We have had a new Matchday in the group phase, the third, in the Champions League and two days of intense football with some surprises and lots of things to comment on. Let’s start with what happened on Tuesday.
In Group D we saw Real Madrid beat Olympic Lyon easily (4-0). There was a big difference between the two sides and Real Madrid, playing 4-2-3-1, used their left flank well with Ronaldo and Marcelo constantly causing problems. Madrid were dangerous at set plays and had more possession than in other games, about 68%, which is a positive sign.
As for Lyon, they were very defensive and without the ability to keep the ball. In defence they had a lot of problems behind the centre backs and, as the game went on, seemed to get even more disorganised.
The game I went to was Manchester City against Villarreal which finished 2-1. There was a noticeable physical superiority for City who also had players with quality which meant they started as favourites. But the early Villarreal goal put the game in the balance and right until the end of the first half City could not find an equaliser. The goal came from the many forward runs by Kolarov on the left. Zapata had problems controlling the flank for the whole game. The wide player, Silva, Nasri or whoever was on the left at the time, moved inside and Kolarov joined the attack in the space left by this movement. The wide man on that side, first Hernan Perez and then Cani, was trying to help but they are more offensively minded players and did not mark well in the final third, with no communication between them and Zapata so City were able to get in good crosses.
In the second half, Villarreal kept the ball better, opting to play out with short passing to get in to the box and they did it well. Maybe De Guzman needed to be closer to Rossi to create more of a threat but it was not easy because of the Manchester City play between the lines.
City started with a 4-2-3-1 and, only at the end when Aguero was on, did they change to 4-4-2 without changing their style much. A Villarreal defensive mistake in injury time allowed City to get the 3 points and they are still in the competition.
Villarreal have good combination play but they lack physical presence and power to penetrate in attack.
Moving on to Wednesday, and Group F, Olympiakos beat Borussia Dortmund 3-1. Both teams used a similar system with 4-2-3-1 in attack converting to a 4-5-1 in defence. Borussia began as always with a high intensity but a goal after 8 minutes through a defensive mistake set them back.
The Germans had a lot of possession and created some chances but were not assured in their finishing. The difference between the two teams was defending around the box were the Greeks were better. Borussia Dortmund, despite good first impressions, are now finding it difficult to qualify.
Arsenal had to wait until the last minute to beat Olympique Marseille. In a game where the two teams played with systems which cancelled each other out, 4-2-3-1 against 4-3-3, only at the end did Arsenal, who played to win, manage to score thanks to a goal from Ramsey who showed his finishing ability. You could see the influence of Deschamps’ time in Italy with the way his team press.
A couple of details about this match, there were two handball claims in both boxes on the opposite side from where the extra box officials were stood. I still think that if they position themselves on the opposite side from the corresponding assistant referee they could cover the pitch better.
In Group E, Chelsea showed their superiority and the goals and performance from Torres are good news for the fans. As for Valencia, they have made their progression to the next phase more complicated. Leverkusen are a difficult team to beat and Emery’s team cannot afford any more mistakes. Their next game at home against the Germans could be decisive.
The surprise team in the group phase has been Appoel. The Cypriot team is on top of a very difficult group and they look to be equal to the others which gives them an opportunity to qualify. Without doubt that would be big news in the group phase.
Finally, Milan showed their superiority and we also saw a great goal from Boateng. No less special was the Iniesta goal, pure quality and the culmination of the combination play we are used to from Barcelona.
I would like to finish this article highlighting the good feeling some players have left us with in the competition. Torres with his goals and Ramsey and Iniesta returning after injury. This can only be good news for football.