Megson, Blanchflower and Presley
The eight-point guide to this week's UEFA Champions League action...
1 Take it away Lionel!
The goal of the week has to be Lionel MessiÃ¢ÂÂs second against Panathinaikos. In any other week, Thomas MullerÃ¢ÂÂs curving volley with the outside of his foot would have stood out. But MessiÃ¢ÂÂs dribble and shot was so good you still couldnÃ¢ÂÂt quite see how heÃ¢ÂÂd done it on the replay.
Messi is the supreme exponent of an endangered art: dribbling. WeÃ¢ÂÂve all grown up with wizards of the wing who fall under their own spell and flatter to deceive. But Messi darts towards the goal, knowing that even if he doesnÃ¢ÂÂt score, he will probably wreak enough havoc to set up a teammate. With the ball at his feet and running at defences Messi is as good as Maradona and Best.
Watching Pep GuardiolaÃ¢ÂÂs Barcelona is, letÃ¢ÂÂs face it, so much more fun than watching Vicente del BosqueÃ¢ÂÂs Spain. I agree with Mike Ticher who said in When Saturday Comes: Ã¢ÂÂI watched SpainÃ¢ÂÂs World Cup with a mixture of admiration and frustration. Yes, it was tactically and technically brilliant and sometimes Ã¢ÂÂbeautifulÃ¢ÂÂ. But was it gripping? Were those four 1-0 wins in a row the best football can be? To me, there was something repressed and clinical about Spain that sucked the drama from the matches.Ã¢ÂÂ
For me, the difference between watching Barcelona and Spain is like the difference between hearing Elvis sing Suspicious Minds and Proud Mary. ThereÃ¢ÂÂs nothing wrong with the latter, it is sufficient, it does the job, but it doesnÃ¢ÂÂt have the same charismatic, joyous urgency as El crooning: Ã¢ÂÂHoney, you know IÃ¢ÂÂd never lie to you...Ã¢ÂÂ
2 The night of the living dead
TransylvaniaÃ¢ÂÂs finest pulled off the result of the week. With coach Andrea Mandorlini sacked 48 hours before kick-off, Cluj could have played like zombies against Basel. But they snuck a 2-1 victory thanks to ruthless finishing, the left foot of Juan Culio (who made both goals) and honest toil.
New coach Sorin Cartu, a stern disciplinarian, has had a chequered career. He was just 35 when he won the double as manager of Universtatea Craiova in 1990/91, but he has drifted around the league since like a Romanian Gary Megson.
Cartu should know that September is the cruellest month for Cluj managers. In September 2008, Ioan Andone was squeezed out despite having just won the first double in the clubÃ¢ÂÂs history.
Mandorlini paid the price for an indifferent start to the season and his startling decision to omit promising striker Cristian Bud, centre-back Nuno Diogo and experienced Argentine midfielder Sixto Peralta from the Champions League squad.
Cartu is ClujÃ¢ÂÂs eighth manager in five years, which suggests that owner Arpad Paszkany and chairman Luliu Muresan are taking the Ã¢ÂÂChelsea of RomaniaÃ¢ÂÂ tag a bit too literally.
3 The perils of punditry
The Ã¢ÂÂyou never win anything with kidsÃ¢ÂÂ award for heroically misguided punditry goes to, er, myself for bigging up Braga.
Professor Champions League, Tue 14 Sep: "Braga pose more of an attacking threat than Sporting Lisbon"
While marvelling at ArsenalÃ¢ÂÂs quality, Michel Salgado wondered about their ability to read the ebbs and flows that are an intrinsic part of every match. If Arsenal were as good at making decisions as at passing the ball, he suggested, they might win the ultimate prize.
ThereÃ¢ÂÂs something about WengerÃ¢ÂÂs Arsenal that makes seasoned pros like Salgado uncomfortable. ItÃ¢ÂÂs almost as if they are too pure, lacking the necessary understanding of realpolitik which most successful teams call on in times of need.
But their football can be magical, like BarcelonaÃ¢ÂÂs in 2009, AjaxÃ¢ÂÂs in the early 1970s and Brazil in 1970. The cheap jibes about ArsenalÃ¢ÂÂs recent dearth of silverware under Wenger slightly miss the point. Football isnÃ¢ÂÂt just about trophies; it is, as Danny Blanchflower famously said, about glory and doing things with style. As Arsenal are doing.
4 Too many tweets...
Maketh a tw*t, as David Cameron memorably observed. The prime ministerÃ¢ÂÂs wisdom is obviously lost on Russian president Dmitri Medvedev who sarcastically congratulated Marseille defender Cesar Azpiliceuta for scoring the own goal that gave Spartak Moscow three points.
Ã¢ÂÂSpartak beat Marseille, Azpiliceuta played brilliantlyÃ¢ÂÂ tweeted the exultant pres. He might have done better just to congratulate Spartak keeper Andrei Dykan who fully deserved his Ã¢ÂÂ11 out of tenÃ¢ÂÂ rating from coach Valeriy Karpin (who by the way is interviewed in the latest issue of Champions).
5 Anoraks corner
ChelseaÃ¢ÂÂs romp over Zilina was remarkable for stattos, anoraks and all-round saddoes like me. When 17-year-old Josh McEachran made his debut against the Slovakian champions, he became the first player born after the Champions League started to grace the competition. ChelseaÃ¢ÂÂs promising young midfielder was born on 1 March 1993.
6 The bad news for Spurs
Losing their coach and some key players over the summer, Twente were cast as cannon fodder in Group A. But against Inter, the Eredivisie champions moved the ball around well, kept their shape for much of the time and exploited the spaces left by a Nerazzurri side that still seems caught betwixt and between.
Rafa BenitezÃ¢ÂÂs attempt to make Inter play more expansively is leaving more space on the flanks for opponents to attack and, against Twente, led McDonald Mariga to stray too far forward leaving Lucio and Walter Samuel isolated.
Although Theo JanssenÃ¢ÂÂs stunning free kick stole the show, forwards Bryan Ruiz and Luuk De Jong were exceptional. Michel PreudÃ¢ÂÂhommeÃ¢ÂÂs team could trouble Werder Bremen and Spurs in the race for the last 16.
7 Milacticos 2 Auxerre 0
Two moments of genius from Ibra Ã¢ÂÂ and Ronaldinho Ã¢ÂÂ were the difference between Milan and Auxerre. Jean FernandezÃ¢ÂÂs side were unlucky not to grab a point. Leonardo suggested his old clubÃ¢ÂÂs progress in this competition would depend not on the Ã¢ÂÂMilacticosÃ¢ÂÂ but on the fitness of central defensive intelligence Alessandro Nesta who will need to be at his most commanding if the RossoneriÃ¢ÂÂs lack of bite in midfield is not to cost them.
Kevin-Prince BoatengÃ¢ÂÂs flick on for IbraÃ¢ÂÂs first goal is the latest memorable episode in a career worthy of a soap opera. Still only 23, Boateng has played for six clubs and two countries, missed a penalty in an FA Cup final, and registered an assist on his Champions League debut. As if that wasnÃ¢ÂÂt enough, he has publicly admitted that, when depressed, he had a serious shopping addiction. He has looked good in midfield for Milan and could yet prove one of the bargains of the summer.
8 The wrong curse
Wayne RooneyÃ¢ÂÂs troubles have been attributed to the curse of Nike. But the real curse may be much closer to home.
Since Bobby Charlton scored 49 goals for England, various misfortunes have befallen players who looked like smashing his record. Gary Lineker, who seemed destined to supersede Charlton, struck one of the oddest penalties of his career (against Brazil) when in sight of that record and hobbled into retirement with a dodgy toe, a goal short of CharltonÃ¢ÂÂs total. Michael Owen racked up 40 goals at a fair rate but hasnÃ¢ÂÂt played for the Three Lions in two and a half years.
Now 24, Rooney has scored 26 goals for England Ã¢ÂÂ Charlton had scored 23 by the time he celebrated his 24th birthday Ã¢ÂÂ and looks the best bet to break that record since Lineker. But will he?