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Saturday, March 14, 2009

PREMIER REPORT

Premier sides continue to shine in Europe


LONDON — In recent years there has been a call for a European Super League.

Christopher Davies

We now have it and it is called the Premier League.

For the second successive season the Premier League has four teams in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

In contrast, Italy has no representative in the last eight for the first time in seven years.

Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United underlined the strength of the Premier League with Champions League wins over AS Roma, Juventus, Real Madrid and Inter Milan respectively. Against four of Europe's powerhouses England's Fab Four conceded only three goals in eight games.

In fact last season, when United beat Chelsea on penalties in the final, the same four English clubs conceded just 15 goals in 37 Champions League matches.

After the 2-0 defeat to United in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals, Roma coach Luciano Spalletti recognized the worth of his opponents and even declared that United "are more Italian than us."

Yet nobody could accuse any of the Premier League's heavyweights of being defensive. They defend well . . . very well . . . but defensive?

No.

The continuing English domination can be put down to several factors, mainly the huge financial resources the clubs have which enable them to employ the best managers and buy world-class players.

Laurent Blanc, the Bordeaux coach, made the point: "In France we have one club, Lyon, at a much higher level. In England there are four great clubs."

Yet Sir Alex Ferguson, who has led United to two Champions League successes, believes the strength and competitiveness of the Premier League makes it even harder for English clubs to conquer Europe.

As the business end of the season approaches, Ferguson said: "When it comes to the crunch time in March you need a little bit of help . . . you have internationals to contend with while if you have a run in the F.A. Cup and are doing well in the league, there is no respite.

"Nobody wants to change dates for teams who are in Europe, and we end up faced with the same physical and mental battle we always have at a really important time of the season.

"I think we all recognize that it is harder for an English team to win the European Cup than anyone else."

On Wednesday, United beat an Inter side leading the Serie A by seven points by a score of 2-0. Real Madrid, which had won 10 successive La Liga games, was humiliated 5-0 on aggregate by Liverpool. Two clubs dominant domestically were blown away by England's elite.

Inter coach Jose Mourinho, the self-styled Special One, left Old Trafford acknowledging his Italian champions-elect had been beaten by a special team.

United continues its quest for the Quintuple on Saturday when Liverpool visits Old Trafford and aside from Barcelona, it seems only an English team can halt the English, European and world champions bid for a clean sweep this season.

* * * * *
NIGHT of European glory for English clubs was not without its negatives.

A police investigation is under way after an allegation of common assault against Jose Mourinho after it was alleged the Inter Milan coach punched a supporter as he left Old Trafford in the wake of his team's defeat by Manchester United.

Police have contacted United to request CCTV footage of the area and have confirmed a complaint has been made.

Arsenal fans returned from Rome with sadly predictable horror stories of violence by Italian fans and police, excesses that seem to go with the territory.

Italian police have never forgotten the Heysel disaster when 39 Juventus fans died at the 1985 European Cup final against Liverpool. Revenge still seems to be in the air when English clubs visit Italy.

The traveling Arsenal supporters claimed police brutality and that stewards and police inside Olympic Stadium did nothing as Roma supporters hurled objects, including chairs, at them.

Manchester United fans suffered similar attacks in 2007 and 2008 and last year UEFA spokesman William Gaillard said: "If we see a repeat of what we have seen so far, it may be wise to move the 2009 Champions League final from Rome. Knifings are attempted murder. We cannot be held hostage by a few criminals."

Breath should not be held.

The UEFA power brokers who initially awarded Rome, a city with an appalling record of racism and violence at football games, would have been aware of the Eternal City's Ultras and police who give the impression that hitting innocent English fans is a mandatory part of their job.

UEFA is as much about sport as politics and European football's ruling body will claim it has no jurisdiction over a country's police force. It also denied there is any security risk in holding the final in Rome, which is like saying Baghdad is a safe holiday destination.

Christopher Davies covers the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.


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