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The Lead

With first place teams maintaining almost insulting double digit leads in at least three of the major European domestic leagues, the Champions League comes as more of a relief this week than a unique, added pleasure. The English papers are practically gagging for Real Madrid Manchester United, capturing as it does the built-up angst over United’s European history and the final possibility for an honourable discharge for England’s favourite Portuguese manager, Jose Mourinho.

But as always happens in the round of 16, there are many other interesting ties to behold. Celtic against Juventus (hints of ’67), Valencia v PSG, Shakhtar v Borussia Dortmund. ESPNFC’s Roger Bennett has dredged up the old notion that the Champions League was a clash of national cultures, interviewing three domestic league experts from Germany, France and Italy, who seem to unwittingly mirror English national stereotypes.

The Bundesliga’s successful clubs are built on “hard work.” The French are distrustful of the enormous, unearned, and ostentatious wealth of Paris Saint-Germain. The Italians are bogged down by the weight of former glory.

But at the end, each are careful to reiterate that even the biggest clubs don’t simply act as de facto national teams in the midweek. The Champions League is still club football, often nominally tethered to their weekend domestic concern.

Meanwhile, slavering pro-Madrid Spanish rag Marca has done a bit of national stereotyping of its own:

Madrid daily Marca pokes fun at Rooney, who is described as a “freckled demon”.

Columnist Hugo Cerezo writes:

Rooney is a football player and hooligan all rolled into one. To look at him you’d think he was one of the 4,000 British fans on the terraces, there to support United: yelling and drinking beer and jumping the queue to get in through Gate D. But Rooney will run out on to the turf at the Bernabeu and face players who have bones to pick with him. Pepe, Carvalho, Casillas and Cristiano Ronaldo may well relive their encounters with the English bad boy.

The English press has answered in kind by reprinting Marca’s words on the front page of almost every football website in the country. Try as a it might, European football cannot escape the continent’s bred-in-the-bone regionalism. Despite European football’s global ambitions, the competition is probably better for it…

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England

Holtby insists Spurs aren’t a one-man team.

Former United goalie Peter Schmeichel doesn’t think Mourinho would be a great fit if SAF were to retire.

Spanish paper Marca vilify Rooney ahead of United vs Madrid CL clash, call him a ‘freckled demon’.

Italy

Roma consider selling Osvaldo.

Inter hit with fine after racist chants directed at Balotelli.

Buffon says he’s not intimidated by Celtic fans

La Liga

Ronaldo aiming to break Madrid records.

Villa faces another blow, in hospital for kidney stones.

Germany

Iniesta has no doubt Guardiola will succeed at Bayern.

“He won’t stop his work here just because Chelsea offer him a lot of money – that is not the way he thinks.” -Dortmund’s sporting director on rumours linking Juergen Klopp to the London club.

Bit and Bobs

Torres displays his culinary skills, makes a batch of cupcakes.

Nigeria’s AFCON coach recants earlier statement, decides to stay on as manager.

Thanks to Alima Hotakie for compiling today’s links.