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Soccer Scene It’s Leeds vs. Valencia in Champions League

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joe Behan

A very confident Leeds United play at home today against Valencia and will likely field the same team that beat Chelsea 2-nil.

Robbie Keane came off the bench for Leeds’ boss David O’Leary to open the score line in the 86th minute. Then within three minutes, Mark Viduka secured Leeds’ fourth successive season in Europe.

Valencia in the semifinal of the Champions League will be a different ball game today, but so far Leeds have managed to get results to continue their incredible season. In the first phase, after Leeds piped Barcelona, there was doubt that United would not succeed in the second phase. Wrong. O’Leary and Brian Kidd guided Elland Road into the final stages, placing second behind Real Madrid in the toughest group of the competition.

Anderlecht and Lazio made up the others in that group of death and Leeds went on to beat Deportivo with an astounding 3-nil win at home.

During the season, on the domestic scene Leeds fell into the bottom half of the table and were written off. Wrong again. The energetic side was boosted with great buys, in particular Rio Ferdinand and Keane, who has hit 10 goals. Injuries hit the club and it looked like last year’s tragic events were to continue, but Mark Viduka has become somewhat of an unlikely leader for the club. His outstanding goals and brilliant skill have made him one to watch for in the game today.

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In the game against Chelsea, harsh tackles and ridiculous physical contact were just about canceled out by the will to attack by Leeds, which is the strength of O’Leary’s team.

Leeds will want to be firing on all cylinders against Valencia later on with Martyn, Mills, Ferdinand, Matteo, Harte, Bowyer, Dacourt, Batty, Kewell, Viduka and Smith, the likely starters.

It’s a war

Last year’s runnersup, Valencia have gotten over the hump of being the darkhorse, as Leeds take that label. Valencia will be desperate to get another shot at it so soon. And a repeat of last year’s final looks like the bet.

The Spanish outfit will be well prepared for Elland Road as they know the last Armada that traveled there were sent home with their tail between their legs.

Valencia’s hard man, Miroslav Djukic, has warned Leeds that his side will not go down like Deportivo. The Yugoslav international claimed in the papers: "It’s going to be a war. It will be a matter of life and death because Leeds will try to set it all up for themselves at Elland Road. We know they will be tough. They are the sort of side that if they have a good day, they can score a hatful against you. They did a great job against Deportivo, but we will not make the same mistakes."

Of course, Valencia knocked out Arsenal in the quarters and Leeds will also have tapes to watch. While there is some serious talk of bloodbaths and wars, it is naive to think that O’Leary and Kidd will look to finish a semi champs league final in one leg.

Liverpool-CD Alaves

Like Leeds, Liverpool scored in the dying minutes of their game at Coventry. It won’t take long for Gary McAllister to get over what may be the end of Coventry’s long life in top flight. The creative Scottish midfielder set up Sami Hyypia in the 83rd minute and then put the nail in Coventry’s coffin three minutes later with a magic free from 30 yards.

No doubt McAllister will have a sleepless night or two as he joins the list of players who come back to haunt their old club. The midfield general is turning out to be a major hit for the Pool. Indeed, he is on fire right now. Gerard Houllier has used him perfectly and if given the opportunity to play in the UEFA final, the Scotsman will not be short on experience as he is proving right now. Nonetheless, Liverpool should be reminded that their opponents are by no means pushovers.

Alaves have taken their European campaign all the way to the UEFA final trouncing Kaiserslautern 4-1 in the second semi leg for a spectacular 9-2 aggregate victory. The outfit from the Basque capital of Vitoria, who were playing fourth division football as recently as 1990, are not to be taken lightly by Liverpool support.

There will be no shortage of passion from the modest Spaniards. In the semi, Alaves played in a white-and-blue strip rather than their distinctive rose-colored shirts with the names of all the club’s season-ticket holders embroidered into the fabric.

While Alaves lack in experience in UEFA Liverpool are desperate to get back as a powerhouse they once were. There is a lot at stake and a loss for Liverpool will take longer to heal than Alaves.

Awards

How could Henrik Larsson not win the Scottish Footballer of the Year after he scored his 50th goal in the Hoops 3-nil win over rivals Rangers? Celtic’s Stilian Petrov won Young Player of the Year. Teddy Sheringham won EPL Player of the Year at the age of 35.

Soccer Scene’s team awards must wait until mid-May, but Ipswich no doubt get the surprise team of the year, with all due respect. Some big time dates will determine who is the best of the best.

Schedule

May 8, Champs League semi second leg, Valencia vs. Leeds, May 9, Bayern vs. Real.

May 12, FA Cup Arsenal vs. Liverpool, Millenium Stadium. May 16, CD Alaves vs. Liverpool. May 23, Champs League Final.

June 2 Ireland vs. Portugal.

Roundup

The EPL relegation lives on as Manchester City beat West Ham United 1-nil, thus dragging the Hammers back into the dog fight. Derby, Coventry and Boro all failed miserably and the dogfight becomes the highlight of next week’s fixtures. This is the kind of finish we must expect at the top of the premiership next season under the new sponsorship of Barclaycard.

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