Early Doors

Back with a bang

Early Doors

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Forty yards. Sixty-five miles per hour. Two numbers that have restored Cristiano Ronaldo's reputation.

The sixth-minute howitzer from the Portuguese in the 1-0 win at Porto that has sent Manchester United into a semi-final against Arsenal has suddenly put his 'poor season' into context. The revised opinion is now 'Yes, he's had a poor season, but he scored a nice goal'.

When the shortlist for PFA Player of the Year was announced, there was much consternation over the fact that five of the six on the list were United players, with some even declaring that it was C-Ron who was least deserving of his place.

Mind you, most of those names can be picked at - Edwin van der Sar can only take partial credit for his clean sheet record, votes were cast before Nemanja Vidic's recent meltdown, Ryan Giggs getting the votes for body of work rather than this year.

Despite still regularly getting on the scoresheet - although his strike last night was only his second in Europe - there have still been regular complaints about Ronaldo's body language and attitude.

However, now that the big games are starting to come thick and fast, he looks interested again, and the same can be said for the team as a whole.

United had gone over a month without a convincing victory - since their 4-0 hammering of Fulham in the FA Cup - but their stubborn performance at the Estadio do Dragao was as nervous as Arsenal's against Villarreal was emphatic.

The Gunners - another side who have been revitalised recently - were busy putting an admittedly weakened Villarreal to the sword to set up a fixture that has helped define the Premier League era but has so far evaded the European arena.

Not so long ago, the demise of Arsene Wenger's scout troop was all but confirmed. Not enough experience, not enough strength, not enough execution were all common criticisms levelled at them.

The arrival of Andrei Arshavin and the return to fitness of Cesc Fabregas have helped the youthful side click into gear, and the Gunners are now bringing sexy back as only they know how, embodied by Theo Walcott's early chip. He must have been getting pointers from Carlos Vela.

Chelsea and Barcelona have also both had their blips this season, and look well capable of maintaining top form until the end of the season.

The fact that once again we have three English teams in the semi-finals, guaranteeing at least one in the final for the fifth year running, does take the exotic sheen off the competition somewhat, but it's probably best to enjoy this phase while it lasts.  

The cynical approach going into this week's second legs - though there was none around these parts, of course - has been truly cast aside, and all can look forward to two cracking semi-final ties.

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One London-based freesheet worked itself into a right lather when it gleefully reported where and how Chelsea's players celebrated eliminating Liverpool on Tuesday.

The IQ-sapping rag slapped a picture of Frank Lampard on the front page, telling of how he was seen out with a 'mystery brunette' (don't worry guys, no doubt a publicist will be in touch soon enough).

If that wasn't enough, there was also much excitement over the amounts of cash shelled out by the players, although why we need to know that Lamps spent £2,500 on dinner and drinks at Boujis or that Didier Drogba's table drank five grands-worth of champagne and vodka is anyone's guess.

It makes you wonder how much Ledley King must have spent to get in the state he did following Tottenham's Carling Cup victory last season.

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In another piece of shameless celebrity-based tittle-tattle that fulfils the Baby Bentley-loving part of ED's brief, The Sun reports that Wayne Rooney's pregnant wife Coleen has booked herself in for a Caesarean section so that the her husband won't have to miss England's trip for their World Cup qualifier in Ukraine.

In a move that is sure to ring true with fans of her TV show Coleen's Real Women, a 'friend' revealed: "Coleen didn't want to be worrying about whether Wayne would be there or not - so she is being super-organised and has already pencilled in the date of the operation."

If things remain on schedule, then the little blighter could well be punching its first corner flag by December and sarcastically applauding authority figures by next March.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I did say in an off-the-record briefing to journalists that they would not play for the club again. Since then I have had a think about it and I have looked at the way it has been handled by the SFA. The president said the issue, the original problem, was not handled properly, then George Burley said it had not been handled properly. So I ask myself: if the SFA admit they did not handle it properly, am I being harsh? If people in charge are saying it was not handled well, then I feel I have got to give them some leeway." - Rangers boss Walter Smith has a rare moment of doubt regarding the transfer-listing of disgraced duo Barry Ferguson and Alan McGregor.

FOREIGN VIEW: "A cycle is ending. The time has arrived to re-energise a group which has many players at the end of their contracts. If it was up to me, I would take someone like Gerrard, who for me is a complete player and can play anywhere. I could see him fitting in really well at Milan." - Kaka's comments in La Gazzetta dello Sport.

YOUR VIEW: It's nice to that jay8may has got ED's back - "ED's got a hangover which they duly pointed out in the first line of the article. Yet people are asking them if they are mentally stable because they made a few mistakes over a scoreline. C'mon feeble people we've all had hangova's b4 stop being so pedantic."

Meanwhile, no doubt cameronwestwood doesn't agree with UEFA's decision to name Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool as one of its Top 10 matches - "Let's be honest here, there were 2 terrible goalkeepers on show - with decent 'keepers, there would only have been 7 or 8 goals over the 2 legs! That Cech one is a liability; worst 'keeper in the Premier League."

COMING UP: ED doesn't know what the Arabic for 'dead man walking' is but no doubt it's been said a lot on the Manchester City owner's flight to the UK in reference to manager Mark Hughes. They'll be at Eastlands tonight watching his side's attempts to overturn Hamburg's 3-1 aggregate lead in the UEFA Cup. We'll have LIVE comments on that quarter-final clash from 19:45 UK time.

Before that we've got loads of Champions League reaction, including videos of player interviews, our Team of the Week and Winners and Losers.

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