(Still far too busy, but how can I resist commenting on the state of affairs at such an exciting time?)
Liverpool v AC Milan
It's funny, isn't it, that perhaps the less fancied of the four sides in the semi-final actually made it through. Remember when everyone was frothing at the mouth at the idea of 3 gigantic Man Utd-Chelsea clashes in the space of a month to decide masters of England and Europe? At the time, I quietly suggested to some friends that the idea might be a bit much for those who were not fans of the two clubs involved, all respect for their achievements aside. Needn't have worried.
Predictably, Rafa Benitez proved once and for all that he does indeed have Jose Mourinho's number (what a shame he's not sharing the secret with the rest of us), while less predictably the decorated veterans of Milan proved they still had enough in them for one more shot at glory.
Milan and Liverpool are second and third on the list of most European Cup final appearances respectively. They've both had their periods of utter domination over the competition and countless unforgettable moments, sometimes at each other's expense.
No doubt Milan and their supporters are eager to erase the memory of the 2005 final by triumphing this time around. It won't be easy, but if they do pull it off, then Kaka has perhaps gone some way to earning the title of 'best player in the world' now being bestowed on him - sometimes by admiring English journalists after his display against Man Utd. And of course it will be a worthy parting gift for some of the veterans.
As for Liverpool, another European crown would probably make up for the disappointments they've suffered in the Premiership and domestic cup competitions this season. And they deserve it, having made their way past not inconsiderable obstacles in Barca and Chelsea. It's not a complete team, not yet, but Rafa Benitez is the master of making the whole far greater than the parts, and that is entirely admirable.
(As a sidenote, how pleased am I that Mascherano's talents are finally being recognised and given a platform to shine again? He's surely earned his spot on the national team back.)
More later, when the game is imminent.
Manchester United - Champions 06-07
Congratulations are in order for a tremendous achievement, given the opponent they were up against. Whatever the disappointments of this season (and I do understand the Champions League complex, given that Barca's record in the CL is just as spotty), this was probably more than even Sir Alex dared hope for at the beginning of the season.
As for young Cristiano Ronaldo, is he the best player in the world? I don't think so, not yet. But he's damn good, and he's done more than anyone could have predicted this season. He'd have a much easier time of it in a league like La Liga, which is accommodating towards players of his type, but staying at United was absolutely the correct decision for his development. I started out quite leery of him because of the diving, but the way he's weathered the abuse and grown from the experience has made me reconsider.
A few weeks ago, I thought United had choked and all the good work was going to go to waste. But they proved to be made of stronger stuff, even with players dropping like flies with injuries. Where they go from here is a tricky question, and transfer window activity or lack of from them is going to be interesting to watch.
I've read a fair few post-mortems of their Premiership ambitions now, written by supporters and by journalists, and one theme stands out. They all talk about pride. The pride with which Chelsea fought back in the second half of their game against Arsenal, the pride displayed by Mourinho after the game.
Even with my extremely unfavourable view of Mourinho, I still have to respect that pride, and the fighting spirit associated with it which he has carefully cultivated in his team. This season events have achieved the remarkable feat of both deepening my dislike of him and nudging me into defending him. Having said all that, and therefore hopefully given you a balanced view of my opinion of Mourinho, I would like to put to you my response to all the protestations of moral victory:
If your team ethic is built on winning at any cost, both literal and figurative, then what happens when you don't win?
That is my question, stemming from my personal view of what football is, and what it isn't.
(Edit: the ever admirable Kevin McCarra of the Guardian makes the same point in his article today with greater eloquence.)
Having said that, I would like to pay my respects to a player I don't actually like, but can't help admiring. Everyone pillored him for not adjusting immediately to Premiership football, but he's been immense this season, and anything Chelsea achieve will owe a lot to his contribution. Yeah, I'm talking about the same guy who I slated in my Barca v Chelsea match report as a diving thug - Didier Drogba, of course. He's still got that unpleasant side, and that's why I've yet to warm to him, but lord can he play. Tireless and a force to strike fear into the hearts of defenders all over (but especially Phillipe Senderos, the poor man), Mourinho probably wishes his entire team were as hard-working as Drogba and the equally indispensable Michael Essien.
I completely understand the outrage of those who are angry that they're going to benefit from an illegal transfer without any punishment where it hurts, and the associated unfairness towards the other clubs battling relegation, but my sentimental side wins out in this one: seeing the fantastic rapport between the Hammers faithful and Carlos Tevez swayed me. If he does manage to lead them to survival, that debt of faith he now owes them would be repaid. And he's doing a wonderful job of it so far.
La Liga Title Race
I'm going to have no nails by the time this is over. As things stand with five rounds to go, the consensus seems to be that Barca, Sevilla (4 points off) and Real Madrid (2 points off) are all still in it, while Valencia only have an outside shot of closing the 6 point gap between them and the top. The fixture lists of the top 4 look remarkable similar, with matchs against moderately tricky teams like Recreativo, Espanyol and Zaragoza dominating. It's practically impossible to call, to be honest.
It's going be a matter of who blinks first. Ahh, the drama.
We've been getting results, sort of, but we've also been lucky to be playing the bottom of the league these last few weeks. Form is not quite all there, which is quite worrying. We're reliant on our stars producing their moments of magic for the game-winner, and our master goalscorer finding the net when we need him to.
In the last two seasons, Samuel Eto'o has been crucial in the title run-in. When the team seemed to be out of form and running out of steam, he would pop up and score that all-important goal to ensure the points. It's an unfair burden to put on his shoulders, given his injury complications this season, but isn't it funny how a player who missed 5 months of the season through injury could still end up making the most important contributions?
Actually, if you think about it, it's really not. Some members of the squad have been immense this season, others not so much. But that's for the end of the season. Right now, no one should be thinking of anything else other than working to secure the title. I live in hope.