Thursday, 15 December 2011

'Forget the cream of the capital, Real Madrid will rule Europe,' says Marcel Desailly


Marcel Desailly knows all about the capital's long wait to see one of their teams crowned champions of Europe. Unfortunately, he sees no end to London's frustration this season.
Real Madrid Barcelona
In a league of their own: Only Real Madrid can stop Lionel Messi and Barcelona from retaining their Champions League title, according to Marcel Desailly
England's only surviving representatives, Chelsea and Arsenal, have been showing the kind of form which means they are looking forward with confidence to the Champions League draw for the last 16 in Nyon tomorrow.
With the pair having finished top of their groups, there is only AC Milan and Napoli to cause them genuine concern in the pot of potential opponents who progressed as runners-up.
Many suspect if they avoid those two, a place in the last eight is virtually assured and then anything is possible. Desailly, however, feels such optimism is misplaced.
The former Chelsea captain is adamant two clubs from the same country will battle it out for the trophy in Munich next May but they will come from Spain.
Despite the presence of sides such as Inter Milan and Bayern Munich, Desailly believes holders Barcelona and their fierce rivals Real Madrid are in a league of their own.
He told Standard Sport: "It's obvious that, for most people, Barcelona are the favourites again and Madrid are up there with them. We have seen how high they can bring the level of play.
"There are no other names in contention. These are the two teams who should win it. If they don't meet before, they will decide the final."
The majority of pundits don't even see it as a two-horse race such is the expertise of Barcelona, who swept Manchester United aside with ease in the final last May. They also appear too strong for Real, having beaten them in the semi-finals in April and secured a convincing 3-1 victory at the Bernabeu in La Liga on Saturday.
Yet Desailly is adamant Jose Mourinho's team will come out on top. He said: "It really is the year of Madrid for me rather than Barcelona. I've followed their play during the season and I just think 'wow'. Tactically, technically it is just amazing. I still rate Barcelona highly but Madrid are at their level, too, despite what happened on Saturday.
"Everyone is used to Barcelona's type of play and Madrid use a different style, they are more direct when attacking the goal - one, two, three passes with speed and they have young strikers to take advantage up front. The team, the squad are amazing.
"The way the players have the hunger for victory is huge. It is not because of Mourinho, it is coming from within.
"They are top-class players and they are angry because they didn't get anything last season. Now they are really looking forward to trophies."
It was not long ago that UEFA were concerned the Premier League was becoming too dominant in Europe as United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool regularly got to the latter stages of the competition. Indeed, an English team has been in the final six of the last seven years. However, United and wealthy debutants Manchester City failed to get past the first phase and Desailly claims that has delighted UEFA president Michel Platini.
He said: "It's quite a big blow for the English League. They were expecting to have their hands on European football. But for Platini this is a good thing and something he has been looking forward to. He is happy, I'm sure. He likes things to be shared in football and not to have the big nations, the big clubs, in the front line all the time. I'm talking about United more than City, who were just trying to show their quality on this new adventure for them. Still, the other clubs will be pleased that neither of them are in the draw."
So what of Arsenal and Chelsea, who were runners-up in 2006 and 2008 respectively? Desailly is aware of the desperation of both clubs to end the capital's drought in the tournament having played at Chelsea for six years, which included getting to the semi-finals with the Blues in 2004 after knocking out Arsenal's 'Invincibles' in the last eight. He said: "I am surprised that no London team have ever won the European Cup or Champions League. For the level Chelsea have reached and the prestige they have, it is a huge pain for them that the trophy is still not in the cabinet.
"They have had no luck and maybe they were naive in the past or not ready at the right time to take that step. It will come but the new coach Andre Villas-Boas needs time to get them doing things his way.
"Gradually you can see Arsenal are starting to play their best but they still rely too much on two or three elements including Robin van Persie."
Simon Johnson,

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