New matchups in the Champions League and Europa League have Wasim excited about the quarterfinals, while it gets tricky picking a winner in Bayern vs Real and Juve vs Barcelona.
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Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of Bayern and Real as they progress to the Champions League quarterfinals. The difficulty in addressing Arsenal and Arsene Wenger’s declining fortunes and an update on the Championship, which is set for another unpredictable climax.
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With the group stages of the 2016/17 Champions League now behind us, attention is already turning to Monday’s round of 16 draw. As some of the continents big-hitters came second in their groups, many are anticipating a few tasty fixtures to come out of the hat on Monday.
There are two well-known stipulations in the draw. Teams from the same country cannot draw each other, nor can teams who played each other in the group stage. With those out of the way, let’s take a look at the possibilities for the 16 remaining teams in the draw.
Winners, Group A
Benfica, Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Madrid, Porto or Sevilla
Runners-up, Group A
Napoli, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Leicester City or Juventus
Winners, Group B
Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Madrid, Porto or Sevilla
Runners-up, Group B
Arsenal, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Monaco, Borussia Dortmund, Leicester City or Juventus
Winners, Group C
Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica, Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen or Porto
Runners-up, Group C
Napoli, Atletico Madrid, Monaco, Borussia Dortmund or Juventus
Winners, Group D
Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica, Manchester City, Bayer Leverkusen or Porto
Runners-up, Group D
Arsenal, Napoli, Barcelona, Monaco, Leicester City or Juventus
Winners, Group E
Benfica, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Porto or Sevilla
Runners-up, Group E
Arsenal, Napoli, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Leicester City or Juventus
Winners, Group F
Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica, Manchester City, Porto or Sevilla
Runners-up, Group F
Arsenal, Napoli, Monaco, Leicester City or Juventus
Winners, Group G
Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica, Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Madrid or Sevilla
Runners-up, Group G
Arsenal, Napoli, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Monaco, Borussia Dortmund or Juventus
Winners, Group H
Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Madrid or Porto
Runners-up, Group H
Arsenal, Napoli, Monaco, Borussia Dortmund or Leicester City
Looking at all the permutations, I am going to have some fun and pick a few possible matchups from the draw that would have fans all over the world excited. The matches are listed, keeping in mind group runners-up play the first leg at home and group winners host the return leg.
Real Madrid vs Arsenal (Sanchez and Ozil vs Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema)
Bayern Munich vs Barcelona (Ancelotti renewing his rivalry with Enrique)
Paris Saint-Germain vs Napoli (The Edinson Cavani derby)
Porto vs Monaco (A repeat of the 2004 Champions League final)
Bayern Munich vs Arsenal (Can Arsenal turn the tables on Bayern with the second leg at home? Also, Wenger vs Ancelotti)
Paris Saint-Germain vs Atletico Madrid (Unai Emery versus Diego Simeone after some great battles in La Liga)
Manchester City vs Borussia Dortmund (Master against disciple and a renewal of Guardiola’s brief rivalry with Tuchel)
Real Madrid vs Juventus (So many classic two-legged battles between these two giants and Zinedine Zidane’s history at both clubs)
Paris Saint-Germain vs Barcelona (Unai Emery’s teams always give Barcelona a very good test)
Sevilla vs Borussia Dortmund (Two of the most intense teams in Europe helmed by cerebral managers in Jorge Sampaoli and Thomas Tuchel)
Manchester City vs Atletico Madrid (Guardiola vs Simeone)
Bayern Munich vs Juventus (Last year was a classic and we also get to see Milan’s two best recent managers in Ancelotti and Allegri)
Real Madrid vs Monaco (Two free-scoring teams and would be their first meeting since the classic 2004 quarterfinal)
Paris Saint-Germain vs Juventus (The most dominant domestic dynasties in Europe against each other)
Sevilla vs Arsenal (A team that has thrived on knockout football against one that gets the jitters)
Manchester City vs Juventus (Guardiola vs Allegri after their classic last year)
Paris Saint-Germain vs Borussia Dortmund (Cavani, Di Maria, Verratti against Aubameyang, Reus and Weigl, to name just a few)
Matchday 4 of the Champions League provided lots of drama leaving the fate of many groups in the balance. Five teams have made it to the round of 16, but there is still plenty to be decided. Here are the grades for all 32 teams involved in an engrossing matchday.
Pressing from the front, playing out from the back, City had Barcelona’s number at the Etihad. Aside from a 20-minute spell in the first half, Pep Guardiola’s men played the match on the front foot. Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling pulled Barca’s defenders away at will while Ilkay Gundogan made smart runs from midfield. Guardiola also showed tactical versatility by switching De Bruyne to a nominal forward position close to Aguero, a move which wreaked havoc on the visitors backline. Special brownie points to City for showing parking the bus is not the only way to beat Barcelona.
The Rojiblancos hammered Rostov at home with 31 shots, but needed an injury-time winner from Antoine Griezmann. Diego Simeone may be miffed at how his men didn’t score more, but Atletico are now the only team to have maximum points from the first four games in the Champions League. While that record is special, the most significant result of Griezmann’s winner was that it leaves topping the group in Atletico’s hands.
Adding to the significant injury issues at Dortmund, Thomas Tuchel had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang suspended for internal reasons. Considering all the off-field issues, it was natural that BVB would not have the most fluent of performances. However, they got the win and the result that secures their qualification to the next round. With Real’s slip in Poland, Tuchel’s men now have a golden opportunity to win the group.
Still to concede a goal in the group stages, Jorge Sampaoli’s men put in another consummate performance as they dismantled Dinamo Zagreb 4-0 at home. After exiting at the group stage last season, Sevilla need just one point from their remaining two games to make it to the round of 16. With Juve unexpectedly conceding a late equalizer, Sevilla actually have the opportunity to win the group when the Bianconeri visit Andalucia. It is now a matter of managing the nerves for the triple Europa League champions.
An efficient win bearing the trademarks of a fine Leonardo Jardim performance. In a group characterized by close matches and slim margins, Monaco’s 3-0 romp of CSKA Moscow was effectively worth an extra point. The principality side rarely look like conceding. However, if Radamel Falcao can stay fit and finish like he did in this match, maybe Monaco can dream of making a run to the quarterfinals again.
After a terrible start to the campaign, Benfica needed to get maximum points off their double-header against Dynamo Kiev and they duly delivered. Next up is a tricky trip to Turkey before welcoming Napoli to the Stadium of Light. Their defence, which looked at its unbreachable best against Kiev will be key if they are to progress out of the group stage.
A dominant performance away at the Dutch champions. 2-1 simply didn’t do justice to Bayern’s control in Eindhoven, but they showed the necessary spirit to keep going and finding a deserved winner. All Carlo Ancelotti would have wanted was a chance to top the group when Bayern welcome Atletico for the last game of the group and his men duly delivered.
Finally, a result that did justice to their performances in the group. Roger Schmidt could justifiably argue that Leverkusen should be on 12 points, but six points with no defeats is not a bad place to be. They were the dominant team at Wembley and for a while it looked like they would throw away a win again with a series of missed chances. Kevin Kampl ensured the three points they deserved with a calm finish. Another three points should see Leverkusen through to the next round.
Mesut Ozil’s delightful winner will be the lasting memory of Arsenal’s comeback win in Sofia. Crucially, it ensures Arsenal welcome PSG to the Emirates in control of Group A. It wasn’t a performance to shout about and were it not for David Ospina making some crucial saves, Arsenal could have left Bulgaria embarrassed. It is now imperative that they take advantage of their escape against the French champions.
It wasn’t a vintage performance, but one wasn’t needed. Kasper Schmeichel’s late save ensured a fourth successive clean sheet in the competition for Claudio Ranieri’s men. Next up is a home game against the group’s basement boys and Leicester should be confident about qualifying for the round of 16 before a daunting trip to Porto.
A crucial late equalizer scored by Marek Hamsik might just end up being the most crucial point for Maurizio Sarri’s men. Lose to Besiktas and Napoli would have been out of the top two despite winning their first two matches. Such negative momentum would have been hard to overturn. In stead, Hamsik’s equalizer sees Napoli hold on to first place with a winnable home game against Dynamo Kiev up next.
Like Arsenal, PSG’s performance in Switzerland left a lot to be desired, but by hook or crook they won against Basel. Thomas Meunier’s sensational late volley brought Unai Emery the three points, but a significant improvement will be needed for PSG to get the win against Arsenal in London. Nevertheless, the fact that they are still in with a chance to win the group without being close to their best, speaks to the winning mentality that has been cultivated at the club in the last few seasons.
Over the course of their double-header against Club Brugge, Nuno’s men did what was barely needed and got the necessary six points. With Copenhagen unable to break Leicester, Porto can now visit Denmark with the luxury of sitting back and picking their opponents on the counter. The Portuguese giants have been nowhere close to their best, but look set to right the wrongs of last season’s group stage exit.
A performance that nobody could have predicted given their results so far, Legia thrilled in their remarkable 3-3 draw against Real Madrid. Showed great fortitude to overturn a 2-0 deficit and it was a pity that they couldn’t hold on after taking the lead late on. The greater pity was that they had to play behind close doors due to the idiocy of some of their fans.
Made up for their humiliation at the Emirates last time around with a superb performance. Ludogorets attacked and exposed Arsenal’s back up full backs and could rightly consider themselves unlucky to not get at least a point against the Gunners. If they play with the same vim and vigour against Basel an unlikely Europa League spot can still be salvaged.
A fantastic away result in Turin, that could have been even better if Alexandre Lacazette had capitalized on a great opportunity to score in stoppage time. If only Lyon had taken advantage of the opportunities in the home leg of this match, they could have seriously shaken things up in Group H. In stead, it all feels like a case of too little, too late.
After the great win away at Napoli last time out, Besiktas were eight minutes away from the double over their Italian rivals with one foot in the next round. In stead, the concession of a late equalizer means Besiktas will need to win at home against Benfica and probably still need a point in Kiev. A massive opportunity missed for the Turkish champions.
After putting in two excellent away performances at Leicester and Porto, Copenhagen failed to take the initiative at home to the English champions. The Danish champions will be aggrieved to be on just five points after the way they have played so far and will now most likely need to win both their remaining fixtures to go through. A tall task at hand.
Outplayed for vast swathes of their match against Gladbach, Celtic somehow hung in and got a penalty that resulted in a valuable point. If they can muster a great performance in Glasgow against a travel-weary Barcelona, Brendan Rodgers’ men might just sneak a Europa League place.
Its not that Barcelona were abysmal in Manchester. For a brief period they were in total command, but once City stepped up, Barcelona didn’t look like they had a response in them. The group is still in their control, but it is evident that without Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta, there is a vulnerability that can be exposed. Luis Enrique will hope that he doesn’t have to rely on his bench during the business end of the competition.
It had been coming for Juve. Max Allegri’s men have stuttered through October, following one unconvincing performance after the other. It hasn’t cost them in Serie A because of the huge gap between Juventus and their domestic rivals. However, the continent is a different matter. Juve were extremely lucky to get the three points in Lyon last time out, and many would say justice was served when they were denied a win at home after Corentin Tolisso’s late equalizer. Carelessness cost the Bianconeri a group top spot last season. They’ll need to pull off an away miracle in Sevilla to avoid the same fate this time around.
Gladbach were in a position to make Group C really interesting after their away win at Celtic. Unfortunately for André Schubert, his men failed to follow up with a win at home. The Foals dominated for large periods but defensive carelessness cost them. Even if they were to win against City at home next time out, a Europa League spot is now their best hope.
Rostov can be proud of their efforts against Atletico over the two legs. Losing by a single goal in each game against last year’s finalists is no disgrace. There was a huge disparity in quality, but unlike most other teams in their position, they played with valour and true effort to leave with their heads held high.
Two disappointing defeats against a Dortmund side that were not at their effervescent best. After the great away performance at the Bernabéu, Jorge Jesus’ side have subsided into their shell just when opportunity presented itself. A small chance remains, but performance levels will have to increase substantially to beat Madrid at home.
A terrible performance by everyone involved with the Merengues. Complacency was the name of the game as Real threw away a two-goal lead at the group whipping boys. Zinedine Zidane was also guilty as he selected a front four of Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Alvaro Morata. For a side already struggling with balance in the absence of Casemiro and Luka Modric, it was a reckless selection. Real now need to win in Lisbon to ensure they still have a chance of topping the group in the last game against Dortmund. The road to Cardiff has just become harder.
After an extremely lucky night in Leverkusen last time out, Spurs simply had no answer to their German visitors at Wembley. The most damning indictment of Mauricio Pochettino’s men was that they didn’t look like they belonged on the biggest stage. After waiting so long to re-enter the competition, Tottenham are lurching towards the most anti-climactic of campaigns. The return of Harry Kane and Toby Alderweireld from injury should provide Spurs with a boost, but can they catch up to the savvy of the more experienced European teams in the group?
Over the past decade, Basel have prided themselves on being tricky opponents, qualifying for the last 16 or at least running the more fancied teams really close. This season has seen none of that as they sit on a solitary point from four games. A tricky tie against Ludogorets awaits to determine a Europa League spot.
It’s easy to forget that PSV were a penalty shootout away from the quarterfinals last season after their campaign this time around. The Dutch champions were never going to be favourites in a group with Atletico and Bayern, but that their fate was decided after just four matches is a considerable source of embarrassment for a proud club.
An inexplicable first half performance against a team they led for almost 90 minutes in the last matchday. CSKA have always prided themselves on making things uncomfortable for the higher seeds in the Champions League. This season they have been the complete opposite and it hasn’t been pretty to watch.
A pale shadow of the team that made the second round last season. As the other three teams play out a close race for qualification, they’ll look to Kiev for bonus points. A sad regression for the Ukrainian champions.
Another performance of heart and endeavour, but simply don’t possess the quality to make any sort of impact in this competition. They never looked like getting a point in Portugal, much like all their other matches in the Champions League this season.
They were always going to struggle at Sevilla, but it became infinitely harder when they were down to ten men. Dinamo made a Champions League game look like a training exercise for Sevilla. Simply unacceptable.
We are at the halfway stage of the Champions League group stage after Matchday 3. It’s time to assess the performances of all 32 teams and see who excelled, who struggled and who needs to do better.
It could be argued that Leicester were fortunate to win against Copenhagen. Such an argument would have merit. That is missing the point though. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Copenhagen have significant Champions League experience and in the first game of this group, they dominated Porto away from home. Leicester are playing in the Champions League for the first time. That they are here is already an achievement in itself. The fact that they have won their first three games and now need only one win from three games to qualify for the last 16, is quite frankly, remarkable. The Foxes are underdogs in every sense, against almost every other opponent in this competition. Yet they have maximum points without conceding a goal. It is a feat that can be forgiven deeper analysis while being cherished and celebrated.
The scary thing about their win over Manchester City was that Barcelona were hardly at their best. Nevertheless, there is excellence to be appreciated in taking your chances ruthlessly. In Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, the Blaugrana have a front three that are the epitome of efficiency. Luis Enrique’s men are now almost guaranteed to win the group, even legislating for a possible loss at the Etihad. If the midfield and defence step up however, Enrique will be confident that with a prolific MSN leading the charge, City can be beaten away as well.
A performance of complete comfort. Arsenal were effervescent in every aspect with their front four again in blistering form. Not only did Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott score again, but Mesut Ozil scored a hat trick. Crucially, after years of suffering in the group stage, Arsene Wenger is ideally placed to come first in the group. Arsenal have a goal difference advantage of three over PSG, with the French champions still to visit the Emirates. The Gunners are looking good!
There were elements of luck in their win at Naples, but Senol Günes and his men were once again adept at making the most of their chances. Turkish teams winning matches in the Champions League has become rare in recent seasons, so an away victory in particular, is really special for Besiktas. The Turkish champions are now the only undefeated team in Group B. With two home games remaining and blessed with the poaching instincts of Vincent Aboubakar, Günes will be confident that Besiktas can take advantage of this upset to make it to the next round.
A mature away performance that belied the inexperience of Thomas Tuchel’s injury-plagued squad. Dortmund were dominant for the first hour in Lisbon, taking a two-goal lead with a performance embodying control and precision. Even more impressive however, was the resilience and calmness shown in defence after Sporting pulled a goal back with over 20 minutes left to play. With a four-point lead over their hosts with the return fixture at home, Dortmund have a comfortable cushion to qualify for the last 16 and remain in contention for first place in Group F despite Real Madrid having the easier opponent on the day.
The Italian champions were far from fluent, but an away game at Lyon was never going to be easy. In true fashion, Gianluigi Buffon put in a performance for the ages, just as an army of critics were chastising him after recent errors. Impressively, after being under the cosh for most of the match Juventus actually improved after going down to ten men, keeping the ball better and taking the game to Lyon. While some may consider it daylight robbery, was it any surprise that Juve got the winner? Champions after all, always find a way to win.
There are issues of balance without Casemiro in midfield, highlighted emphatically by Legia Warsaw cutting through the centre with ease in the move that led to their penalty. However, this was not an occasion for Casemiro and defensive midfielders in the first place. Real’s only remit in this match was to plunder goals and boost the goal difference. A 5-1 win did nicely for Zinedine Zidane in that regard.
A performance in tune with their great run to the quarterfinals last season and a much-needed to win to kickstart their campaign this time around. Benfica never looked like losing in Kiev. Win their return fixture at home and Rui Vitória’s men will control their own destiny as Napoli and Besiktas take points off each other.
A measured and controlled away win giving further fuel to the theory that Sevilla have in fact upgraded by getting Jorge Sampaoli as manager. Sevilla played entertaining football in last season’s group stages, but exited with only six points. They have already got seven at the halfway stage this time around. With home matches against Zagreb and Juve to come, the Europa League champions have a great shot at actually winning the group.
Just desserts for André Schubert’s brave approach at Parkhead. Gladbach play football in an admirable way, always taking the attack to the opposition regardless of circumstance, often coming up against teams with greater quality. Against Celtic they played with a strut that their hosts simply had no answer for. Gladbach now have the edge over Celtic for Europa League qualification, but with two home games left and Manchester City to play Barcelona once more, could Schubert and his men cause the ultimate sting in the tale by qualifying for the last 16?
Diego Simeone’s men played almost exclusively on the front foot at Rostov and probably should have won by more goals. Yet, with the crucial win against Bayern in the last matchday, all Atletico need to do is keep accumulating the points until the last rubber in Bavaria, maintaining their hold on first place in the group. Another bonus was a second successive win without Antoine Griezmann scoring.
Carlo Ancelotti had asked for more intensity from his Bayern side and they delivered. The Bavarian giants were deserved winners, but the casual defensive errors that have been prominent this season led to a sloppy concession of a goal. Thereafter, for half an hour, PSV troubled Bayern. Better teams than PSV will not provide the German champions with the same largesse. Ancelotti clearly still has some fine-tuning to do.
From a barely deserved point in Matchday 2 to undeservedly missing out on all three in Matchday 3. Monaco threw the kitchen sink at CSKA and Bernardo Silva’s late equalizer was the least they deserved. Two points gained from late equalizers could well end up making the difference for Leonardo Jardim’s men in a congested group. Monaco now have to ensure they get all three points in the return fixture at home, so as to establish some daylight ahead of the chasing pack in Group E.
Porto took a while to get going in Belgium, but once they got out of their stupor they were good value for their win against Club Brugge. It should restore some confidence for the Portuguese giants who had gone four games without a win in the Champions League group stages dating back to last season. Nuno has to ensure a comprehensive victory in the return fixture at home, before the crucial trip to Copenhagen on Matchday 5.
Another stuttering win for the French champions. They scored first against the run of play before their greater quality came to the fore in the second half against Basel. The appointment of Unai Emery was meant to signal a shift in Europe for PSG. All the evidence seen in the campaign so far would suggest that PSG are likely to fail the moment they come up against one of Europe’s big guns yet again. Emery and his men need to buck up their ideas, and buck up quickly.
On reflection, Spurs got an excellent away point at Leverkusen. After all, the German side are regulars in the Champions League, while Spurs are a young team in age as well as experience in Europe’s premier club competition. That being said, it was still a harsh lesson for Spurs’ young guns. They had their chances in the first half when the hosts looked ragged. Having failed to take advantage, Mauricio Pochettino’s men were put on the back foot right from the resumption till full time. Only the magnificence of Hugo Lloris prevented a defeat, meaning Spurs still have qualification from the group in their own hands.
As dominant a performance as one could have in losing a match. The Danish champions were extremely unlucky to leave the Midlands with no points. However, Copenhagen are still in the picture for qualification to the next round. Not many teams control games away from home, yet Copenhagen have done so in Portugal and England. If they display the same levels of performance at home, they are bound to win. The visits of Leicester and Porto will now decide their fate.
Many would rightly say that Leverkusen deserved more from their match against Tottenham. The problem is that it feels like Leverkusen always deserve more, but they simply don’t make the most of their chances. They dominated against CSKA Moscow but contrived to throw away a two-goal lead and then conceded a last-minute equalizer at Monaco to the host’s only shot on goal. Roger Schmidt’s men could conceivably already have been on nine points, in stead they are third in the group with just three. To qualify now, Leverkusen will need to win at least one of their remaining two away games in Moscow or London.
It is now three consecutive defeats across all competitions for Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli side. While the injury-enforced absence of Arkadiusz Milik is a big blow, it was no excuse for this defeat, where the Azzurri were their own worst enemies. Lorenzo Insigne’s missed penalty was one of many missed chances, while the defence was calamitous on the few occasions they were called upon. Napoli could have wrapped up qualification for the next stage if things had gone their way. In stead, everything is up in the air for an increasingly nerve-ridden side.
Visiting CSKA used to be an awkward trip for most teams in the Champions League. This season we’ve seen two atrocious performances by the home team in Moscow, with the visitors completely dominant. Remarkably, CSKA were on the verge of being the first home team to win a match in Group E. This travesty was justly denied by Bernardo Silva’s late equalizer for Monaco. Such is the tight nature of the group, that somehow CSKA are just three points behind the group leaders and still alive in the race for qualification to the last 16.
The Champions League continues to be a tough nut for Jorge Jesus. After snatching defeat from the jaws of victory at the Bernabéu, it was imperative for Sporting to get maximum points at home. The home faithful would justifiably have expected a great performance to gain hold of second place. Except for a brief period in the second half however, the crowd saw their team being easily nullified by a visiting team that exhibited a better temperament for the occasion. Now four points behind Dortmund, Sporting travel to Germany needing a win to stay alive. It’s looking like another Europa League campaign beckons for Sporting.
The Swiss champions were actually the better team for most of the first half at PSG. That they followed it up with a meek performance in the second half was extremely disappointing. A reasonable tilt at second place was possible if Basel had shown gumption. As it turns out, a Europa League place is now the summit of their ambitions.
There is no doubt that City had their chances at the Camp Nou and in many ways their first half performance was admirable. The Champions League though, is not a forgiving arena and the sheer lunacy of their mistakes merited a chastening defeat for Pep Guardiola’s men. While City would like to believe they have a chance at home, such defensive ineptness is likely to be equally punished by the aforementioned MSN even at the Etihad. Qualification out of the group is no longer straightforward.
Considering their inexperience, defeat to Juventus was no disaster. However, that fails to take into account a Bianconeri side that were there for the taking. Alexandre Lacazette fluffed his chance with a poor penalty that would have given Lyon the lead. Even then, Les Gones were provided another great opportunity when Mario Lemina was sent off. In stead the home side capitulated. Now four points behind Juve and Sevilla, Lyon could be out of contention after their visit to Turin on Matchday 4.
The Belgian champions gave as good as they got in the first half against Porto, deservedly taking the lead. To some observers their defeat at full time may seem harsh, but as other teams have discovered in this round, criminal defending is unlikely to go unpunished in this tournament. As good as Miguel Layún’s equalizer for Porto was, he was afforded full freedom of Brugge’s left flank, while the foul for Andre Silva’s injury time penalty verged on the amateur. Brugge now face a fight just to get off the mark.
A nondescript performance by the Ukrainian champions in a home game they had to win. Last season’s round of 16 appearance is now unlikely to be repeated, with Serhiy Rebrov’s men now needing a miracle just to make it to the Europa League.
The Russians never looked like scoring against Atletico and they were completely out of their depth against a European giant. Yet, unlike other teams of similar ilk, Rostov played with pride and commitment and valiantly ensured they didn’t concede more than one goal, avoiding a humiliating thrashing that so many other minnows suffered on Matchday 3.
Celtic’s most realistic goal after they were drawn in Group C would have been to qualify for the Europa League. To that end, a point against City last time out was a great result. To then follow up with a thoroughly underwhelming performance against Gladbach when they had the momentum was just inexcusable. Kolo Toure’s comedic defending contributed to the goals, but the defeat was justified in every sense as Brendan Rodgers’ men were outplayed from the first whistle to the last. It’s now hard to see Celtic getting another point in this campaign.
That PSV lost 4-1 away to Bayern is no disgrace. What was disgraceful however, was the shambolic defending evident in the first two goals. These are the Dutch champions after all and surely one expects better from them, than to concede directly from a short pass on a corner. Phillip Cocu did so well last season to take PSV to the last 16. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to build on that success as a group stage exit beckons.
Another hammering for the Polish champions. The long-awaited return to the Champions League is increasingly becoming a nightmare. One goal scored, 13 conceded and a game each still to play against Real and Dortmund. This could get even uglier.
Three games in and Zagreb remain the only team to not score in the group stages. Not to add to their misery, but it’s hard to imagine how they are going to find the net in their remaining three games. Not up to scruff.
Better teams than Ludogrets have struggled to live with Arsenal at their fluent best. However, the defending in the last 10 minutes at the Emirates when they conceded three was simply non-existent. Doesn’t paint a flattering picture for the Bulgarian champions who until now have always displayed fight and a never-say-die attitude in the Champions League.
A most remarkable UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie ended with Bayern Munich coming back from the brink to beat Juventus in a thrilling knockout match. The following are player ratings for the match.
Manuel Neuer 6
After a bad pass from the back led to Juve equalizing in the first leg, Neuer’s distribution was questionable once again. Displayed calamitous decision-making which led to the away side’s first goal and was lucky to not be penalized for another errant pass, when Alvaro Morata’s cool chip was incorrectly ruled offside. Kept the crowd at the Allianz Arena nervous throughout the match with some borderline passes and would have received a lower rating but for a superb save when Juan Cuadrado looked destined to make it 3-0 on the stroke of half time. Made another excellent save in the dying embers of the match to deny Mario Mandzukic.
David Alaba 3
One of the worst performances in the Austrian international’s Bayern career. All over the shop while defending a ball over the top that led to Juve’s first goal. Tried to atone for his error by supporting the attack, but kept misplacing passes before crucially ceding possession in the attacking third leading to Morata’s run and assist for the second goal. Roasted again by Morata at the beginning of the second half when switched to centre back, but was comfortable once the Spaniard was substituted.
Medi Beanti 3
Dragged all over the place by Juve’s fluidity and was left chasing shadows as Morata, Paul Pogba, Alex Sandro and Cuadrado all ghosted by him in the first half. Mercifully substituted at the half. Benatia still has to justify the large sums of money Bayern paid Roma for his services.
Joshua Kimmich 5
Similar to his partners, Kimmich couldn’t live with Morata. In fairness, didn’t actually make any errors with the ball but was clear for everyone to see that he is not a natural defender. Showed glimpses in the second half of why Guardiola trusts him so much, playing some lovely diagonals as the home side ratcheted up the pressure.
Philipp Lahm 6
The only calm presence in the Bayern defence when all around him were losing the plot. Contributed to Bayern retaining possession in Juve’s half, however was not accurate when presented with crossing opportunities. Remained largely untroubled on the flanks from the beginning of the second half.
Xabi Alonso 5
Couldn’t get his metronomic passing going and was guilty of trying the Hollywood ball too often. Usually great at taking defensive positions, Alonso was completely overrun by the pressing of Juve’s engine room. That he was withdrawn early in the second half was no surprise.
Arturo Vidal 7
Made an excellent attacking run into the box as early as the third minute of the match but failed to connect cleanly with a pass from Douglas Costa. Like his teammates, got his feathers ruffled in the first half. His energy and drive were crucial in the turnaround, however. Seemed more comfortable once Alonso left the pitch. Dropped deep to start Bayern’s attacks before acting as the link up man further up the field in the last 20 minutes. Displayed his hallmark pressing when nicking the ball that found Kingsley Coman in space to cross for the equalizer. The Chilean is definitely getting better as the season progresses.
Franck Ribéry 6
Expected to play a leading role in Arjen Robben’s absence, Ribery’s first half was error strewn, full of errant crosses and misplaced passes in the final third. Gained confidence in the second half and had Stephan Lichtsteiner’s number for the last half an hour of the match as he consistently dribbled past the right back. As he works his way to full fitness, the French winger’s final ball is bound to get better.
Douglas Costa 9
A supreme display by the Brazilian. Even when Juve had the stranglehold, Costa was the only Bayern player to trouble the visitors in the first half. The ball almost glued to his feet at times, he dribbled and ran past players almost at will. Consistently played in excellent crosses and one cute pass to Thomas Müller brought Bayern’s first shot on target in the first half. That Bayern’s first goal came courtesy of a Costa cross was no surprise, his left foot curling a sublime cross that dissected the previously impregnable back three of Patrice Evra, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli. Played the match that truly heralds his arrival as a game changer in Europe.
Thomas Müller 7
Well-marshalled by Juve’s excellent defence for most of the game, Müller tried his best to make an impact. Ran the channels but couldn’t get the ball in truly dangerous positions except when he drew a smart save from Buffon in the first half. Then, when all seemed lost, found a pocket of space to head in the equalizer in stoppage time, before assisting Thiago Alcántara’s go-ahead goal.
Robert Lewandowski 6
A frustrating evening for Bayern’s leading forward. Simply couldn’t get the better of either Bonucci or Barzagli and couldn’t stay composed in the heat of the battle. Scored an unmissable header thanks to Costa’s brilliance but was otherwise ineffectual for the rest of the match.
Juan Bernat 6
Came on in the second half to take over from Alaba at left back. Made the flank more secure as he dealt with Cuadrado’s threat and overlapped effectively with Ribery in the attacking third.
Kingsley Coman 8
Could have been considered unfortunate to miss out on a place in the starting eleven after strong showings in recent Bundesliga games. Nevertheless, Coman made a decisive contribution after coming on for Alonso. Initially seemed too easy to read for Alex Sandro, but got better as the game went on. Played the pass that found Costa in space to cross for the first goal and then delivered an excellent cross for the equalizer. Turned his engines to full blast during extra time, twisting and turning past Juve’s tiring back four before sealing the game with a wonderful run and curled finish.
Thiago Alcántara 7
Came on for 20 minutes in extra time and had a decisive impact as his brilliant one-two with Muller was followed by a calm finish for Bayern’s third goal. With his range of passing and technical skill, it is likely that Guardiola will have his compatriot play a larger role in the later rounds of the competition.
Gianluigi Buffon 6
In fairness, the veteran could do nothing about any of the four goals. Outside of that, Juve’s stalwart was hardly called to action, except to make a smart stop from Müller’s shot in the first half. His wait for a first European title with Juve continues.
Patrice Evra 6
For 85 minutes it was a masterful performance from the Frenchman. Comfortably dealt with Lahm’s overlapping runs in the first half. When Massimiliano Allegri switched to a back three in the second half, Evra slotted in seamlessly. Then made costly errors for Bayern’s second and third goals. Sometimes, there is simply no justice in football.
Leonardo Bonucci 7
Kept Lewandowski in his pocket the whole match in a masterclass of defending. Clearances and tackles were executed with usual precision and his reading of the game alongside Barzagli is second to none. Only real quality was going to come in the way of Bonucci and victory and unfortunately for Juve that is exactly what Bayern delivered. Visibly tired in extra time along with the rest of the team.
Andrea Barzagli 7
Like his partner, the veteran was exceptional. Stuck to Müller brilliantly in the first half, barely giving him an inch. As Juve’s right flank started caving in against an improved Ribery, Barzagli made several crucial interceptions and well-timed blocks. Again, was only undone by quality and then fatigue.
Stephan Lichtsteiner 6
Fantastic hassling and pressing in the first half as evidenced in the crucial role he played in Juve’s first goal. At the back, kept Ribery and Alaba in check the whole of the first half. Unfortunately regressed in the second half as he was pinned back by Ribery, contributing to Bayern’s overbearing pressure. Could have scored in the third minute of extra time but his shot lacked power and then ran out of gas.
Sami Khedira 7
Excellent pressing set the tempo for Juve’s first half. Ruffled Alonso and Vidal and clearly had the upper hand in midfield. Exactly why Allegri brought him off is unclear, as his experience and leadership could have been the difference in the home stretch.
The Brazilian made an impact in the first leg but was largely anonymous this time around. Kept possession well when he had the ball, but his role lacked clarity. Bizarrely kept on for the whole 120 minutes.
Alex Sandro 6
Played in an advanced position in the first half and was excellent. His energy and pace troubled Kimmich and Benatia as he took up dangerous positions to receive the ball out wide. Reverted to a more conventional left back role in the second half and found himself with no breathing room as first Costa and then Coman tormented him on the flanks.
Juan Cuadrado 7
Probably his best performance since the Colombian joined the Old Lady. Showed a hitherto unseen level of calmness when he finished Juve’s excellent second goal and arguably would have sealed the tie had Neuer not blocked his shot on the stroke of half time. Doubled up in defence to help Lichtsteiner and tormented Alaba on the break. Quieter in the second half as Bayern gained a foothold, but still fulfilled his defensive responsibilities diligently.
Paul Pogba 8
It is a mark of his quality that Pogba made the finish for the game’s opening goal look so easy. Many would have rushed their shot in such a position, but Pogba caressed his shot into the corner of the net with finesse. Played the role of auxiliary forward in the first half to perfection, using his strength, pace and technical ability to give Benatia and Kimmich all sorts of problems. In the second half, played the role of auxiliary full back, helping Sandro and Lichtsteiner on both flanks with some exceptionally well-timed tackles. Tried his best to drive Juve in extra time but to no avail.
Álvaro Morata 8
Morata is Juve’s man for the occasion in Europe and it was no different this time around. The Spaniard was sensational for the duration of his time on the pitch with nobody in Bayern’s defence having an answer for him. Harshly judged offside when he coolly chipped Neuer after the goalkeeper’s horrendous mistake, Morata put his head down and got on with the game. His run from just outside the box in Juve’s half to the edge of Bayern’s box in the buildup to Juve’s second goal is sure to be a part of Champions League highlight reels for years to come. Would have had an even higher rating, but for scuffing two easy chances in the second half that would have put the tie to bed. The whole flow of the game changed when Allegri subbed him. Bianconeri fans will have nightmares about that decision for quite a while yet.
Stefano Sturaro 4
Another player who made such a huge impact after coming on in the first leg, only to have a complete nightmare in the reverse fixture. Sturaro hardly did anything right, giving possession away numerous times when all Juve needed was a bit of time on the ball. Played the role of bystander as first Vidal and then Kimmich switched play around him.
Mario Mandzukic 5
A frustrating evening for the Croatian who simply didn’t offer the same kind of threat as Morata. His lack of pace emboldened Bayern’s defence to play further up the pitch, which in turn ceded Juve’s initiative. Should really have buried a header after a pearler of a cross from Pogba in extra time to at least make Bayern squirm in the last few minutes.
Roberto Pereyra 5
Honest application and tireless running is what you get from Pereyra and that’s what the Argentinean provided again. Whether that is what Juve needed at the time is another question altogether.
What should have been the marquee game of the Bundesliga weekend turned out to be anything but. The pre-match talk was focused on how Pep Guardiola’s decision to join Manchester City next season impacted Bayern’s players. There were rumours of player dissent and all sorts of disharmony within the squad.
How much of this is true is hard to say, but looking at things on the pitch, it was the most disjointed that Bayern have looked in a while. Despite having Douglas Costa, Arjen Robben and Kingsley Coman on the pitch, Bayern didn’t create much. The only time they looked like scoring was when Thomas Müller came on in the second half, but the German international blazed over two presentable chances. Meanwhile, injuries and suspensions continue to dog Bayern as Xabi Alonso was sent off after two yellow cards.
With a red-hot Javier Hernandez, one would have expected Leverkusen to cause Bayern serious problems. However, the home side looked liked they didn’t really believe they could win. While Ömer Toprak was excellent in defence, Roger Schmidt’s much-vaunted attacking quartet of Hernandez, Stefan Kießling, Hakan Calhanoglu and Karim Bellarabi simply failed to sparkle on the big night.
All said and done, a point for each side isn’t the worst result. Yes, Bayern are expected to win every game in the league, but a point away to a Champions League side is still an acceptable result. Conversely, Leverkusen will look at any point taken from Bayern as a bonus. They are still alive in the race for the top four and a draw keeps their recent momentum in tact.