Inter and particularly classy in the 1st half, but unfortunately the referees decided the outcome with the Adriano penalty and Ibrahimovic offside.


    Can't say I agree with Adriano being given a penalty. There was no contact that would make him fall to the ground.

    Ibrahimovic, however, should not have been given an offside against.

    I didn't see the Chelsea or 'Pool game so I can't really have any say on that.

  • Comment number 9.

    Clearly Ramos didn't take note of the way Stoke played, Real were shocking and lucky Liverpool were struggling - I doubt they'll be able to win at Anfield

    United should be fine, defensive crisis over - tho I do wonder if Mourinho will get a score draw and be sliding down the touchline again

    Worried for Arsenal, they didn't capitalise and will be at risk when they go to Roma, likeiwse Chelsea - but I really don't know what to expect from Hiddink's new side, except for decent substitutions

  • Comment number 10.

    I am very pleasanly surprised to see Liverpool get a result that I thought was really beyond them. This should put Rafa's class as a manager beyond any doubt and should propel the Liverpool board to strengthen his hand that he has been insisting upon for so long. Anything less can have only negative effects on the great run of success the club has latched on to.

    To have shown beyond any shadow of doubt that Rafa can go to intimidating places and get the desired results against redoubtale opponets produces tremendous self-belief among his squad.

    It'll be a travesty of reality if this result doesn't generate the same kind of confidence in the manager among the LFC board. Their failing to acknowledge it by making the appropriate moves demanded by the manager will be very negative now.

    If they are not to alienate the huge fan base of the club, the board will need to come out in the open to show Rafa is indeed asking for the moon.

    If some think that I am bowled over by mere one result and gushing with overenthusiasm, I need only to poit out that among the 4 PL clubs Liverpool's assignment was the most daunting. Well done Liverpool.

    For the Chelsea win I can only say that Guus has got a deft touch in so quicky getting the whole team behind him. Dissensions in Chelsea? Where are they? The way Hiddink is going he is surely reinventing Didier Drogba, always a welcome augury.

  • Comment number 11.

    Aaaargh... Why is it every time Liverpool are mentioned anywhere there is always someone not far behind droning on about how boring they are, how they didn't actually deserve to win blah blah...

    As Phil rightly points out, there is no manager in the world more proven at getting results against the top sides in Europe. Regardless of what people might think of the aesthetics of the performance, Real Madrid never really looked like getting anything out of the game last night, whilst Liverpool grew stronger and stronger as the match went on - all this despite the absence/under-performance of their two highest-profile players. Anyone who writes off Liverpool's chances in Europe is a fool.

    As for the other English sides, an inconsistent and ageing Chelsea should have too much for an inconsistent and ageing Juventus.

    Arsenal and Roma are both fragile, but I take Arsenal to go through primarily because I believe they will score at least one away goal.

    As for Man U/Inter, United are undoubtedly mentally superior and the better footballing team, but I feel that they are being talked up rather too much at the moment and may come unstuck at some point. Mourinho is a pragmatist and will fancy his chances of a cagey Benitez-style smash and grab. Then again, Inter usually find a way to disappoint, so I wouldn't want to put any money on them...

  • Comment number 12.


  • Comment number 13.

    i'm not to sure i want to finish 4th anymore!!! the uefa cup is a much nicer, gentle contest!!! i'm sure if we finished 4th- inter, juve, roma and real and the rest would be thinking easy tie!! - an aston villa fan!!!!

  • Comment number 14.

    Well an as Inter fan I must say I was extremely disappointed by our 1st Leg performance. I think a couple of changes need to be made for the 2nd Leg to make us more of a threat.

    a] Rivas better not start the 2nd Leg, United were on a Sunday morning stroll whenever they got near Rivas and he's a HUGE liability out there. Cordoba must play if not Samuel to partner Chivu.

    b] Muntari cannot play either, if we are to get anything out of the 2nd Leg, we're going to need to score, and for us to do that we're going to need to have some added flair and Muntari cetainly doesn't provide that. A guy like Amantino Mancini needs to play and show his fine array of skills, there were far too many situations where Muntari gave the ball away needlessly.

    Anyway the 2nd Leg I'm hoping for a lot better, and with Mourinho there the players will get the belief that Mourinho will feed them that they can snatch a draw or even get a win. I think if we can score once, the tie is over.

    Forza Inter!

  • Comment number 15.

    My mates used to say I was lucky to have such a beautiful girlfriend. After 4 years of keeping her, they realise it might have something to do with me as well.

    Opposing fans would do themselves justice by realising the same about Liverpool.

  • Comment number 16.

    i'll be delighted if Benitez signs a new contract, it means Liverpool won't win the league for at least another 4 years, happy days.

  • Comment number 17.

    Yes it's a real shame to see all these anti-liverpool comments and constant berating of a supposed 'poor' side. (currently 2nd in Prem, and the most in-form consistent team in the CL for the last 4 years)

    There is no doubt whatsoever that in Europe Benitez is a class above Ferguson (que the reaction) but the results and stats speak for themselves utd fans.
    Especially this team that were played off the park, had no ambition etc etc..yet how many shots did Real actually have on goal, and what were the posession stats...ah, that sorts out that arguement doesn't it.

    Another good round in the CL for sure for english clubs all round, marred by the pathetic reaction to liverpool by jealous fans, even Phil you have made note and complimented it as a great result when you yourself have recently been getting on board the rafa-bashing wagon at times, unnecessarily!
    But however I feel that one english team may drop away before we reach the quarters, and it won't be Liverpool!

  • Comment number 18.

    A team wins away at a big European ground and someone, out of jealousy, hatred or both chooses to pooh-pooh their achievement! Which of the other three teams would not rather win 1-0 away? Man United were very good against Inter and although Chelsea and Arsenal had narrow 1-0 victories, any of these three may not progress. Still, a 1-0 home win is better than a nil-nil draw or a loss. Liverpool should be creditted for knowing what is to be done, and regularly doing it irrespective of personnel - Igor Biscan at ?Monaco, no Steven Gerrard at Juventus after 2-1 at Anfield and now, without him at Real's intimidating amphitheatre. The have dismantled Barcelona at the Nou Camp before. Those who know the game speak more sense - Joe Cole on Sky Sports stated that no team would like to be drawn against Liverpool. That says it all!

  • Comment number 19.

    no 17
    Especially this team that were played off the park, had no ambition etc etc..yet how many shots did Real actually have on goal, and what were the posession stats...ah, that sorts out that arguement doesn't it.


    here the stas to support your case????
    Match Statistics
    Real Madrid Liverpool
    5 Shots on target 4
    0 Shots blocked 2
    17 Tackles won 49
    13 Fouls committed 19
    7 Corners 1
    2 Offsides 3
    59% Ball. Poss. (%) 41%

    i guess you are right that madrid were the better team .
    you weren,t making making a case for pool
    were you???

  • Comment number 20.

    I hope Rooney starts at Old Trafford as its obvious that the biggest flaw of this Inter team is their lack of pace. What does Berbatov bring to the team anyway? I thought he was picked to hold the ball up, but he dropped back so deep to get a touch of the ball, it was effectively a six man midfield. And his finishing is average at best. United looked so much better going forward when they played Rooney and Tevez together, they have much better chemistry. I don't know if its just me, but I wish we hadn't signed Berba

  • Comment number 21.

    "17. At 05:12am on 26 Feb 2009, lance_liver wrote:

    There is no doubt whatsoever that in Europe Benitez is a class above Ferguson (que the reaction) but the results and stats speak for themselves utd fans."

    Thank you funnyvivalarasa for post 19. I think the mildly delusional lance_liver should check his facts.

    I also wish to highlight that United, under Ferguson, have the most consistent results in the Champions League History (not the old European Cup but the CL proper) as UEFA have stated many times over. This shows that Ferguson is a class above every European Manager in this competition. Joe Cole said that noone wants to be drawn against Liverpool but I would take this with a pinch of salt. This is the same Liverpool they beat last year under the much maligned Avram Grant. Says it all doesn't it. I think the team noone wants to meet is Barcelona and after yesterday's performance Bayern. I also wonder what Berbatov does add to United. united play a quick counter attacking game and he hasn't yet clicked with the rest of the team. Maybe he should stay upfront and wait for the long ball to be played to him on the break and hold it up while the rest of the attackers join in.

  • Comment number 22.

    Outstanding Liverpool win??? Naaaah. Real Madrid were shockingly bad and never looked like scoring a goal. If Liverpool had been more adventurous (lol), they would've been hammered

  • Comment number 23.

    And oh yeah, did you guys notice this? Liverpool had more spanish players in their starting lineup than Real Madrid. How twisted is that?

  • Comment number 24.

    haha #17, did you see united break the european record??? no defeats in 20 games????

  • Comment number 25.

    You cannto fail to agree that it was a successful evening for british teams - result wise, but if we are assessing football as a form of entertainment and expression surely credit must be given to Real Madrid and definitely Juventus.

    Liverpool will gain credit for the "result" they achieved but the game was terrible and the limit of their ambition has been already commented on here.

    I cannot honestly congratulate a team that is outplayed for huge periods of a game and survives purely by defending then stealing an away goal - Liverpool are at best an average team and this result changes nothing in that at all.

    I find these matches useful as they at least show us the reality of how strong the Premiership is compared to la Liga and Serie A - there is a real difference in the level of athleticism and aggression in our game compared to elsewhere and just maybe this not a great thing ?? only a thought ?

  • Comment number 26.

    @21 Exactly my point. Berbatov has had enough time to settle down and should be producing the goods by now. He was better than this at Tottenham. I wonder why?

  • Comment number 27.

    Don't see the point in doubting Liverpools credentials in europe? How could anyone say Real where the better team?
    Smacks of jealousy to me, look at the result 0-1! Doesn't matter about how many corners or shots of target Real had, Liverpool put the ball in the net and they didn't, last time i checked that was how you won games????

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 29.

    Post No.19 -- What shouldn't be forgotten is that Liverpool hardly competes for the Premier League hence Rafa usually concentrates on the Champions League which is the most important reasons for Pool doing well in CL. It doen't mean that Rafa is a bad coach, Rafa is an excellent coach but a defensive minded coach who is more suited for Italy even more than Spain and definitely more than England but to state that he is a class above Fergie is equivalent to being crazy. What a timing, Liverpool has just faded in this year's league as well which gives a perfect opportuity for Rafa to focus on CL.

    I keep saying that Liverpool needs a British Manager, someone like Martin O Neil but i hope he doesn't join Pool.

    On the CL matches, undoubtedly Pool got the best result and Manu the worst result but going by the superiority shown by Manu , it should be a cakewalk but there is a possibility of Inter nicking one aka Pool against Real Madrid.....which would be a travesty of Justice ...................

  • Comment number 30.

    if juve want, they can go on and outplay us even in the second leg then concede another goal, that will be fine by me. Goals Goals Goals, in this knock out stage is what matters.

  • Comment number 31.

    Got to agree with the Berbatov comments. It's easy to be critical because his appearance and body language do make him look too casual or almost lazy, but he's been at UTD long enough now to have settled in. Not a UTD fan so maybe I'm wrong, but his performances that I have seen (tv) are not worth 30m+. Who else could SAF have signed for that sort of money to bolster an already awesome strike force?

  • Comment number 32.

    The usually embittered guff from Utd fans I see. Maybe you should send a tape to Fergie and co to show them not how to choke on the big European stage.

    To who ever said Liverpool were totally outplayed I would recommend you go watch the game again. The performance almost exactly match Utds v Barca last season. Let them play it around in their own half and stop them when they get into dangerous positions, only Liverpool won the away leg ;-)

    I see you use stats during Fergies time to show he is the best manager for getting results in Europe. Well I would suggest you look at teams performances since Benitez took over Liverpool and you will soon see his teams progress in the competition has been 2nd to none.

    Now we have gotten that Utd generated myth out the way to the blog. It is true to a certain extent but I would suggest that Arsenal are in the trickiest place. As you point out Roma are excellent at home and 1-0 isnt much of a lead to defend.

    I still cant help but feel the little dig at Liverpool (as usual). As ever its not that Liverpool played well, but it is always put down to the opposition playing poorly. So thats Chelsea (twice), Utd, Real Madrid from this season who have all funily enough had "off days" vs Liverpool. And of course add to that Juve 2005, Barca 2007, Inter 2008 (whom Liverpool beat in the San Siro). Its a funny coincidence how whenever these teams play Liverpool they seem to have these bad days. It couldnt be Liverpool out thinking and out playing them could it?

  • Comment number 33.

    All 4 teams did well, but i just can't help but feel that Inter have more to give against Utd. I fully expect Inter to move thru at utd's expense. Liverpool will beat Madrid, no 2 ways about it. They were rubbish and they won away from home. Just don't see madrid exposing them in front of the kop.
    Arsenal have a young team but i expect them to out class Roma too. Chelsea wil go to Italy with a 1 goal lead. I expect them to double that lead and leave Italy with a 2-1 aggregate.


    These 3 team wil go thu!

  • Comment number 34.

    At last, Phil says something nice about Liverpool. They were clearly the better side last night. Real was overwhelmed by the occasion and did not cause any threat until 10 min at the end of each half. Worse still, Real could not defend, even with Guti coming on in the second half. Liverpool closed them down quickly and counter-attacked as planned. A fit Torres would have made it 1-0 earlier on, his first touch let him down a bit. The only low point was Riera getting a yellow and will miss the second leg at Anfield, although Gerrard would be fit to play by then. The job is only half done.

    RE Berbatov, he reminds me a little bit of Hoddle, sheer class but extremely lay back and somewhat "lazy" like, although Hoddle never tracks back!lol

    RE why Liverpool play so well in Europe and not in PL. Well, If I knew that I would be a very rich man but my take on this is that its EUROPE, they play at a different way at a different pace and its less physical(?). Real lacked any ideas last night although their passing were sharp and crisp, similar when Spain beat England the other night, but no end product. Also Rafa knows Real more than Ramos !! lol

  • Comment number 35.

    I agree with @33. I can see Inter getting an away goal at Man U and drawing 1-1. I think SAF knows they will need to score at least two goals, so I am looking forward to that game.

  • Comment number 36.

    @28 Why don't you read that again and you'll see I was talking about Real Madrid. And don't give me that 'we made them look ordinary' blah blah blah. That was the most boring game I ever saw. Lets see how you make United look bad at Old Trafford next month

  • Comment number 37.

    Pool fan here. All very well citing stats but Madrid's possession was in their own half rolling it backwards and forwards between the full backs. As even Andy Gray pointed out, its so slow Liverpool don't even need to chase it. I don't even think Liverpool set up to stifle Madrid, it looked more of a "lets see what they've got"!

    To go to madrid essentially without our 2 best players (Torres was struggling throughout) and win is an amazing result. Could united go to a great euro side without ronaldo and carrick? They'd be in the same position.

    And to the first poster - you haven't got a clue!

  • Comment number 38.

    Madrid are at home, they've scored 10 goals in 2 games, 9 wins on the trot, I knew we would spend most of the night on the back foot.

    But Madrid created hardly anything last night. Liverpool closed them down quickly, denied them space and then tried to counter. It was a very good performance. Not a great, wonderful, masterpiece of a performance but one that certainly deserved a 1-0 victory.

  • Comment number 39.

    #32 An obvious Liverpool fan. Liverpool did not play brillaintly, it has to be said. Arsenal were quite good, Chelsea just grinded out the result, whereas Utd absolutely dominated long periods of the games, especialy in the first half. Man utd fans would have been so frustrated watching that game, which could have even been won with the last kick of the ball.

    I think Chelsea, Liverpool & Arsenal will hold out and get their qualification, but i think Utd might just rue missed chances at the San Siro. Im going for Jose to get the better of Sir Alex this time round.

  • Comment number 40.


    If Liverpool make them look half as bad as they did at Anfield it should be fairly comfortable.

    Another point that nobody has touched on. Gerrard featured for the dying minutes only. Had we lost or even drawn that game I am almost certain our lack of "class" would have been highlighted in his absense. As it is, we went to the back yard of one of Europes best and in form teams and won without him. Is this strength of the other players mentioned? Of course not. We dont want to dispel a myth in case it is needed for a later blog when Liverpool drop a point or two without Gerrard playing.

  • Comment number 41.

    "It was a match that exposed the supposedly resurgent Real under Juande Ramos as one-paced and carrying all the appearances of a spent force "

    No Phil. Liverpool didnt allow Real to play and MADE them look awful.
    I don't know why this 'Media Liverpool negativity' is so prevalent amongst you hacks but everytime Liverpool and Benitez come up with a great result you issue complements through gritted teeth and balance them with references to opposition being "spent forces" or Benitez's ineptitude in the boardroom or mind games stakes.

    How would you have reported a Utd win in Madrid? Yes. I wonder.

  • Comment number 42.

    I think this round highlights the difference between the premier league and the "elite" leagues in Europe.

    Inter Milan (Italy's best at the moment against Englands Top) looked absolutely awful in the first half, and didnt perform as well as mourinho promised.

    Real Madrid (Spains second best team at the moment against Englands second best) were woeful when compared to Liverpool, couldnt deal with a tight nit defence and i dont actually remember them being in Liverpools box all game.

    Arsenal were disappointed with a win because they could have scored more, infact the only european team that seemed to really trouble anyone was Juventus, and even then Chelsea managed to grind out a result away.

    Platini will be furious. Expect English teams to be forced to not field foreigners next season!!

  • Comment number 43.

    'Big Four' Phil? Villa aren't playing until this evening in Moscow and we've sent out quite a weak squad.

  • Comment number 44.


    I did not say Liverpool played brilliantly, but they were certainly not as poor as some have implied and it just grates me the way whenever Liverpool beat a top team its always that the other team were poor. I cannot be simply coincidence that these top sides always have an off day vs Liverpool. They had a game plan and it was a textbook away performance in Europe, not just a hallmark of Benitez and Liverpool but of all great away wins in Europe (with the odd thrilling exception). I am sure Utd fans will tell you of their great performance in the Nou Camp last season which was almost identical.

    They completely nullifyed the Madrid threat and deserved their win.

  • Comment number 45.

    "template of Solid defence setting"
    ...hmm, playing defensively and grabbing a goal from set play. Correct me if Im wrong Phil, but not so long ago the FSW was criticising such tactics when played against his team.

  • Comment number 46.

    Seems to me that Utd fans have forgotten how defensive and boring they were against Barca at the Camp Nou last season. Paint and drying came to mind. Fergus knew what he had to do to progress and executed it well.

  • Comment number 47.

    There are teams in the Premiership other than Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool you know

  • Comment number 48.

    It was a great win for Liverpool but for the neutral it was painful to watch. Benitez's defensive, safety first tactics are tailor made for European football, it is when he needs to go for wins in the Premiership he comes unstuck.

    I was extremely disappointed in Madrid last night as they have been playing some great stuff in La Liga recently but they looked devoid of ideas last night, other than Robben cutting inside from the right and hitting shots.

    Last nights game was certainly not one for the purists and Liverpool's performance reminded me of Ranger's run to the UEFA Cup Final last year. Sit back, defending and hope for a bit of a bit of luck from a set piece or a rare moment of magic. It is certainly not pretty but effective nonetheless.

    I certainly predict a borefest at Anfield as Benitez will have 10 men behind the ball hoping to hit Madrid on the break with Torres.

  • Comment number 49.

    Well, i think the english teams show how good they are,for Arsenal there is a possibility that they are closing the chapter in rome by winning the return leg for real,coz they show how hungry they are by outplaying the italians but the match should av ended with a wider margin if bendtner av used the clear chances he had and i think if eduardo was in that game will would av scored more than one goal coz he is a clinical finisher and a class player on his own same thing to van persie there is a need for that guy to be in the team coz he is a threat to the oppositions, by the time all injured players gets back into the team they will be stronger.

  • Comment number 50.

    i'd just like to say that if Liverpool had gone hell for leather at Real you would all be saying how Benitez was nieve .... ManU/ Arsenal/ chelsea would never had done that blah blah blah (no i'm not a liverpool fan!!!)...

    Liverpool went there and did what they needed to with Gerrard on the bench and then Torres coming off ... Fergie wouldn't have snubbed his nose at that result if he had to go to Real. A 1-0 (away goals) result against Real would be taken by ANY manager in the world.

    Arsenal are in the worst position... as Roma showed against Chelsea, they are supurb at home and will score goals ...

  • Comment number 51.

    What a surprise that Man Utd like poltergeist 23,gizmo and Nikos are dismissing Liverpool's fantastic performance last night.
    If they actually saw the game yesterday, they would have seen a performance that started of shakily but got increasingly dominant as the evening went on as Real ran out of ideas. Apart from Robben, who looked dangerous throughout and Casilas, the rest of the players just didn't perform.
    When it comes to Europe, Fergie cannot hold a candle to Rafa and that's the truth!

  • Comment number 52.

    Have to agree with a lot of whats been said.

    United were comfortably the best performers but got the worst result, Liverpools was the worst performance but got the best result.

    The thing is its all about results at this stage which as a United fan i know only to well.
    Barca played by far the most attractive in last years semi but it counted for nowt.

    Im just surprised that the continentals havent got wise to how Benitez sets his teams up by now, having said that Real were shocking and the fact they've won nine on the bounce in La Liga doesnt say much for the quality of the Spanish league does it?

    Will the same go far Barca when they come up against someone half decent? Who knows but they struggled against the weakest Lyon side for a number of years.

    I fully expect Arsenal,Chelsea and Liverpool to progress and as a United fan i have a real concern about the home leg. I expect us to batter them but both Ibra and Adriano are capable of the spectacular and i think one goal will be enough for them.
    I just hope SAF is brave enough to send his team out as he did against Roma 2 years ago.

    To finish, i have to say im glad im not a Liverpool, the frustration must be almost painful. Your side can go to the San Siro, Nou Camp and Bernabeu and win but drops points at home to the likes of Stoke. It must drive you guys potty.

  • Comment number 53.

    What do Liverpool have to do to receive some praise for a good, solid result against one of the better teams in Europe.
    We created the best chances and managed to concert one late on, Reina only made one good save.
    It’s no good having loads of possession if you do nothing with it.
    I think this is a great result for us and puts us in pole position for the 2nd leg.

  • Comment number 54.

    After four years of people saying Liverpool are lucky it makes you wonder whether the people that make these comments are actually football fans. After all they are probably the most successful side in Europe since Benitez has been there. They have beaten Chelsea (twice) Barcelona, inter, arsenal and on the verge of beating Real Madrid, they have gotten to the final twice, the semi final 3 times. That is an awful lot of luck. On another note Liverpool have beaten Chelsea (at Stamford bridge) man united and now Real Madrid, with Gerrard featuring for about 20 minutes in total (to no effect i might add.) I think this proves Liverpool can cope without Gerrard when they need too. It's a shame the tabloids don't pick up on this.

  • Comment number 55.

    Nice insights Phil.

    The elite English sides have an edge on their rivals.

    Man Utd. have to score goals. Ronaldo, Rooney, Berbatov, Nani, Giggs and their colleagues have plenty of fire power.

    From among the sixteen contestants for the last eight spots only Bayern Munich appear to have booked their place with their 5-0 verdict against Sporting Lisbon.

    For the other fourteen teams there is plenty to play for in the return leg in two weeks time.

    Dutchman Guus Hiddink continues to pluck victories one after another.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 56.

    I cant see why everyone is so down on Arsenal after 'only' beating Roma 1-0.
    They have done the hard part, not conceding at home.
    They are at their best in europe at the bigger teams away grounds - AC last year, Real in 2006, 5-1 at Inter.....etc
    Okay, they maybe should have had another goal or two at home, but all they have to do is to be patient and wait for the opportunity to score. If Roma score once, or even twice (which I cant see) this objective does not change.
    Chelsea are in a similar position, though their european games are typically higher scoring.
    The way I see it, its United and then maybe Liverpool who still have the hairiest ties to get through.
    If Inter nick an early goal at OT then it will be panic stations. Inter are not at Uniteds level as an attcking force, but Mourinho is a brilliant tactician and he is also a lucky manager

  • Comment number 57.

    I think it speaks volumes when there is a multitude of United fans on this blog who care not to mention their own team's performance, but instead slate Liverpool for their's. How many times have we seen this before? It actually brings a smile to my face because it means that Liverpool got a very good result.

    No-one can question Benitez's record in Europe, it is simply fantastic and of the 4 English sides in the CL, Liverpool are probably the favourites to progress to the 1/4 finals.

    P.S. TalksRubbish-Clooneys a clone, top posts mate, keep the Mancs in their place :-)

  • Comment number 58.

    I find it quite amusing the way Liverpool haters seem to pull even the teams most impressive results into the dirt. I think any team in Europe would be happy to come away with a 0-1 result from the Bernabeu, not forgetting Reals current form or the absence or injury of 2 of our star players.

    Liverpool managed to limit a team that scored 10 goals in 2 games and have 9 wins on the trot, to speculative long range efforts, that failed to bother Pepe Reina. If that is what most of you classify as a “rubbish performance” then, yes I agree with you.

    In my opinion Liverpools Defence was impenetrable, and the midfield didn’t let them breathe. It was a disciplined and organised performance engineered by the technical mastermind that is Benitez. The aim was not to concede, and if possible to get that precious away goal. Did we manage? I believe so!

    The people who claim this was a poor performance by Liverpool either didn’t watch the game, or are the same people who predict the quarterfinalist based on PERFORMANCES rather than RESULTS. Sorry but the last time I checked it’s the goals that allowed you to progress and that is what Liverpool got, and Manchester didn’t.

    Regarding the comments made about Benitez: If you claim that he is not one of Europe’s top managers in the competition, I would appreciate if you could name me one coach who managed to steer his team to 2 Finals and 1 semi-final in his first 4 seasons at a club…not to mention beating Juve, Chelsea (twice), Arsenal, Barca (away), Inter (away) and now Real (also away) on the way.

  • Comment number 59.

    did any of you anti-liverpool wingers actually see the game? "Shocking" against real who were even worse? Absolute pants. We weren't outstanding or brilliant but we were very good and never looked threatened outside of the one Robben blaster. As for using dubious statistics against us - those shots on target were all desperate shots from distance and all very comfortably held by Reina. You Liverpool haters whinge because you claim we're defensive and yet when we come up against teams who really do put 11 players behind the ball (which we didn't) you mock the amount of possesssion we get without scoring. I have no issue with the fact that Man U are easilly the best team in the prem at the moment and Fergie has - "the best squad I have ever had" (in 20 years note) but that doesn't make Liverpool "shocking", "appalling", "dire" etc etc. Real looked bad because we made them look bad. Football is played like that - between two teams. How each one plays effects how the other team plays and what the match is like. An open match will have lots of goals - tight, tactical disciplined football doesn't. It doesn't make it any less of a quality game.

  • Comment number 60.

    As a fan of any team that plays against Liverpool I dearly hope he stays as whilst he is at the helm, Liverpool will win nothing else. Shocking manager. Love it.

  • Comment number 61.

    I couldn't disagree more with your take on the Man United tie. A life long fan, having watch the match, in the second half it looked more like Ibrahimovic would do damage than anyone else. I can't see the basis for United winning at Old Trafford. They couldn't find the net despite their dominance. All it needs is a lucky break and Inter are through on the away goals. As so often the case, Murhino won't rely on luck.
    I am hoping the United team in the Sansiro was a bit of gamesmanship from Ferguson, but Inter had injuries. They won't next time out. I would love to see United win but actually I think this is their most dangerous tie. If the win it they will go on and win the cup but its a big if against a very accomplished team.

  • Comment number 62.

    As others have said, a cup tournament suits Benitez so much more because Liverpool aren't punished for drawing a game as much as in a league system. A 1-0 and 0-0 and you're through, as opposed to two points dropped in a league and more eating of Man Utd's dust.

  • Comment number 63.

    #48 - I think he'll do what he did last night, keep it tight and try and catch Madrid on the break. Madrid in full flow are a joy to watch not to mention devastating which is why you don't set your team up to allow them to do just that.

  • Comment number 64.

    I think a few too many people were looking at the game through red tinted spectacles.

    The game was pretty poor with both teams wasteful in possession and lacking any creativity. While liverpool sat back and defended well, Real were awful and would have been beaten by any of the English teams.

    People seem to be suggesting that Liverpools performance last night was based on stopping Madrid play, i would disagree and say that Madrid were allowed to play they were just bad. How many passes were just given away or kicked into touch? THis wasnt because of pressure from the reds players they just couldnt string a passage of play together.

    Apart from the back four i would say the rest of the team were as bad as real who had the best player on the pitch in Robben.

  • Comment number 65.

    @37 "Could united go to a great euro side without ronaldo and carrick?"

    Yes they can. The thing is, United can put out two full teams, and I wouldn't bet against both of them finishing above Liverpool in the league.

    @46 I accept that United played boring football to get a result at Barca, but the difference is Liverpool play boring football every week. You gotta feel for 'pool fans who fill their stadium ever week to watch a second rate team play second rate football for a second rate manager who doesn't have a clue in the transfer market. I've watched Liverpool a number of times and entertainment - it is not.

  • Comment number 66.

    In response to post 19 which was :

    "19. At 05:58am on 26 Feb 2009, funnyvivalarasa wrote:
    no 17
    Especially this team that were played off the park, had no ambition etc etc..yet how many shots did Real actually have on goal, and what were the posession stats...ah, that sorts out that arguement doesn't it.


    here the stas to support your case????
    Match Statistics
    Real Madrid Liverpool
    5 Shots on target 4
    0 Shots blocked 2
    17 Tackles won 49
    13 Fouls committed 19
    7 Corners 1
    2 Offsides 3
    59% Ball. Poss. (%) 41%

    i guess you are right that madrid were the better team .
    you weren,t making making a case for pool
    were you??? "

    The poster left off the stat, which gave territorial advantage of Real Madrid 49.7% and Liverpool 50.3%

    Thus all the possession Madrid had, they were confined to their own half for over half the game.

    I don't think that can be called being outplayed at any level.

    As for the shots that Madrid had, did anyone actually see Ramos's shot? Alonso came closer to scoring with his 60 yard shot than most of the Real attempts.

  • Comment number 67.

    Good little article there and all the english teams deserve to feel confident ahead of the next round. The way I see it is. Liverpool are always boring and steal wins through late undeserved goals or refereeing calls going there way, this is what makes them so good. I cant see them losing at Anfield as no ref ever goes there with an unbiased view of the game.
    Chelsea were lucky not to conceed, Juve had a lot of chances and could have been in pole position but Chelsea could have also stolen another so no loss, they should go through but this one is finely balanced and really couldgo either way.
    Arsenal, Roma will be tight too but Arsenal should sneak it, Roma have not had the best season and have to fight in all competitions so I cannot see them getting up. Finally the big one. After reading the comments here I realise that most people do not watch much Italian football because if they did they would realise that Inter quite often look slow, and average yet still get results. It is a mix of fine goal keeping and the old Morinho never give up attitude. They have a fine record of getting a last minute goal in a game they deserve to lose and of being outplayed and still winning and I would argue that they have looked muc better away from home than at home this season. Inter also have a history of losing on away goals in the CL so I think the clean sheet at home for them is a big one. I think this is too close to call and Man U fans should be weary of having there pockets picked!
    Bring on the second legs!!

  • Comment number 68.

    Comment #1 is drivel, written by someone with no understanding of football.

    Liverpool were classy and deserving winners. Not perfect for sure, but it was close to a textbook away leg performance in Europe, soaking up oressure, quieting the crowd and maintaining control for the majority of the game.

    With Gerrard to return, I back them to qualify easily. Benitez really knows what he's doing in Europe.

  • Comment number 69.

    What's with the sudden love-in for Liverpool? What exactly has changed since a week ago when everyone was saying the title race is over, Rafa will go (etc.)?

    Real Madrid barely played last night, yet Liverpool only scored once as a result of inane stupidity by Heinze and poor marking. The BBC, among others, are making it sound as though Liverpool instantly became the best team on Earth last night for beating a side notoriously bad at defending 1-0.

    Liverpool still remain 7pts behind in the league, there's still a second leg in Europe (with Barca, Inter, United and Chelsea still in the draw), they're out of the FA Cup and won't win the Carling Cup for obvious reasons.

    Every manager in the world can play defensively and sneak a goal on the break. It says absolutely nothing about Rafa, except how much confidence he has in his team to win a game, and how negatively he plays.

  • Comment number 70.

    Here we go again, ManU fans telling us how awful Liverpool were and only won because Real were even worse. Let's just ignore the superb form Real were in prior to playing Liverpool. I suppose it's just a coincidence that Real just had a shocker when playing Liverpool? Nothing to do with Liverpool making them look ordinairy?
    Funny how ManU are praised for their DRAW against Inter yet Liverpool get little credit by WINNING in Madrid, and it's all put down to how bad Madrid were!

  • Comment number 71.

    Spain's no.2 vs England's no.2 was a mismatch.

    An Attack against Defence exercise.

  • Comment number 72.

    Good article Phil. It's a shame about the anti-Liverpool brigade having their say.

    To me it's quite simple.

    Liverpool went to the Bernabeau, and against insipid opponents, got a 1-0 "Priceless" away goal, against all expectation.

    Man U went to the San Siro, and against insipid opponents, didn't manage to get the away goal they deserved.

    Inter are flying in thier league. Real Madrid are flying in thier league. The Spanish league is twice the standard of the Italian League.

    People need to give Benitez, and Liverpool, the credit they deserve instead of jumping on the bandwagon.

    Thank-you Phil for a good article.

    Good performance from all 4 English teams. I believe all of them will get through to the 1/4 finals.

  • Comment number 73.

    More hyperbole from phil. Not a chance mate.

    liverpool were dire last night, i actually fell asleep for 15 minutes in the first half. Only thing that saved them was a moment of madness from heinze (??????)

    They coudnt string 5 passes together, were totally short of ideas and had no abiltiy to beat a man. it never happened fro real last ngiht, but its pretty clear one of robbens of higuins runs will pay off eventually and we will see where liverpool are working.

    manu are without doubt the best english team left, but i cant see either them or barca being scared by any of the others. Also, dont rule out bayern. Real firepower in their ranks

  • Comment number 74.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 75.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 76.


    I suppose a 1-0 win after 1-0 win if far more entertaining. We can all tell from your posts regarding last nights win how "objective" your views are.

    As another poster mentioned it is amazing how many Mancs want to try and rubbish Liverpool superior result to anything they have managed in Madrid rather than discuss their own disapointing draw. Real could have played all night and wouldnt have scored yesterday. On the other hand in the San Siro Inter had two or three very good chances to grab a goal. They were under pressure 1st half, but I think a lot of you are confusing playing well for 45 minutes and outplaying your opponents for 90, which Liverpool managed last night and Utd couldnt muster on Tuesday.

  • Comment number 77.

    Funny to see all these negative posts about Liverpool, when they were without their best player, and their best striker was injured from the off and taken off early in the 2nd half.

    Critics of Liverpool call them for relying on these two players, then overlook their absence when they aren't there. A case of wanting it both ways?

    Outstanding result, and one that continues the swathe they've cut across Europe - AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, Barcelona, Chelsea, Arsenal - in the last three years.

  • Comment number 78.

    liverpool fan here tbh i was surprised that we got the victory what with our recent form and real's thrashing of teams in la liga

    its getting a bit boring the whole we were lucky they played awful arguement. its not like any other team has a leg to stand on when it comes to that. we got the goal and the win job done man utd outplayed intermilan but nothing for their reward the result is all that matters in the end not the performance. which is strongly supported by man utds last two champions league final wins ( a penalty slipup and two corners... talk about lucky!)

    i think all the english team will go through
    if we all did who would people like to get?
    personally id fancy ol bayern munich show hicks and gillet why rafa is the man and not that kilnsmann who they tried to employ last season

  • Comment number 79.

    Scorpio...yours was a good post ruined by the last pointless comment. SAF couldnt hold a candle? 20 games unbeaten would tend to flatten that arguement wouldnt it?

    I would hope one day that a debate on here wouldnt sink to the levels of pointless playground digs, is that expecting too much?

    I cant stand Liverpool but i have to admire the way Benitez keeps on getting his team to do it in Europe. It might not be a brand of football that everyone likes but like i said earlier i wasnt complaining when SAF aped his style aginst Barca and got us to the final.

    As a United fan id take a 1-0 in the Bernabeu all day long, it was great result and all but puts Liverpool through.

    It would just be the frustration thing for me like i said before. Benitez beats Chelsea,Arsenal,United,Madrid this year and previously Barca and Inter and yet in the PL his side has stumbled to 10 draws.
    I asked it before but does it drive you Liverpool fans to distraction?

  • Comment number 80.

    Being a United man, obviously I think we shall progress past Inter. For me, Inter were hugely over-rated in the weeks leading up to the game and were far from convincing when trying to score against us. We looked sharper, played with more pace, and looked by far the most dangerous of the two. At Old Trafford, with our fans and Vidic back in the squad, our defence will be even tighter and its not often we don't score at home. So I can see nothing but a home win.

    Real Madrid ran rings around the Liverpool players during their match, but lacked any sort ability to get near the goal. They offered very little as an attcking side and to be honest looked ordinary. Liverpool did not play their best either, possibly due to Gerrard not being on from the outset, but did score a vital away goal, which surely puts them in the box seat for the next round. At Anfield, with the 1-0 agg scoreline, I can't see Real beating Liverpool.

    Did not see the game between Chelsea and Juventus, but heard that Chelsea were lucky to hold onto their lead towards the end. They face a difficult prospect going to Turin even with that goal, and I fancy Juve to pull something off at home. This game is certainly not finished.

    Did not see Arsenal and Roma, but like Chelsea, I feel they may find it difficult to keep clean sheets away from home.

    So although you could say Chelsea and Arsenal are in good positions to progress, I think they are both up against difficult and very capable teams in Juventus and Roma, especially away in Italy!

    On the other hand, United and Liverpool being at home for their second legs seem much more comfortable. Liverpool will progress I'm sure, and Inter will find it even harder to break through our back line with Vidic returned to the squad.

  • Comment number 81.

    Interesting points from some saying the best performance ended up with potentially the worst result - namely Manchester United's 0-0 draw away to Inter Milan.

    There is some merit in that suggestion, because Jose Mourinho will be thinking if his team can just get a goal at Old Trafford it will put real pressure on United.

    But are we judging Inter on reputation as opposed to actual quality? United looked far and away the better side and should have no real fears about the second game.

    Liverpool also dispensed with Inter comfortably in last season's Champions League.

    United's real regret will be a failure to take one of those many chances - something you can guarantee Mr. Mourinho will be mentioning in the coming days.

    As for Liverpool, I criticised Benitez for their Premier League efforts and with justification. My criticism was mild compared to some I have heard from Liverpool fans.

    But in Europe he has a method that works to perfection. He seems to just have a feel for what is required.

    No-one can criticise that result or performance last night. It is an outcome that would have been greeted with delight not just by Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal but any team in Europe.

    And achieved more or less without Steven Gerrard.

  • Comment number 82.

    Ginger-warrior - nobody, especially Phil McNulty, is saying Liverpool were the best team on earth. They are saying that Liverpool nullified a potent Real Madrid attack with smart tactics & strong defence/midfield.

    Liverpool deserved the victory last night. People can try and knock/demean it all they want, only serves to show how worried they are about facing Liverpool in Europe.

  • Comment number 83.

    Thought it was an easy game for us last night, Benitez will be delighted.
    Madrid were so poor, almost as poor as Inter Milan the other night and on that showing we have nothing to fear at Anfield.
    I was a bit surprised Gerrard didn't come on sooner, and was actually screaming at the tv to take off Benayoun ( oops ).
    Alonso once again was the star of the show, winning tackles and his pasing was awesome again. Very worried at the sight of Torres at the moment, he does not look fit at all. I know he sprained his ankle last night, but he just hasn't looked as sharp as he did last season.
    On the whole the performance was the second most important part of the game as we needed a good result which we got.
    Bring on Anfield, can't see us having much trouble there at all. Madrid were awful, sorry I mean Madrid are awful.

  • Comment number 84.

    Regarding Liverpool's supposedly "priceless" away goal, I understand that if scores are tied after the return leg, away goals bring an advantage... but (and I'm probably being thick here) what benefit does this scoreline bring Liverpool other than that they've scored one more goal than Real Madrid going into the second leg?

    If for example they'd tied 1-1 in Madrid and the score in the return leg at Anfield was 0-0, I understand that Liverpool would go through on the away goal advantage.

    But with Real Madrid having not scored in the first leg, what scoreline in the second leg would bring out the advantage of Liverpool having scored a solitary "away" goal in the first?

  • Comment number 85.

    And achieved more or less without Steven Gerrard


    Yes, a reminder to all the Mancs. When Torres went off, we played the last half an hour with our "0-man team" and scored the winner.

    Can't wait to see Jose running down the touchline at OT again - priceless!

  • Comment number 86.

    I do love a good 'anti-liverpool, man united are the best team in the world' blog.

    you drew mate.....bad times.

    Liverpool didn't do anything wrong...we scored, away from home, against real Madrid........

    i cant help your jealousy.

    I have never seen a team dive as much as united did on Tuesday night, they shamed English football really, considering we take the mickey out of italien and spanish teams for diving. way too much protection from the ref.

    this is specifically aimed at the first post...........the obvious man united fan.


  • Comment number 87.

    Phil McNulty wrote:

    "setting the foundations for growing supremacy "

    HA! I like that! Growing supremacy!

    What was the SUPREMACY?

    When Torres supposedly the best striker in the world was totally isolated for 60 minutes? Or when Babel came on as the lone striker (what ambition!) and didn't get a kick of the ball?

    Oh you are funny sometimes.

  • Comment number 88.

    At 10:02am on 26 Feb 2009, Phil McNulty - BBC Sport wrote:

    "Liverpool also dispensed with Inter comfortably in last season's Champions League."

    That's only because Inter were playing the better part of the 2 games with 10 men, after 2 more pieces of shocking refereeing favouritism.

  • Comment number 89.

    honestly, the anti-liverpool brigade doesn't surprise me anymore, but I find it somewhat pathetic to put them down. Why can't people focus on what was a wonderful result and simply a very satifactory result for all english clubs involved in the champions league, rather than focus on stats and previous achievements? I sense it's the frustrated Man Utd fans who couldn't see their team turn dominance into a win at the San Siro.
    To say Liverpool were completely outplayed is nonsense - they weren't. They went into the game in the Santiago Bernabeu against a team who had scored 10 goals in their last 2 matches and with their two integral players injured and out-of-form. We played exactly like we have done away from home in recent years, and attained a similar, positive result. We've done it against Barcelona and Inter before and Man Utd actually did it against Barca in the semis last yr. Sure, it's not for the purists out there, but we let Real have it all they wanted and they played slow, possession football in their own half and closed them down in the final third. They couldn't cope with our tenacity (Mascherano was outstanding) and the only players capable of creating anything were Robben, Higuain (in glimpses) and the movement of Raul, which we've come to expect over the years. To sum up, we play to our strengths (look at our players, you comment on them enough) to nullify the strengths of the opposition. If you don't like it, don't watch it! I admire the attacking flair other teams like Utd, but we can't play that way at the moment. I accept that, why can't you?

    Anyhow, I predict (and hope) all the English clubs to qualify and look forward to 4 in the last 8!

  • Comment number 90.

    Visiting Real Madrid, on their best winning run for 23 years (nine straight games), and having scored six goals in the first half of their last league game: what a prospect.

    Add Gerrard being only fit for the bench and Torres hampered by a bad ankle knock sustained very early on. Mission impossible, eh?

    There was no excuse for Real to not put on a show. It's clear that despite their sky-high confidence they weren't at their best, but a large part of that was the Reds not letting them play.

    As ever, a top European team coincidentally has a bad night against Liverpool. Hmm...

    Juande Ramos said the Reds came to defend, and while it's true that the bus was parked early on as the visitors sussed out the home side, Liverpool did more than just hit on the counter attack. Indeed, they created the better openings, with Real forced to shoot wildly from distance.

    It's been a tough time for the Reds in the league since the Champions League went into hibernation, even though it remains only one defeat all season in both these major competitions (35 games now).

    I think usually we'd be celebrating this incredible fact, but this season is a little different, as well all know, with what is at stake.

    It could very well be that Liverpool are the second-best team in Europe right now; alas, Manchester United can claim to be the best, and that hurts. Chelsea proved last year that they aren't far away either; a fraction from usurping United in both the league and the European Cup.

    I've been saying it for a couple of years now, but the top teams in the Premiership have improved to previously unthinkably levels, and even the teams outside of the elite have been dragged up to a higher level. Aston Villa and Everton are pushing for top four places, and Arsenal, who can still impress in Europe against teams like Roma, are not guaranteed a place in next season's main competition.

    For me, that is the overall context, and results like last night's only add to my belief that Liverpool have improved massively as a team, but that the strength of the Premiership masks some of this upward trajectory. While it's not the most technical league, it is probably the most varied in its styles and challenges, and is certainly one where few teams throw in the towel.

    Individual domestic displays or results may disappoint, but losing sight of the bigger picture obscures the notion of progress.

    Personally, I get hugely frustrated on those occasions when the Reds fall short, but feel I must focus on the overall standing of the team. It doesn't mean that the smaller picture is irrelevant, but there's enough people focusing on that, and at times, hysterically so.

    Every side will have players out of form, or those who can be cast in the role of whipping boy; particularly in this squad age, where sometimes your favourites need resting and those replacing them are naturally not as accomplished. But I choose not to obsess over what I don't like when the team is at its highest standing for almost two decades.

    Add Torres' injury problems; Gerrard's court case, and his own injuries here and there; the fact that Babel and Mascherano have had not found their best form since the Olympics disrupted their pre-season training; and that the Reds' Spanish contingent spent longer away at the Euros than anyone else, and it means that Liverpool have not had the smoothest of rides since the start of the season.

    All teams need to overcome difficulties, but you need the minimum amount to wrest a title away from a team used to already doing so.

    As an example, Liverpool weren't great against Man City, but nor were Man United against Blackburn. For me, there was little difference last weekend, apart from the fact that City at least have some world-class talents, and that the squad has improved radically since the start of January (just adding Shay Given was a big bonus).

    In the last minute, United got away without conceding a penalty that could have made it 2-2; late on at Anfield, Richard Dunne blocked Benayoun's goal-bound header (almost identical to the one that won the game in Spain) with his hand, which, whether intentional or not, was outstretched like a keeper's.

    As an offence it was similar to the one from which Riera got booked last night, although unlike Dunne the Spaniard appeared to be protecting his face.

    At Old Trafford, Ronaldo got away with his third petulant kick at an opponent of the season (after ones at Spurs and Stoke), and all neutral observers I encountered said he should have seen red. He then banged in a great free-kick to win the game.

    These are the fine margins between victory, stalemate and defeat.

    Whether or not things even themselves out (and I don't believe they do – not 100 per cent at least), this weekend the decisions favoured United. Clearly.

    If Liverpool had been given United's refereeing decisions, and vice versa, it could easily have been a case of narrowing the gap to three points, particularly as United didn't really have time to come back from a Blackburn penalty (if scored), and Liverpool could almost certainly have closed out the game against City had Dunne been penalised and someone stuck the spot-kick away.

    But Liverpool, as the challengers, need a bit more luck than United to overtake them, and at the weekend the Reds had less.

    But hopefully the result in Madrid can lift the spirits and boost the confidence, and help the Reds at least put some pressure on United before the end of the season by playing as well as possible and creating more of their own luck.

    Of course, a lot will be made again of how Benítez is supposedly a European master who doesn't 'get' the Premiership, but his win ratio is virtually identical in the Premiership and the Champions League.

    It might look more impressive to some more casual observers because teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus have been bested in Europe; real high-class pedigree institutions who would be Premiership challengers if English. These stick in the mind, as high-profile occasions, and polarise opinion.

    Of course, Rafa's European record also includes games against a few European sides who'd struggle in the top flight here, while some of the teams beaten in qualifying have been more akin to British non-league sides. So it's not all been games against the stellar names of the continent.

    As of this season, Liverpool have been beating the English elite on a regular basis, too. The away form is very good; this team looks almost impossible to beat and concedes very few goals; and on every occasion where defeat loomed (bar one at Spurs), points have been rescued, to show character and determination.

    These are all the hallmarks of a title-winning side. But at home, in tighter games, the Reds are falling a little short. Games aren't being lost – so it's not falling massively short – but more need to be won.

    At times it's been a case of bad luck (decisions against Stoke and Man City stick out), or outstanding goalkeeping, but a little extra cutting edge has been missing at times. A fit Torres all season long would have made a big difference, but there's no denying that the Reds have fallen short in some Anfield encounters.

    However, in terms of most of the checklist points you want to tick off, Liverpool are a clear success, with definite signs of improvement on recent seasons, and even more so on the situation predating the manager's arrival. But there's still a little way to go.

    Another positive has been the effort of some of those fighting for a first-team place. Ryan Babel's attitude in trying to get back into the team has been excellent, and I hope he can utilise his exceptional talent after a very difficult season, and find the confidence he needs.

    Yossi Benayoun's form of late has also been a real bonus. He can be so clever in tight areas, particularly through the middle. The trouble is finding a role for him there when Gerrard is fit, but at times since the departure of Robbie Keane the little Israeli's done the things that I expected the Irishman to do when deployed just behind the main striker.

    He's finding space, creating goals (the late strikes against Chelsea, Portsmouth and City), and notching a few, too. He's now also put the Reds in pole position against Real Madrid, although the tie is far from won.

    Focus returns to the league, but even if Liverpool don't win the title, second place would constitute progress. In the old days, 'First is first, second is nowhere' was the Reds' mantra, but now it means the guarantee of Champions League football. It may not be what we crave, but it is somewhere.

    It is also the base camp from where every Premiership title has been won; Manchester United, Blackburn, Arsenal and Chelsea all won their first title immediately after finishing second (or with the same points as second place in Arsenal's case).

    So while finishing second doesn't automatically result in success (as we found after 2002), it does appear to be a vital stopping off point on the way to the summit.

    For details of how to purchase 'Dynasty: Fifty Years of Shankly's Liverpool', click here to visit Paul Tomkins' official website>>

    It summaries what happened yesterday

  • Comment number 91.

    To all those naysayers about 'boring Liverpool' this and 'negative Liverpool' that...

    When did you last see a side really, and I mean REALLY go for it in the 1st leg of the knockout stages? (apart from Bayern last night who were playing possibly the worst side to make the last 16 ever)

    Liverpool's weakness is well documented and without Gerrard and a fully fit Torres everyone knows the squad is light


    Without Gerrard and a fully fit Torres they find themselves in the strongest position of all of the British clubs taking an away goal back to Anfield and on last night's perfomance, Real will have to perform a minor miracle to progress.

    I think that Man United will come away with a 2-1 win against Inter and, as for Chelsea, it's a tough one. If they can deal with a hostile Stadio Olimpico and no doubt a hostile Juve then they will progress. I can see a 2-2 aggregate score in that one...

    Arsenal need one of those dream CL nights in Rome but sadly I don't think their current squad has what it takes.

    Last 8?

    Man United
    Roma (sorry Arsenal)

  • Comment number 92.

    Dhimmi (post 47) - thanks for pointing out there are other teams in the Premiership. Clearly you're a smart operator to notice that.

    But the blog is about the Champions League... and there are only 4 English sides in that. Try and keep up...

  • Comment number 93.

    You can only have a look at the United game in Milan or the Juventus and Bayern games last night to realise what a good away performance in Europe really is.

    Liverpool played like a 3rd league side coming to the Bernabeu, sitting behind the ball and spoiling the opposition's play, which was a disgrace.

    And of course they did not deserve anything from the game, Madrid created 5 times as much.

  • Comment number 94.


    Phil, the way Real Madrid were playing last night, Liverpool should have buried 2 or 3 past them. You might concede a goal in the process, but you get all those away goals.

    Rafa is no genius. His tactics are as simple as this: Forget winning, just don't lose.

  • Comment number 95.

    76. At 09:56am on 26 Feb 2009, TalksRubbish-Clooneys a clone wrote:

    "outplaying your opponents for 90, which Liverpool managed last night"

    lol I think you are a bit confused with which team is which my friend.

  • Comment number 96.

    Rafa certainly has the tactical know-how for playing in European competitions.

    Unfortuantely for Liverpool fans he is useless over in Premier League. Rafa cannot tactically get the team right for the prolonged campaign of the league. Results against Hull, Stoke and Everton are just a few that spring instantly to mind.

    If Liverpool can hold onto 2nd they might fair a little better next year as they won't have to pre-qualify for the Champions League and therefore the players can have an extra couple of weeks sunning themselves in Dubai or any other place they decide to go for their summer break.

  • Comment number 97.

    As another poster mentioned it is amazing how many Mancs want to try and rubbish Liverpool superior result


    Not every Manc wants to do that, i've come on to say what a good result Liverpool and Chelsea got last night. I don't actually think Liverpool played that well, but they didn't have too because Madrid were appalling. They used to be the most feared team in Europe, what they served up yesterday was hopeless. They must get by in La Liga on reputation alone, unfortunately for them this reputation has gone in Europe now and no-one fears them anymore.

    I fully expect all four english teams to progress to the quarter-finals, as I did before the first legs. I watched the United (obviously!) and Liverpool games and both the english clubs were never in any danger of losing, I think Inter and Madrid made 2 half chances between them, hardly a good return for the Champions of Italy and Spain. I hope the english dominance continues.

  • Comment number 98.

    Liverpool are boring too watch. Their too scared to try and play football incase their team leak a goal. They know that they would strugle to get a goal so they just put all men behind the ball like a lower league team against a big team. Their very average. Dont know how they are second in prem. The decent teams in eurpope are barca and united. They play good football. And watch out liverpool united will catch up with athe same number of trophies in every competition. And as for berbatov, im starting not to like him. he aint done nothing yet. wish we could swap him for benzema or villa

  • Comment number 99.

    Hi Sometimes I feel that people are so biased against Liverpool not because of the team but because of the great city the team plays in.

  • Comment number 100.

    Prior to last night's games, everyone was lauding Real Madrid as the biggest threat to an English team's progression in the competition.

    10 goals in the last 2 games; unbeaten in 13 games. Critics, with Manchester United fans crowing at the front of the queue, were pointing out how Liverpool were going to be soundly beaten...

    Here we are on Thursday morning, with Liverpool not just having survived their Real examination, but having won the game and given themselves an advantage to take into the return leg.

    Que the very same critics saying how poor/lucky Liverpool were...

    Frankly, it was a mark of the performance that they feel so threatened they have to come back and have another go, saying how poor Real were and how Liverpool should have done better - NicosBg is a classic example.

    Well done to Chelsea and Arsenal for their wins. Both will be rueing their misses and how they missed out on transforming their dominance to goals. But both are more than capabl to go to Italy and get the away wins which will allow them to proceed to the last 8!!


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