Champions League groups decided 5/5 (2)

Champions League group stage is mostly decided. Only in three groups out of eight qualified teams for next phase have to be decided.

And there have been little surprises. Not in terms of game results but in terms of clubs progressing to knock-out stage.

In my first posts I gave my prediction and till now beside Ajax beating Benfica to second place in group E everything else is as expected. True, majority of them were no-brainer and many expected the same.

Group A

Champions League groups decided

Atletico Madrid 2 – 0 Monaco

Borussia Dortmund 0 – 0 Club Brugge

Standings:

Atletico Madrid 12

Borussia Dortmund 10

Club Brugge 5

Monaco 1

No surprises here regarding progression. Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund have secured knock-out stage with a game to spare however Monaco’s last place and overall season performances could hardly be predicted.

The French side are going thru hell also in domestic league and might even take advantage from lack of European games in the remainder of the season, beside the one left in group stages. If additional proof that this is one of those seasons was needed they got it in Madrid.

Atletico took immediate lead thanks to a deflected shot. Towards the end of the game Monaco got a chance to get back in it but Falcao missed a penalty. Probably still wouldn’t be enough to get anything from this match but at least it wouldn’t be another blow to already low team morale.

Club Brugge took advantage of Principality club crisis and secured Europa League competition. Given the opposition they couldn’t hope for more and should be happy with their achievement.

Last match will serve only to decide group winner. Dortmund needs a win in France combined with Atletico not winning in Belgium to climb in first place. But the Spanish side won’t let it happen.

Group B

PSV 1 – 2 Barcelona

Tottenham 1 – 0 Inter

Standings:

Barcelona 13

Tottenham 7

Inter 7

PSV Eindhoven 1

Champions League groups decided

No surprises in this group either. Tottenham complicated their qualification with severe lapses in Milan and Eindhoven. Therefore is obliged to match in Barcelona Inter’s result against PSV having an advantage on Italians in direct confrontation.

Hotspurs showed at Wembley that they can play it out against the Catalan club. But needs to be concrete.

Barcelona is blowing hot and cold and with no result imperative could be up for a surprise. PSV demonstrated that blaugrana offers you a lot of chances. However if you don’t take them they’ll punish you.

At the start I expected Spurs to secure promotion before their visit to Spain. They still have everything in their hands just that they chose the tougher path.

Internazionale collected the points more due to sheer persistence then quality football or anything else.

However at this point Inter’s chances of progression look better.

Group C

PSG 2 – 1 Liverpool

Napoli 3 – 1 Crvena Zvezda

Standings:

Napoli 9

PSG 8

Liverpool 6

FK Crvena Zvezda 4

The only group where everything is still open! Three clubs have a chance of progression to Champions League’s second phase, all of them could end up in Europa League and two of them can finish this seasons’ international run.

Every goal scored will have a massive impact and turn the standings on its head.

Interestingly till now nobody won on the road! However Liverpool’s away malaise is nothing short of incredible.

Having already visited all opponents the Reds accumulated a total of 0 points! Same as Crvena Zvezda!

Champions League groups decided

But even more worrying are the performances out-up during the visits. Except for a discrete showing in Belgrade where they had their fair share of chances to score, the only goal scored was a penalty in Paris.

Even that was a generous gift from Di Maria who brought down Mane on the edge oof the box when he wasn’t a direct threat to Buffon.

And even more interesting fact is that Liverpool suffered the greatest deficit while visiting the Serbian champions! In Neaples and Paris they lost by a single goal. In Belgrade they lost by 2 goals.

Anyhow the English side still has everything to play for! At Anfield they need to beat Napoli by 2 goals and will surely progress. Not the easiest task but Klopp’s men already proved they can come up with any result.

Napoli on the other hand, if fail to qualify will rue missed chances in Belgrade and in Paris! If Liverpool was hard to recognize on their travels Napoli played some decent football and should already be sure of progression. But they didn’t and now have to fight it till the last second of the last game in one of the hottest stadiums in Europe.

It’ll be a maturity test for a side lack in international pedigree that might cost them dearly.

Paris SG is still a step behind the best! Despite all economical power and investments made the last few years they still can’t establish themselves as a European force.

They managed somehow to secure 2 points against Napoli but performances have been average at best. Not to mention the one in Liverpool. There’s enough individual talent to hurt all kinds of opposition but still lacking authority to command the play when facing top continental clubs, particularly away.

Crvena Zvezda exceeded all expectation with 4 points up to now and still in with a chance to qualify for Europa League! To achieve that they’d have to win against PSG at home and Napoli to win against Liverpool.

Difficult scenario but in this group everything is possible judging what we saw till now!

Originally I predicted Napoli and Liverpool to advance but with the current situation that’s hardly an option.

Champions League groups decided

PSG most likely won’t allow additional surprises at the Marakana and I’m hoping for Napoli to progress. Just because of Ancelotti.

Group D

Porto 3 – 1 Schalke 04

Lokomotiv Moscow 2 – 0 Galatasaray

Standings:

Porto 13

Schalke 04 8

Galatasaray 4

Lokomotiv Moscow 3

Europa League spot is still possible for Galatasaray and Lokomotiv while Porto and Schalke already secured their places in Champions League’s second round.

The Turks are favorites to qualify not only for point advantage available but also because they play the decider at home. Beside that a better head-to-head record with Lokomotiv should be enough to earn third spot. In case point parity should occur.

Group E

AEK 0 – 2 Ajax

Bayern 5 – 1 Benfica

Standings:

Bayern Munich 13

Ajax 11

Benfica 4

AEK Athens 0

Champions League groups decided

Ajax took advantage of Bayern’s troubles to snatch a draw in Munich on match-day 2 and is still in with a chance to win the group. All they need to do is win against serial German champions in Amsterdam in group’s final match.

Two weeks ago it would seem fairly possible. However Bavarians dismantling of Benfica could be a sign of resurrection after a series of under-par performances and reported dressing room disharmony.

And even if the Dutch don’t succeed next round is already guaranteed thanks to Benfica’s lack of challenge.

Portuguese club earned Europa League qualification but they need to take a good look in the mirror. Last year’s disastrous international campaign ended with 0 points. This year they can only thank that AEK’s drawn with them. Otherwise it would be another win-less European participation.

I expected much more from them and in fact predicted them finishing behind Bayern. But performances shown indicate that they belong to European second tier at the moment.

Group F

Lyon 2 – 2 Manchester City

Hoffenheim 2 – 3 Shakhtar Doneck

Standings:

Manchester City 10

Lyon 7

Shakhtar Donetsk 5

Hoffenheim 3

In the 90th minute in Hoffenheim everything was decided. Lyon and Manchester City progress to second round and Shakhtar and Hoffe will fight it for the third place.

But then Taison scored the winner and earned Ukrainian side the chance to qualify! And to make it even more interesting, last game will be against direct promotion competitor.

Shakhtar will host Lyon in the final match and if they win second place is theirs! All other results will make the French side happy. Win imperative for Ukrainian champions but at least they’ll have home advantage in the deciding game.

Champions League groups decided

Nevertheless Lyon should some on top in this one.

Manchester City respected the odds and topped the group. In some scenarios the they could finish second which would potentially complicate the proceedings. However all group winners are hoping Citizens will not let it happen.

Despite domestic dominance City have found it very difficult to display similar authority in Europe. Even if not faced with any of the favorites or historical giants. Are Premier League clubs doing something very wrong? Or is Guardiola taking Champions League group stage very lightly?

It surely would be an interesting subject to examine.

Similarly to City also Hoffenfeim respected the expectations. Played some good football and proved a stern opposition but ultimately stumbled and gave away cheap points. It’ll serve as invaluable experience for the future but remain a huge regret!

They can still catch Europa League train but if the main condition to do that is winning at Etihad don’t bet your money on them.

Group G

Roma 0 – 2 Real Madrid

CSKA Moscow 1 – 2 Victoria Plzen

Standings:

Real Madrid 12

Roma 9

Viktoria Plzen 4

CSKA Moscow 4

Real Madrid somehow won in Rome and secured top spot no matter what happens on final match-day.

Watching first half in the Eternal city it’s unbelievable that defending champion managed to do so!

Roma was on the front foot, dictated the tempo, controlled the proceedings and missed a number of opportunities to take the lead. And even double it!

Under’s miss has became viral but beside that Roma had other possibilities which went unrealized.

Football doesn’t forgive and neither does Real in Champions League. Immediately after the break Italians made a mess of a simple situation and duly conceded.

Home side was in shock and visitors took advantage to extend the lead soon after and the Roman first place dreams were crushed.

Roma continue with giving away points in games they deserved better and Real continues with mediocre displays after embarassing weekend defeat. Solari can’t be please despite the win.

Champions League groups decided

It could been a great story; after Barcelona also Real suffers humiliation in Rome. But it wasn’t meant to be.   

Third place fight is wide open after Victoria came from behind and won in Moscow. On level points with CSKA and with a more favorable last match the Czech’s have a real possibility to grab EL spot.

Group H

Juventus 1 – 0 Valencia

Manchester United 1 – 0 Young Boys

Standings:

Juventus 12

Manchester United 10

Valencia 5

Young Boys 1

Routine victory for Juventus but first place not sealed yet due to black-out against Manchester United last time out.

And another United’s last gasp victory, this time against Swiss minnows, re-opened, theoretically, top spot question.

Mourinho seems to have more lives then a cat but I’m sure he’s slowly running out of them. His United doesn’t pose particular threat to Europe’s giants.

But second spot could be a very intriguing verdict because United would play against a group winner in the next phase.

And the opposition could be Porto!

Champions League groups decided

It would be one of life’s ironies if the club that lunched him at the top level would also “finish” his career…

Stories only Champions League can write!

Majority of spots have been assigned. Those which are still up for grabs will bring exciting games.

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Barcelona new low, Real on a high No ratings yet.

Barcelona roller-coaster season continues with a home defeat to mediocre Real Betis. Madrid giants took the opportunity to close the gap.

12th match-day in LaLiga brought a major surprise with the Andaluzian green and white claiming all spoils at Nou Camp.

Barcelona slump

Barcelona trouble

Home game against Betis had all the necessary ingredients for an easy, Barcelona-like goal difference boosting league match with a routine win.

Midweek point against Inter in Champions League that sealed the qualification to the next phase held the mood high. Messi’s return to action after the injury upped the atmosphere additionally. And the opponent had scored a solitary goal in previous 5 away games.

What can you expect in these circumstances? Total domination in a high scoring win.

In the end that’s exactly what happened however not to the hosts liking.

Right from the start it was clear that Barca can’t create as much as would have expected. Initial apparent supremacy was cut short by Betis goal.

Defensive frailty      

After 20 minutes, in which both sides created some interesting situations in opposition’s box, Betis took the lead. And naturally in the most predictable way – counter attack.

Junior Firpo entered the box from the left and cut in onto his right foot. Sergi Roberto, not a natural defender, tried to confront him and deny shooting space, if it can be said so. However the Brazilian found enough time and space to release a shot that left no chance to Ter Stegen.

Betis celebration

If he was cutting inside you’d expect one of the center back’s to be there to watch Sergi’s back. Well, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Admittedly, Barcelona’s right back didn’t cover himself with glory on the occasion anyway some kind of back-up should be there.

Firstly, because it has to. Following defensive basics, every player has to have somebody covering his back.

Secondly, the nearest Firpo’s teammate was some 20 to 25 meters away! And between them, beside Sergi, 4(!) other Barcelona players. Four! Chasing shadows. Taking a rest. Not sure what were they doing, but surely they were not defending.

Catalan pride was never known for their defending and fans are used to see similar scenes. Therefore probably weren’t too much concerned especially as soon after had a close range sitter saved by Pau Lopez in visitor’s goal. Our time is here, probably crossed their mind.

Barca team most likely believed the same as stubbornly refused to defend!

Not an accident

Pique

As if trailing by a goal wasn’t enough of a challenge for them, the hosts time and again allowed too much space for the opposition to thrive in. Subsequent warning shots weren’t taken seriously and Betis duly doubled their advantage.

This time they didn’t even bother to pose any kind of resistance! Joaquin was left undisturbed to slot into an empty net some 6-7 meters from goal.

If Lenglet and Jordi Alba at least pretended to mark somebody, Pique and Sergi Roberto didn’t bother even that much to at least fake it.

They did, however, learn the lesson from the first goal and watched each others back. Shame that the threat was coming from somewhere else…

After the break Barcelona went all out attack and eventually scored, courtesy of a gifted penalty by Betis defence, who until that point looked very tight and organized.

Game back on, you’d think! But since blaugrana apparently decided that won’t do any sort of defending in this game the goalkeeper shouldn’t be any exception. It was a rare mistake by the usually very dependable shot-stopper.

And to make things worst the goal came only a couple of minutes after Barcelona reduced the deficit. 71st minute, 1-3, but still a lot to come.

Till the last minute lack of the very minimum of concentration and attention on both sides helped to make it an entertaining, high-scoring and dramatic match.

Messi not enough

Messi scored two goals, had a few of trademark runs throughout the match and some decent shots but even he can’t make up for a collective black-out.

Messi vs Betis

One of the stand-out members of the team and Catalonia in general, Pique, had a lapse of concentration that lasted for some 95 minutes. On several occasions was recalled from the manager but ultimately didn’t help.

Barcelona’s performances and particularly results this season oscillate from great, like the mauling of Real Madrid and Inter, to ridiculous, like defeats to Leganes and Betis.

Since it’s not an isolated incident it makes you wonder what to expect when the crucial part of the season arrives. What kind of Barcelona will we see against top European sides in international competition and in domestic season-defining trips to Madrid?

Betis will cherish the 3-4 victory in one of the most iconic stadiums in the world for a very long time. And rightfully so.

Real Madrid’s resurrection

Benzema scoring

Since Santi Solari took over the reins Real Madrid started to score goals and stopped conceding them. True, opposition faced in the last few weeks was far from world class but in September and October anyone could take the famous scalp.

This weekend’s trip to Vigo was pointed out as the trickiest fixture at the beginning of the short tenure.

But since Benzema remembered that he’s a top notch striker and found his shooting boots, Celta couldn’t prove too big of an obstacle.

Even if in the end the hosts had more possession and provided some attacking threat Real’s win was just and deserved.

Solari has been offered to guide the team further on, as expected, due to result  tendency overturned and lack of quality alternatives. Hopefully he’ll make the best of it and build a reputation as a manager. But don’t expect any Zidane effect.

Catching up

After the disastrous clasico defeat title challenge looked unrealistic. Both in terms of performances and point gap.

However, if Real continues to improve his game and Barcelona keeps blowing hot and cold we could be in for a very interesting season.

Solari satisfied

Especially with Sevilla and Atletico Madrid, both winning by minimal margin this weekend, not giving up.

And Deportivo Alaves and Espanyol still hanging in there. Surely not title contenders but potential party-breakers for somebody.

Elsewhere

Surprises also elsewhere, beside in Barcelona, as Valencia, 4th Spanish team in the CL this season, won away to Getafe. Strange to hear, I agree, but it’s only second league victory for Los Che.

Somewhat expected visitor’s triumph in Valencia where Real Sociedad, best league record on the road, won against high-flying Levante. The Valencia outfit, nicknamed the frogs, have an indifferent home record but still sit in 8th place with just 3 point shy of Real Madrid.

Barcelona’s lack of defensive stability this season has been one of the talking points. If they don’t find a solution quickly Madrid giants and possibly also Sevilla will soon overtake the lead.

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Red Star euphoria and Monaco chaos No ratings yet.

Red Star made history in Belgrade by beating Liverpool on Champions League’s match-day 4 in group C. The Serbian side did the same already however it was over 45 years ago.

Champions League doesn’t provide a lot of surprises in terms of winners but in the group stages there are some. And this season we’ve had 1 major surprise every round. But the developments in the Serbian capital on Tuesday night are beyond every immagination – rookie in the competition wins against last season’s runner-up.

Red Star make history

As Napoli already felt in the opening game, there’s nothing to cheer about when you’re visitor in the famous Marakana, now Rajko Mitić stadium. Even if the red and white didn’t have a great game and actually had a lot of luck when earning a point against the Partenopei, they got it.

Red Star Liverpool

Tuesday night, however, the victory was well earned. After shipping in 10 goals in the last two CL trips to Paris and Liverpool you’d be forgiven if you wouldn’t give the Serbs a chance. And after their first choice forward was ruled out, slims chances took another cut.

Milan Pavkov

But in tight situation heroes are born and new hero in the Balkan country is Milan Pavkov. Who? Milan Pavkov.

To tell you the truth I didn’t hear of him either before his heroics against the Reds so more then the obvious I can’t explain.

Red Star Pavkov

He’s been at the club since 2016 but has managed just a few goals in the first season. The ever-demanding football public in Belgrade derided him however club president maintained his faith in the player.

To calm the surroundings the player was sent on loan to Radnički Niš last season where he flourished with 23 goals. That convinced everybody that there’s something in the big target man and he was brought back this summer.

The return wasn’t all roses either and until his double against the English giant he scored 5 goals in domestic league. And that’s much saying much given the quality of the competition.

In the CL preliminary rounds he did have some playing time but without any particular success. Apparently he’s a big occasion player and after his last performance more pitch time is guaranteed and we’ll just have to wait and see if he can deliver with higher expectations.

The game

Anyway, Liverpool opened the game in familiar fashion and after a sitter missed by Sturridge at the beginning it looked as if another high-scoring result is on the cards.

But the home side refused to just roll over and die! After the initial scare went by and some equilibrium was installed, Pavkov rose highest and nodded home an inviting cross from a corner.

Heating atmosphere in the stadium gave even more courage and while the guests were still wondering what happened Pavkov hit again.

This time it was an individual action as his relentless pressing awarded him a ball on the half-way line. He resisted Wijnaldum’s come-back, adjusted the ball on his preferred right foot and fired a thunderbolt past a helpless Alisson from 20 meters.

30 minutes played and 2-0 for the heavy underdog.

Red Star Salah

In little more then 5 minutes 2 strikes and the stadium erupted! If it was hot till then, it must felt like hell for Liverpool since.

The Beatles city team upped the pressure, controlled the game and found a way to be dangerous however I don’t remember any clear-cut chances of miracles from the home side goalkeeper.

Liverpool can be glad that both confrontations between Napoli and PSG ended without winners and actually have still everything in their own hands.

It’s now a very tricky situation in the group standings with 2 games left to play and all teams being within 2 points. Nobody gave Red Star any particular chance in getting any point from the 6 games they got to play and now they’re in with a shot of qualifying for the next stage. Perhaps to optimistic but the chances are there.

Juventus implosion

It might not be such a big surprise as in Belgrade but Manchester United’s victory in Turin against Juventus is surely a contender for top 3 surprises in CL this season.

It didn’t look like that at all at the beginning. The Bianconeri were their usual dominating self, controlling the proceedings and having the English counterpart on the ropes for over 80 minutes.

Chances were coming at will and if there wasn’t De Gea with his saves there was a post of a crossbar to keep Khedira and Dybala at bay respectively.

Juventus

However in the 65th minute Juventus finally got its break-thru with a fantastic finish from the star man – Ronaldo. Bonucci sent an exquisite over-the-top invite and the Portuguese super-star finished with rarely seen accuracy and power to finally give the much-deserved lead for the home side.

The punishment

Since the Red Devils have looked uninspired and unmotivated, their usual self this season, few could have predicted what followed.

The goal shook the visitors but the reaction needed some more time to be seen. Eventually Mata scored from a free-kick in the 86th minute and even a draw would be too much for the performance.

However, shocks weren’t over yet.

We’ve already learned that Juventus is so dominant this season that a lack of challenge brings the worst out of them. It happened against Genoa in Serie A a few weeks ago and it happened again last night.

Just a few minutes after the equalizer Manchester took advantage of Italian champions’ relaxation and scored again! Well, they didn’t have to because Bonucci and Alex Sandro took care of it by scoring an own goal in comical circumstances.

It’s hard to explain what happened but in the end doesn’t even matter too much. Mourinho and his team got an important win and reminded Allegri and his squad of a crucial moment in football matches. IT NOT OVER UNTIL THE FINAL WHISTLE IS BLOWN!

You’d expect such an experienced team to learn their lesson and see out games they deserved to win with greater authority. However, over-confidence obviously got the better of much-needed humility and fooled them. Again!

Proposal to Mourinho

This season his team has decided to play only in second half. I’m not sure if it’s a strategy, a necessity or just happens but in majority of first halves Manchester United was horrific. Against Juve, Chelsea and numerous other times United just stood there the first 45 minutes and let the opposition run them ragged.

Mourinho

Since it’s a trend this year Mourinho should have his team play an internal game for 45 minutes before the official match kick-off. In that way when the actual game starts they’d be already playing 2nd half . Perhaps in this way they would play the whole match on expected level. Even if in the later stages of the game Mourinho’s team would be a bit tired by then the result would probably be gained and could let the opposition chase the result.

Perhaps it’s an idea worth exploring.

Monaco chaos

AS Monaco is a club with rich tradition and with some success along the way. As far as last season played perhaps the most entertaining football on the continent and more importantly gained results.

This season it’s in complete chaos! On-field performances are bordering on the ridiculous and the league table clearly shows it. 

Coach change is inevitable in such situations however it didn’t bring any positive effect. Thierry Henry is a legend and his football knowledge is beyond doubt. However leading a demotivated and seemingly tense group of players appears to be a bridge too far for a managerial debut on the highest level.

Henry

Owner’s arrest and suspicion of fraud doesn’t help either and I wouldn’t be surprised if a talent exodus would be on the table in January. The talent is there and there won’t be any shortage of suitors. But given the club’s situation many of them could be sold way bellow market value.

Goals conceded against Club Brugge demonstrate current atmosphere in the camp. No focus, no idea what’s going on and no vision. Just confusion, lack of concentration and general state of shock!

The rest

Of the rest no stand-out results.

Inter got an undeserved point at home against Barcelona with the usual Icardi finding a way past Ter Stegen. At the end both will take it without stress as the result helps both clubs closer to the objective.

Tottenham got a laboured victory against PSV to keep the hopes alive. However, to secure progression they need to stop giving away early and cheap goals.

Napoli also got an undeserved point but because should got all 3 of them against timid PSG. The French champions will be glad with the result but they must improve drastically if they wish to advance to the next stage.

Manchester City fired 6 past Pyatov at the Etihad stadium. The performance was as dominant as ever but the game will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. It’s hard to explain, you have to see for yourself.

However, in Sterling’s defence, the goal he scored beginning of the 2nd half was simply brilliant.

Bayern Munich won against AEK to book its place in the knock-out phase but can’t be considered out of crisis. What the demanding public has to watch at the Allianz Arena isn’t worth of the glorious history the club carries and the squad assembled.

Ajax got and important point in Lisbon in their quest to make it in the next round.

Roma did the same in Moscow.

And Real Madrid’s resurrection under the guidance of Santiago Solari continues. 3 games, 3 wins, 11 goals scored and 0 conceded. That’s a record suitable to Real’s fame. The opposition wasn’t exactly world-beaters however neither was Real lately. And the fact that Benzema still remembers where the goal stands and started to hit it is a very good sign.

Red Star produced the shock of the round this time. That’s the beauty of the Champions League. Let’s hope leaked changes in the making don’t ruin the beautiful game.

Full results:

Group A

 Monaco 0 – 4 Club Brugge

 Atletico Madrid 2 – 0 Borussia Dortmund

Group B

 Inter 1 – 1 Barcelona

 Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 1 PSV Eindhoven

Group C

 Red Star 2 – 0 Liverpool

 Napoli 1 – 1 Paris Saint Germain

Group D

 FC Porto 4 – 1 Lokomotiv Moscow

 Schalke 04 2 – 0 Galatasaray

Group E

 FC Bayern München 2 – 0 AEK Athens

 Benfica 1 – 1 Ajax

Group F

 Lyon 2 – 2 Hoffenheim

 Manchester City 6 – 0 Shakhtar Donetsk

Group G

 CSKA Moscow 1 – 2 Roma

 Viktoria Plzen 0 – 5 Real Madrid

Group H 

 Valencia 3 – 1 Young Boys

 Juventus 1 – 2 Manchester United

Group standings

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