Champions League

Lincoln Red Imps 1-0 Celtic

Brendan Rodgers endured a nightmare start to life as Celtic manager as the reigning Scottish champions were humbled 1-0 by Gibraltan part-times Lincoln Red Imps in the first leg of their Champions League second qualifying round tie.

Police officer Lee Casciaro, the eldest of the three Casciaro triplets on display for the Red Imps, gave the home side the lead three minutes into the second half when he intelligently flicked the ball over an underwhelming Efe Ambrose before bundling a shot past Craig Gordon in the Celtic goal.

Rodgers’ Bhoys struggled to settle on the 3G pitch in Gibraltar but did almost equalise soon after when half-time substitute Leigh Griffiths had a goal-bound shot saved by Spaniard Raul Navas.

Debutant Moussa Dembele, who joined on a four-year deal from Fulham in June, thought he had scored on his competitive debut for the Hoops but his header from a free-kick was ruled out for a foul on the Red Imps goalkeeper.

Stuart Armstrong came close with 20 minutes remaining, but the ex-Dundee United man shot over the bar as a result of James Forrest’s cut-back.

It was Griffiths again though who looked most likely to score an away goal for Celtic, none more so than when his 78th-minute free-kick came back off the bar.

Turkish striker Nader Ciftci also had a header saved with the clock ticking down but the plucky semi-professional Gibraltans held strong which led to jubilant scenes at the final whistle.

The result gives Celtic are harder task than they would have anticipated when they play the second leg at Celtic Park next Wednesday.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL PREVIEW: Barcelona

A JUVENTUS defense that has only conceded 24 goals this season will not be easy to break down, but a certain three men that have scored 120 between them will feel confident that at least one can find the back of the net on Saturday.

Lionel Messi (43), Luis Suarez (16) and Neymar (22) have scored 81 of Barcelona’s 110 league goals this season. To put that in some sort of context, the entire Juventus squad scored 70 goals this season, Chelsea scored 73 and Bayern Munich scored 80. Juventus (Italy), Chelsea (England) and Bayern (Germany) all won their respective leagues.

Despite the lethal form of “MSN” in front of goal, Barcelona did not finish as the top scorers in La Liga, as Real Madrid netted 118 times, but a reinvented Barca did concede the least amount in Spain (21), and only Bayern let in less in Europe’s top five leagues (18).

Tiki-Taka is not quite Tiki-Toast at Camp Nou, but, under Luis Enrique, Barcelona are certainly more dynamic.

Ivan Rakitic is one of the most notable men who spearheaded this change, with the Croatian play-maker being that bit more aggressive than the tippy-tappy Xavi and Andres Iniesta, with the former being dropped for Rakitic.

Iniesta, arguably the finest midfielder of his generation, has seen his role in the Barcelona fold somewhat decrease in value under the new style, contributing just one goal and five assists in La Liga and the Champions League combined compared to Rakitic’s eight assists and six goals in the two elite competitions. Rakitic also created 42 chances compared to Iniesta’s 32.

Ivan Rakitic: Modern Barcelona personified (Picture via theguardian.com)

Ivan Rakitic: Modern Barcelona personified (Picture via theguardian.com)

In comparison, the strike force has gone the opposite way to the midfield with the hard working Alexis Sanchez (sold to Arsenal for £35 million), and Pedro (benched) being replaced by the aforementioned Suarez and Neymar who are more intent on scoring, scoring…and scoring a bit more, as opposed to winning the ball back and setting up the micro magician Messi.

The Catalan kings are keen to return to the throne of being Europe’s finest once again having not won the Champions League since 2011 where they defeated Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley Stadium.

They have already snatched back their domestic crown after having briefly lost it to Atletico Madrid for a year and Saturday’s final in Berlin will see either Barca or Juve win the treble with Barcelona also winning this season’s Copa del Rey with a 3-1 win over Athletic Club and Juventus overcame Lazio 2-1 in the Coppa Italia.

If Barcelona are to win their first treble since 2009, the rebranded team are going to have to find a way past a very organised Juventus side, but very few have managed to stop Messi, Suarez and Neymar.

 

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL PREVIEW: Juventus

APPEARING in their first Champions League final since a tepid penalty shootout loss to Serie A rivals AC Milan in 2003, the Old Lady  will need to be more entertaining to win this time around.

The perception is that the Italian champions will need to sit back to beat Barcelona, but the much talked about front three of Luis Suarez, Neymar and of course Lionel Messi need no second invitation to score, allowing them to attack could cost Juve dear.

While the likes of Gigi Buffon, Georgio Chiellini, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra provide a steel to the Juventus defense, Paul Pogba, Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata will need license to roam as Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal pull the strings in midfield.

A central three of Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli keep it tight in the middle and allow wing-backs Lichtsteiner and Evra to bomb forward and support three of either Pirlo, Vidal, Pogba or Claudio Marchisio in midfield and create opportunities for Morata and 32 goal Tevez up front in what is one of the most balanced teams in Europe.

Chiellini, however, has been ruled out through injury.

Saturday’s final is the perfect opportunity for a final swansong for a large section of the Juventus squad. Buffon is now 37 and a stalwart of the side, and while he has won almost everything he has taken part in, the Champions League still eludes the goalkeeping legend.

Do it for Gigi: Buffon is desperate for Champions League success

Do it for Gigi: Buffon is desperate for Champions League success (Photo via GianluigiBuffon.it)

Evra is set to play in his fourth Champions League final after losing the 2004 showpiece 3-0 to Porto while at Monaco, and twice more in 2009 and 2011, (both to Barcelona), when at Manchester United with his solitary Champions League triumph coming in 2008 as United defeated fellow Premier League side Chelsea on penalties in Moscow.

Precision passer Pirlo may still play like he did when he was 25, but the reality now is that he is 36 and may never get the opportunity to add to his two Champions League titles. Victory on Saturday will be his first “Ol’ Big Ears” success with Juventus, as his 2003 and 2007 wins both came with AC Milan over his current club and Liverpool respectively.

On the other end of the age scale, Pogba could be saying ‘ta ta’ to Turin after the Berlin final with anyone who is anyone in Europe being linked to the flamboyant Frenchman this summer.

Chelsea and Manchester City both want to bring Pogba back to England, Paris Saint-Germain are trying to persuade the 22-year-old to return home to his native France, Bayern Munich are also keen, while even Manchester United, the club who gave up on the mercurial midfielder when he was 19, are trying to make amends for their earlier error in letting him go three years ago.

If Juventus are to win Europe’s top competition for the first time since 1997, they are going to need to tactically outclass Barca, knowing when to soak up the pressure and when to attack the Catalans. A blend of youth and experience may just be pivotal to working that out.

Manchester City 1 (Aguero ’69) Barcelona 2 (Suarez ’16, ’30)

Luis Suarez’s return to England resulted in a bang as his brace put Catalan giants Barcelona in a commanding position ahead of the second leg at Camp Nou.

The ex-Liverpool forward, who netted 31 goals in 33 league matches on English soil last season, set Luis Enrique’s side on their way with just 16 minutes played.

His headed knock-on landed back into his path and he was agile enough to steady himself and slot the opener into the bottom corner.

Suarez slid in his, and Barcelona’s second, on the half hour mark off the base of the post to all but end the tie as a contest before half-time.

A traditionally sumptuous bit of Barcelona pass and move resulted in the second which Ivan Rakitic started and Suarez finished, with a jinking Lionel Messi run and a pinpoint low Jordi Alba cross in-between.

Sergio Aguero responded on 69 minutes with an equally aesthetically pleasing strike, he latched onto a neat David Silva back-hell and lashed the ball into the back of the net to keep slim City dreams alive.

Gael Clichy was given his marching orders four minutes later though for a second miss-timed challenge and his second yellow card. The first of which for slicing down Rakitic, and a similarly stupid challenge on Dani Alves brought Clichy’s night to an end.

Messi had a 90th minute penalty saved by Joe Hart, and the headed rebound went wide to keep City somewhat in the contest, but with an uphill battle.

Paris Saint-Germain 1-1 Chelsea

Edinson Cavani’s second-half header denied Chelsea a key away win in the first-leg of their last 16 Champions League clash.

Uruguayan Cavani swept in Maxwell’s delivery from the left hand side nine minutes into the second half to ensure that PSG earned a share of the spoils.

It was his sixth goal in the Champions League this season which makes him the tournament’s third top scorer.

Branislav Ivanovic had initially given the English side the lead with a headed goal of his own 36 minutes on the clock in what was his 30th goal in Chelsea colours and his 27th since August 2010.

John Terry’s low cross was flicked on exquisitely by Gary Cahill into the path of defender number three in the move Ivanovic for the vital away goal for the Blues.

PSG were the ones who looked more likely to go into the Stamford Bridge second-leg with the advantage from the off.

Blaise Matuidi had a header palmed away by Thibaut Courtois and Zlatan Ibrahimovic was foiled seconds later, again with a headed effort.

Chelsea took the lead against the run of play, but the Parisians were not deterred, with Ibrahimovic coming close again, denied by Courtois’ feet and then Cesar Azpilicueta blocked Matuidi’s goal-bound shot.

Cavani had another go in the closing stages, but shot wide after a neat bit of footwork but this was a match with little goal-mouth action.

Jose Mourinho’s side were below par but that away goal gives them advantage for the rematch in three weeks’ time.

PREVIEW: PSG v Chelsea

Diego Costa’s much awaited return to the Chelsea fold has been confirmed by manager Jose Mourinho ahead of the Blues’ showdown with Paris Saint-Germain.

Mourinho is worried, however with the lack of game time from his powerful centre forward due to a suspension that was dished out in the 1-0 win over Liverpool in the Capital One Cup.

“He will start but a long rest is not good for him,” the Special One conceded. “I don’t think it’s good for a player to be three weeks, or three matches, without starting a game. So I don’t think he’ll be in the best condition.

“A little rest is welcome for everyone; a big rest isn’t good for the players. So we are not going to see the best Diego. I hope I’m wrong, but probably he will need this game to try to get back to his best.”

Costa has not scored in the Champions League yet for Chelsea, despite leading the club’s goal scoring charts with 17 goals.

It is not a good omen for the West Londoners, who have not won on French soil since a 3-0 win, coincidentally over PSG, in September 2004, in what was Mourinho’s first Champions League match as Chelsea manager.

PSG themselves are unbeaten in 32 Champions League matches at home, a record that stretches back to December 2004, with their last home loss coming at the hands of CSKA Moscow, who won 1-3 at the Parc des Princes.

Laurent Blanc, PSG manager, is anxious of his side’s injury woes though, stating “You cannot play against Chelsea without being 100%”.

Yohan Cabaye (groin), Serge Aurier (thigh), Lucas Moura (also groin) and Thiago Motta (calf) will all miss tonight’s encounter

Not a problem Chelsea have though as only John Obi Mikel (knee) is unavailable for the away side and January addition Juan Cuadrado from Fiorentina is eligible.

Oscar and Willian have “little problems” but are in contention for a starting birth, and the same can be said of play-maker Cesc Fabregas who looks to have recovered from a recent illness.

Chelsea are the only English team to have beaten PSG in France (with the aforementioned 3-0 in 2004, along with a win by the same score line in 1994-95).

Costa and co are the highest scorers in the Champions League this campaign with 17 goals, seven of which have come on the road, which will concern their French counterparts, as they have kept only one clean sheet in this season’s tournament (a 1-0 win over APOEL).

The 2012 champions are also unbeaten in their last four away European matches, as they look to take revenge from the 3-1 defeat they suffered here last season.

Ezequiel Lavezzi, an own goal by David Luiz (now at PSG), and Javier Pastore scored the goals for the hosts in April, with Eden Hazard’s penalty provided an away goal for Chelsea.

Andre Schurrle and a last minute goal by Demba Ba (both have since left Stamford Bridge) sent Chelsea through to the Semi Final.

Liverpool 1 (Gerrard ’82) FC Basel 1 (Frei ’25)

Fabian Frei’s 25th minute strike cranked up the heat on Brendan Rodgers’ pressure cooker as Liverpool’s flash in the pan Champions League campaign finished with a fizzle.

Frei fired in from the edge of the box after a neat one-two with Luca Zuffi to knock out the five time champions at the group stage despite Steven Gerrard’s equaliser.

Gerrard, hero of that night against Olympiakos on this day 10 years ago, dragged Liverpool level with a trademark free-kick eight minutes before the end to ensure a tense finish.

Rodgers’ reds were repugnant up until their goal though and their performance left a sour taste in the mouth in front of an expectant Anfield crowd that produced a fiery atmosphere pre match on an ice cold Tuesday night.

Substitute Lazar Markovic boiled over just after the hour, sent off for flailing an arm into the face of Behrang Safari who went down like he had been shot like a poacher after minimal, if any, contact but the malice from Markovic was clear to see and the Serbian was shown his marching orders.

Martin Skrtel of all people fashioned an uncharacteristic effort from distance that narrowly swerved past the woodwork shortly after Taulant Xhaka shot wide at the other end.

The Liverbirds did produce a late flurry that left all those watching with their hearts in their mouths but ultimately came up short.

Gerrard and Jordan Henderson forced fine saves in the final five from the Basel keeper but finished third and go into the Europa League.

PREVIEW: Liverpool vs FC Basel (19:45 BST)

LIVERPOOL’S Champions League life hangs in the balance going into their final group game against Swiss champions FC Basel at Anfield tonight.

The Reds have only amassed four points from a possible 15 in their five games and only victory will be enough to see them move into the knockout stages.

Basel have been somewhat of a nemesis to English clubs in this competition in the past however, beating Chelsea home and away in the 2012/13 season as well as eliminating Manchester United the previous year with a 2-1 win at their home of St.Jakob-Park.

Bulgarian outfit Ludogorets are the only opposition Liverpool have picked up points against in Europe so far, winning 2-1 in the red side Merseyside and drawing 2-2 in Razgrad.

They have not been much better domestically either and are currently languishing in ninth, six points off the coveted place in the top four spot that enables them to qualify for next season’s competition.

Liverpool last won the Champions League in 2005 but required a two-goal winning margin against Olympiakos on this day 10 years ago to progress from the group and secure the 3-1 win.

The feat was achieved thanks to a dramatic rasping strike in the dying seconds from Steven Gerrard and Brendan Rodgers will be hoping the spirit of that night will still resonate with his out-of-form club captain.

Gerrard was only used as a late substitute on Saturday despite scoring against Leicester the previous Tuesday as Liverpool limped to a lifeless 0-0 draw at home to Sunderland.

 

Manchester City 1-2 CSKA Moscow (Toure ‘8; Doumbia ‘2, ’34)

Sparks flew in an explosive night on a bad tempered bonfire night clash where Manchester City ended the contest with nine men looks to have left their dreams of qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League in tatters.

Fernandinho, who came on as a half-time substitute, received yellow cards in the 62nd and 70th minute in a mad eight minutes for the midfielder.

Yaya Toure was shown his marching orders nine minutes before the end for stupidly shoving Roman Eremenko when the CSKA Moscow man disposessed him.

Toure was already on a yellow that he picked up 16 minutes earlier but his push merited a straight red.

A brace from Seydou Doumbia either side of Toure’s free-kick provided goals in an eventful evening at the Etihad.

Doumbia, who scored both of CSKA’s goals in the 5-2 defeat the last time these two met at the Etihad, opened the scoring with just two minutes played when he headed home Bribas Natkho’s free-kick.

His effort, coming after just 90 seconds, is the quickest goal of this season’s competition so far.

Toure levelled the scores with his first goal in nine Champions League outings six minutes later but Doumbia hit back again with 34 minutes on the clock.

Five of Doumbia’s 10 Champions League goals have now come against City.

Pontus Wernbloom, who was shown a yellow card after 28 minutes, pulled back Sergio Aguero 77 minutes on the clock but Sergei Ignashevich was booked instead in a case of mistaken identity on a night where very little went in City’s favour.

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Kompany, Clichy, Navas (Nasri ’45), Toure, Fernando (Dzeko ’65), Milner, Jovetic (Fernandinho ’45), Aguero

Subs not used: Cabellero, Sagna, Boyata, Mangala

Yellow Cards: Fernandinho ’62, Toure ’65, Aguero ‘89

Red Cards: Fernandino ’70, Toure ‘81

CSKA Moscow: Akinfeev, Fernandes, Ignashevich, V.Berezutski, Schennikov, Wernbloom, Dzagoev (Efremov ‘86), Eremenko, Natcho, Musa, Doumbia (Milanov ’66)

Subs not used: Chepchugov, Berezoutski, Nababkin, Cauna, Bazelyuk

Yellow Cards: Wernbloom ’28, Ignashevitch ’77, Eremenko ‘79

Red Cards: None

Man of the Match: Seydou Doumbia

Liverpool 0-3 Real Madrid (Ronaldo ’23, Benzema ’30, ’41)

Reigning champions Real Madrid kept up their 100% start to this season’s Champions League campaign thanks to goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and a brace from Karim Benzema.

Ballon d’Or holder Ronaldo set the Galacticos on their way 23 minutes in, capping off a wonderful one-two with James Rodriguez, letting the ball bounce before beating a despairing Simon Mignolet inside the box with an accomplished finish.

Benzema doubled the visitors’ lead on the half hour mark with a looping header from Toni Kroos’ cross, leaving Mignolet stranded in the Liverpool goal once again.

The French forward netted his second of the tie four minutes before the break when he bundled in a badly defended corner. Pepe scrambled the set piece into the path of the 27-year-old to end the contest before half time.

Phillipe Coutinho came closest for the hosts with a rasping drive in the first half that rattled the post but did not find the net to the relief of the under fire Goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Ronaldo, the ex Manchester United star who scored his first ever goal at the home of their arch rivals tonight, was keen to silence the boo boys during the 90 minutes but could not add to his tally, shooting wide on one occasion and was denied by Mignolet on a few occasions.

He was replaced later on in the second half by Sami Khedira with Carlo Ancelotti clearly having one eye on Saturday’s El Clasico which promises to be an exciting occasion on Saturday evening.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Lovren, Skrtel, Moreno, Gerrard, Allen, Henderson (Can ’67), Coutinho (Markovic ’67), Sterling, Balotelli (Lallana ’45)

Subs not used: Jones, Toure, Manquillo, Lambert

Real Madrid: Casillas, Arbeloa, Varane, Pepe, Marcelo (Nacho ’85), Kroos (Illaramendi ’82), Modric, Ronaldo (Khedira ’65), Isco, James, Benzema

Subs not used: Navas, Carvajal, Medran, Hernandez