By Joe Behan
Newcastle 1, Chelsea 2
Chelsea, team of the week, are looking more and more like a Serie A team under the influence of Gianluca Vialli.
Gustavo Poyet stuck one away on Newcastle 16 minutes into the game. Newcastle dug in and started to play some quality possession. Chelsea sat in with patience and now and then they strung some quick passes. The Toon Army began to look dangerous and confidence was emerging in their attack. Newcastle went into halftime with their heads held high even though 1-0 down.
Chelsea casually strolled off Wembley with poise and self-assurance. The European evidence of the cat-and-mouse game was making its mark at Wembley by the Champions League quarterfinalists.
In the first few minutes of the second half, Chelsea looked dangerous. In typical Serie A style, the Blues went looking for a quick one from the restart. But within minutes, the brief Chelsea attack was gone and Newcastle got their first-half momentum back. Kieron Dyer looked the most dangerous player on the field. His creative runs and wise distribution up top gave Newcastle the wide and lengthy possession they needed.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
Alan Shearer actually burned Leboeuf on the right wing and the center forward crossed superbly for Rob Lee to hit an absolute gem of a header into the upper-left-hand corner of the net. It was a brilliant goal and Newcastle’s celebration suggested the game may be theirs. It was a team goal and it came from Newcastle’s inspirational sub Kieron Dyer and his assertion up top.
Chelsea went straight down from the kick off and produced a dangerous opportunity. Suddenly, the game was back down in Newcastle’s end.
In Serie A, the Italians are notorious for scoring goals seemingly against the run of play. Poyet was getting into all sorts of trouble and tangles in the Newcastle defense, and within seven minutes his presence and resilience paid off. A great cross from Chelsea full back Jon Harley found the poised Poyet in the box and his composure allowed him time to step and jump into the ball. His header was placed out of Shay Given’s reach and 2-1 it was for Chelsea as they march on to Wembley to meet Aston Villa next month.
Chelsea 3, Barcelona 1, Stamford Bridge
Chelsea’s Italian influence was more evident when they met Barcelona during the week in the UEFA Champions League. The highlight of the game was the eight-minute first-half spell when Chelsea scored all their goals. The Blues pounced on the space that Barcelona gave up and seemed to ignore. It was a swift demolition of the Spanish club and, like the Serie A, if you lose concentration you will be punished. Those dangerous lapses of concentration especially at restarts is where Chelsea exploited and opened the scoring.
Franco Zola, just outside the box, curled a free kick right inside the upright. It was a cracker and from there on in it was all Chelsea for the first half. Zola then outfoxed the Barcelona defense with a little turn of speed and crossed with precision to Andre Flo.
Flo’s first-time strike was a simple touch to guide the ball into the goal. His second, another first-time strike, was disguised with a beautiful lob and placed perfectly. Barcelona got that all-important away goal. Rivoldo played a nice ball into the path of Figo who stuck the ball home. Barcelona didn’t really look like the favorites to win the Champions League.
The Spanish Giants were at it again in the Primera Liga when Mallorca hit them for two in two minutes at Nou Camp where there was a white hankie protest by supporters.
Zola was in the running for player of the week but his omission from the FA Cup cut his chances. Apparently he is too small and the bigger players were selected to counter Newcastle’s ‘rial power. Vialli is getting it right for the Cup games as Chelsea continue to be a great Cup team.
Liverpool 2, Spurs 0
Patrik Berger’s 25-yarder and back-in-form Michael Owen struck for Liverpool against Tottenham as the Reds shot into second place. Liverpool have steadily held their own at the top flight and now they are eight points behind Manchester United.
Berger’s brilliant strike gave the goal and spark that the game needed after an apprehensive start. Emile Heskey cracked a shot against the crossbar before the break. The Reds were on top and for their domination after 61 minutes Heskey assisted Owen who beat Ian Walker to make it 2-0. For now, Liverpool are the new premier title challengers.
Aston Villa, 1 Leeds 0
Leeds’ tricky forward Harry Kewell had a couple of Villa defenders off balance and the Villa keeper, David James, in no man’s land when he laid the ball off to Michael Bridges. Bridges looked up to the clouds when his shot went over the bar and over an empty net. It wasn’t to be Leeds’ day as they slipped into third place. David James denied Kewell with two excellent saves. Leeds struggled to get their game going and the ball just seemed that it wouldn’t fall for them.
The match was preceded by a minute’s silence as two supporters were killed before their UEFA Cup semifinal against Galatasaray in midweek. The effects of the tragedy were noticeable as Leeds’ passes were misplayed and communication broke down.
Julian Joachim’s controversial strike, where the Aston Villa forward seemed to trip Leeds’ Gary Kelly as they tangled for the ball, sunk United into the depths of recovery. Joachim buried Nigel Martyn and the Leeds keeper uncharacteristically protested. Leeds, looking sluggish and drained, showed good character and pressed forward toward the end with consecutive corners but the Villa defense remained strong. Dave O’Leary stumbled off his seat and the pensive manager seemed to be focused on matters other than football.
Charlton need one more win for automatic promotion. Man. City, in second place, had a convincing win and are three points ahead of Ipswich and Barnsley.
The UEFA Champions League produced 13 goals and eight of them were scored by Valencia and Chelsea. Both teams have added a breath of fresh air to the competition but there is still the away leg and this will be their Euro test.
Bayern’s Sergio did the business with 10 minutes to go to leave Porto with serious preparation for the return leg in Germany. Man. Utd. tied 0-0 with Real and the Red Devils still cannot overcome Spanish style in Madrid. So the ’99 finalists tie their away legs and now look favorites to reach the Champions League semis.
Valencia 5, Lazio 2: Five goals in any game of soccer is impressive, at championship level especially. Lazio were beaten 2-0 by Venezia in Serie A. Valencia were beaten 3-2 by Tenerife in the Primera Liga.
In the EUFA Champions Cup it took Denis Bergkamp 95 seconds to score for Arsenal against Lens. Leeds were beaten 2-nil by Galatasaray.
In Scotland, Celtic, beaten 2-0 were unable to close the gap while Rangers, busy in the Cup, hammered Ayr 7-0 with a Billy Dodds hat trick. Aberdeen’s Andy Dow hit a gem to put his club into the Scottish Cup final.
Shels and Bohs meet for the first time in the Irish Cup.