As the UEFA Champions League awakes from its mid-winter slumber, the knockout stages begin with a tasty looking tie in the east end of Glasgow. Neil Lennon’s Celtic welcome Italian giants Juventus in a match-up that, although isn’t the most high profile of the round of 16, is certainly one of the most intriguing.
The Scottish champions, currently galloping away with their domestic title race, have successfully found the balance needed to maintain their supremacy in Scotland while simultaneously being able to muster a worthwhile challenge on the continental scene.
Having been drawn in what looked like a very tough group, they scaled the unlikely heights to defeat Barcelona and edge out the more favoured Benfica and Spartak Moscow in the fight to reach the latter stages.
Juventus, who were also handed a stiff assignment in the group draw, progressed with Shakhtar Donetsk at the expense of reigning champions, Chelsea. The Turin based club find themselves topping Serie A with only Napoli as their realistic challengers as they seek to win back-to-back Scudettos and their 29th in total.
Manchester United and Everton lock horns at Old Trafford on Sunday with United boss Sir Alex Ferguson keen to gain revenge on counterpart, David Moyes, for two recent setbacks suffered at the hands of the men from Merseyside.
On the opening weekend of this season, Ferguson took his side to Goodison Park with the bitter disappointment of the previous campaign’s title loss to crosstown rivals Manchester City still all-too-fresh in the memory.
What they got on that Monday night in Liverpool was a good old fashioned beasting from the Blues who came flying out of the traps in the early weeks of the new season. The result, a 1-0 win for the hosts, was comprehensive and an excellent performance by Everton was topped off by the commanding display by Marouane Fellaini, who not only scored the winner but was utterly dominant against a weakened and timid United defence.
Although the defeat would have hurt the current league leaders, ultimately it probably gave them a welcome jolt and the realisation that last season was gone and finished, and if you look at results since that reverse back in August, the defeat certainly hasn’t done any long term damage.
Congratulations have been pouring in for England left-back Ashley Cole on his fantastic achievement of reaching 100 international appearances with the iconic Three Lions emblazoned on his chest.
The Chelsea defender marked the occasion with a starting berth for England’s high profile friendly with Brazil.
To collect 100 caps for one’s country is an immense achievement for any player, and is testimony to their physical longevity, mental fortitude and ability to maintain a high level of form worthy of selection.
Cole made his England debut against Albania back in 2001 under Swedish coach, Sven-Goran Eriksson after his emergence through the ranks at Arsenal and ever since that night in Tirana has been arguably his country’s finest and most consistent performer.
Throughout the timespan of his international career, Cole has, until now at least, been relatively untroubled regarding competition for his place in England’s back four and this, combined to an enviable injury record, has enabled him to make the left-back spot his own.
Saturday’s Premier League clash at Goodison Park was supposed to be Everton’s opportunity to rack up a cricket score against the painfully out-of-form Aston Villa and propel themselves into the much coveted fourth place in the league table.
Well, there were goals galore alright, just not all going in at one end. And Everton’s big day in the spotlight nearly ended in tears as Paul Lambert’s Villa produced a performance of grit and pride so blatantly missing from their season to date and in particular over recent weeks.
From just the second minute, Villa striker Christian Benteke isolated himself against the weak link in the Everton back four, Johnny Heitinga.
Heitinga, who has never been blessed with a burst of pace was rolled far too easy on the edge of his own box in just the second minute. The Dutch defender, who’s turning circle is similar to that of the QE II, couldn’t recover and the Belgian forward slotted the ball expertly past Tim Howard.
Two of the clubs jostling for European qualification in the Premier League come face-to-face at Goodison Park on Wednesday, January 30.Everton welcome West Bromwich Albion with both managers desperate for a win to bolster their late season push.David Moyes has seen his team limp to two consecutive draws in their last two league fixtures, while it took a last minute winner from the unlikely source of Johnny Heitinga to help the Toffees squeeze past Bolton Wanderers in the F.A. Cup on Saturday. At least they didn’t suffer the same fate as Liverpool!
It’s been a week of mixed fortunes for the Everton boss. Their disappointing performance at Southampton was tempered by the theft of a valuable league point from the south coast. Moyes was boosted by the return of Belgian Kevin Mirallas, who has been sorely missed during his enforced absence due to a hamstring injury.