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Champions League Focus: Matchday 4 Round-up

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Champions League Focus: Matchday 4 Round-up

 

"I have never played a team as strong as that," Lille defender Franck Béria quivered. 5-0 down after just 33 minutes, a fate no one in Champions League history has ever had to chew on with their half-time oranges, Bayern Munich's blitz was, with Borussia Dortmund's display at Real Madrid and Shakhtar's encounter with Chelsea, the most spectacular of the round. 


Their 6-1 hammering of Lille should probably serve as a warning to the rest of Europe. Whether it rings true or not is up for debate. A Bayern left wounded and in search of redemption after last season's heartbreaking defeat in the Champions League final in front of their own supporters at the Allianz Arena, are certainly dangerous. It's enough to remember how they picked themselves up off the floor after that remarkable stoppage time defeat to Manchester United at the Camp Nou in 1999 to then lift the trophy in 2001.

 

But, while Bayern have gone great guns in the Bundesliga this season with a seven-point lead at the top after a record-breaking start, it bears remembering that, aside from Tuesday night's performance, they have at times misfired and underwhelmed in the Champions League this season, suffering a shock defeat to BATE Borisov earlier in the competition and needing a penalty to beat Lille 1-0 away. 

Maybe that's harsh, but to consider them favourites for the competition is perhaps premature when they're behind Valencia on goal difference in their group and still have to visit the Mestalla in a couple of weeks for a re-match of that 2001 final.

 

Following Barcelona's defeat to Celtic, the only team still with a 100% record in the competition is Manchester United. While they have won all four of their group stage matches, it can't be said that they have convinced. Robin van Persie's capitalisation of a goalkeeping error, a freak penalty from Wayne Rooney and another Javier Hernandez goal, his fifth in four games, rescued United, as they came back from behind for the third time in a row in the Champions League this season away in Braga.

 

Branding United 'favourites' would be to allocate them a false position too. What's so compelling about the Champions League this season is that, laying aside the respect for the traditional powers, the disappointment of Manchester City, and in particular the sense that, while Barcelona, are still more often than not irresistible, they have also been resisted, there's a palpable uncertainty about who will lift the trophy at Wembley next May. 

 

That's understandable considering it's still relatively early days. But it feels like there are more dark horses, certainly more sleepers, than in recent years with Borussia Dortmund taking four points out of six from Real Madrid in scintillating style, Malaga easing through to the knock-out stages in their first participation in the Champions League and Porto joining them there with solid performance after solid performance.

 

WhoScored Champions League Team of the Week

 

Champions League Focus: Matchday 4 Round-up

 

Chelsea left reeling


The Champions of Europe deserve credit for ending Shakhtar's unbeaten run this season with a 3-2 victory, but Roberto Di Matteo's claim afterwards that, "I think overall we deserved to win", wasn't an entirely accurate reflection on the game. Chelsea, as we've come to expect, played some swashbuckling and thoroughly entertaining football at times, but had it not been for two mistaken clearances from Shakhtar goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov which were, in essence, assists for Fernando Torres and Oscar, they would perhaps have suffered back-to-back defeats in the Champions League. Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu was "disgusted" with his No.1 and had every reason to feel aggrieved.


"We dominated for much of the match," Lucescu said. "We had a lot of opportunities to score and I think we were a lot better than Chelsea. We were better organised and the quality of our attacks was good." Most of those attacks, 44% in fact, came down Chelsea's left-hand side. As Manchester United indicated by switching from a diamond back to wingers for their 3-2 win at the Bridge in the Premier League last month, Chelsea are vulnerable to width, particularly on their left, where Eden Hazard offers little or no protection to his left-back. Two of United's three goals that day came from incursions on that specific flank, and Shakhtar followed suit with Willian's brace originating from the exceptional Fernandinho and then Darijo Srna, the most prolific crosser in the Champions League this season with 41 attempted, cutting the ball back across the box from the same area. It's a worry for Chelsea. As breathtaking as Hazard is going forward, he has a responsibility to help out either Ashley Cole or his stand-in on Wednesday night Ryan Bertrand in the defensive phase. Otherwise, Chelsea's left could become their Achilles heel.

 

Celtic eclipse the Catalans


When a hero as a player is awarded the job as a club's coach, there's often justified questioning of their credentials. But for every Alan Shearer at Newcastle, there's a Pep Guardiola at Barcelona. Because of the expectation, especially in light of Rangers' demise and the perceived weakness of the SPL, that Celtic don't have to do much to win the Championship, the achievement is often regarded as a formality and that does little for a coach's reputation even if the league has a long tradition of producing some of world football's greatest managers. With that in mind, Neil Lennon has distinguished himself as a capable tactician on the biggest stage over the last fortnight.

His game plan to counter Barcelona at the Camp Nou and Parkhead was spot on. In spite of injuries to key players, he still identified his team's strengths. This was the tallest team in the Champions League against the shortest and Lennon understandably placed a particular focus on set-pieces. "We knew we could threaten [Jordi] Alba in the air," Lennon said. And Celtic did just that, exploiting the weakness, by creating a mismatch at corners with Wanyama preying on Alba. It brought the opening goal and while there was a certain fortune to the winner, with Xavi miscuing a clearance of Fraser Forster's goal-kick, Celtic's ability to take the chances presented to them, as young Tony Watt did in the second half, was impressive. Their effectiveness in attempts was 40%. Though Barcelona created more, there's was a considerably inferior 4%.

Celtic held their defensive shape impressively well. Lennon's decision to play the right-footed Adam Matthews at left-back, in acknowledgement of Lionel Messi's habit of coming inside, ended with the 20-year-old Welshman making four effective clearances, more than anyone else on the Celtic team, and relatively stymying the two-time Ballon d'Or winner. Celtic didn't park the bus at Parkhead. Even if they had only 16% possession, the lowest ever recorded by a winning team in the Champions League, it's not wholly true that they followed the "we didn't want the ball" blueprint outlined by Jose Mourinho's Inter in 2010. Lennon kept two strikers up front and looked to break. As Wanyama alluded to, the aim was to be "calm on the ball." Celtic were in fact calm throughout. True there were some nervy moments and Forster had to be at his best again, but their defending was controlled rather than desperate and while some luck was involved, it wasn't a fluke that Celtic were only behind for one minute of 180 in their encounters with Barcelona this season.


A tale of two hat-tricks


After a slow start to his Galatasaray career, Burak Yilmaz, one of the few players to pull on the shirts of each of Turkey's big three, is now beginning to show the kind of goalscoring form that led him to finish last season at Trabzonspor with 33 goals in 34 league games. Tuesday night's performance away to Cluj was arguably his best this season. Six shots, five of which were on target, yielded a hat-trick, as Yilmaz used his right, his left and his head to score in a 3-1 win for Galatasaray over Cluj that keeps their hopes of qualification alive. "It's the first time I have scored three goals in a European match, and while I don't know if it's the best game I have ever had – I have had many matches for the national team – it's a big achievement and a confidence-booster," Yilmaz said. While his hat-trick is thought of as a perfect one, Claudio Pizarro's for Bayern Munich at home to Lille was just as eye-catching too and got a 10 from WhoScored's player ratings, as he converted each of his shots in the space of only 15 minutes, making it the third fastest hat-trick behind Mike Newell for Blackburn in 1995 and Bafetimbi Gomis for Lyon in 2011.

 

Ibracadabra


"There's nothing more to say about Ibrahimović," sighed the Dinamo Zagreb defender Josip Pivarić. "He destroyed us with his assists." Zlatan's poker of telling passes in Paris Saint-Germain's 4-0 victory at the Parc des Princes equalled the competition record set by Carlos Martins who set up all of Benfica's goals in a 4-3 win against Lyon in October 2010. While the calibre of the opposition must be taken into account, Ibrahimović, with a total of six key passes on the night, offered another display to debunk the myth that he is a selfish player. Such is his vision and ability on the ball, Zlatan often played so deep as to be a No.10 for Milan last year, threading half a dozen assists through to his teammates when he wasn't leading the charge to be named Capocannoniere for the second time in his career. Ibrahimović is an altruist with an ego. "If I cannot score I try to help my team-mates score. Luckily, today my team-mates scored," he quipped. Elsewhere, it mustn't go unnoticed that Philipp Lahm also got a hat-trick of assists for Bayern, further reinforcing his status as arguably the world's best full-back. 

 

Goal of the Round: Salomon Kalou vs Bayern Munich

 

Champions League Focus: Matchday 4 Round-up

 

Why pick this goal? Perhaps because, within the context of a 6-1 defeat, it might well be forgotten. There were certainly more important strikes than Kalou's in midweek - the chest and swivel kick from Yaya Toure that got Manchester City back into the game against Ajax and Victor Moses's stoppage time winning header for Chelsea in their thrilling encounter with Shakhtar dramatically improved their chances of qualification from the group stages. Yet this shot from nearly 30 yards, veering from left-to-right before hitting the bottom of the bar and bouncing beyond the line, as all the most aesthetically pleasing goals do, deserves to be celebrated even if it offered only scant consolation amid the desolation of French football's heaviest ever loss in the Champions League. Honourable mentions should of course go to Oscar and the technique of his lob, Jeremy Menez and the footwork he displayed to score for Paris Saint-Germain against Dinamo Zagreb, then there was Bastian Schweinsteiger's curling free-kick and how about Marco Reus' emphatic opener for Borussia Dortmund away to Real Madrid.


Assist of the Round: Isco vs AC Milan

Maybe it was the blue and white shirts, the San Siro setting and the opponent, but Isco's pass behind the Milan defence for Eliseu had an element - if only slight - of Chris Waddle for Jean-Pierre Papin in the same competition against the same opponent back in the early `90s. This time of course it was for Malaga and not Marseille, and it was imbued with importance. It would prove to be enough within the context of a 1-1 draw to send his team through to the knockout stages at the first time of asking. One of the Champions League's revelations this season, Isco has completed more successful dribbles [19] and played more accurate through balls [6] than any other player in the competitions this season. Is it any wonder that some of Europe's biggest clubs are taking an interest?

 

Man of the Round: Victor Wanyama vs Barcelona


In a round when there were hat-tricks of goals and a poker of assists, it might seem deliberately contrary to exalt a defensive midfielder. However, such was Victor Wanyama's importance to Celtic's historic victory over Barcelona on their 125th anniversary that to let it escape our attention would be a disservice. It wasn't just the ice-breaking goal, which incidentally also wrote Wanyama's name in the history books as the first Kenyan ever to score in the Champions League, it was the 21-year-old's all-round game that merits praise. Wearing the No.67, so evocative of the Lisbon Lions, he provided plenty of bite, leading Celtic's rearguard action with six tackles, making four clearances and an interception.  His emotions after the game were: "Just happy." "Just unreal." A £900k signing from Beerschot, Celtic will inevitably receive offers to make a significant return on their investment that they might not be able to refuse. 

Comments (1)

 
  • "What's so compelling about the Champions League this season is that (...) there's a palpable uncertainty about who will lift the trophy at Wembley next May." As opposed to which year? You never know who will lift the trophy. This year, it was Chelsea, which played awful throughout most of the season and basically scored every time they were near the goal in semi-final and the final, while the opponents had been assaulting them for 90 minuts. I don't think it can get more surprising. No one ever had back-to-back CL wins because no matter your level, there's always a weak or unlucky day coming for you now or then.

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Wolves Cesena David Jarolim Joe Cole Moussa Dembele Yakubu Javier Hernandez Leon Best Benat Kaiserslautern Christian Tiffert James Morrison Paolo De Ceglie Federico Balzaretti Javier Pastore Jeremey Menez Juan MGladbach Andreas Ivanschitz Jires Kembo-Ekoko Guillaume Hoarau Florent Malouda Steve Gohouri Kenwyne Jones Dirk Kuyt Lecce Stephen Ireland Michael Carrick Jakub Blaszcykowski Christian Fuchs Chievo Sloan Privat Abraham Guie Guie Bastian Schweinsteiger Gylfi Sigurdsson Louis Saha Kaka Martin Harnik Stuttgart German Bundesliga Grant Holt Ali Al-Habsi Ludovic Sane Aldo Angoula Younes Kaboul Brest Marcelo Stiliyan Petrov mathieu Valbuena Tono Ramirez Gianluca Buffon Emile Heskey John Utaka Markus Rosenborg Marko Arnautovic Jonathan Biabiany Andrea Caracciolo Evian Thonon Gaillard Mohammed Abdellaoue Dijon Anton Ferdinand Fabricio Coloccini Betting Eric Mouloungui Cedric Bakambu Gregory Pujol Eduardo Ribeiro Sebastien Larsson Nolan Roux Moussa Sow Bradley Johnson Jamie O'Hara Gonzalo 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Ashely Williams Piscu Eden Dzeko Emmerson Boyce Auxerre Phil Bardsley Jose Bosingwa Gretar Steinsson Mattia Cassani Jonathan Woodgate Germany National Football Team Gasperini Mauro Zarate Diego Forlan Estaban Cambiasso Juraj Kucka Marco Faraoni Joel Obi Benedikt Howedes Clemens Fritz Chris Lowe Daniel van Buyten Albania Yann M’Vila Baptiste Reynet Raul Meireles Angelo Palombo Eric Tie Bi Faouzi Ghoulam Chris Mavinga Anderson Aaron Hughes Chris Baird Raul Aly Cissokho Alessandro Del Piero Samir Handanovic France National Football Team Marc Tierney Bundelsiga Raul Bobadilla Michael Dawson Loric Remy Jean Pascal Mignot Mainz 05 Schalke 04 Marcel Risse Steven Reid Danny Gabbidon Michal Kadlec Paulo Machado Ben Watson Spain National Football Team German National Football Team Bundeslgia Ricardo Carvalho Ivan Ramis Diego Colotto Sergio Fernandez Sere A Cesare Bovo Miguel Britos Bostjan Cesar Jose Angel Gabriel Heinze Chris Samba Charles N'Zogbia Yohan Demont Rod Fanni Rudy Mater Georgios Tzavellas Javier Pinola Dennis Aogo Daniel Schwaab Attacking Full-Backs Defensive Wingers 2010/11 Attacking Wingers Nicolas Douchez Jeremy Menez Under-21 Team of Season 2010-11 Maxi Rodriguez Scott Dann Crossing Wingers Under-21 Team of Season All-Round Midfielders Benoit Pedretti Rising Stars Kyle Walker Gaetano D'Agostino Centre Backs Paulo Da Silva Ivan Hernandez Eric Abidal Weligton Borja Ekiza Alassane Toure Stephane Grichting Jordan Loties Kader Mangane Adama Coulibaly Martin Stranzl Pedro Geromel Neven Subotic Christian Zapata James Tomkins Roger Johnson Stephan Lichsteiner Reto Ziegler David Vaughan Seb Larsson Asamoah Gyan Dimitri Payet Benoit Pedretti Anthony Mounier Mehmet Ekici Simao Duda Alvaro Cejudo Xabi Prieto Alexsandar Kolarov Guiseppe Mascara Simone Bentivoglio Fernando Marques Gian Piero Gasperin Thomas Hitzlsperger Rafael Van der Vaart Theofanis Gekas Gerard Asamoah Youssef Al Arabi Lisandro Loric Remy Victor Hugo Montano Edison Cavani Sergio Pellissier David Di Michele Steward Downing Spain Under 21 Felipe Caicedo Pierre Webo Youssef El-Arabi Brown Ideye Mobido Maiga Chu-Young Robin Van Persie Christopher Samba Kevin Gamerio England U21 Udinese. Alexis Sanchez Pedro Sami Allagui Frédéric Kanouté Renato Augusto Jonathan Pitropia Eljero Elia Ivo Llicevic Fernando Muslera Diego Perez Alvaro González Abel Hernandez David VIlla Marcel Schmelzer Danijel Pranjic Holger Badstuber Sven Bender Johan Djourou Darren Fletcher Carlos Kameni Thiago Silve Antonia Di Natale Cristiano Zapata Domenico Criscito Luis Jimenez Josep Ilicic Samuel Eto’o Alexis Thébaux Ludovic Sané Mamouda Sakho Boukary Dramé Daniel Alves Nikolay Mihaylov Charles Puyol Ji-Sung Park Edwin van der Sar Dani Alves John O’Shea Park Ji-Jung Gabi Fernandez Jonathan de Guzman Michael Owen Gary Taylor-Fletcher Ian Evatt DJ Campbell Charles N’Zogbia Wolverhampton Robinho Rudi Garcia Avram Grant Conor Sammon Wayne Bridge Rob Green Victor Obinna Mike Hanke Borussia Munchengladbach VfL Bochum Tomasz Kuszczak Martin Olsson Brett Emerton Steven N’Zonzi Muset Ozil Gianpaolo Pazzini Leonardo Seydou Keita Miguel Pallardo Ibrahim Afellay Valdo Pallardo Damien Perquis Luka Modrid David SIlva Roberto Mancini Benoit Assou-Ekotto Vedran Corluka Carlo Ancelotti Saloman Kalou Clarence Seedorf Matteo Brighi Fabio Simplicio Rodrigo Taddei Mark Van Bommel Gennaro Gattuso Kevin Prince-Boateng Nicolas Burdisso Elkin Soto Pep Gaurdiola Lassana Diarra Jurgen Klopp Lucas Barrios Antonio da Silva Robert Mak Heurelho Gomes Andre Marriner Pinto Alavro Arbeloa Alexander Hleb Cameron Jerome

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