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Zenden on Champions League

Bolo Zenden

By Andrew McKenzie

When the Champions League trophy is lifted in Moscow in May there is a 75% chance that Bolo Zenden will be a happy man.

As a former Barcelona, Chelsea and Liverpool player he has three-pronged interest in this week's semi-finals.

Now plying his trade in France with Marseille, the Dutch midfielder gives BBC Sport his views on the strength of English football, the rise of Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo, Barcelona's problems and whether one of his old clubs will go all the way this year.

PREMIER LEAGUE POWER

It is weird to see the same three English teams in the final four of the Champions League again.

With Arsenal also in the quarter-finals it shows that the league is very strong but especially the big four that are fighting in Europe every season.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE CHAMPIONS
The nationality of the Champions League winners since 1993
Spanish - 4
Italian - 4
English - 2
German - 2
French - 1
Dutch - 1
Portuguese - 1

The English league has been improving in recent years and obviously there is a lot of money in it now, thanks to television rights.

These days there is not much violence so people can go with the family and it is now a pleasure to watch.

There are a lot of international players now in the Premier League, even in the smaller teams, and whoever you play will be a battle.

But there are four teams that run away with it each year and the others are trying to keep up.

BARCELONA'S PROBLEMS

It is such a massive club that just winning is not enough for Barcelona.

If they get results but it is not with spectacular football the fans are not happy and the supporters have a big say in what is happening.

BARCELONA'S BLUES
Only won once in last 10 domestic games
Knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Valencia
Trail La Liga leaders Real Madrid by 11 points, with only five games to go

It's not that there is more pressure playing for Barcelona but it is just different mentality-wise.

At half-time if it is still 0-0 the white handkerchiefs come out, whereas in England even if you have lost but have given your all, the fans are still behind the team.

Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard has a bit of a struggle on his hands at the moment.

I played under him with the Dutch at Euro 2000 and really enjoyed working with him.

When he speaks, players listen and he has that respect. He is always very calm and good at transmitting his message and I think the players are willing to make the extra step for him.

Just because he is a bit laid back it doesn't mean he's not focused on the job. From the outside he might seem calm but inside he might be boiling.

CRISTIANO RONALDO'S RISE

We knew when he came to England he had all this talent and his tricks but maybe he was not so effective.

Over the last two years everything he now does seems to be with such efficiency.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo has been in stunning form this season

I spoke to Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar and he says it is not something that just happens. Ronaldo is one of the players that works in training on his free-kicks and his skills and so it has much to do with effort as well.

He manages to use his talents to help the team and he has scored more than 30 goals, which is so important for his side.

But when Manchester United play Barcelona it is going to be two massive clubs playing each other so it will not be decided by one player from either side.

THE WINNER

The clubs in the last four are all very strong so it is tough to pick a winner.

I was at Barcelona for three years and lost a semi-final against Valencia, so I know how important it is for them to do it.

SEMI-FINAL FIXTURES
22 April: Liverpool v Chelsea
30 April: Chelsea v Liverpool

23 April: Barcelona v Man Utd
29 April: Man Utd v Barcelona

But Manchester United play the first game at Barcelona and so I think they have a good chance there.

This will be the third time Liverpool play Chelsea in the semi-finals in four years.

There is some history there but at the same time history and records are there to be broken.

The fact is Chelsea playing the second leg at home makes it different to previous years and we know how spooky it can get at Anfield.

But I lost the final with Liverpool last year so I'm hopeful they will do well again and win through this year.

I had a good time with the club and still have good contact with the players and staff over there.

606: DEBATE

We could get an all-England final and then anything is possible.

Obviously, Liverpool have been there before - this would be the third final in four years, they know the drill now so maybe they can win it this time.




see also
Liverpool v Chelsea
21 Apr 08 |  Europe
Barcelona v Man Utd
21 Apr 08 |  Europe
When Bryan Robson tamed Barca
22 Apr 08 |  Europe
Alan Hansen's column
21 Apr 08 |  Europe
Messi the key for Barca - Tevez
21 Apr 08 |  Europe


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