Although tonight’s Champions League quarter-final is between European giants Real Madrid and Cypriot minnows APOEL is the first ever competitive meeting of the clubs, it does bring together two familiar faces.
APOEL midfielder Nuno Morais played under Madrid coach José Mourinho for three seasons at Chelsea from 2004 to 2007. He made just four league appearances in that time, although one was in a vital 3-1 victory over Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United in May 2005.
Morais told Spanish newspaper AS yesterday he had been surprised when Chelsea came calling in 2004 for a then 20-year-old centre-half at small Portuguese side Peñafiel.
“I went for a week’s trial, and they liked me,” said Morais. “I learned a lot from Mourinho. He taught me how to play in the middle, because I had been a centre-back at Peñafiel. It was difficult to get playing time with (Claude) Makelele, who was always my idol, (Michael) Essien and (Frank) Lampard. But I learned a lot.”
After spending some time on loan back in Portugal, Morais left Chelsea for APOEL on a free transfer in summer 2007. Having settled in Cyprus, he has been key to APOEL’s progress this season – playing every minute of their 14 game European campaign to date.
The 28-year-old scored the opening goal at Albanians Skënderbeu way back in July and converted a penalty in the dramatic shoot-out victory over Lyon in the quarter-finals two weeks ago. The midfielder said he had nevertheless enjoyed being coached by his fellow-countryman (with whom he shares an agent in Jorge Mendes).
“I hold nothing against Mourinho,” he said. “With those names ahead of me it was impossible to play. I love Mou’s attitude. Just his manner dazzles you. He treats everyone the same, substitutes and starting-players.”
Yaya Toure struck a fine equaliser as Manchester City regained top spot but dropped two valuable points at Stoke.
Toure cancelled out a stunning long-range volley from Peter Crouch with his own powerful strike but the frustrated visitors could not find a winner in a hard-fought encounter.
City might argue Stoke could have had a man sent off when Dean Whitehead caught David Silva with his arm but they had a let-off when Pablo Zabaleta cleared off the line.
The result was enough to take City back above Manchester United on goal difference but their rivals could now move further clear when they play their game in hand against Fulham on Monday.
City have not won at Stoke since the Potters were promoted back to the top flight in 2008 and the arena, at its most atmospheric and intimidating, again proved their undoing.
City, without top scorer Sergio Aguero due to a foot injury, controlled the early possession but Stoke showed their muscularity from early on and ensured the visitors could not impose themselves.
Stoke had the first serious opening when Crouch headed down a cross for Cameron Jerome but City were unable to get a clear sight at goal as Silva and Zabaleta both had efforts deflected wide and Toure shot over from distance.
Controversy broke out when Whitehead caught Silva in the face with his arm challenging for a high ball. The Spaniard required lengthy treatment and eventually returned to the action wearing a bandage but Whitehead escaped with a talking to from Webb.
Edin Dzeko headed a fine chance for City over soon after and the visitors suffered further frustration when Gareth Barry was booked after losing possession and pulling back Jerome.
Stoke thought they were about to take the lead in the 41st minute but Shawcross’ glancing header was cleared off the line by Zabaleta.
Stoke claimed the lead with Crouch’s sensational strike just before the hour. The striker brilliantly flicked up a return header from Pennant and twisted to volley into the top corner from 30 yards.
Roberto Mancini reacted by sending on Adam Johnson and eventually Carlos Tevez, and though the Argentine was not involved, the game changed moments later. Toure unleashed a ferocious shot from 30 yards, which took a crucial deflection off the head of Shawcross and Begovic could do nothing but palm it into the net.
Chelsea missed the chance to close the gap on Tottenham in the race for a top-four finish on Saturday, drawing 0-0 in the Premier League’s early kick-off at Stamford Bridge.
The draw left fifth-placed Chelsea five points adrift of a covetedChampions League qualifying berth, and fourth-placed Tottenham were unlucky not to take all three points after twice going close late on.
Spurs, bidding to secure their first league win at Chelsea since 1990, enjoyed the better of the chances without ever managing to dominate their London rivals in a game played in brilliant sunshine.
Nevertheless Tottenham defender Kyle Walker was happy with the outcome after a run of results which had seen the club take just one point from a possible 12 in the four games leading into the derby.
“It’s a step in the right direction. We can push on now,” Walker told Sky Sports. “With the people we’ve got in the dressing room, we can destroy any team. It’s just a manner of putting trust in ourselves.
“We defended well and were organised well. We’re pleased with a point. There’s eight games to go, it’s going to difficult.
“It’s not easy in the Premier League but we have to keep believing in ourselves and hopefully we get that third spot.”
The best chance of a lacklustre first half came two minutes into injury time, when Tottenham attacker Rafael van der Vaart spurned a golden opportunity, denied by a Petr Cech save and a goal-line block by Ashley Cole.
Chelsea’s only genuine chance on goal came on 73 minutes when a Juan Mata free-kick hit the woodwork with Tottenham goalkeeper Brad Friedel well-beaten.
Blues substitute David Luiz was unable to get into position to rifle in the rebound and the chance had gone.
At the other end, Chelsea had transfer window signing Gary Cahill to thank for a superb sliding block from Emmanuel Adebayor on 79 minutes, the England international cutting out the Togolese striker’s effort after he had successfully rounded Petr Cech and shot.
From the ensuing corner Tottenham midfielder Gareth Bale crashed a thumping header off the crossbar but Chelsea escaped again.
In the final minute of injury time Cech was on hand once more to parry away a vicious long-range free-kick from Bale as Chelsea hung on for the point.
In later games Saturday, Manchester City will bid to reclaim top spot with in the title race with victory at Stoke, with Manchester United not playing Fulham until Monday.