Here is Sid Lowe:
Barça went into last night's match seven points behind Real Madrid in the league, with fans launching a white-hankie protest at the weekend, calling for the head of the president, Joan Laporta, and abusing their "lazy" players at training, demanding "less millions, more bollocks". The crisis grew even deeper in the run-up to the game when a high-ranking official admitted that the club had invented injuries as an excuse to leave "certain players" out of the side.
Xavier Sala Martín, head of the club's economic commission, did not name them but it is widely understood that he was pointing the finger at Ronaldinho and Deco. He said that some players had been "ostracised" because they were too often "out partying" and missed training sessions. He claimed that injuries had been invented in order to provide a pretext for leaving them out.
Rijkaard last night replied that "there are no players who have been separated from the rest of the squad". The sporting director, Txiki Begiristain, insisted there was "medical evidence" to prove Ronaldinho and Deco are indeed injured.
With the club seemingly teetering on the edge of the abyss, such revelations were the last thing Barça needed and the game against Schalke was presented as death or glory. And although Barça emerged alive, their lacklustre performance did little to placate the fans, especially as the night's star performer, Bojan Krkic, was taken off early, prompting a monumental bout of whistling and booing from the Barcelona fans.
The home side looked shaky in defence and disjointed going forward and the scrappy goal from Touré - the younger brother of Arsenal's Kolo - after good work by Krkic down the right and two failed clearances from the Schalke defence, did nothing to alter that impression.
Here is Nic from FCBNews.com:
Barça have reached the semi-finals of the Champions League after beating Schalke 04 1-0 (2-0 on aggregate) and will now face Manchester United for a place in the final in Moscow on May 21st. However, the performance, especially in the first half left a lot to be desired. Whether the recent declarations from directors had a negative effect I cannot say, but for the first half an hour Barça played so badly it looked more likely that they would get knocked out...
The only player who can really take any credit from tonight’s game is Carles Puyol. Bojan was good in the second half but disappointing in the first. Toure Yaya deserves applause for scoring and for lasting for 80 minutes but he doesn’t clean up in midfield as he did before his injury and at time looks like an injured elephant lumbering behind the pack. Worst of all was Eric Abidal whose form has dropped frighteningly in the second half of the season. Surely it is time for Sylvinho to take over at left back though I dread to think what Cristiano Ronaldo might do if he has a good day.
Barca haven't played a really good match since the first leg against Celtic in February. They've had good halves, but they cannot seem to put together a good 90 minutes. The club is plagued by rumors of internal dissension and the recent comments by Sala Martin seem to confirm that the club has sidelined its two biggest stars from the '06 European Champions because of indiscipline. I keep waiting for something to turn around, but at a certain stage, I have to consider the possibility that I'm waiting for a train that won't arrive in the station. The English media keep referring to the tie with Manchester United as "mouth-watering," but that's in name only. Barca are seven points down in a crap La Liga for a reason: they haven't a good team in 2008. Barring some sort of miraculous turn of events, United will win both legs. This is the only miracle I can think of:
As for the other side of the bracket, I did watch the Arsenal-Liverpool match and it confirmed everything I hate about Liverpool. The Reds progressed because of a dreadful penalty call that came right in front of the Kop. Arsenal's anger is especially justified because the penalty given against Kolo Toure involved far less contact than the penalty that wasn't given for Dirk Kujt's tug. Combine the crap penalty call with the highly dubious red card given to Marco Materazzi in the round of 16 (also at Anfield) that left Inter playing with ten men for an hour and you get the impression that Liverpool really do have a 12th man advantage at Anfield, only the 12th man is not the crowd. Chelsea know that it isn't enough to beat Liverpool; they have to do so decisively because the big decisions will likely go in the Scousers' favor.
And another complaint about Liverpool: their goals were the hallmark of a conservative team. They scored off of a corner, a long ball from the keeper, and a crap penalty. Liverpool scored without taking any risks and it can't be a coincidence that their only goals (aside from Babel's final marker when Arsenal had everyone pushed forward) came in response to Arsenal goals. Liverpool are fundamentally a reactionary team. Their goals weren't close to those created by Arsenal. This is probably the unrealistic romantic in me, but I'd rather lose playing properly than win playing like Liverpool. I can understand clubs with no money taking route one, but Liverpool fancy themselves as a superpower. Whether a club can be a superpower without winning its league for two decades is another matter. (I realize that this paragraph might come back to bite me if Barca beat Manchester United 1-0 on a set piece.)
My irrational bitching aside, the tie was also decided because the match-up that every Arsenal fan feared - Phillipe Senderos trying to mark Fernando Torres - was every bit the mismatch that the Gunners feared. Senderos was awful, which raises the following question: does Arsenal not have a back-up right back? Arsenal's first choice central defensive pairing - William Gallas and Kolo Toure - was available, but Toure was at right-back because of Bacary Sagna's injury. If Arsenal does have a replacement right-back, then what the hell was Toure doing playing out of position? And if Arsenal don't have a back-up right-back, then what the hell is Arsene Wenger doing with the coffers of the richest club in England? Is he really spending all that money on scouts to pilfer more teenage central midfielders from Barca's cantera?
And while we're criticizing Arsene Wenger, what will it take for him to stop playing Emmanuel Eboue? Eboue is terrible, he's a diver, and he's keeping the far superior Theo Walcott on the bench. WTF?