At the time, the entire crew answered with a resounding “no.” But after tonight’s performance by Chelsea against Barcelona, should the World Football Daily crew re-think the listener’s question?
Was it a miracle? Or was it just a monumental defensive display with a counter attacking twist?
It was a fascinating evening of European football. Everything was going according to plan for the West London club. Thirty minutes gone in the first half, no goals conceded and defensively, they picked up exactly where they left off at Stamford Bridge last week.
But after a tornado of attacks from Barcelona, the Chelsea defense finally succumbed. They failed to pick up Sergio Busquets in the box and in turn, he easily slotted home the first goal of the night. Eight minutes later, Iniesta hit a sweet strike to make it 2-0. Advantage Barcelona and at this point, everybody expected the flood gates to open. Instead…a moment of madness!
John Terry decided to knee Alexis Sanchez from behind, right between the legs and the linesman informs the referee who then shows the former England captain a straight red card. An idiotic and unnecessary act from Chelsea’s leader and with each step he shamelessly took towards the dressing room, it felt like a stamp in the heart for Chelsea fans. Surely Barcelona’s dominance would payoff with lots of goals now. Surely Terry’s stupidity would be punished. Or would it?
Just before half-time and moments after Terry’s sending off, Frank Lampard delivered a delicious signature pass that split Barcelona’s phantom defense and Ramires capped it off with a delightful chip Xavi, Iniesta or Messi would be proud of. It was exquisite and deserving of the run Ramires made to get into that position. The goal stunned the Camp Nou. Stunned the players. And stunned Guardiola. How many Barcelona fans said a little prayer before the second half? How many fans believed Lionel Messi would bail them out of trouble?
It was a night however where the world’s best player lost his magical touch. Messi has scored more than 60 goals this season but he couldn’t find the back of the net against Chelsea. And the most glaring of all misses was his penalty effort that hit the woodwork. Barcelona needed another hero to step forward but nobody had that killer finish. As the minutes painfully passed and with every kick of the ball, you felt more and more like the script was never going to veer in the direction of Barcelona. Not on this night. Not against this Chelsea team.
This is the same team that capitulated under Andre Villas Boas on a weekly basis. This is the same set of players who lacked confidence and any type of spirit for the majority of the Premier League season. I’ve said the same thing repeatedly since Andre Villas Boas was fired. This team will win to spite him. They now believe in themselves. It’s evident throughout the entire club. They had an obvious swagger even when they were losing 2-0. And after they made it 2-1, you felt like there was still another headline waiting to be written.
The final say came from the one player who suffered under Andre Villas Boas dictatorship the most. Fernando Torres returned to Spain with Chelsea as a 50 million pound flop and left Spain with Chelsea a 50 million pound hero. He ran his heart out and dodged the challenge of Victor Valdes to bury the goal that could deliver Roman Abramovich the Holy Grail!
But it’s not just a win against Barcelona that is driving Chelsea towards unexpected glory. Roberto Di Matteo and Eddie Newton have added a certain magic to this once woeful team. Call it belief. Call it confidence. Call it men leading men. Something is swinging down the Kings Road again and this time it’s not Lionel Messi’s shorts.
Al Michaels, a famous U.S. sports announcer once asked if we believed in miracles. In modern day football, against this particular Barcelona team and with only 10-men at the Camp Nou on a Champions League semi-final night, I would say a smidgen of me believes a miracle did happen tonight…
In May of 2009, Newcastle United fans were in mourning. The owner, board and executive management team were in shambles and not even Alan Shearer, the ultimate Magpies legend, could save them from relegation to the Championship.
Despite the crash and burn events of 2009, Chris Hughton did manage to ferry the team back to the Premier League after just one season in football obscurity. And how was the then Newcastle United manager thanked by owner Mike Ashley? He was given the sack half way through the 2010/11 season. Newcastle United fans returned to mourning. Their club was once again being dragged through the football mud. And more horror was to come.
Mike Ashley followed up the sacking of Hughton by hiring Alan Pardew, which at the time, appeared to be a like-for-like appointment. Ashley continued to rip through the club by selling fan favourites like Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll. It seemed the team were doomed to fail again and a date with Championship football was a certainty for the Toon Army. Surely there would be no return from this for Mike Ashley or the team? Or would there?
The history of Mike Ashley as owner of Newcastle United did not instill any confidence in the fans that he was making decisions that were in the best interest of the club. But for once, the big man may have got it right. Furnishing Alan Pardew with the funds to bring in players like Hatem Ben Arfa, Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse and Yohan Cabaye, has all but erased the bad memories and given everyone belief that the return of Newcastle United could definitely be on. Fans can smell it, but dare they believe it?
Alan Pardew has a lovely blend of foreign and British talent which surely makes many Premier League fans envious. Liverpool fans especially must be wanting to kick their own club right now. Think of the money they have spent in the transfer market in comparison to Newcastle United. And think of the talent the Magpies acquired compared to Liverpool. Bet the Kop would exchange Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll for any of those Newcastle United players right now. Yes Liverpool won the Carling Cup. Yes they are in the semi-final of the F.A. Cup. However, their league form has been woeful. Liverpool could have acquired Ba or Cisse but they didn’t. Newcastle’s scouting team should be credited for the talent they’ve seeked and acquired this season. And Alan Pardew should be a consideration for Manager of the Year.
Life hasn’t been this good on Tyneside since the 1995/96 season that showcased phenomenal talent like David Ginola, Les Ferdinand and Alan Shearer. And with only five weeks left of Premier League action, Newcastle United fans can finally believe the changes at the club have worked as they could also return to Champions League football for the first time in almost 10 years.
The return of the Toon Army is definitely on. The questions is, how long will it last? Hopefully, this chapter in Newcastle United’s history will go on for a good few pages…