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Mar 16, 2009

The last look at the weekend

Few of us like Monday but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from a five-star weekend.

Heaven is a place on earth

No arguments here, Liverpool fans: that was impressive. You may not be the most popular club yourself, but everyone likes seeing the coolest kid in the class having his head shoved down the toilet every now and then (of which more below).

It was a near-perfect afternoon for Rafa's rabble and the look on the faces of those in the away end was a mixture of pure joy, sheer incredulity and utter ecstasy. Liverpool did it in their own style; United weren't overrun by wave upon wave of marauding grey shirts, they were picked apart more ruthlessly than that by a well-drilled, methodical outfit encapsulated by the mutual longing that is the Torres and Gerrard affair.

You know how it goes; Stevie loves Fernando, Fernando loves Stevie, Stevie only wants to pass to 'Nando, 'Nando tries desperately to hang on to the ball just that little bit longer so he doesn't have to pass to Dirk Kuyt because he wants to pass it straight to Stevie. I may mock them - gently - but those two truly are world class and perhaps Liverpool would be the club extending their lead at the top of the table if Liverpool had been able to field a starting line-up involving them both more than nine times this campaign.

I may not be Liverpool's biggest fan but I have to admit that it was brilliant to watch. A more comprehensive demolition of Manchester United I can't remember seeing since a Kevin Keegan inspired Newcastle spanked them 5-0 way back in 1996. And just like on that day, I absolutely loved it.

'We were the better side'

What a pleasure for all of us who have grown tired of the stupefying arrogance displayed by Manchester United fans and players that talk of their impending quintuple has been put on hold for five minutes while we all talk about their shame and embarrassment instead.

One glorious sight followed another; Ronaldo's face after he'd booted his eighth cross of the day into the stands, Patrice Evra's furious finger wagging after giving away the season's most blatant penalty, Nemanja Vidic's walk of shame after being shown a red card for his second calamitous mistake of the afternoon and the coup de grace - Fergie's stony face on the bench as Liverpool's fourth sailed over Van der Statue's head. The gob may still have furiously been chewing gum, but the brain appeared to be flat-lining. Priceless.

Not that his side's humbling altered his stunning capacity for self-deception. One sentence in his post-match press conference said it all, and needs no sarcastic comment attached to it. Just simply read it and guffaw. I'll even put in on a separate line so we can all enjoy it in perfect isolation.

''I thought we were the better team but the score doesn't reflect that.''

Gift of the Gabby

After letting Arsenal's fans have it for booing their side during a 17-match unbeaten run it would be remiss of me not to deliver a similar, sizzling sermon to the fans of both Aston Villa and Middlesbrough who gatecrashed the booing party with spectacular results at the weekend.

Gabriel Agbonlahor was the villain of the piece at Villa Park as Martin O'Neill's side suffered another disappointing home result, this time at the hands of a resurgent Spurs. Gabby got it in the neck for having the temerity to score only one goal in his last 14 games. What a cretin. Forget the fact that he scored nine in 14 games prior to that, has been rewarded for his excellent early season form with international recognition, or that he's only 22. He got both barrells from the 12th man in the Holt End after being subbed ten minutes from the end after a hardworking but ultimately goalless shift.

Villa fans - if you give your leading goalscorer grief for a barren run what the hell are you going to do to Emile Heskey? Crikey, he'll be run out of town before April's out.

Having lauded Villa for their football this season, and for turning Arsenal into paranoid, quivering wrecks as their fourth 'forgone conclusion' spot appeared to be under threat, I have to say their behaviour was pathetic. It'd serve them right if their actions stripped Agbonlahor of what little confidence he has left and he fails to find the net again all season. Then perhaps they'll finish eighth; that would be something to boo about.

There's only one Tuncay

The second and most impressive instalment of our booing double came at the Riverside as Middlesbrough snatched a late draw against Portsmouth. It was one for the booing connoisseurs as Boro's fans treated their players to a true smorgasbord of abuse.

I wish I could say no-one escaped as eff upon eff cascaded down from the half-empty stands but one solitary figure somehow did - Tuncay, the man who has a staggering five goals in 24 goals this season. Perhaps it's because his 70's style perm thrashes about wildly in the wind even when he's standing still that Boro fans labour under the misapprehension that he's forever putting himself about. That's the only explanation I can think of upon hearing the Boro fans chant ''We've only got one player,'' in reference to the Turk.

I mean, that is just staggering in its stupidity. Exempting one player while castigating the rest is some feat. The bitterness and jealousy Boro's players now must feel towards Tuncay probably means he'll won't receive another pass as long as he's there, which is probably until May when he exercises his relegation release clause.

Boro fans were recently outraged when they were instructed to keep the noise down by the club's own officials. Perhaps they should have listened.

Michael Essien's Miracle Medicine

Liverpool may have rued the fragile physical health of Torres and Gerrard this season but Chelsea have missed Michael Essien like Luiz Felipe Scolari misses gainful employment.

The Brazilian may have failed to inspire his players for the big games, or to have pandered to their overblown ego's sufficiently to foster credible team spirit, but given that a few wins has propelled them back into the title race he wasn't the complete disaster a lot of pundits are making out.

One thing is for sure, if he'd had a fit Essien at his disposal he may still be conducting his range of quizzical expressions and shoulder shrugs in public rather than on his own in a depressing motel room in Sao Paulo.

Practically the first thing Big Phil did on arriving in the country was strap Essien to a chair, make him sign a five-year contract and say: ''I have not been here long but it is clear to me that Michael Essien is one of the best midfield players in the world. I have always admired him and it is good news for me and for Chelsea that he signs for so long.''

Hey ho. One man's loss in another man's gain though and Guus Hiddink is currently reaping the rewards of the Ghana international's logic-defying form as he hits the ground running after more than six months out.

It takes lesser mortals weeks if not month's to rediscover match sharpness and a decent level of fitness - a case in point being Michael Owen's anonymous display for Newcastle at Hull after only five games out. But Essien has returned and immediately shown imperious form, adding two vital goals into the mix.

If he remains fit and firing, and Liverpool's lovers do too, it could be a rather more unpredictable end to the season than first thought.

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