Knockout stage berths beckon for United, Barca
Knockout stage berths beckon for United, Barca
The fourth round of matches holds great significance for several teams in this year’s competition as defending champions Chelsea face a crunch encounter against runaway Ukrainian league leaders Shakhtar Donetsk, with beaten finalists Bayern Munich vying to keep pace in Group F when they host Lille.
United recovered from an early two-goal deficit to beat Braga 3-2 at Old Trafford a fortnight ago to record their third win in as many matches in Europe’s top club competition, having yet to reach top gear.
Successive league wins over Chelsea and Arsenal has seen United climb to the top of the Premier League table and defensive stalwart Rio Ferdinand believes there is more to come from the Group H leaders.
“I don’t think we have hit a real purple patch yet, which we are really searching for,” he was quoted as saying on the club’s website.
Despite a solid defensive display in Saturday’s 2-1 triumph over the Gunners, United’s profligacy in front of goal prevented a more convincing scoreline and Ferdinand stressed the importance of “getting it all in one package and doing it all in ninety minutes at the right times.”
“We’re still aiming for that and it will come soon, don’t worry,” added the 33-year-old in an ominous warning to upcoming opponents.
Spanish giants Barcelona also have maximum points after three rounds and may welcome back long-term absentee Gerard Pique after the defender was included in the squad for Wednesday’s tie in Glasgow.
A 3-1 win over Celta Vigo at the weekend propelled Barca to their best start to a league season and the Catalans own the distinction of being the only side to have defeated Celtic at Parkhead in the tournament’s modern era.
Jordi Alba’s stoppage-time winner broke Celtic hearts at the Nou Camp two weeks ago and another triumph for Tito Vilanova’s side would secure their progression to the last 16, leaving Celtic with plenty of work to do after a promising start to Group G.
Chelsea will be out for revenge at Stamford Bridge against Shakhtar after their first taste of Ukrainian opposition ended in a 2-0 defeat on matchday three.
Group E leaders Shakhtar are searching for a first victory on English soil, while second-place Chelsea know they cannot afford to cede any more ground if they are to repeat last year’s improbable success.
The Blues are just a point ahead of Juventus, who are in action against Danish minnows Nordsjaelland, and must still travel to Turin later in the month.
Chelsea playmaker Juan Mata billed Wednesday’s clash “like a final,” underlining the importance of collecting three points “if (Chelsea) want to finish first in (their) group.”
Meanwhile last season’s runners-up Bayern Munich find themselves level with Valencia and BATE Borisov, who meet at the Mestalla in midweek, on six points in Group F.
The German heavyweights will be aiming to regain control of the group when they host strugglers Lille at the Allianz Arena, while Rudi Garcia’s French charges must avoid defeat to prevent an early elimination.
Romanian outfit CFR Cluj can tighten their grip on the second qualification spot alongside United in Group H as they welcome bottom side Galatasaray to Transylvania.
Elsewhere Benfica are out to stop the rot against visiting Group G rivals Spartak Moscow in Portugal.
Spartak’s 2-1 win in Moscow earned Unai Emery’s side their first points of the campaign, while Benfica — who have lost two consecutive European home fixtures — are bottom with just a point to their name.
Benevolence, not bluster: How ‘Brand Salah’ bucks the trend
- Mohamed Salah lines up for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid on Saturday
- Mohamed Salah has been unveiled as DHL’s new brand ambassador for the MENA region
LONDON: On Saturday Mohamed Salah will line up for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.
He will do so not only with the every member of the Red army behind him, but also the entire Arab world.
That is testament to his stratospheric rise — over the past nine months the Egyptian ace has gone from being a very good player, but one deemed as needing to justify his $52 million transfer fee, to a global superstar and cultural phenomenon.
As with any sporting star, with the adulation and attention comes potential pitfalls and, invariably, a new lexicon. So it was not surprising to hear the 25-year-old speak of “his brand” when he was unveiled as DHL’s new brand ambassador for the MENA region on Wednesday. Stars becoming brands is almost cliche now and one that Salah has clearly taken on board — he now has even his own logo.
“We are proud of him. Over the past two years, no has done what he has done. He has proved himself as one of the best and we wanted to deal with no one else, just him,” CEO of DHL in the Middle East and North Africa, Nour Suliman, said. “He is competing on another level and is the star of the Arab world. No one in the Arab world has done what he is doing. We are very proud to have him.”
Those types of corporate events, where a big multinational signs a deal with the latest big, young thing, lend themselves to the odd dollop of hyperbole. But there is little doubting the impact Salah has had on the pitch for Liverpool and Egypt, and off it in becoming a true Arab icon. And his utterance of the word “brand” is where Salah as a walking cliche begins and ends.
Every year in Egypt ahead of Ramadan the best dates are named after the most popular person in the country — the man or woman revered by the nation at that moment. In the past, the staple food of the holy month has tended to be named after political leaders.
This year there was no competition: The most succulent date has been named after Salah. At the DHL press conference he was presented with a packet of dates emblazoned with his face and name.
It said much about the man that he both looked and confessed to being “embarrassed.”
This week the British Museum in London displayed Salah’s green football boots as part of its Modern Egypt exhibition. And in a documentary about the player broadcast in the UK, he was credited with increasing attendances at England’s oldest mosque in Liverpool and improving the image of Islam by Dr. Abdul Hamid, a trustee at the mosque.
So while the signing of big deals hints he is very much the modern-day footballing superstar, everything else off the pitch suggests something else.
Salah is on social media, but does not, like many sports stars, live on it; he knows he is a hero for many, but pays more than mere lip service to his position as a role model; and he embraces attention (of both opposition defenders and fans) rather than seemingly getting annoyed by it if things are not going his way.
“I am not heavy into social media, I am on it and aware of it, but I don’t follow it that closely. It does not influence me,” he said.
“I am aware young people look up to me and I feel great that they do and that I can influence a young footballer to play better or train harder, or do better; that that makes me proud.”
This season Salah has done what few footballers have done before, transcend the game, and he has done so in a way characterized by benevolence rather than bluster.
Against Real Madrid he can again illustrate just what a talent he is — and if he does lead Liverpool to their sixth European Cup triumph, you get the feeling he will not let the adulation go to his head.