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Friday, 23 April 2010

Volcanic Ash Nearly Out Of Europe

Elite footballers and comfort zones aren’t often separated. But then, huge volcanoes in Iceland don’t normally erupt and ground the continent’s air traffic for a week. As evidenced by the embarrassing media circus that followed Liverpool, Fulham, Barcelona and, to a lesser extent, Lyon around Europe this week tweeting about whether or not they were getting enough sleep, the clubs’ preparations for significant European fixtures were somewhat out of the ordinary.

The whole thing was a bit like a student challenge. You have to get hundreds of miles across Europe, but you can’t use planes. Liverpool, you must travel 1,200 miles, Lyon 700 miles, Fulham 600 and Barcelona 450. You can use coaches and trains, even where it would be quicker to walk (the 0.8 miles from Euston to Kings Cross, LIVERPOOL), because, lest we forget, you are not students but elite footballers. HEY – Liverpool. Get off that plane in Bordeaux. That’s not in the rules. GET OFF.

Fine, I hope you lose.

Elite footballers, as the press reminded those who dared to suggest that sitting on a coach for two days could hamper performance levels, remain professional. And remain professional they did, but still, no team that travelled in Europe this week won a game. Only one of them scored in the 360 minutes of football played.

Now, it’s not exclusively the fault of volcanic ash, but the disruption didn’t help. Admittedly, Barcelona were undone by Mourinho’s Inter in ways we pointed out on Wednesday. Fulham actually got a really good result, even if by all accounts they essentially parked the bus they arrived on in front of goal after losing Zamora. But Liverpool… well, sometimes it looks as if crossing the halfway line is a journey too far for a result, let alone going all the way to Madrid, let alone doing so on a coach. Still, they only lost 1-0. Lyon, while also only losing by an odd goal, failed to score against 10 men – in fact Bayern dominated throughout – and conceded when they were a player up on the hosts. There were definitely some weary performances.

In fixtures where the second leg is far more important – so much so that ludicrously, the six UEFA Cup/Europa League semi-final first leg games over the past three seasons have produced a total of only six goals – perhaps analysing the result is a bit futile. It’s only half time, after all. You would still back all four who were on the road this week to qualify, especially if Ribery is suspended for Bayern.

If they don’t, you can guarantee that no one will use the ‘ready-made excuse’ about the travel disruptions. But they should. Sitting on a coach for long periods is horrendous, as almost every lower-league and amateur footballer can testify. Most professional clubs who make long journeys to Torquay or Carlisle or other crumbling footballing outposts like Anfield tend not to perform remarkably well. Mind you, try and imagine sitting on a coach with your workmates for 1,200 miles. Maybe the professionals dealt with it rather well. Rob MacDonald

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