The Champions League draw was made this morning, and we have to be pretty happy with it. We’ll be facing Villareal in the quarter finals, a great tie in two senses – 1) they’re probably one of the weakest sides left in the tournament, and 2) we get to welcome Pires back after a few years away. He can expect the warmest of receptions, and deservedly so. He gave us great years, and we’ve never really replaced the goals he and Ljungberg managed from wide positions in their heyday.
If we get past the Spaniards, we’ll face either United or Porto in the semi final, with Chelsea-Liverpool and Barca-Bayern the ties in the other half. Realistically, the draw could not have been kinder.
By the time we head out to Spain on April 7, we could have practically everyone back from injury, most crucially Fabregas, who has certainly had an interesting week. As captain, I’m glad he’s handled the furore in such a dignified way, and with Phil Brown backing down with every interview he makes, we can only hope this ridiculous story goes away, without tarnishing Cesc’s reputation for something he most likely didn’t do.
But before all of that, we’ve got a match against Newcastle tomorrow, the last before an international break, and a win would put us three points ahead of Villa, who travel to Anfield on Sunday. After tomorrow, we take a couple of weeks off, before starting the final run-in, and coming into the last six weeks of the season still in the FA Cup, Champions League and well placed in fourth would be a great recovery in what has been a difficult season.
So it is important to put in a decent shift tomorrow, and it won’t be easy – Newcastle could not be more different than in their Keegan heyday. With the likes of Nolan, Bowyer, and Barton in their squad, they are more like Bolton than Bolton themselves, and we can’t expect them to roll over, especially as another defeat could send them into the drop zone.
My bet is on a 2-0 win, so don’t put any money on that scoreline – I’m having a dreadful tipping season.
Enjoy the game.