Jeff Stelling on Portsmouth, Liverpool thrashing Arsenal and return of Champions League
Jeff Stelling blogs on Portsmouth, Liverpool thrashing Arsenal and the Champions League.
Last Updated: 13/02/14 4:21pm
It's Portsmouth against Wimbledon of course.
Valentine's weekend sticks in the minds for Portsmouth fans because three years ago this weekend they won 4-1 against Southampton on their way to the FA Cup Final and five years ago this weekend they beat Manchester City 2-0 at home in the Premier League.
Their fans now look on in bewilderment and amazement at what's happened to the likes of Manchester City and Southampton and where their club has gone. It's not quite as romantic as it was a few years ago.
I don't want to go in to all the financial stuff again because it's been well documented what happened. The gist of it now is that they are four points off being in the Conference, yet they've played more games than three of the four teams below them.
Then they've got five away games, which may not mean much to connoisseurs of the Premier League, at Scunthorpe, Chesterfield, Fleetwood, Rochdale and Newport - four of the strongest teams in the division plus Newport who host the best home record in the division - which means there's a real possibility that if they don't win this weekend they could be looking at Conference football next season.
I think most football fans, with Southampton fans excepted, will not want that to happen.
On Soccer Saturday last weekend the very last full-time score to come through on the vidiprinter was Portsmouth away at Exeter. They'd been winning 1-0 and all the scores had come through and then, the Exeter equaliser came up - the seventh time this season they've conceded in injury time.
They've got Richie Barker and Steve Coppell in place now who are experienced people but they've won two of 11. I look at their last few games in the season and they have to go away to Northampton and Bury - who are battling for survival themselves.
Then what could be their last game in the Football League - if it does continue like this - is Plymouth, their Dockyard Derby rivals.
The players on the pitch are nothing like the ones we all remember. If you look back at that team that beat Manchester City they had the likes of Glen Johnson, Sol Campbell, David James, Sylvain Distin, Peter Crouch, Niko Kranjcar and David Nugent and nowadays they obviously haven't got that quality, but the fans are as good as ever...
They have an average home crowd in League Two of 15,355 and in their first home game of the season they had more than 18,000 supporters at Fratton Park. Depsite the fact it's gone pear-shaped and they've suffered in so many ways they keep their good humour.
One of their favourite chants is 'we lose every week' - which goes down well at opposition grounds. Then there's 'let's pretend we've scored a goal' with the ensuing jumping around like crazy.
As a lower league supporter I look upon their plight with sympathy because Hartlepool and I have been there many times before battling with relegation and I can just imagine what they're thinking at the moment.
I wrote about my trip to Wimbledon a couple of weeks ago and that club have known the misery of going from the top to absolute rock bottom into total obscurity and having to start again; now they've found themselves back in the Football League and maybe Portsmouth can take inspiration from them.
But what they need more than inspiration is three points.
Return of the Champions
We've had a decent break from the Champions League but ironically, that break has almost worked against Arsenal.
When the group stages finished they were flying and everyone was singing the praises of Mesut Ozil; Aaron Ramsey was enjoying a breath-taking first half of these season; Theo Walcott was back to fitness and we were sat here thinking they would give anybody a game.
And now they go in to this game with Bayern Munich on the back of a thumping at Liverpool, a disappointing performance against Manchester United and an FA Cup game this weekend against Liverpool again where goodness knows what sort of side Arsene Wenger will play because it looks to me like a lot of his players are pretty leg-weary.
It's a massive ask as far as Arsenal are concerned to come up against the champions of Europe. It's a mouth-watering game but I do fear for Arsenal and hope for the best.
I was at the Allianz Arena last year when they went there are won 2-0, and though it was a slightly false result because Bayern for all intents and purposes had qualified, the Germans had only just done enough to get through.
The job gets even tougher for Arsenal because Bayern are flying at the moment. Off the back of a 5-0 win at Hamburg they haven't lost a Bundesliga game all season and have only drawn twice, they're 13 points clear of Bayer Leverkusen.
We are all looking forward to seeing the likes of Mandzukic, Robben, Gotze, and Dante but from an Arsenal perspective you're going to be fearing them slightly.
This year's last 16-draw is incredible, I'll be in Barcelona for their second leg game with Manchester City in a few weeks which will be absolutely terrific. We've also got Manchester United's big chance to prove themselves away from their disappointing domestic form against Olympiakos and then Didier Drogba's return with Galatasaray to face Chelsea. There's so much to look forward to on Sky Sports.
JEFF'S GEM OF THE WEEK
I normally go for lower league sides but you can't get away from Liverpool beating Arsenal 5-1. If Steven Gerrard says it's one of the greatest performances of his time at Liverpool then that's confirmation that it's good enough to be my Gem of the Week that's for sure.
They were 4-0 up within 20 minutes but let's be honest, they could have been 6-0 up by then. People talk about the SAS, well now it's the SASAS - Sturridge and Suarez and Sterling!
And well done to Brendan Rodgers because he's got them playing an exhilarating brand of football. A lot of the big guns have still got to go to Anfield including Manchester City and Chelsea and that could be where the title is decided.
The only down side for me is that back four at the moment isn't good enough. We've seen Manchester City scoring lorryloads of goals and Liverpool are now only just behind them in terms in goals scored and points total as well.
They've been absolutely fantastic and you can't wipe the smile off Phil Thompson's face!