The UEFA Champions’ League Group Stages came to an end this week with eight teams booking their place in the Round of sixteen to join the already qualified eight. It was certainly filled with drama, for some it went from hope to despair while for some others, despair to hope. There were goals aplenty and there were certainly talking points.
CAN ANYONE STOP BAYERN?
I asked this question a couple of weeks ago and from my points and comments, everyone seemed to agree that it would take something special to stop the Bavarian giants from hoisting the crown for a second year running. Their match against Manchester City has shown us two things that could likely stop the Bundesliga Champions.
One is the tendency to get complacent. After storming to a two goal lead in the opening 12 minutes, football fans expected a cruise for the German giants. What followed was the most unlikely of comebacks as the Citizens led by the virtuoso display from James Milner won 3-2.While it would be unfair to discredit the Eastland’s performance; it however puzzled me the way Bayern Munich got complacent and relaxed. Had Negredo found the back of the net or Pellegrini aware of the goals Man City needed to score, it would be the Citizens and not the Die Roten who would have been seeded for Monday’s draw. Memories of last season’s narrow win over Arsenal are still fresh. After a comfortable 3-1 victory at the Emirates, most Arsenal fans feared the worst in the second leg. What happened? Arsenal equalled the tie and another goal would have sent the Bavarian giants packing.
The other is their recent poor record at the Allianz Arena against English teams. Their last 3 home games against English sides have all ended in defeats for the Die Bayern. They lost 2-3 to Manchester City, 0-2 against Arsenal and the Champions League Final defeat against Chelsea. They’ll look at the draw balls with one eye on Monday and hope they don’t get drawn against Arsenal.
JUVENTUS, THE MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM IN THE GROUP STAGE
After back to back Scudetto titles, their deficiencies in front of goal solved with the signings of ‘golfer’ Carlos Tevez and ‘rebel’ Fernando Llorente and with the experience garnered from last year’s Champions League, many felt this was supposed to be the year where the Bianconeri made their mark in Europe. They also got a fair group with Real Madrid supposed to be their threat to top place finish. What followed turned out be a nightmare for everyone. Comical errors by Bonucci and Buffon that allowed Drogba score, wonder saves by Johan Wiland of Copenhagen, the heavy snow in Turkey can all be given as excuses. That would however not take anything from the fact that they were poor. A 3-1(two of the three goals were spot kicks) win over Copenhagen was their solitary victory in the group. Disappointing draws against Copenhagen and Galatasaray, the highlight of a sorry campaign.
From a tactical point, Antonio Conte is too rigid with his 3-5-2 formation which is 5-3-2 off the ball. While it would continue to work in the Serie A due to the superior quality of his players, the same can’t be said in Europe where there are stronger sides. Teams with width and quick transition from defence to attack would stretch the 3-man defence. Bayern Munich exposed it last season and Real Madrid this season. A better performance next season is needed to avoid the unwanted tag of ‘local Champions’. For now, they should enjoy the Thursday night football.
ATLETICO MADRID: UNDERESTIMATE THEM AT YOUR PERIL
From having the tag of an also-ran, the Los Rojiblancos are currently undergoing a massive transformation and that is down to Head Coach, Diego Simeone. He’s built a side that is difficult to break down, play with a high work rate and can score goals. He plays with an unconventional 4-4-2 formation where either Diego Costa or David Villa drop back when they are not in possession. He’s broken the mental barrier against eternal city rivals, Real Madrid and closed the gap on Barcelona. They were of course expected to qualify out of a group that had Porto, Zenit and Austria Vienna but the way they went about it shows that playing in the Champions League does not faze them. Five wins out of six which should have been six if not for an own goal by Toby Alderweireld against Zenit. Winning it would be difficult as they still lack depth in key positions and they have to combine the demands of the Champions League with La Liga and cup competitions. However, With Courtois in goal, Miranda and Godin marshalling the defence, Gabi and Gracia doing the dirty job, Koke and Arda Turan the creators and of course Diego Costa the goal poacher, anyone praying to be drawn against the Los Colchoneros on Monday had better have a rethink. They might not win it but would give any side that has such ambitions a run for their money.
GERMANY O V ENGLAND 4
Manchester City comeback win over Bayern Munich further strengthened the fact that German soil has so far been a good hunting ground for the English sides in this season’s competition. Four trips to Germany have ended in four victories for the English teams. It all started when Chelsea romped Schalke 04 3-0 at the Veltins- Arena, then the Gunners eased past last season’s finalist Dortmund at the Signal Iduna. Manchester United then made things worse for the Germans by annihilating Bayer Leverkusen 5-0 at the Bay Arena, their “noisy neighbours” then went a step further with a comeback victory at the home of the European Champions, Bayern Munich. Whether this means an English side would win the UCL remains to be seen. What it however means is that no English side in the competition would be daunted by the task of playing on German soil.
At the mention of Ronaldo, the next thing that comes to one’s mind is goals. The Portuguese has been excellent this season for the Los Merengues and Portugal with combined goals of 33 in 23 appearances. It’s the Champions League he’s however chosen to break another record. His goal haul of 9 goals in just 5 games which is an average of 1.8 goals per game is now a Champions League Record for goals scored in the Group Stage. He’s broken the record of 8 goals held by the likes of Ruud Van Nistelrooy (2004-05), Hernan Crespo (2002-03), Filippo Inzaghi (2002-03) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (2013-14).Whether that would sway the Ballon d’or votes in his favour is a matter of time.
THE SEASON OF GIVING
The Christmas season is upon us and the gifts are certainly rolling. This being the last round of Champions League action before February, there was no better time to give a few gifts. There were goals by players, drama by the fans but none certainly brought the Christmas giving spirit to the pitch like German referee, Wolfgang Stark. The 44 year old who refereed the game between Olympiakos and Anderlecht, which the Greeks won 3-1, was rather generous in some of decisions. He awarded three penalties to the Greek side of which two were missed. Not done with that, still in the spirit of giving, he also issued three red cards to the Anderlecht players including Proto who stopped the first two spot kicks.
I’m not saying this to bring up the issue of whether they were deserved or not, or whether he’s a controversial referee. The fact that it was his last game in the Champions League and also being in the festive period meant there was a chance he would get excited-hence the free giving. Mikel Arteta and Riccardo Montolivo also received their gifts albeit deserving from Howard Webb and Viktor Kassai against Napoli and Ajax respectively. In all, it was a week of giving. Merry Christmas in advance everyone!
THE UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE ROUND OF SIXTEEN DRAW
All roads lead to Nyon, Switzerland on Monday, 16 of December for the Round of sixteen draw. Seven of the sixteen teams are former European Cup Winners. Two seeding pots have been formed; one consisting of the group winners and the other of runners-up. No team can play a club from their group or any side from their own association. Seeded group winners will be away in the first legs on 18/19 and 25/26 February and at home in the return match on 11/12 and 18/19 March.
COUNTRIES REPRESENTED BY THE TEAMS
– Germany: Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Schalke 04 and Bayer Leverkusen
– England: Manchester United FC, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City
– Spain: FC Barcelona, Real Madrid CF and Club Atletico de Madrid
– France: Paris St Germain
– Italy: AC Milan
– Greece: Olympiakos
– Turkey: Galatasaray AS
– Russia: FC Zenit
- A: Manchester United (ENG)
Likely opponents: Galatasaray, Olympiakos, Schalke 04, Zenit and AC Milan
- B: Real Madrid CF (ESP)
Likely opponents: Bayer Leverkusen, Olympiakos, Manchester City, Schalke 04, Arsenal, Zenit and AC Milan
- C: Paris Saint Germain (FRA)
Likely opponents: Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Manchester City, Schalke 04,Arsenal, Zenit and AC Milan
- D: FC Bayern Munchen (GER)
Likely opponents: Galatasaray, Olympiakos, Arsenal, Zenit and AC Milan
- E: Chelsea FC (ENG)
Likely Opponents: Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Olympiakos, Zenit and AC Milan
- F: Borussia Dortmund (GER)
Likely opponents: Galatasaray, Olympiakos, Manchester City, Zenit and AC Milan
- G: Club Atletico de Madrid (ESP)
Likely opponents: Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Olympiakos, Manchester City, SChalke 04, Arsenal and AC Milan
- H: FC Barcelona(ESP)
Likely opponents: Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Olympiakos, Manchester City, Schalke 04, Arsenal and Zenit
- A: Bayer Leverkusen (GER)
Likely opponents: Real Madrid, Pars St Germain, Chelsea, Atletico and Barcelona
- B:Galatasaray AS (TUR)
Likely opponents: Manchester United, Paris St Germian, Chelsea, Dortmund, Atletico and Barcelona
- C:Olympiakos FC(GRE)
Likely opponents: Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern, Chelsea, Dortmund, Atletico and Barcelona
- D: Manchester City( ENG)
Likely opponents: Real Madrid, Dortmund, Paris St Germain, Atletico and Barcelona
- E: FC Schalke o4 (GER)
Likely opponents: Manchester United, Real Madrid, Paris St Germain, Atletico and Barcelona
- F: Arsenal FC (ENG)
Likely opponents: Real Madrid, Paris St Germain, Bayern, Atletico and Barcelona
- G: FC Zenit (RUS)
Likely opponents: Manchester United, Real Madrid, Paris St Germain, Bayern, Chelsea, Dortmund and Barcelona
- H: AC Milan (ITA)Likely opponents: Manchester United, Real Madrid, Paris St Germain, Bayern, Chelsea, Dortmund and Atletico.
Questions of the day
– Who would you want your team to face?
– What’s your dream tie?