We went in to the final matchday of the group phase with many things still to be decided in some groups and therefore some anxious games to be disputed, and the first we will look at is Chelsea and Valencia.
Chelsea – Valencia, 3-0.
Everyone is talking about the difference in tactics employed by Chelsea in the games in the run up to Tuesday against Valencia and those used in this match, employing a more withdrawn system, compact and ready to counter attack.
I don’t know if people have noticed that there was a determining factor, that Chelsea only had to get a score draw to qualify and in the 3rd minute they were already 1-0 up. Did this make them play deeper because of the shape used by the coach or because of the scoreline?
Was it more risky to drop off and wait for the counter attack or to go for the second goal to make Valencia’s task nigh on impossible? Anyway, the second goal put an end to the speculation and reinforced Chelsea’s tactics.
Chelsea had no surprises in the system (1-4-3-3) just with the inclusion of Oriol Romeu in the middle as the main change and giving Drogba the striker role at the expense of Torres who showed a good attitude when he came on.
As for Valencia, they started with a 1-4-2-3-1 system using Barragan at right back which was expected by most fans and I believe no-one would criticise.
For the first goal, which as I said affected the rest of the match, they lacked defensive intensity and the same could be said for the second. From then on, everything became that much more difficult for Valencia. Chelsea let them have possession but with no problems for Cech. Valencia pushed their full backs forward to provide width and their wide players, Feghoulli and Mathieu, along with Jonas tried to receive the ball inside, but they lacked penetration and support for Soldado to create real danger. VCF used the same game plan as they had been using but Chelsea were much stronger in the challenges, especially Drogba, and they were dangerous on the counter. Their players managed to mount at least 4 dangerous ones after several Valencia corners.
The second half was much the same. Chelsea strong in defence and counter attacking to try to surprise Valencia, who after losing the ball in midfield, gave Mata the chance to receive the ball between the lines and allow Drogba to finish off a great game for him and the team by scoring the third goal.
With this result, Chelsea who could have gone out, go through to the next stage as top of the group after the draw between Genk and Leverkusen.
Genk – Leverkusen, 1-1.
What stood out most in this match was without doubt Vossen’s great goal for Genk, extremely difficult to execute but it did it perfectly. The result meant Leverkusen lost top spot which could be important in the next phase given the quality of the top teams in other groups.
Olympiacos – Arsenal, 3-1.
Arsenal, already through, were poor in defence but were unlucky with the rebound to Dhebbour who dribbled well past Fabianski for the first goal. This throws up the question of different goalkeeping schools – is it better to try to take the ball off the striker, close down the angle with your body or maybe show the striker wide and make the angle more difficult? Different countries, different styles, click here. The next goal, with Mannone in goal, was a bit strange as the first part was a headed clearance but then the goalie’s reaction trying to clear the ball with his feet when he could have easily got hold of it, but this can be put down to nervousness of an inexperienced player.
Even so, Arsenal had faith in their style but didn’t have the intensity of other matches which was in contrast to Olympiacos who were playing to qualify for the next stage.
Borussia Dortmund – Marseille 2-3
The big surprise of the group, Borussia were going well and Marseille had had problems in recent matches especially in the Champions League. There were two very different halves, the first with high tempo by Dortmund, with more possession and the second with Marseille being much more dangerous mainly through the introduction of Valbuena. Two goals by Marseille came in the 85th and 87th minutes, which, whatever the competition, always shows a lack of concentration which you can pay for.
What stood out was the Hummels goal from a penalty, a centre back taking a pen, which says a lot about him and he took it well. The huge marking error by Dortmund at the corner for the second Marseille goal and the great goal by Valbuena with a dribble and finish was spectacular. This is what makes football so strange, Valbuena came on for the striker Remy who always gets a lot of attention when goals are needed but the change was decisive in the match and in qualification.
Olympiacos, managed by the Spaniard Ernesto Valverde were third pushing Borussia Dortmund out of the Europa League.
Apoel – Shakhtar, 0-2.
It will be interesting to see Apoel in the next phase. Shakhtar were better against the surprise team in the group who had already qualified and dropped their defensive intensity compared to previous matches. Apoel go through as top of the group and will be the team wanted by all the second placed teams in the draw.
Port – Zenit, 0-0.
Zenit came out determined to score, looking for top spot in the group against a disappointing Porto. They nearly caused a surprise. They also showed their other side with a Portuguese counter attack which miraculously they didn’t score from. A strange thing in this game were the 8 offsides for Zenit and Porto’s 17 shots. Zenit go on and Porto have to make do with the Europa League.
Barcelona – Bate, 4-0.
Barcelona’s young players did their job. Pedro (2), Sergi Roberto and Montoya scored the goals, the highlight being the third goal backheel by Pedro, great play.
A game which once again shows the things they are doing well at Barcelona, with 10 different players, 6 from the reserves and 9 from the Academy. But what was most important is their intensity, quality, tempo, 74% possession which is indicative of the way they play and desire to please. More’s the pity only 38000 spectators were there which shows fans are more interested in the result than the game itself.
Viktoria Plzen – Milan, 2-2.
Another game with a much superior team which controlled both halves, scored two goals through the combination of Robinho and Pato with pace up front for Milan after coming back from injury but then they relaxed and conceded two goals in the 89th and 93rd minutes giving the home fans real joy as they celebrated as if they had won the Champions League. At least that feeling of delight was one of the positives in this match.
Villarreal – Napoli, 0-2.
Villarreal were looking to get their first points in this Champions League campaign while Napoli were playing to go through; both teams played with their normal systems 1-4-2-3-1 for Villarreal and 1-3-4-3 for Napoli. Control of the first half fluctuated with both teams trying to dominate possession, the lines close together for Villarreal and a lot of mobility up front for the Italians and with only two clear chances in the first 5 minutes, Zuniga for Napoli and Marco Ruben hitting the post for the men from Castellon. Napoli were looking for the space behind Oriol with Cavani getting in behind and trying to find Maggio arriving.
In the second half things changed with Napoli much more aggressive especially in the last half hour and with Villarreal trying to soak up the Italian pressure. Lavezzi had a great game and led the way, almost always causing problems, but it was Inler who put Napoli ahead after 64 minutes with a powerful shot from outside the box. The game was sealed ten minutes later when a Villarreal defensive error at a corner allowed Hamsik to make it 2-0 and put Napoli through to the last 16. Lavezzi’s performance, though, stood out.
Manchester City – Bayern Munich, 2-0.
In the end Manchester City couldn’t qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League despite beating Bayern Munich 2-0 in Manchester with Bayern leaving their most important players on the bench as they were sure of qualification as top of the group. Once again, the two most influential players for City showed good form; Silva, popping up all over, involved in nearly all the dangerous attacks and making it 1-0 with a great shot from outside the box; Yaya Toure influential in nearly all build up play for the English side and in his arrivals in the box taking advantage of the space created by Aguero and Dzeko; in one of these runs he made it 2-0 soon after the start of the second half. At no time did Bayern look like they would shock Manchester City and it was only a question of time when the English team went in front. The movement of City’s forwards was enough to make the Bayern midfield and defenders lose position which meant we often saw Alaba, supposedly right wing operate as a right back or Olic, a striker playing wide left operate as a left back defending against Savic, a centre back who did well as right back for City. City will have to make do with the Europa League despite the win as Napoli did their job.
Inter – CSKA Moscow, 1-2.
CSKA started as bottom of the group but finished up qualifying thanks to their great effort and thanks to the fact that Inter, who had already qualified, made so many mistakes and relaxed. The Italian side relied on the individual ability of their players and the Russians worked as a team getting their reward with the second goal, scored by Vasili Berezutski in the 86th minute, left wide open to finish from a corner which made it 2-1 and meant they qualified thanks to the goalless draw between Lille and Trabzonspor. Milito did not score but he was Inter’s best player.
Lille – Trabzonspor, 0-0.
It is difficult to believe but Lille who normally play good football, controlled possession and were better than the opposition in the data, shots on goal, corners etc but couldn’t score to go through to the next phase. Trabzonspor were relying on Inter for them to qualify but the Italians’ defeat took them by surprise and had no time to react, despite the effort the Brazilian Paulo Henrique showed in the final minutes coming off the bench. The draw sealed the fate of both sides.
Basel – Manchester United, 2-1.
United only needed a draw to decide who would go through to the last 16 and who would play in the Europa League. There were several important injuries for United (Chicharito, Berbatov) to go to one of the surprise teams of the season. The early Streller goal put Basel in front and United had to push their lines forward to look for an equaliser. Nani supported Rooney up front for the whole game and both were active but lacked accuracy, especially the English striker who missed some chances he would normally take, one of them a glaring opportunity. United could have equalised from a bad clearance by Steinhofer who hit his own crossbar, but it was Basel who scored again through A Frei from a good piece of play by Shaqiri but helped by the lack of movement in the United defence. In the last minute, Jones’s goal only made injury time more interesting but in the end Basel are the team in the draw for the last 16 and United are the ones who will play in the Europa League. Vidic’s injury is also bad news.
Ajax – Real Madrid, 0-3.
There were many changes to the Madrid line-up (Adan, Varane, Albiol, Granero, Callejon, Sahin, Kaka) and several of the more important players didn’t even travel (Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Ronaldo, Casillas, Di Maria..) Again Benzema and Higuain were up front. Again, Callejon had a good game scoring two similar goals and showing good finishing, the first of them after 13 minutes from a good assist by Kaka. Ajax, mounting their attacks mainly on the right wing with penetration from Van Der Wiel and Sulejmani, had their best chances with shots from outside the box and in two attacks had two goals disallowed by Lodeiro and Sulejmani, both disputed by the Dutch players. However, it was Higuain after a long pass by Benzema on the counter attack who a few minutes before half time widened the gap in the score. In the second half Ajax kept trying and managed to hit the bar with Adan in goal, but the game was over with another Callejon goal in a similar move to the first one, this time from an assist by Xabi Alonso. In the end, Madrid go through as top and Ajax will play in the Europa League.
D Zagreb – O Lyon, 1-7.
Everyone is talking about this strange result especially as D Zagreb, with 10 men after the sending off of Leko, went in front in the 40th minute through Kovacic. Gomis equalised before half time and in the second half Lyon scored six in half an hour to overcome the goal difference separating them from Ajax which gave qualification to Lyon as second in the group on this goal difference.
The teams who qualify as top of their group are:
Bayern Munich, Inter, Benfica, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal, Apoel and Barcelona.
As second in their group:
Napoli, CSKA Moscow, Basel, O Lyon, B Leverkusen, Marseille, Zenit and AC Milan.
Bet you liked that one eh Rafa Hahaha.
Hello, in some interviews we were talking about how difficult could be for United this stadium. We played there with Valencia in the same group than LIverpool years ago and it was a very hard game in a very good atmosphere for the local team. 'Chicharito' is always dangerous, he has chances in every game that he plays. Thanks.
I feel only 2 teams from the English league progressing to the Round of 16 cannot be attributed to the weakening of the league or the emergence of other clubs across Europe.
Alex Ferguson recently mentioned about how clubs are getting bankrolled and that is reducing the gap. I feel he overlooked his team's below par performances. Chelsea and Arsenal(Who were everyone's whipping boys) qualified as group winners and City managed 10 points in one of the toughest group i have ever seen.
What is your opinion?
Hello Som, still the Premier League is the strongest league for me, but Napoli and Basel were doing really well and City and United made some mistakes and in a short competition you pay for them. Thank you.
Watching the Valencia game, felt Feghouli was coming central too early even when the centre backs had the ball in deep. Felt he could have started wide then cut inside when the ball got switched to the right which would have created space better. Chelsea played well though to make space tight in the final third.
Are you going to do an analysis of Saturday's El Clasico Rafa? Would love to see one like the Champions League Final one you did.
Hello Jonny, I will be doing the game for SKY, so I will say something there. Thanks.
In your view Rafa from Chelseas line up if they didn't score early what style of approach do you think they would have taken? Do you think they would have pressed high with a high line? Or drop deep getting men behind the ball?
I think, anyway they wanted to wait deeper.Thanks
Thank you for another wonderful analysis. Just wanted to drop by and give a huge thumbs up for this website in general. It's a fantastic opportunity to get to read personal thoughts from one of the worlds greatest managers, and I look forward to many exciting and thoughtful comments from you in the future.
Simply the fact that you actually respond personally to what is being written in here in the comments is way beyond expectation, but it is a very nice gesture.
Also, best of luck in the future. Football is not really the same, when you're not there as a manager, whatever the club may be.
Thank you, and have a nice christmas
Søren Hansen, Copenhagen
Hello Søren, thank you and Happy Christmas.
Love your analysis of the CL games. Would like to see you do more punditary on SKY. When you speak, everyone listens. Well done sir. Also, will put a bid in for messi shirt.
Hello Abdullah, I will do Real Madrid-Barcelona on Saturday. Thank you.