It's crunch time in football land.
Liverpool has crushed, in quick succession, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Aston Villa to move within one point of Man Utd. After the international break this weekend, if they win at Fulham on Saturday they could actually find themselves in first place before Man Utd play Villa on Sunday. In appearances at least, this makes it look like the EPL title race is still on. It's only when you look at Man U's easier fixture list and their game in hand, and the fact that they have lost more games in the last week than they have in 47 months that the truth hits home. And Chelsea, by failing to take advantage of the slip last week by also losing to Tottenham, are out of the running as well. United's hunt for the impossible quintuple (World Club Cup (check), League Cup (check), FA Cup (semis against Everton), League Title and Champion's League) is still very much on.
Barcelona, meanwhile, are imperious in La Liga. Real Madrid, who, after being squashed by Liverpool in the Champions League look like they would be relegated if the played in the English Premier league, had made it look like the title race was still on by clawing back a few points, now sit six points adrift, while Barcelona are storming. Their front three, Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto'o have scored more goals than any other team. Barcelona have a staggering +60 goal difference, 25 more than Madrid. After the disaster of last season, Barca are back with a vengeance.
In Serie A, meanwhile, Inter have sewn up the league title ages ago, but their lukewarm performance, with Roma, as the last Italians in the Champions league puts to question the quality of the scudetto.
It's the Champions league that is most interesting. Man Utd, despite their recent hiccup in form, have the easiest route to the final. They have Porto, by far the weakest opposition in the last eight, and then the winner of Arsenal/Villareal, both of whom would have been preferred draws by any of the bigger clubs in the quarterfinals. Chelsea and Liverpool are meeting for the fourth straight year in the knockout phases, and you have to fancy 'Pool based on recent form. Another appealing tie is Barca/Bayern Munich. I don't follow the Bundesliga (although apparently Hertha Berlin is making a great run for the title), but Bayern absolutely massacred Sporting Lisbon something like 12-1 in the last round. They have players of great quality, like Frank Ribery, who, when Man City was trying to buy Kaka from Milan for 100 million pounds, Milan eyed Ribery for their replacement. They were promptly told by Bayern that if Kaka was worth 100 million, Ribery was worth 150.
And I'm probably the only babbler who cares about the Scottish Premier League: Celtic just beat Rangers in the League Cup Final for their first silverware of the season. They look to win the league as well, making it four straight, although as my Glaswegian friend says, when Celtic are four points clear and Rangers have one game or less remaining, then we'll say the league is safe. Rangers, barring disaster, will likely bring home the Scottish FA Cup, since St. Mirren knocked out Celtic last week 1-0, despite being thrashed 7-0 by the hoops the week before. Much more interesting to me, however, was the Edinburgh Derby at Easter Road, a few blocks away from my house, where Edinburgh Hibernian beat Heart of Midlothian 1-0 at home, beating their crosstown rivals for the first time in a decade. We are Hibernian FC! We hate jam tarts and we hate Dundee!
Can you tell I've been waiting for an excuse to open a football thread?