At the end of the first group stages of the UEFA Champions League we could start to make some conclusions. In the majority of the games the favourites won albeit some slow starting but showing potential to reach the final in London. Oporto, PSG, Arsenal, Dortmund, Real Madrid confirmed predictions on Tuesday and Shaktar, Bayern, Barcelona did so on Wednesday. A positive surprise for Malaga’s good start although there were also other resounding results. Now, let’s have a look at some of the games, bearing in mind not all games have been analysed as it is impossible to see them all.
Real Madrid 3 – Manchester City 2
Real Madrid had to wait to the last minutes of the game to go ahead and beat Manchester City 3-2. They displayed a 1-4-3-3 formation as expected with the surprise of Varane in place of Sergio Ramos, Alonso as their reference in midfield and Essien and Khedira a bit further forward playing with more freedom and exchanging positions depending on where they finished attacking. In the first half Real Madrid had 74% of ball possession, reflecting how the game evolved during the first 45 minutes, with Manchester City sitting back, ready to launch quick counterattacks and the local team trying to find a gap to penetrate City’s crowded defence.
Despite this, Real Madrid managed to create some chances as they were pressing high and regaining the ball in dangerous zones playing quick behind the English back four. Ronaldo was also a constant threat. Late arrivals to the squad Maicon and Nastasic, bought in the last days of the transfer window, meant certain lack of understanding in defence which could end up conceding a goal.
In attack, Real Madrid exploited wide areas with both fullbacks going forward. On the right Arbeloa got into the spaces created by Di Maria and on the left, always more dangerous, Marcelo was a constant threat with dangerous half distance shots every time he got into the last third as Ronaldo was going inside into positions where he could dribble and hit the target. Apart from that, Real Madrid’s attacking options were left down to individual plays, especially those from Ronaldo trying to beat Maicon.
For their part, Manchester City displayed a 1-4-2-3-1, with the team well organised but with some lack of understanding in the back four. Javi Garcia and Barry helped out the centerbacks in the wide areas whilst Nasri and Silva alongside Yaya Toure and Tevez, this one playing in front, were responsible of City’s attacking options. The problem was that City didn’t have enough ball possession to feed those players and in the end all their attacking options were reduced to Yaya Toure’s runs and little more. On top of that, the first half ended with the injury of Nasri.
The second half started with Kolarov on the left and Silva on the right, with City displaying a back line of five with Maicon and Kolarov as fullbacks. The team kept its shape and Real Madrid looked for the first goal with long distance shots and some runs behind the defence but with no accuracy. In one of the few counterattacks Yaya Toure played with Dzeko, who had replaced Silva, to score the first goal.
Mourinho replaced Essien for Ozil and later on Modric and Benzema entered the pitch in the place of Khedira and Higuain in an attempt to open City’s crowded defence with more quality players. Manchester City started to find spaces behind Real Madrid’s defence, now playing quite high, and Toure was very close to score the second goal. But it was Marcelo with a great strike from the edge of the box who put the equalizer in the scoreboard. Real kept pushing hard but again it was City that found the back of the net from a free kick taken by Kolarov that might have been slightly deflected by Alonso. Immediately after Real reacted and Benzema scored the equaliser with a great move at the edge of the box.
Mancini replaced Maicon for Zabaleta in an attempt to be stronger defensively, but Ronaldo found the necessary space to dribble and take a great shot that went past Joe Hart, put the 3-2 in the scoreboard and gave Real Madrid the 3 points.
Borussia Dortmund 1 – Ajax 0
Tight win for Borussia Dortmund in a game where they showed two different faces in each half. In the first half the team wasn’t as compact as usual, made some defensive errors and were always too far from the opposite goal when they regained the ball. In the second half, they pressed higher and with more intensity, regaining the ball in the attacking last third and created more chances to score. They played more between the lines, especially with Gotze and Reus but also with Piszczek and Schmelzer coming from behind. They displayed their usual 1-4-2-3-1 formation and in the end they won the game with a goal scored by Lewandowski after Hummels missed a penalty.
For their part Ajax displayed a 1-4-3-3 formation, played a complete game but lacked accuracy in front of the goal. In the first half they were especially good, with 55% ball possession and building up play with criteria with both centerbacks, Moisander and Alderweireld, and moving the ball fast in attack. They did well stopping Borussia from creating chances and launched two dangerous counterattacks at the time they managed to keep the shape and stay organised. In the second half Ajax started keeping ball possession, created some chances but gradually lost intensity. As a result of that they ran less behind the German defence, were weaker defending set pieces and the wide areas and progressively lost the control of the game.
Chelsea 2 – Juventus 2
Chelsea drew in a game that was foreseen as difficult as Juventus ended last season successfully and have have started strongly in this one. The team from Turin is playing this season with a defence of three centerbacks but they are still showing the same strength. During the first minutes of the game the local team put pressure on Juventus delivering dangerous corners which had to be defended with intensity by the Italians and showed how important and how hard it was for them to try to control aerial play in front of the Chelsea players.
Chelsea started the game with a 1-4-2-3-1 formation with Oscar between the lines behind Torres. As the game progressed it could be noticed how Di Matteo asked Torres to get close to Pirlo when Chelsea wasn’t in possession of the ball so the centrebacks were first forced to play the ball and then were pressed by Torres once they couldn’t find Pirlo. Hazard played on the left wing and Ramires on the right, making the pitch wide and trying to beat their correspondent fullbacks, Lichsteiner and Asamoah, both very focussed during the whole game. This defensive line of five, which converts into a line of three when in possession of the ball, left Torres alone with the three centerbacks and Oscar quite far from them so it was quite easy for the Italians to build up play from behind as they were not pressed. In midfield Juventus played with Vidal on the right, Pirlo in the middle and Marchisio on the left. Both Vidal and Marchisio were dynamic, could get into the box and score goals, as Vidal did, so they had multiple alternatives in attack. In front, Giovinco was difficult to control due to his quick movements in short distances. Furthermore, he had a good understanding with the other striker, Vucinic, who also showed quality and clever movements; both of them together were a constant threat for Chelsea’s centerbacks.
Juventus had more ball possession and Chelsea sat back to play counterattack with Torres or trying to find the quality of Ramires, Oscar and Hazard.
During the first half hour the game was quite even with some chances for both teams, although not too clear. In the 29th minute Vucinic had a great chance but his shot went out. In the 31st minute Oscar’s shot was deflected by Bonucci into the net, and just two minutes later Oscar again scored the goal of the week putting the ball in Buffon’s top left corner with a terrific shot from outside the box. An important incident for Vidal came in the 38th minute when he twisted his ankle and looked like he couldn’t carry on, but he managed to stay on the pitch and scoring the first goal for Juventus in the 38th minute bringing confidence back to his team.
Juventus finished the first half with more ball possession than Chelsea and with the feeling that the atmosphere at Stamford Bridge wasn’t going to affect them. In the second half, the Italians kept comfortably playing the ball from behind, using their men in wide areas to switch play and opening Chelsea’s midfield so they could progress through the middle with Marchisio and Vidal, who played short and quick passes with Giovinco and Vucicnic to create a feeling of constant danger. As I said before, it is not easy to control players with such mobility and dynamism. Even less for players like Lampard, Obi Mikel or Terry, who are much stronger. During the next minutes Juventus controlled the game, pressed the ball effectively and had some chances, like one from Giovinco sent to corner by Cole or another one by Marchisio.
At this stage of the game, Bertrand replaced Ramires to play on the left, moving Hazard to the right. Mata replaced Oscar, slightly injured, whilst in the Italian team Quagliarella replaced Giovinco and Isla did so with Lichsteiner in an attempt to have fresh legs to keep pressing.
Mata had a great chance to score the third goal for Chelsea after an assist from Hazard, but he missed it. In the last stages of the game there was an increasing lack of accuracy and as a consequence of that Juventus regained a ball that was quickly played to Quagliarella who scored the equalizer. Just two minutes later Marchisio assisted Quagliarella after a defensive mistake by Chelsea, but the Italian striker hit the crossbar in this occasion. In the end, it was a vibrant game played with intensity and with many tactical aspects to analyse as it confronted two completely different systems, in which Juventus showed that they are a great team able to beat anyone.
Bayern Munchen 2 – Valencia 1
Comfortable game for Bayern that displayed their usual 1-4-2-3-1 formation although showing two different styles in each half. In the first half they pressed high from the beginning trying to regain the ball close to Valencia’s goal, but they were not as dangerous as usual in the wide areas as Cissokho and Guardado with the help of Tino Costa on the left wing, and Pereira, Feghouli and Parejo on the right managed to keep under control the always threatening Ribery and Robben. This circumstance forced both Bayern wingers to go inside where they could find Kroos whilst Pizarro was keeping the centerbacks busy. Bayern’s attack was fluent but didn’t create clear chances.
Valencia started the game very organized in defence with a 1-4-4-2 formation, although they had numerical inferiority in the middle except when Jonas and Soldado dropped their position to help out. They had problems in the attacking phase, losing the ball too easily especially in the first half. Feghouli was their main threat in attack although wasn’t able to create clear chances.
Bayern scored their first goal in one of the few counterattacks they had in the first half. In the second half they were more conservative, more organised in defence and launching dangerous counterattacks. For their part Valencia tried to keep a bit more the ball possession but without getting to Bayern’s box. When Valdez came in Valencia was able to find more solutions in attack playing long balls and also sustaining the attack by making a more effective pressing. Javi Martinez, playing a bit deeper than usual, was very safe with the ball and gave dynamism to Bayern’s attack.
AC Milan 0 –Anderlecht 0
Goalless draw in San Siro. AC Milan, with a 1-4-3-2-1 formation as an alternative to their usual 1-4-3-1-2 had more ball possession than their rivals Anderlecht but struggled to create clear chances in the final third. For their part Anderlecht (1-4-2-3-1) appeared as a very solid team, well organised both in defence and in attack, with capacity to read the game and focussed until the end with a clear idea of how to launch quick counterattacks.
PSG 4 – Dinamo Kiev 1
PSG (1-4-3-3) controlled the game from the beginning, with the back four well organised, the midfielders worked hard in the defensive phase and with the three forwards very active and offering constant solutions to their team mates. They played very quick transitions, regaining the ball to immediately go forward using the determination of Verrati and the mobility of Ibrahimovic, Menez and Pastore, who also contributed to stop Dinamo to play from behind making an effective pressing on their back four. Quality players as Lavezzi and Nene came in to keep the high tempo of the game whilst Dinamo was never a real threat for PSG, as they ended the game as they had began, defending with intensity and controlling the game.
Olympiakos 1 – Schalke 04 2
Olympiakos and Schalke 04 approached the game in a very similar way, trying to be safe in defence and not taking too many risks, what meant an even game with not too many chances to score. Olympiakos (1-4-2-3-1) started the game with more ball possession creating some danger with the runs of Paulo Machado on the left wing or the crosses delivered by Tosoridis to Djebbour. Schalke 04 displayed a 1-4-2-3-1 formation, defending deeper than their rivals and letting them control the game. The Germans had some chances to score from set pieces and from long distance shots taken by Fuchs and Neustadter. It was after a corner taken by Farfan from the right to the near post that Schalke 04 scored their first goal when Howedes headed the ball to the back of the net with just 5 minutes to finish the first half.
In the second half Schalke 04 increasingly started to control the game, with Olympiakos defending deeper and with Farfan, Holtby and Barnetta building up the play. But in the 57th minute, just after missing a double chance, Abdoun scored the equalizer after a chain of errors from the German defence. Straight after, Huntelaar scored the second for Schalke 04 after an assist from Holtby. Huntelaar had the chance to score the third when he took a penalty that hit the post defended by Megyeri. Olympiakos tried to react replacing Modesto and Abdoun for Greco and Mitroglou and changing the formation into a 1-4-4-2 with the last two in front and Machado on the right. In the end Schalke 04 won the game in an always difficult venue.
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