Four home victories, just one draw and three away victories with a total of twenty five goals in eight matches. This was yesterday´s conclusion to the first of two instalments in the fifth week of the UEFA Champions League Group Stages. A convincing victory by Juventus at home against Chelsea (3-0) and for Shakhtar Donetsk away in Denmark (2-5) with the latter game presenting some surprising challenges which included dominance by the home team in the first half and in the second half complete dominance by the visitors. Cluj also beat Braga (3-1), Lille beat Bate away (0-2), Galatasaray beat Manchester United (1-0) and finally Benfica beat Celtic (2-1). The only game which ended in a draw was in Mestalla where the brave Valencia now qualified alongside their rivals Bayern München, played with 10 men after they had Barragan sent off (1-1). As a result of the above four teams: Barcelona, Valencia, Bayern München and Shakhtar join Manchester United in the last 16. Out of these games we have chosen two which we will analyse in more detail. On with the analysis.
Spartak Moscow, 0 – FC Barcelona, 3.
FC Barcelona assured their place in the last sixteen of the UEFA Champions League in a game with two difficulties: the cold weather and the astro turf pitch of the Luzhniki stadium.
Barcelona displayed their usual 1-4-3-3 formation whilst Spartak started the game with a 1-4-2-3-1 formation with their defensive line quite high trying to put Barcelona’s midfield under pressure. In the first minutes of the game Spartak launched some counterattacks but it was Tito Vilanova’s side who just after fifteen minutes began to have complete control of the ball and of the game. Dani Alves scored the first goal with a shot from outside the box after a corner kick. Spartak sat back defending with a line of five as Kallstrom dropped quite often his position to help the right fullback out. But Barcelona displayed the necessary quality to find spaces in midfield and behind the defence, with Messi, Pedro and Cesc running behind the centerbacks. However, Spartak were able to create some clear chances to score but Suchy and Emenike missed them in front of Valdés. Before half time Messi scored twice to put the definitive 0-3 on the scoreboard.
The second half was a monologue for Barcelona with plenty of ball possession although playing without a high tempo, which eventually was enough to keep control of the game and to assure victory and the first position in the group.
Valencia, 1 - Bayern München, 1.
Valencia and Bayern played a much levelled game in which the locals were outstanding, as they had to play with ten men since the 33rd minute of the game. Even so they were able to score first and put a powerful team like Bayern under pressure until the end of the game.
Valencia displayed a 1-4-2-3-1 formation, defending in their own pitch, conceding ball possession to Bayern and consistently showing defensive balance, order and intensity.
For their part Bayern also displayed a 1-4-2-3-1 formation pressing high with intensity and moving the ball with high tempo. They had plenty of ball possession and always tried to play the ball from the back with quick transitions. Both fullbacks, Lahm and Alaba, frequently got into the free spaces created by Ribery and Müller –always a threat going inside from the wings- giving depth and width in attack and creating numerical superiority in the wide areas.
Consequently Valencia started the second half with ten men –as Barragán was sent off in the 33rd minute- displaying a 1-4-4-1 system and trying to stop Bayern by keeping narrow and compact in defence and launching quick counterattacks with clever movements of both fullbacks, Cissokho and Feghoulí. As a result of that the first goal arrived for Valencia in the 77th minute. Bayern kept playing most of the time in the opponent’s half but lacked accuracy in the last third. However, just few minutes after Valencia’s goal Lahm delivered an accurate cross from the right wing that Müller sent to the back of the net to put the 1-1 on the scoreboard.
In the end it was an even match in which Valencia’s work rate, order and game intelligence was absolutely remarkable.
Overall seven teams so far, including Porto and Malaga, have now taken their place in the last sixteen and now we must wait to see who will fill those last spaces only reserved for the best teams in these final Group Stages. Tonight the fifth week concludes with Groups A, B, C and D entering the arena and we will comment on them here if you would like to join us.
For results and tables of the Champions League, click on the next image: