Premier League’s ‘fab four’ dominate Champions League quarter-finals

Liverpool’s Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk celebrates after scoring Liverpool’s second goal in their 3-1 Champions League win over Bayern Munich. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2019
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Premier League’s ‘fab four’ dominate Champions League quarter-finals

  • For the first time in a decade the Premier League reigns supreme, providing half of the Champions League quarter-finalists for Friday’s last-eight draw
  • Liverpool were the last to book their ticket, with a hugely impressive 3-1 win away to Bayern Munich on Wednesday, joining Tottenham and Manchester City in beating German opposition

LONDON: Brexit, what Brexit? All four English entrants are still in Europe.
For the first time in a decade the Premier League reigns supreme, providing half of the Champions League quarter-finalists for Friday’s last-eight draw.
Liverpool were the last to book their ticket, with a hugely impressive 3-1 win away to Bayern Munich on Wednesday, joining Tottenham and Manchester City in beating German opposition, while Manchester United’s miraculous comeback against Paris Saint-Germain will live long in the memory.
“It had to be Liverpool ensuring a Fab Four from England were touring Europe,” wrote Henry Winter in The Times.
Not since 2008/09 has the Premier League, or any other league, enjoyed such a privileged position in Europe’s premier club competition.
Despite record broadcast deals bringing in billions from around the globe, English clubs have been out-thought and outplayed at Champions League level over the past decade.
The 2009 final, that saw Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona defeat a much-fancied Manchester United in Cristiano Ronaldo’s last game for the English club, kicked off a decade of dominance for La Liga. That was thanks, in no small part, to the magic of Lionel Messi at Barcelona and Ronaldo during his nine years at Real Madrid. Between them, those clubs have won seven of the past 10 titles.
“In the last decade Spanish teams controlled everything. It is good for us. For English football it’s incredible,” said mow City boss Guardiola after his side’s 7-0 mauling of Schalke on Tuesday.
Madrid may have been dethroned as kings of Europe, but Messi and Ronaldo still pose the greatest threat to a first Premier League winner since 2011/12.
Messi gave a masterclass as Barca thrashed Lyon 5-1 on Wednesday. The previous evening, Ronaldo, 34, showed why Juventus paid 112 million euros ($127 million) for a veteran last summer, with a hat-trick to break Atletico Madrid hearts.
The Premier League may not have Messi or Ronaldo but it has a collection of stars, from Virgil van Dijk to Paul Pogba, Harry Kane to Sergio Aguero.
They also have each other. The constant grind of a top six vying every season for just four Champions League places allows nobody to rest on their laurels, on the pitch or off it in the recruitment process.
Chelsea and Arsenal could also reach the Europa League last eight on Thursday.
The two landmark victories of this round were Liverpool and United going to two very different European powerhouses — traditional giants Bayern and nouveau-riche PSG.
But those clubs are hampered by a lack of domestic competition that has seen an aging Bayern go stale and PSG fail to handle the pressure when an opponent is not easily knocked out and hits back just as hard.
“England 3 Germany 0. Three matches against Bundesliga opposition for Premier League teams, three victories,” wrote Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail, who went on to refer to the recent trend of promising players leaving the youth programs of England’s richest clubs to find regular first-team football in the Bundesliga.
“Maybe there is a reason young British talent finds it easier to get a game here than they do at home. This isn’t a vintage season for German football. Munich are top of the league again but unless Liverpool caught them on an off night, look very ordinary.”
Crucially, the Premier League now also boasts not only money, but world-class coaching that has been given time to build.
Guardiola is in his third season as City manager, Jurgen Klopp in his fourth at Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino near the end of season five at Spurs.
Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the outlier, just three months into a temporary reign. But the Norwegian’s impact has shown the talent at the club, despite Jose Mourinho’s struggles.
Liverpool showed the way last season as the first English finalist for six years, before falling at the final hurdle to Real.
Klopp took extra satisfaction because the victory in his homeland on Wednesday confirmed the progress being made to make the five-time European champions serial contenders again.
“It’s massive, a big step for us — a big, big, big one for us,” he said. “We will see what we can do with it, but it is still a fantastic sign that we again set a mark for LFC, for this wonderful club, that we really are back on the landscape on international, top-class football.”


Inquest begins at LA Lakers as LeBron James misses out on NBA playoffs

Updated 39 min 44 sec ago
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Inquest begins at LA Lakers as LeBron James misses out on NBA playoffs

  • James played in 13 consecutive postseasons with Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat
  • James is a three-time NBA champion and four-time league Most Valuable Player

LONDON: The post-mortem on Los Angeles’ Lakers season has begun after the storied franchise missed out on the NBA playoffs for a sixth consecutive year this weekend.
It was not meant to be like this, especially after the signing of LeBron James — the man who single-handedly dragged his hometown team Cleveland Cavaliers to a championship in 2016 and was instrumental in Miami Heat’s dominance in the first half of the decade.
James’ mercurial talent was often the difference for those two franchises in clutch situations throughout the season, but for all the fanfare on his arrival at the Staples Center last summer, the “James Effect” has failed to materialize in California.
He has often called his own superhuman efforts in the run up to — and during — the postseason the “Playoff Mode,” but even the genius of James was not enough to put his new franchise into the picture.
It did not help that as soon as it became clear they were not going to be appear beyond April 10, made all the clearer by a recent humbling defeat to the league’s worst team (New York Knicks), James has been benched more and more by the management.
And it speaks volumes about the problems at the Lakers that it will be the first playoffs without James featuring since 2005. Not only had he played in the playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat, he had also played in eight straight NBA finals.
Granted, James — a three-time NBA champion and four-time league Most Valuable Player — was adamant back in September that the task of rebuilding the Lakers, who had missed the playoffs for five straight seasons would be a long-term project.
“Obviously, I would love for the team to be in the post-season,” James said as soon as it became clear he and the team would miss out on the playoff party.
“But right now, it’s not the hand I was dealt, so you play the hand that you were dealt until the dealer shuffles the cards and you’re dealt another hand and can do that.”
So what has gone so terribly wrong with the Lakers this year?
A big factor was injuries, not only to James but to other key players, throughout the season.
Everything looked rosy for the Lakers toward the end of December when they thrashed reigning champions Golden State Warriors, but a groin injury to James was a sign of the bad run to come. In his 17-game absence, the Lakers won just six games.
Then Lonzo Ball sprained an ankle in January, leaving the Lakers defense very vulnerable while Brandon Ingram, who had been influential in the team reaching the dizzying heights of fourth place in the Western Conference, was ruled out for the rest of the season due to a blood clot in his arm. Those certainly were damaging injuries.
The Lakers, also, have built too much of the team and its tactics around James. They have a good core of young talent in Ball, Ingram and Kyle Kuzuma, but management has not utilized them nearly well enough. Instead, for the first half of the season definitely, there was too much focus put on James and he was expected to win games almost by himself. Even the greatest player of a generation needs help from time to time.
The boardroom has to take some responsibility, too. Letting players like Brook Lopez (having a remarkable season with this year’s huge surprise package the Milwaukee Bucks), Julius Randle who averages 20 points per game at New Orleans and Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell (picked as an All-Star this year) leave was a major mistake on the Lakers’ part.
There will need to be a big rethink in the off-season at the Lakers, but with James admitting a break from the high-pressure playoffs will give him time to “recalibrate body and mind,” you cannot rule out “King James” coming back better and stronger than ever to claim a fourth NBA title and bring back the good times to LA.