It’s been another busy few weeks in the Champions League and Sports Writer, Dan Steeden, rounds up the latest action
In a week of Champions League fixtures hotter than a Qatar World Cup football fans saw Manchester City make it through to the last 16, Chelsea actually win a game and Wayne Rooney score a goal for Manchester United. This could have been the week for the Premier League to show what it’s made of had it not been for Arsenal who endured their heaviest ever defeat in Europe at the hands of Bayern Munich. But what have we learned from this week?
Manchester City beat team with world’s catchiest stadium name:
Like a nerdy school kid Man City are top of everything – top of the Premier League and top of Champions League Group D; their season really seems to be going rather well and they were excellent at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. This impressive away win against a decent Sevilla side saw them through to the knockout stages and in style too with goals from Sterling, Fernandinho and Bony. Pellegrini’s ‘we only play one way’ ethos seems to have been tweaked slightly as changes were made in the Manchester derby: Yaya Touré, Fernando and Fernandinho all started in the City midfield again this week. The balance and solidity that this trio bring seems to be appealing to the City manager in the crucial games. However, City looked commanding and will be wanting to top their group and head deep into the competition. This could be their year.
Chelsea win a game:
Twitter was all over this game, chicken kiev jokes were everywhere and when Dynamo Kiev’s Aleksandar Dragovic scored an own goal there were suggestions that Chelsea could only score if the other team did it for them. Dragovic managed to cancel out his mistake and decorate the score sheet again, capitalising on an Asmir Begovic error to equalise with 13 minutes left. All looked lost for Jose Mourinho until Willian’s stunning free-kick won the game for the home team who now sit second in Group G. The question is; will this be the turning point? Willian looked impressive and the crowd support for Mourinho was overwhelming. The Blues need four points from the two remaining games to guarantee a place in the last 16 and with a very winnable trip to Maccabi Tel Aviv and a home tie with Mourinho’s former club Porto coming up , Chelsea fans will be hoping they can make it out the group. How much further than that they’ll go remains to be seen.
Wayne Rooney scores a goal:
It is clear that Marouane Fellaini is Louis van Gaal’s go to player when things aren’t going right and this time, finally, it paid off. 66 minutes of very familiar stalemate prompted Van Gaal to bring on Fellaini in the place of Anthony Martial, much to the horror of the Old Trafford crowd. When CSKA Moscow’s Seydou Doumbia looked almost certain to put the Russian side ahead it was possible to feel the United fans’ disbelief but a superb David de Gea save and heroic Chris Smalling block kept it level. Heading in Jesse Lingard’s volleyed cross, Rooney scored his 237th United goal, equalling Denis Law’s record and breaking United’s 404 minute goal drought. Interestingly, Fellaini’s presence seemed to revive United and inspire their victory which, along with Rooney’s long-awaited goal, is excellent for Van Gaal but not so excellent for United in the long run. His philosophy of possession football lends itself to the competition but it can be sensed that Martial is the key to their European success; his drive to take on the defender down the middle is just the extra ingredient United need. If Van Gaal realises this, I wouldn’t put it past United to make it a long way in the competition.
Robert Lewandowski ends embarrassing goal drought against Arsenal:
Forget Wayne Rooney’s seven game goal drought, Lewandowski went into this game having not scored in his last two which, by his crazy standards, is atrocious. Luckily Arsenal’s makeshift defence were on hand to serve him his much-needed goal on a silver platter, whilst Thomas Muller was also gifted two goals. What’s frightening though is the depth of Bayern’s squad and the options they have. Arjen Robben returned from injury and slotted straight back in to the Bayern juggernaut, coming off the bench to score 38 seconds later. In possession Thiago Alcântara seemed to drift to the left, leaving David Alaba to play as a no. 10 if that’s what he wanted and he certainly did, scoring a cracker. To be honest, keeper Manuel Neuer probably could have played centre forward and scored a few. It was not Arsenal’s day. Bayern more than doubled Arsenal’s passes and tripled their number of shots, and when was the last time Petr Cech conceded five goals? In a 5-3 defeat to Arsenal as Chelsea keeper in October 2011. To make it through the group Arsenal now must beat Dinamo Zagreb at home, Olympiakos away by two clear goals and hope that Bayern beat Olympiakos , although manager Pep Guardiola made it fairly clear that Bayern would not ease off. If Bellerin and Koscielny are fit for these games then Arsenal have a decent chance, it’s when they get further than I think they might fall apart.
Sorry PSG, it’s nacho day:
A quick note on probably the biggest match of the week, Real Madrid vs Paris St. Germain. Their previous meeting ended in a disappointing 0-0 draw and this one wasn’t much better. Marcelo’s injury forced him off and replacement Nacho Fernandez scored two minutes after coming on. It was interesting that Madrid did not look comfortable, despite being at home. PSG can guarantee their place in the knockout stages with a win at Malmo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s old side, on 25th November.
How will the English clubs do?
Arsenal might not even make it out their group, but if they do I think they will be humbled by a big team. Chelsea don’t look like cutting it this year, despite Abramovic’s zealous lusting after the Champions League. I think Manchester United, like Juventus, are dark horses and if Martial ever plays down the middle they could really surprise some big teams. Man City are the ones to look out for though, when Aguero and Silva are back they can beat anyone and it looks like their year to do it.
Which club will surprise us?
So far Zenit St Petersberg are looking dangerous having won four in four Group H matches, although it is hard to say how they will fare against the real heavy hitters. It seems weird to talk about last year’s finalists Juventus being a dark horse but their fall from grace this season has been spectacular (arguably worse than Chelsea’s) but I think they could turn it around in the Serie A and the Champions League to silence their critics.
Which players should I look out for?
Many people wondered who would score Porto’s goals after prolific striker Jackson Martínez left for Atletico Madrid but Vincent Aboubakar has stepped up, scoring three goals in Group G so far this season and looks a decent replacement. A Premier League club should have bought Douglas Costa, his early season form at Bayern has been excellent and he caused Arsenal all sorts of problems. Paulo Dybala is an exciting talent who could show us what he’s got if Juventus start playing like they can. Only Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann scored more left-footed goals in the top five European leagues last season.
Who will win the Golden Boot?
Cristiano Ronaldo always racks up the goals but I don’t think this is his tournament. Robert Lewandowski is surely the most dangerous striker in Europe so he’s a good bet. It’s hard to ignore past the Neymar and Suarez partnership though, especially when I can see Barca going all the way. Interestingly, Neymar has 15 Champions League goals now which is one more than the legendary Ronaldinho. However I’d go for Thomas Müller who, like a silent assassin, has equalled teammate Lewandowski’s 4 goals in Group F and always seems to bag some goals in the later rounds.
Finally, who will win?
Whoever is in the best form in April and May, that’s how it works normally. For me, it’s got to be a Bayern vs Barcelona final. No club has ever retained the trophy in the competition’s current format but this is the year. Barcelona.