English club to rule Europe, says Mascherano

Click to follow
The Independent Online

As the Champions' League moves to the quarter-final stage, the pressure begins to mount on the four English clubs and their first-choice players, for whom the opportunities for rest and rotation will become fewer.

All four teams have their own Premier League imperative, whether it is a matter of maintaining the position they hold (Manchester United and Arsenal) or continuing to apply pressure on the leaders (Chelsea and Liverpool). Additionally, three of them have an FA Cup semi-final to contest after these quarter-final second legs. The only breathing space will come if and when Chelsea and Liverpool accept they are not going to catch United but are safely qualified for next season's competition.

What the next round of European games is expected to confirm, given that United and Arsenal have received the most favourable draws, is the Premier League's supremacy.

"There are no doubts," said Liverpool's Javier Mascherano. "English football is the best. The last champions of Europe were Man United and in the semi-finals there were three English teams. I think an English team will win the final. You can see the best players in the world playing in the Premier League, and it's very difficult to win it because the level is so high."

Mascherano, who was excellent against Real Madrid and at Old Trafford, believes the manner in which his team brushed aside Real confirmed them as realistic contenders for a third final in five years.

"It was an amazing night," he said. "We were on top of them all the time and didn't let them play. It's difficult to do the same performance again but we will try."

And win it? "You never know, football is always changing, but if we keep this level, it will be difficult for any team to beat us. In the last three years we [have beaten] all the top sides.

"It's not easy to win this competition, you can lose one goal and you are out, but we'll try to do it again. I think we can make it very difficult for any team to beat us."

The last eight

Barcelona v Bayern Munich

A tough one for Jürgen Klinsmann's Bayern, who have been inconsistent all season and failed to impose themselves in the Bundesliga. The 12-1 aggregate win over Sporting Lisbon in the last round owed much to the opposition's weakness, and they will need to catch Barça on a bad day – twice.

Liverpool v Chelsea

One of this pair will have taken the hard road to Rome if they make it that far, with Barcelona probably awaiting them in the semi-finals. Those games should be more open ones than the quarter-finals if the long series of previous meetings between Liverpool and Chelsea are anything to go by.

Manchester United v Porto

The Portuguese side are even longer outsiders than Villarreal and nothing like the force they were when Jose Mourinho forged them into European champions in 2003-04, with Manchester United's notch (rather fortunately) on his gun along the way. A semi-final with Arsenal beckons.

Villarreal v Arsenal

Having had such a close call in their previous visit to the little fortress of El Madrigal – when a late penalty save by Jens Lehmann was required – Arsenal should be in no danger of underestimating the opposition. Like Chelsea, they have home advantage for the second leg and would do again if they were to reach the semi-finals.

Odds: 2-1 Manchester United; 3-1 Barcelona; 5-1 Chelsea; 13-2 Arsenal, Liverpool; 16-1 Bayern Munich; 20-1 Villarreal; 33-1 Porto (odds supplied by William Hill).

Steve Tongue

Comments