Champions League: PSG Tie Set To Define Real Madrid Season – Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo has admitted that Real Madrid’s season is now effectively all about their looming Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain as the Spanish giants trail off the pace in La Liga.

“The tie…is one that could define the whole season,” the Portuguese forward told Real’s website after picking up a prize for best player in the world last season from the website Goal.com.

“We’re going to come up against a great team with excellent players, whom we respect a lot.

“But we’ve already shown that we have a very strong, united and experienced group in this competition.”

Real host PSG at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday in the first leg of their last-16 tie, with the return set for March 6 in the French capital.

Zinedine Zidane’s side have won the Champions League in each of the last two seasons, and it is eight years since Real were eliminated at this stage.

Madrid are currently fourth in La Liga, 17 points behind leaders Barcelona, albeit with a game in hand.

That is despite a big 5-2 win over Real Sociedad at the weekend, a game in which Ronaldo scored a hat-trick.

AFP

Hazard Anxious To Shine In Champions League

Disheartened by his past failures, Chelsea star Eden Hazard has been urged to finally stamp his mark on the Champions League.

While Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar have cemented their legendary status with headline-stealing performances in Europe’s elite club competition, Hazard remains one of the tournament’s biggest enigmas.

Hazard’s quality is without question and the Belgian midfielder has been shortlisted for the 2017 Ballon d’Or award after playing a key role in Chelsea’s Premier League title triumph last season.

But despite tormenting defenders in domestic competitions, since Hazard made his Champions League debut with Lille in 2011, the game’s grandest stage has seen frustratingly few glimpses of that exquisite talent.

With that in mind, Chelsea’s clash with Roma on Wednesday offers Hazard a chance to change the narrative.

Aware that Hazard is now in his prime years, Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has issued a public challenge to a player sometimes known for letting his diffident personality have a negative effect on his performances.

“I think last season Eden played a really important season. He played very well and was really important for us to win the league,” Conte said.

“For us, he showed in every game great talent and to be a really good player. This competition is very important for him and for the team.

“This competition brings you on another level and I think he has all the possibility to do this. He is a top player. I think it is the right moment.”

Hazard’s maiden Champions League voyage ended with the youngster failing to score a single goal as Lille bowed out at the group stage.

Yet, convinced of Hazard’s potential, Chelsea signed him just weeks after they won the Champions League in 2012.

However, Hazard went goalless in Europe that season as Chelsea was embarrassingly eliminated at the group stage.

False dawn

Hazard netted his first Champions League goal against Schalke in 2013 and had one of his more influential campaigns, with Chelsea reaching the semi-finals.

That proved a false dawn as disappointing last-16 exits to Paris Saint-Germain in 2015 and 2016 featured more underwhelming efforts from the Belgian.

Conte made his plea for more urgency from Hazard as Chelsea look to recover after their Premier League title defence was dented by successive defeats to Manchester City and Crystal Palace.

Significantly, Hazard has been unable to replicate last season’s mesmerising form as he struggles to rediscover his sharpness following an ankle injury.

The 26-year-old needed surgery in the close-season and has been limited to only four starts for Chelsea in the current campaign.

Hazard has yet to score in eight appearances for Chelsea this term and still looked well short of his peak form when the Blues crashed to a shock 2-1 loss at Palace on Saturday.

Fortunately for Chelsea, Hazard’s slow progress has not hampered their Champions League ambitions.

He was a substitute when Conte’s side crushed Qarabag in their Group C opener before playing 82 minutes of their impressive 2-1 win at Atletico Madrid.

Keen to buy himself time to rediscover his rhythm, Hazard has tried to play down Chelsea supporters’ expectations.

“I missed football for three months and it’s not easy to come back after a big injury but I did,” he said. “I just want to play football. I will miss some games, I will play badly for some games.

“I just want to play and try to bring the best of me.

Pitso Laments CAF Champions League Officiating

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane congratulated Wydad Casablanca on knocking his team out of the African Champions League but said the South Africans had been the more adventurous over the two legs and bemoaned the officiating in the first leg.

Sundowns, now back home after a long trip back from North Africa, lost on post-match penalties to the Moroccan club at the end of the second leg of their quarter-final tie and join the long list of Champions League winners unable to defend their title the next year.

“In the second half, we took the game to Wydad. We saw that they could not take the stress. The stress levels were too high on them and we played in their half and piled on the pressure. You could see they could not even get the ball out of their own half, they were defending wildly. It was too much for them,” said Mosimane.

“I think we played very well. We came here not to sit back but to attack. But, unfortunately, you know football, with penalties anyone can win. We showed we wanted to play; we were not afraid. I think we lost the game in Pretoria, not in Morocco. In Pretoria, we scored three goals but the linesman flagged them offside. They were not offside. I regret the game in Pretoria, it’s very sad for football when an official makes a mistake like that.

“But I must also give Wydad credit for the way they played in the first 45 minutes. They really showed they wanted to win,” Mosimane concluded.

Manchester United Not Considered Champions League Favorite

The Red Devils Manchester United is not considered among the top line of teams in the Champions League, manager Jose Mourinho insisted after his team brushed aside Basel 3-0 on their competition return.

Marouane Fellaini the substitute goal scorer and Marcus Rashford sandwiched Romelu Lukaku’s first goal in the competition proper as United opened their Group A campaign in a straightforward fashion on Tuesday.

There were eye-catching wins elsewhere — Barcelona beating Juventus 3-0, big-spending Paris Saint-Germain crushing Celtic 5-0 — and Mourinho said United could not currently be considered in the same bracket.

“I think for these teams that you are speaking of and for the Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern, the Champions League starts in February,” Mourinho told reporters at Old Trafford.

“Now is just the warming up. And in February, when us English teams are trying to survive after the winter period, they are fresh and ready after these warm-ups.

“For them, this is a warm-up. I think we are on the second level. The second level is, let’s qualify, let’s make the points to qualify for the knockout phase. When we do that, let’s enjoy playing against the big guys.”

Having spent last season picking a path to glory in the Europa League, which enabled them to qualify for the Champions League, this was United’s first game in the top continental competition since December 2015.

An injury to Paul Pogba aside, United could scarcely have asked for a more straightforward reintroduction to a tournament they have won three times.

But Mourinho criticised his players for easing off after Lukaku’s 53rd-minute header put them 2-0 up, accusing them of playing “PlayStation football” decorated by unnecessary “flicks and tricks”.

Pogba left the stadium on crutches after being forced off in the 18th minute.

“I don’t know, obviously, but by experience, just by looking and feeling, it’s a hamstring,” Mourinho said. “Big, small, I don’t know.”

Basel ‘a bit scared’ 
It was an untimely end to Pogba’s first match as United captain, but the France midfielder’s departure had the beneficial side-effect of bringing Fellaini into the fray.

So often derided for his perceived lack of coordination, the bushy-haired Belgian was United’s best player, opening the scoring in the 35th minute with a bullet header from Ashley Young’s right-wing cross.

After his international team-mate, Lukaku had added a second, Fellaini turned provider late on, rolling the ball back from the byline on the right for Rashford to scuff home.

Fellaini was jeered by some United supporters last season after conceding a late penalty that enabled Everton to rescue a 1-1 draw in a Premier League game at Goodison Park in December.

But Mourinho said that had been the former Everton player’s only misstep in their year-long association.

“To remember a Fellaini bad performance I have to go back to last season in the beginning and it was not even a bad performance,” Mourinho said.

“Just a naive mistake when he made a penalty in the last minute at Goodison Park. Fellaini’s contributions are always positive. He’s a very important player for me.”

Swiss champions Basel have now gone nine European games without a victory, but coach Raphael Wicky was reluctant to criticise his players.

“We can learn. This is what I said to my team after the final whistle,” he said.

“I saw a team that was alive, that was suffering and fighting together until the 90th minute.

“What I didn’t like was that at the beginning we seemed a bit scared, particularly when we had the ball. But I never saw the team fall apart. There were commitment and hard work until the final whistle.”

‘Fellaini Is A Player With Special Quality’ – Mourinho

Manchester United replacement for Pogba’s absence Marouane Fellaini has proven is strength in as he Inspire’s Manchester United in defeating Basel 3-0 on their return to Champions League on Tuesday.

It was United’s first Champions League game since December 2015, with Jose Mourinho’s side having engineered a return to the competition by winning the Europa League last season.

Fellaini, a replacement for the injured Paul Pogba, gave United a 35th-minute lead at a drizzly Old Trafford and teed up Marcus Rashford for the hosts’ third goal after Romelu Lukaku had struck early in the second period.

“I keep saying the same about Fellaini: he is a player with special qualities and he gives me multiple areas of action. He is one of my most important players,” Mourinho told BT Sport.

Despite the comfortable margin of victory, Mourinho rebuked his team for taking their foot off the pedal.

“Until 2-0 we were very stable,” he said. “After 2-0 everything changed. We stopped playing seriously and stopped making the right decisions. We could have put ourselves in trouble.

“We were playing fantasy football, PlayStation football. I don’t like it.”

Basel had previously proved a thorn in United’s side, eliminating them from the Champions League in 2011-12, and they inflicted a surprise defeat upon Mourinho in the first European game of his second Chelsea stint in 2013.

While Raphael Wicky’s side were pushed aside without too much fuss in this Group A opener, Pogba’s premature exit with an apparent hamstring injury meant Mourinho could not reflect on an entirely satisfactory night.

With Ashley Young coming into the United XI at right-back in place of Antonio Valencia to make his first start of the season, Pogba inherited the captain’s armband from the Ecuadorian.

But the Frenchman’s debut as United skipper would last just 18 minutes after he abruptly clutched the back of his left leg and was obliged to hobble off in disgust, with Fellaini joining the fray.

Lukaku opens his account 
United had been getting on top and they went close to taking the lead when Henrikh Mkhitaryan jabbed Lukaku’s low cross against the post and then saw his follow-up smothered by goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik.

Luca Zuffi gave the hosts a scare when he sliced wide in front of the Stretford End after Chris Smalling failed to deal with a high ball, but two minutes later United opened the scoring.

The home fans could have been forgiven for wondering if it was still 2015, when the stadium last hosted a Champions League game, as Young sidestepped Blas Riveros and whipped in a perfect cross that Fellaini headed home.

Quiet in the first half, Anthony Martial came to life early in the second, beating Manuel Akanji and Taulant Xhaka before dispatching a skidding shot that Vaclik turned behind.

The resulting corner, taken short, yielded United’s second goal as Daley Blind’s drilled cross was emphatically headed in at the back post by Lukaku, who notched his first goal in the tournament proper.

Frequently maligned for his ungainliness, Fellaini by now was running the show, freed to roam forward by the anchoring presence of Nemanja Matic behind him.

Martial should have made it 3-0 from the Belgium midfielder’s cut-back midway through the second half, only to steer his shot off-target from close range.

Lukaku and Young both worked Vaclik, while Mohamed Elyounoussi tested David de Gea’s concentration at the other end after cutting inside the sliding Victor Lindelof, before United did claim their third in the 84th minute.

Mkhitaryan completely miscued his attempt at a side-foot finish from Fellaini’s right-sided cross, but substitute Rashford followed up to scuff a shot into the ground and over the despairing Vaclik.

Off the pace domestically, Swiss champions Basel have now gone nine European games without a win.

“I’m very disappointed with the result,” said beaten coach Wicky. “But I would not say I’m disappointed with my team.”

PSG Equipped To Make Champions League Mark

Paris Saint-Germain kicks off their latest bid for Champions League glory at Celtic on Tuesday bolstered by the big-money signings of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

The French giants will be hoping that their lavish close-season spending can help finally achieve their Qatari owners’ dream of lifting the European Cup.

PSG responded to last season’s disappointments of losing the Ligue 1 title to Monaco and their stunning Champions League last-16 defeat at Barcelona, by smashing the world record transfer fee with the 222 million-euro ($267m) signing of Neymar from Barca.

While Qatar’s billions produced four consecutive French titles from 2013-2016, that form has yet to translate to European competition.

PSG’s last, and only, Champions League semi-final appearance was in 1995, with four straight last-eight exits followed by the harrowing 6-1 second-leg loss at the Camp Nou earlier this year, having beaten Barca 4-0 in the first game.

But with the additions of Neymar and Mbappe, hopes are high that Unai Emery’s men can put their continental troubles to bed.

“We are more than ready for the Champions League,” said defender Thomas Meunier after a 5-1 thrashing of Metz on Friday.

“We are a very good group, we can see that on the bench today with all the options we have.

“Every footballer plays for the Champions League, and with the team, we have this year, we must show the world that we want to go further than in previous years.”

Teenage sensation Mbappe joined from Monaco on deadline day on a season-long loan, with an option to buy for a fee that could reach a staggering 180 million euros.

“It’s too early to say (how far we can go), we haven’t even played yet,” said Mbappe, who scored on his debut against Metz.

“We have a good team and a lot of confidence, but we know that there’s still a lot of work to do. We’ll go to Glasgow to win and to start well.

“I’ve always said that the Champions League is a special competition, it is the competition for the big players and where we see the big players.”

‘Special night’ in store
PSG will have their European credentials tested by what promises to be a spine-tingling atmosphere at Parkhead, as Celtic look to cause an upset in Group B after an underwhelming return to the Champions League group stages last season.

Brendan Rodgers’ men have gone from strength to strength since the turn of the year, and are unbeaten in their last 54 domestic matches.

“What we’ve learned from our first game of the Champions League last year is that we’re not going to be as passive,” said Rodgers.

“They’re (PSG) the world away from where we’re at in terms of finances but it’s going to be an incredible night.

“It’s the first game of the Champions League against one of the great teams now of the competition, it will be another special night at Celtic Park.

“We’ll look forward to the challenge and we’ll recover well and prepare well for it.”

PSG’s fellow wannabee members of the European elite, Manchester City, came unstuck with a 3-3 draw at Celtic Park last season, and the Scottish champions still have the potential to be a danger on home turf.

While Celtic won the 1967 European Cup with a 15-man squad made purely of players born within 30 miles of their stadium, Paris has flung an expensive net far and wide in an attempt to emulate the likes of the ‘Lisbon Lions’.

Over 50 years since Celtic’s finest hour, PSG are fed up of waiting to dine at football’s top table.

 

Champions League Draw: Real Madrid Vs Atletico Madrid, Monaco Vs Juventus

The all-Madrid semi is a repeat of last year’s final, which Real won on penalties, and the final three years ago which Real also won in extra-time.

After beating Bayern Munich 6-4 on aggregate in the quarter-finals, thanks in part to controversial refereeing decisions and a hat-trick from Ronaldo in the second leg, Zinedine Zidane’s men were paired with their neighbors, who knocked out Leicester City.

It is the fourth season in a row in which the sides from the Spanish capital have met in the knockout rounds of the competition, with Real getting the better of them each time.

The first leg will be played at the Bernabeu, while the return tie will mark the last time the Vicente Calderon will host a Madrid derby before Atleti moves into their new stadium next season.

Juventus, who last won the Champions League in 1996, defeated Monaco in the last eight of the 2014-15 competition en route to their final defeat at the hands of Barcelona.

 

Source: Goal.com

Fellaini- Man- I “Will do Everything” to Reach The Champions League Next Season

Marouane Fellaini believes Manchester United “will do everything” to reach the Champions League next season, with the club having missed out in two of their last three campaigns.

Fellaini, 29, spoke about his team’s two chances to reach Europe’s top competition — via a top-four finish in the Premier League or by winning the Europa League — following United’s 1-0 FA Cup loss to Chelsea on Monday.

“We have two ways to play in the Champions League and we have to do it,” Fellaini said.

“All the players, all the staff, and the club and supporters want to be in the Champions League next season, so will do everything to be there next season.

“We have the squad, we have the players, we will do everything to be there.”

Jose Mourinho’s team host FC Rostov in the second leg of their Europa League round-of-16 tie at Old Trafford on Thursday, with the hosts holding a slender away-goal advantage after a 1-1 draw in Russia last week.

And Fellaini said the team will be ready to seal passage to the last eight of Europe’s second-tier competition despite a challenging coach trip home from London following the loss at Stamford Bridge.

“It was a long trip, but we are professionals,” he said.

“All the players know their bodies, they know how to recover OK. On Tuesday we trained a little bit, had good recovery and I think we will be ready for tomorrow.”