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Nov 2011
13:19 Comments (5)
Matchday 4 of the Champions League Group Stage

General Articles

Rafa Benítez

We have just had a new week of Champions League football and as usual it threw up some interesting points to discuss. So, without further ado, we will look at the subjects that caught our attention.

In chronological order, we will start with the Tuesday matches and in Group E, we saw Chelsea draw 1-1 against Genk which leaves some work to be done for the blues, which helps Valencia in their struggle to qualify. The London team cannot lose in the next game against Leverkusen and that may play in to the hands of Valencia. In the KRC Arena the defensive midfield player from Barcelona’s Academy, Oriol Romeu, stood out and from what we saw he will enjoy those minutes on the pitch. As for Valencia, playing with a 1-4-2-3-1 system, they won 3-1 through ambition, intensity and good performances by Feghouli on the wing and Jonas between lines, whilst protected by the security of Rami in defence and Topal in midfield against a poor Leverkusen who were slow using the ball. Whatever happens in the next matches, the final match Chelsea – Valencia will be decisive for Unai’s team.

In Group F, Borussia Dortmund beat Olympiakos 1-0. They play 1-4-2-3-1 with good technical players who have pace on transition and good play and movement between lines by Gotze, Perisic and Grosskreutz. As in previous matches, they had a high intensity at the start and then dropped the tempo, although they were controlling the game. As for Olympiakos, they also play 1-4-2-3-1 and look to counter attack with the players in the second line, although their transition and central combination play was inconsistent. Arsenal could only manage a 0-0 draw against Marseille despite having chances to win the game. Arsene Wenger started with Park as a striker, leaving Van Persie on the bench, but chose to use him after 61 minutes although he did not manage to score. Marseille began strongly, playing 1-4-2-3-1 instead of 1-4-3-3 which they used in the first match and pressing high, but Arsenal slowly started to have the possession and more control of the match. Walcott on the right for most of the match caused problems for the Marseille defence with his pace and the presence of Vermaelen gave the Arsenal back 4 more solidity. The French side had pace in the wide areas and up front but Valbuena between the lines took too long on the ball when passing and they wasted chances to counter attack.

Group G gave us a surprise. Apoel beat Porto 2-1 to go top of the group. A team with a lot of Portuguese and Brazilians in their squad, Helio Pinto and Ailton stood out, they have a good atmosphere in the stadium. Porto played a high line for all the game – Apoel were caught offside 10 times – but paid the price with the second goal when the offside trap didn’t work. Apoel are taking advantage of the evenly matched group because Zenit beat Shakhtar Donetsk making the 8 points Apoel have a moment of history for them. When we consider that they have to play Zenit away and could lose (though you never know) but then have to play at home against Shakhtar who could be out by then, it’s clear that they have a unique opportunity to make the headlines over the next few months.

In Group H, Barcelona won 4-0 away at Viktoria Plzen and qualified again for the knock-out stage as they have done in the last 8 years. Messi scored another hat-trick and Valdes beat the record held by Miguel Reina (Pepe Reina’s dad) by reaching 824 minutes without conceding. As regards the match itself, the sending off of Cisovsky on 22 minutes gave Barcelona a game where they had 73% possession, not having to change their usual 1-4-3-3 system, even after the substitutions. Viktoria Plzen showed a good attitude and intensity and looked for the counter attack but never really had a chance of winning. AC Milan, with their customary 4-3-1-2, were better than Bate Borisov despite the 1-1 result. They had chances to win the game before half time but did not take them and were left with the draw.

Wednesday’s Matches

We now move on to Wednesday’s matches and begin with Group A. From the outset you could see the superiority of City over Villarreal and the 3-0 scoreline reflected this. Mancini started with a balanced team, with De Jong and Milner working hard in midfield to allow freedom to the 4 attacking players, whilst Silva and Nasri constantly change positions, Yaya Toure gets in to the box and scores goals, and the striker, Balotelli on this occasion, only has to wait for a chance to come. The team have a lot of players who can score goals and they have strength and organisation not to concede. If they pass the test in Napoli they can be serious contenders for the trophy. Bayern made a game they were controlling more difficult by a couple of defensive errors at set plays. 3-2 in the end with one of the most entertaining actions of the week when a shot at goal saw the goalie, who was way out of his goal, having to race against the ball on its way to goal and only just winning. The two sendings off also stood out, one for each team, plus Schweinsteiger’s shoulder injury.

In Group B, CSKA and Trabzonspor drew 0-0 in a hard fought match and Inter went top after a 2-1 win against Lille with several chances for Milito who finally managed to score the winner. There was also the excellent and happy return for Walter Samuel with his goal.

In Group C, United won 2-0 against Otelul who fought honourably to the last minute. The most noticeable thing in this match was Rooney’s centre midfield position alongside Anderson. You have to say he looked comfortable in the role, using the ball, making himself available, looking for and finding team mates with his passes and even finishing off with a goal, thanks to a deflection, so he played well. Other aspects which stood out were the adaptability of Jones to play in several positions and the reflexes and distribution of De Gea. As for Benfica, they drew with Basel, through an exceptional goal by Rodrigo which was difficult to execute. They play United next to see who will win the group.

And finally, in Group D, Ajax beat Dynamo Zagreb and despite their problems in the league, in the Champions League they are going well. And Real Madrid, thanks to Ronaldo’s goals, won away 2-0 at Lyon ending their jinx in that stadium and once again showed their strength and superiority in the group. Ozil did well, 100 goals by Ronaldo in a Real Madrid shirt, the position of Lass as right back which allows Sergio Ramos to play where he likes, centre back, and Casillas intervening when necessary, are what stood out about the game and confirms the potential of what this Madrid team can achieve.

03/11/11 at 17:06:43 #1
I like the analysis and the movements of Rooney were great.
03/11/11 at 18:08:28 #2
Rafa, thanks for the insightful blog posts. Football is enjoyable to watch but when i read your articles i see its intricacy and depth thats not evident to most.

All the best and i hope to see you win another Champions League Final one day......in red ;)
03/11/11 at 22:16:12 #3
Hi, I like football, but some times I don`t see the tactics for this reason I like to read your articles. Thank you.
04/11/11 at 21:25:05 #4
Thank you for the blog, Rafa, very interesting as ever.
I am a bit surprised you paid so little attention to the best, in my opinon, game of this round - Bayern - Napoli.

It was the game I finally decided to watch, as I found it the most entertaining. The elegance of Mario Gomez's goals, the comical moment in the last moment of the match when he sent the ball to the goal from their own half... fantastic game it was.
Utd game was a bit painful to watch, same goes for Arsenal and Chelsea. But City were very good. Let's see what can they show against more serious opposition.
09/11/11 at 11:00:22 #5
Milivoj Milani, Croatia
Dear Rafa,

If I may, would you be so kind and make a blog post about efficiency of crossing and wingers in modern game? I'd be interested if people are over-obsessed with 'hugging the line', 'crossing to the target man', etc. I have a feeling that basing the game around 'cross it in the box for the big man' results in more harm than good, conceding possession and attacking opportunities to the opponents while the scoring percentage is actually very low.

Thank you.