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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Chelsea losing grip, United everything 5/5 (3)

Chelsea’s first season defeat comes against fellow Champions League hopefuls and city rivals Tottenham at Wembley. While actual title contenders distance themselves from the chasing pack.

Big game of the round pitted London rivals Chelsea and Tottenham at Wembley. The Blues came into this still undefeated but with 4 draws while the Spurs already suffered the bitter result 3 times in the Premier League this season.

Pochettino and Sarri

Chelsea’s defence, again

Chelsea played the worst match since Sarri took over in the summer. Tottenham’s high pressing game didn’t leave any chance to somewhat uninspired Blues.

Spurs started strongly and took the lead already in the 8th minute and doubled it 8 minutes later. Chelsea was never renewed for rock solid defence and if additional prove was needed it was served in this match.

First goal displayed all the liabilities in Sarri’s team defensive phase. Kane gets the ball in behind Alonso. There’s not much he can do there beside getting a foul. And when David Luiz is close, so is a free kick.

Absolutely unnecessary offense in a completely innocuous area. Accompany the Spurs striker and don’t let him turn. That’s all Luiz had to do. Instead he brings him down without any apparent reason.

Dele vs Chelsea

The following free kick showed next defiance in Chelsea’s defence. Alli had nobody contesting the ball. Nobody jumped to get the ball or at least disturb him! Kepa could perhaps done better in goal but that’s not the issue here.

Marking and stopping the opponent…what?

Second goal wasn’t any better. Home side most dangerous player was allowed way too much space to shoot. Again there was nobody to challenge him! No defender, no midfielder at 20 meters from goal to at least try to stop the shot.

If at the first goal Kepa could done a bit better, here he really should done much better! It wasn’t neither incredibly powerful nor anywhere near the post. The second goal is also on goalkeepers soul.

Kane vs Chelsea

Third goal conceded isn’t really worth commenting, right? Son scored but it was as Sarri himself assisted him.

Stop Jorginho, stop Chelsea?

Dele Alli shadowed Chelsea playmaker Jorginho all game long and didn’t allow the Ital-Brazilian to display his abilities. And that was basically enough to stop Chelsea.

Having the metronome cut out of play Chelsea had a lot of difficulties getting the ball in the attacking third. Any timid attempt organizing attacks from the back were quickly closed down by Pochettino’s men.

Jorginho

So Chelsea had to play it in behind Tottenham’s defence. However with Morata failing to time his runs no real danger came out of it either. Only meaningful shot the Spanish striker managed came when he was nearly 2 meters in offside.

Only in second half Chelsea managed to get a little more time on the ball but even that was due to Tottenham consciously retrieving and leaving initiative to the opposition. Just to hit it on the counter.

However the hosts couldn’t make use of the space in wide area as it isn’t what they’re used to do.

Response? Pedro!

Playing against a team that leaves open the flanks and substituting your striker with Pedro is not the way to go. Even if Hazard is up top. Neither him nor the Spanish fellow attacker can win in a duel for a cross!

Giroud is the only player capable of winning headers in opposition box. Waiting until the end to release him was just as bad decision as it was to play Kovačić who’s only contribution was a “rabiona” that started a counter-attack.

The match was always going to be tough and chances would be coming rarely. However failing to adopt to the situation on the pitch with adequate changes isn’t permissible at this level.

Giroud

Sarri will surely take important conclusions from this game and acknowledge own mistakes. But must be very fast in finding the solution to this kind of approach.  

Fabregas, anyone?

Limiting Chelsea’s attack so easily must be worrying Sarri. What if everybody does that? Risking a player to stop opposition fluency is something all managers will adopt without thinking twice.

Sarri’s game is based on prolonged possession and setting the rhythm. Perhaps playing a second playmaker could add some diversity. Something Real Madrid was doing so successfully last few years with Kroos and Modrić.

Since Kovačić isn’t living up to expectations and Barkley just recently picking up form, playing Fabregas next to Jorginho and Kante woudn’t be a bad idea. The Spaniard is capable of dictating the tempo and distributing the ball around the pitch.

In this way play-making burden would be divided between 2 players and hardly anybody would risk two players to man-mark deep midfielders. Thus your play wouldn’t depend on the passing ability of your center-backs.

Leaders routine wins

Man City Sane

Manchester City continue with running at full speed. West Ham practise was basically wrapped-up by 20th minute mark when Sterling extended the lead. Sane’s double just rounded the result but West Ham rarely threatened.

The fact that City scored 3 goals from open just by tapping it home from few meters demonstrates their superiority.

Similarly Liverpool archived Watford practise. Just that reds left it a bit late but nevertheless without particular scares.

United continues with…disasters

Manchester United continues to disappoint. Or is a home draw a disappointment any more? Frustrating situation for fans of one of the biggest club in the world.

It’s there for anyone to see that things aren’t working out. Fortunate win against Juventus in Champions League can’t mask all the shortcomings demonstrated in all other matches.

14 points behind league leaders, 7 points away from Champions League spot and negative goal-difference.

Mourinho vs CP

Why aren’t there any actions taken? How long will the club tolerate this kind of performances? How long will the fans?

A lot of questions remain unanswered and United continues with disasters. Unless the club decided that this season no trophies are to be won or even contested. Then everything is clear.

Elsewhere

Arsenal gained 3 points the hard and lucky way in Bournemouth, Everton won against Cardiff City at Goodison part and Leicester City managed to grab a point after being a man down for over an hour.

Important wins for Fulham, first game for new manager Ranieri and Huddesfield Town.

Fulham Mitrović

Chelsea losing grip but more importantly having exposed all weaknesses in a game that mustn’t be forgotten. It must serve as a reminder that you need a plan B.

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Manchester derby No ratings yet.

Manchester derby confirmed what was clear to everyone; City is miles ahead of United. Not even Pogba could turn this one around.

Manchester derby

Manchester derby

Across Europe a lot of mouth-watering clashes were played and the Manchester derby was the big match in Premier League this weekend. And everybody who expected a tight affair was left disappointed.

City produced a dominant display that didn’t allow the Reds any chance. True, United missed their best player in Pogba who fort-fitted just before the kick off. However city missed their best midfielder also in De Bruyne. So we could call important absences even!

Interestingly Mourinho and Guardiola didn’t fire poisonous dart at each other in the build up. As things stand right now that’s the only duel the Portuguese manager has a chance of winning.

City’s dominance

The scenario was clear from the beginning; the blues to keep the ball and attack in numbers and the reds to wait for mistakes and hit on the counter. It’s a familiar sight in the Manchester derby the last few years.

It was also clear that United’s midfield with Matić, Herrera and Fellaini can’t provide sufficient support to the attackers thru patient build-up play and defence-splitting balls. For that Mata would have to be involved. This midfield was composed to close the spaces and run the extra mile.

It looked as if Mourinho ordered man-marking of City’s central trio. Fellaini stepped up to mirror Fernandinho, Herrera tried to shadow David Silva and Matić was supposed to follow Bernardo Silva.

And it worked for United at the start. Well, at least for the first 10 minutes! Citizen’s play is way too dynamic and flexible to be limited with this kind of approach.

Early lead secured by David Silva who pounced on a loose ball in the heart of the penalty area was a just reward for shown till then. United barely had a kick and was already trailing.

Even before the goal the hosts, City in this case, had a few situations that could lead to their advantage.

United’s misery

Midway thru the first half Smalling had a header fly over the crossbar of a bored Ederson. And that “chance” was everything Mourinho’s troops managed in the first half.

United’s tactic to exploit opponents mistakes back-fired immediately after the break.

De Gea’s, Reds’s best player by far the last few seasons, miss-kick was picked up in the center of the park by City. Quick transition and a scholastic one-two on the edge of the area freed Aguero in a shooting chance inside the box.

The Argentine usually takes these kind of chances and he did it this time also. Thunderous shot above the keeper’s head; 2:0 and game virtually closed.

Manchester United’s 2nd half come-back, kind off…

Soon after Aguero’s goal Lukaku came on for an uninspired Lingard and immediately made an impact.

The Belgian striker went for a rare vertical pass in City’s penalty area. The situation wasn’t of any danger to the Brazilian shot-stopper in City’s goal as Lukaku’s movement was away from the goal.

Anyway, Ederson decided to go for it and duly came late, brought down the robust attacker and a penalty was given. Martial routinely converted from the spot, 2:1 and contest re-opened. It happened in the 58th minute and everything still to play for.

In theory, at least.

Mourinho’s game-plan worked in this occasion! They bored the opposition’s goalkeeper until he decided to go for an innocuous ball just to get some action. And made the mistake the Reds carved for!

Man Utd had a few minutes on the front foot after reducing the gap however never really threatened to get the second. Last season’s script wasn’t to be repeated.

Sane came in for Mahrez and demonstrated why he’s regarded the present and the future of the club. His quick feet and explosiveness were too much to handle for a tired United defense. He did spurn some good situations but he came in them with ease.

After a few missed opportunities, Guendogan’s goal in 86th minute cleared any doubts. The goal itself is the best demonstration of the gulf in class between the sides.

The German finished a team move that included 44 passes (!!!) and almost the whole team participating in the maneuver!

Conclusions from the derby

Manchester derby 2

City are the team to beat in England’s top flight, no argument there. Clear game-plan, several options for every position across the pitch and a ever-demanding manager.

The future looks bright and the final triumph is theirs to loose.

Manchester United’s been riding their luck and relying on for too long now. No clear game-plan, no rehearsed routines in attacking moves, little-to-none creativity in the maneuver, slow and predictable ball circulation. And a porous defense that already costed them important points.

League leaders are way ahead of them in every aspect.

If there was any talk or idea in the red side of Manchester about title challenge before the season started, they should revise their goals and set the bar lower. Much, much lower.

Chasing pack

Only Liverpool manages to keep up with Pep’s formidable team. Klopp’s boys managed to get over the midweek shock in Belgrade and obtain a win against slumping Fulham. As usually Salah broke the dead-lock. It wasn’t easy as the score-line might suggest as teh London outfit had some good opportunities to get in front but eventually succumbed to another defeat. Perhaps unjust but ultimately no points for them. Again.

Salah

Similarly, Tottenham forced a win away at Crystal Palace. First goal for young center-back Foyth proved enough to get all 3 points and maintain title hopes.

Chelsea somehow managed not to win against fairly modest Everton. The chances were there however eventually none of them were taken and the Liverpool side went home with a big smile on their face.

Another contender to drop important points at home was Arsenal. Contrary to Chelsea, Arsenal perhaps got what they deserved as for all the possession, Wolves had more attempts on goal and on target.

Relegation battle

Newcastle and Cardiff City snitched important wins against Bournemouth and Brighton respectively to escape from the relegation zone.

Especially important for Newcastle to build on last weekend’s win against Watford thus making it two-in-a-row.

Manchester derby was the most imbalanced match of the weekend with City displaying alarming supremacy. And since majority of other fixtures pitted top club’s against bottom one’s, it raises a lot of questions about United’s near future.

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