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Manchester United face an uphill battle to reach the Europa League

Man Utd 2
 
Athletic Bilbao 3
  • HT 1-1
 
 
Fernando Llorente

8 March 2012Last updated at 22:34 GMT

 courtesy of BBC
By Jonathan JurejkoBBC Sport

Manchester United face an uphill battle to reach the Europa League quarter-finals after a shock first-leg defeat by a fearless Athletic Bilbao side.

Wayne Rooney smashed United ahead from close range before Fernando Llorente’s header drew the visitors level.

But the cavalier Spaniards refused to settle for a draw as United failed to win yet another European home game.

The hosts were stunned by second-half goals from Oscar de Marcos and Iker Muniain before a late Rooney penalty.

United at home in Europe

27 September: Man Utd 3-3 Basel

2 November: Man Utd 2-0 Otelul Galati

22 November: Man Utd 2-2 Benfica

23 February: Man Utd 1-2 Ajax

8 March: Man Utd 2-3 Athletic Bilbao

United are seeking some solace by attempting to win the continent’s secondary competition and therefore become only the fourth side, after Juventus, Ajax and Bayern Munich, to win all three major European club trophies.

But Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have left themselves with a tough task to even make the last eight after an entertaining clash against the fifth-placed La Liga side.

A stunning performance from Marcelo Bielsa’s energetic and aggressive Bilbao team shocked Old Trafford and the Spaniards could have run away with victory but for several superb second-half saves from their countryman David de Gea.

However, the home side were given a glimmer of hope when Rooney kept his cool from the penalty spot after De Marcos inexplicably handled inside his own box with just seconds left.

Teenage attacker Muniain pulled all the strings around the home box after the break, going close himself with a fierce drive and setting up Llorente, before De Marcos slammed home Ander Herrara’s lofted pass.

Analysis

Michael GrayBBC Radio 5 live summariser

“That second goal for United could be hugely significant, while David de Gea made three or four world-class saves and every United player should give him a pat on the back. If it wasn’t for De Gea, Bilbao would have been out of sight.”

And the vociferous 6,500 Bilbao fans packed inside Old Trafford were left in dreamland when Muniain pounced on a catalogue of errors from United’s dozy defenders in the final minute.

However, there was an element of controversy about the decisive goal with Patrice Evra penalised for kicking the ball without his boot.

United boss Ferguson fielded a strong side and warned his players beforehand to wake up from their European slumber or face the consequences against Bilbao.

Rooney fired United ahead against the run of play when Javier Hernandez’s shot was parried by keeper Gorka Iraizoz after the Mexican twisted into space inside the away box.

But Ferguson watched his players offer plenty of encouragement to Bilbao with yet more of the sloppy defensive errors which have typified their continental woes this season.

Bilbao arrived at Old Trafford with a burgeoning reputation after an encouraging domestic season under the guidance of former Argentina and Chile boss Bielsa, who arrived in the summer.

Bielsa’s side, with an average age of less than 24, have not been afraid to show their youthful exuberance in La Liga this season, playing with an attacking intent that has yielded a goals tally bettered only by Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Did you know?

Bilbao’s victory is the first time Manchester United have lost back-to-back European home games since 1996

Certainly the hosts had to be alert from the first whistle with Bilbao not allowing them any time to relax on the ball with their high-tempo pressing game.

A frantic first half saw the game sweep from end-to-end as both sides tried to take the contest by the scruff of the neck.

Llorente cancelling out Rooney’s opener was fair reflection of the opening 45 minutes, but any hopes United had of Bilbao settling for an away goal and draw swiftly evaporated after the break.

For all their relentless, attacking instincts there was a suspicion United may be able to exploit the space left behind Bilbao’s high line and punish their wastefulness.

But those fears failed to materialise as a marginally offside De Marcos – and then Muniain, who capitalised on hesitancy from Rafael – finally made United pay.

With the scoreline at 3-1 it seemed United’s Europa League participation looked over, before Rooney’s penalty kept the tie alive ahead of next Thursday’s second leg.

Lionel Messi the best ever player – Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola

Lionel Messi

7 March 2012Last updated at 23:43 GMT

courtesy of BBC

Lionel Messi the best ever player – Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola described striker Lionel Messi as “the best ever” 

Messi, 24, moved to within seven of the total recorded by the club’s all-time record scorer Cesar Rodriguez as he led Barca to a 10-2 aggregate win.

TWITTER REACTION 

“He’s the best [ever], there is no other like him,” Guardiola said.

“The numbers speak for themselves. One day he’ll score six. We’ll never see a player like him again.”

The Spaniard added: “We witnessed one of Messi’s special nights tonight, it’s a gift and I will always be able to say that I coached him.

“The only credit I can take is that I always put him in the team and we just try to make sure he gets the ball. After that our task is done.

“The throne belongs to him and only he will decide when he wants to relinquish it.”

Messi has scored 186 goals in his last 201 Barcelona appearances, including strikes in both the 2009-2011 wins over Manchester United, and Guardiola admits that he is lucky to have him.

“We’re very fortunate to have Messi, so we have to take advantage of him,” he added.

MESSI BY NUMBERS

– Messi has scored 228 goals in 311 games for Barcelona, 188 in his last 201, and 53 in 49 games for club and country this season

– Messi has scored 17 hat-tricks for Barcelona

– Messi has equalled the record for most goals in a Champions League season – 12 – held by himself and Ruud van Nistelrooy

“He is one-of-a-kind. But the important thing was to advance. The result after that was a consequence of our play.”

Former Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas – now a team-mate of Messi’s at the Nou Camp – is in no doubt that the Argentine is the best player ever.

“From him you expect anything,” Fabregas said.

“He is the best player in football’s history and we’ve never seen anyone like him.

“He came in fresh after missing the game at the weekend and we are very happy to have him in our team.

“We have Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta, so many players who in their position are the best in the world, we have so many options.”

TOP SCORERS IN CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

  • Raul : 71
  • Ruud van Nistelrooy : 56
  • Thierry Henry : 50
  • Lionel Messi : 49

Bayer Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt could only watch on as Messi destroyed his in-form side – who had beaten Bayern Munich at the weekend.

Leverkusen started well but wilted under relentless attacks as Messi became the first player to score five goals in the European Cup since Soren Lerby did so for Ajax against Omonia Nicosia in 1979.

“His class is just extraordinary, there’s no discussion,” Dutt said.

“Without Messi, Barca are the best team and with him, they are in another galaxy.”

Messi himself was in modest mood following the win, after taking his record to 30 goals in his last 25 Champions League games.

“The important thing is what the team did and that we qualified for the next round,” he said.

“It’s nice to score five but winning was the priority.”

ARSENAL 3 AC MILAN 0

Arsenal -3
 
AC Milan-0
  • 90 +4
  • HT 3-0
  • (agg 3 – 4)
 
 
Thomas Vermaelen, Gervinho and Robin van Persie are disappointed at the final whistle

6 March 2012Last updated at 21:35 GMT

courtesy of BBC

Arsenal scored three first-half goals but could not complete an epic comeback against AC Milan, who held on to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.

Milan, leading 4-0  were rocked when Laurent Koscielny headed home a corner and a mistake let Tomas Rosicky slot in Arsenal’s second.

Robin van Persie’s penalty increased the Gunners’ momentum before the break.

But the Dutchman missed a golden chance from close range and Milan had the best openings in a frantic end to the game.

Arsenal’s night ultimately ended in glorious failure but the spirit and verve with which they went about a seemingly impossible task means they bow out of Europe with their heads held high.

That seemed unlikely after the insipid display by Arsene Wenger’s side in the first leg last month, but this time it was Milan who quickly found themselves crumbling at the back.

Four-goal European comebacks

The last team to overturn a four-goal deficit from the first leg of European competition remains Real Madrid, who beat Borussia Monchengladbach in the last 16 of the 1985/86 Uefa Cup by winning 4-0 at the Bernabeu after losing 5-1 in Germany

Arsenal made the perfect start when, after just seven minutes, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s dipping corner found Koscielny leaping unmarked at the near post to beat Christian Abbiati with a bouncing header.

Milan looked rattled and the Gunners kept finding gaps in their defence, with the in-form Van Persie a constant threat.

The Dutchman had two efforts saved by Abbiati and only a poor ball by Rosicky stopped him testing the Rossoneri keeper again after Urby Emanuelson gave the ball away in a dangerous position.

The Italian side, so dominant at the San Siro, were unable to impose themselves up front and were punished for another defensive error when Rosicky made it 2-0 after 26 minutes.

Walcott surged down the right past Djamel Mesbah – floundering on his Champions League debut – and when Thiago Silva was unable to clear his cross, Rosicky was in the right place to squeeze his low shot past Abbiati and inside the post.

Milan’s only response was a long-range effort by Ignazio Abate which was easily dealt with by Wojciech Szczesny and things got even better for the Gunners just before half-time.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ran at Mesbah and was sandwiched between the hapless Milan defender and Antonio Nocerino inside the box, with Van Persie slamming home the resulting penalty after referee Damir Skomina pointed to the spot.

At that stage, what would have been the biggest comeback in Champions League history looked within Arsenal’s grasp.

Milan, who needed to score one goal to leave Wenger’s side needing six to progress, missed their only real chance of the half when Stephan El Shaarawy fired into the side-netting after finding space inside the box.

Arsenal continued to threaten immediately after the break but their cause was not helped by a hamstring injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was eventually forced off.

Their final clear-cut chance of the night came just before the hour mark, when Gervinho’s deflected shot was saved by Abbiati, who got up brilliantly to keep out Van Persie’s delicate follow-up.

While the Gunners tired, Milan at last seemed to find some organisation at the back and also began to come forward with intent at the other end.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic dragged his shot wide after latching on to a poor Szczesny clearance, but the Arsenal keeper also made crucial stops from the Swedish striker and El Shaarawy.

Nocerino wasted Milan’s best chance when he fired straight at Szczesny from close range but, with the Gunners running out of ideas and seemingly out of steam in the closing stages, his poor finish did not affect the outcome.

LINEUP, BOOKINGS (7) & SUBSTITUTIONS (4)

Arsenal

  • 13 Szczesny
  • 03 Sagna Booked
  • 05 Vermaelen
  • 06 Koscielny
  • 28 Gibbs Booked
  • 07 Rosicky
  • 14 Walcott (Park Chu-Young – 84′ )
  • 15 Oxlade-Chamberlain (Chamakh – 75′ )
  • 17 Song Booked
  • 10 Van Persie
  • 27 Gervinho

Substitutes

  • 21 Fabianski
  • 20 Djourou
  • 25 Jenkinson
  • 49 Miquel
  • 53 Ozyakup
  • 09 Park Chu-Young
  • 29 Chamakh

AC Milan

  • 32 Abbiati
  • 05 Mexes
  • 33 Thiago Silva
  • 04 Van Bommel Booked
  • 15 Mesbah (Bonera – 89′ )
  • 20 Abate Booked
  • 22 Nocerino Booked
  • 28 Emanuelson
  • 92 El Shaarawy (Aquilani – 70′ )
  • 11 Ibrahimovic Booked
  • 70 Robinho

Substitutes

  • 01 Amelia
  • 30 Roma
  • 19 Zambrotta
  • 25 Bonera
  • 76 Yepes
  • 18 Aquilani
  • 56 Ganz
Ref: Skomina
Att: 59,973

Arsenal will ‘have a go’ in Champions League

 

Arsene Wenger says Arsenal will ‘have a go’ in Champions League

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

  • courtesy of BBC

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says his team will give it “a real go” as they try to overturn a 4-0 in their Champions League tie with AC Milan.

 

“We want to have a real go,” he said.

“The best way is to ignore the first game and do what we did against Tottenham. We were 2-0 down and just kept going because we wanted to win.”

Following the Gunners’ first leg defeat at the San Siro, Arsenal’s worst defeat in European competition, 

But, ahead of the second leg at the Emirates Stadium, he still insists that they are capable of scoring four goals against the Italian champions.

FOUR-GOAL COMEBACKS IN EUROPE

1961: Leixos 5-0 Chaux de Fonds (Leixos won 7-6 on aggregate)

1984: Partizan Belgrade 4-0 QPR (6-6 on aggregate. Belgrade won on away goals rule)

1985: Real Madrid 4-0 Borussia Moenchengladbach (5-5 on aggregate. Madrid won on away goals rule)

“We have to gamble a little bit and we have to go forward,” he said. “We know that.

“The target is to find a good balance between attacking and defending because we have a double target – not to concede as well.

“I know my players well. I know they’ve been hurt by the first result and I know they will have their pride and they’ll come out tomorrow to give a different performance.

“If they can score four we can do it as well. Why not?”

Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri is expecting an Arsenal backlash.

“In football, anything can happen,” he said. “I think we need to step on the pitch fired up for 90 minutes without thinking what we did in the first leg.

“We must be conscious that we are going to face a team with great qualities and a team which will try to change the course of the tie right from the beginning.

“I also know the English teams will never surrender.”

Gunners defender Kieran Gibbs points out that they are also playing for pride after their emphatic defeat in Italy. He said: “You don’t really like to accept to get beaten 4-0 in the Champions League.

“We’ve shown a fantastic mentality to come back in the last couple of games. We have created a momentum now. We’d like to continue that.”

Only three clubs have recovered from such a first-leg deficit in the history of European competition, but not for 17 years.

No team has overturned a four-goal margin in the Champions League era, although Milan beat Deportivo La Coruna 4-0 after losing the first leg 4-1 in Spain.

Roberto di Matteo wants Chelsea ‘passion’

Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto di Matteo

5 March 2012Last updated at 19:30 GMT

courtesy of BBC

Roberto di Matteo wants Chelsea ‘passion’ after Villas-Boas exit

Chelsea’s caretaker boss Roberto di Matteo wants more togetherness from his players after the sacking of manager Andre Villas-Boas.

Di Matteo’s former Blues team-mate Eddie Newton has joined the coaching staff until the end of the season.

“He is a Chelsea man and I want some passion from people who care about this club,” explained Di Matteo after taking his first training session.

“This is one of our jobs, to transmit that to the team. We need to regroup.”

Newton, 40, made 214 appearances as a Chelsea player from 1990 to 1999.

“‘Eddie knows the club and many of the players,” said Di Matteo. “I have worked with him for many years and it was easy for him to slot in for us and give us a hand until the end of the season.

Eddie Newton factfile

 
  • 1990-1999: Defensive midfielder at Chelsea, where he won FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup
  • 1999-2001: Brief stints with Birmingham, Oxford, Barnet and Hayes before knee injury ended career
  • 2008-2009: Assistant manager to Di Matteo at Milton Keynes Dons
  • 2009-2011: Assistant to Di Matteo at West Bromwich Albion

“Today I have mostly spoken to the players individually to try to get them in the right frame of mind for the task ahead, and that is our job now.”

On Sunday, Di Matteo was put in charge until the end of the season after Villas-Boas became the seventh manager to lose his job since owner Roman Abramovich took over in 2003.

Di Matteo and Newton scored the goals in Chelsea’s 2-0 FA Cup final victory over Middlesbrough in 1997.

They also won the League Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup a year later, before Newton moved to Birmingham, who provide the first test of the new Stamford Bridge coaching set-up when they host Chelsea in an FA Cup fifth round replay on Tuesday night.

Newton met current players, including John Terry, Ashley Cole and Fernando Torres, at the club’s training ground in Cobham, Surrey, on Monday morning.

He later said the appointment had been made “in a bit of a blur” and he did not have a job title.

“The ambition is to get fourth place,” he told Sky Sports News. “We will push as hard as possible to get it. Every game is important until the end of the season.”

Jose Mario Rocha and Daniel Sousa have also left the club’s backroom staff.

First-team fitness coach Rocha, who will be replaced by assistant Chris Jones, and opposition scout Sousa both arrived at Stamford Bridge with Villas-Boas last June.

Steve Holland remains as assistant first-team coach and Christophe Lollichon as goalkeeping coach.

Chelsea are fifth in the Premier League, three points off fourth-placed Arsenal in the final Champions League qualifying spot and 20 points behind leaders Manchester City. They trail Napoli 3-1 before the second leg of their Champions League last 16 clash on 14 March.

Bookmakers rate Di Matteo about the fourth favourite to replace Villas-Boas permanently, with former boss Jose Mourinho, Rafael Benitez and Pep Guardiola 

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