Arsenal were fortunate to survive a second-half onslaught against Napoli to progress to the Champions League last 16. They cannot afford a repeat against Man City...
Jose Mourinho might be unhappy with the low numbe of goals from his strikers, but Nick Miller argues that he doesn't have to worry, because the goals are still coming...
Do you need to like your football club? Is it important that you approve of the way business is conducted off the pitch? Or are results all that matters? If your team is winning, should you ignore anything of which you may disapprove? Do the ends justify the means?
If you'll allow me a little self-indulgence, I am a Nottingham Forest fan. Under the management of Billy Davies, Forest are doing rather nicely at the moment, sitting fourth in the Championship with one of the strongest squads in the division. In the likes of Chris Cohen, Henri Lansbury and Jamie Mackie, they have players that would not look out of place in a Premier League side. Not a very good Premier League side, granted, but they would all be perfectly adequate at, say, Sunderland or Norwich.
Davies' tactics are sometimes rather frustrating (he often puts players out of position, switches systems too readily during games, goes too defensive too early) but he gets it right more often than not, as his results show. His tendency to, shall we say, 'chip off' at the referee/opposition players/opposition coaching staff irritates anyone who opposes him, which of course a) is very funny and b) endears him to much of the Forest support. The most successful periods of the last decade (ish) at Forest have been under Davies' management. He is far from perfect, but he is an excellent Championship-level manager.
And yet, I find it more difficult to enjoy Forest's success because of the way he's behaving off the pitch. If you weren't aware, Davies was appointed by chairman/owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi at a time when he needed a populist move to get fans back on-side after the shambles of Alex McLeish's brief time at the club. Davies, undoubtedly popular with large sections of the club's support who didn't think he should've been sacked first time around, has exploited this brilliantly and has basically been allowed to treat the club as his own personal fiefdom, controlling more or less everything to suit himself. His 'advisor' and cousin Jim Price is effectively acting as the club's chief executive (after the previous incumbent Mark Arthur was sacked without explanation or replacement), despite not actually holding that title. He can't actually hold that title because of his involvement with an insolvent law firm, and The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph reported recently that the Football League were investigating his role at the club under the 'fit and proper persons' rules. His job description was swiftly changed from 'General Manager' to 'Advisor to the board' in the matchday programme.
You may also be aware that Davies has banned all Forest players from talking to the press, and himself only conducts interviews with the BBC's Football League show and Sky, as well as his contractually obliged post-match press conferences. Also present at these press conferences is a camera trained on the journalists in attendance, red recording light blinking as they pose their questions. Draw your own conclusions as to why he bothers to do this. Indeed, all home press conferences are now recorded by the club and posted to YouTube shortly after the games. Following the recent defeat of Derby, Davies chose not to focus on a fine win over a hated local rival, but instead began complaining about a piece in The Observer some nine months ago that described some of the goings-on in less than complimentary terms. This is the press conference in question - the chap whispering in Davies' ear is Mr Price, general manager.
That Observer piece by Forest fan Daniel Taylor, the paper's chief football writer, is the reason Taylor, The Observer and The Guardian have been banned from the City Ground. The club cited some DataCo (the company that controls press access to grounds) rules that were apparently broken when Taylor attended a game last season, despite DataCo themselves confirming no rules had been broken.
Davies regularly holds Q&As with fans via Price's Twitter account, which have thrown up a few interesting tidbits, not least inviting a young lady to join them in the directors' box before a recent game (that tweet appears to have been deleted), and pledging 'vengeance' and 'pay back' to unnamed media parties. Davies is settling scores, seemingly fuelled by the belief that it was the press that got him the sack after his first spell at Forest, when it was in fact Billy himself being, for want of a better word, a pain in the arse to former owner Nigel Doughty that saw him dismissed.
There are several other stories and rumours about Davies' behaviour that the Football365 lawyers wouldn't thank me for including here, but it all adds up to the sense that Forest are an unpleasant club right now. Davies panders to fans' base instincts by praising their support at every turn, and saluting the supporters when they call his name with a haste that suggests he's listening out for the chants, when one might argue that he should probably be concentrating on the game.
Many of the stories that emerge about Forest from seemingly well-informed journalists are routinely written off by blindly loyal fans as 'stirring' or 'trying to get attention off the back of the club' - alas, it's optimistic at best to think that Forest are still a big or relevant enough name for this to be true. Similar defenders of Forest's honour will accuse any scribe not fully backing the club as having an 'agenda'. In my own case, I have had very few direct dealings with the club. They have personally treated me neither badly nor well, so this is not a piece motivated by personal slights.
So should all this matter? Should I care about what goes on off the pitch? Are on-pitch results all that matter? The circumstances are different, but is the edge taken off Manchester United's success by the millions being siphoned out of the club by the Glazers? Do Chelsea fans worry about Roman Abramovich's behaviour at the club (and indeed how he gained the fortune upon which their success is built) while they're winning all those games? Was Cardiff's promotion last season tinged with sadness because of the gradual stripping of their identity by Vincent Tan? And similar at Hull?
In general, supporters will put up with most things if their team is winning, but should this be the case? Perhaps it's just me, and I should lighten up, but bad behaviour is the same whether the team is successful or not. We all want a team we can be proud of supporting, and that's about more than just winning.
Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter