Matchday 5 of the group stage of the Champions League began with the match between CSKA Moscow and Lille. It was a relatively easy encounter for the French side, much better technically as well as tactically. With a 1-4-3-3 system, but with flexibility and mobility up front with Joe Cole and Hazard constantly linking with the midfielders Belmont and Gueye, and Mavuba tucked in defensively, the football they played was successful with an own goal by centre back Vasili Berezutski and a second by the striker Moussa Sow. The Russians, with quality players but lacking the dynamic and intense play of the French, did not really trouble the French goalkeeper Landreau. Only occasional counter attacks are worth mentioning but without any consistency in the game.
With regard to Bayern - Villarreal 3-1, the pressure from the Bavarian side and the defensive mistakes by Villarreal set the tone of the match in the first few minutes. Franck Ribery scored early on with a deft touch to beat Diego Lopez and they could have scored more goals in a spectacular start. Gomez got the second after a strong penalty claim against Lahm. With the game as good as over, Villarreal had a good spell giving their opponents a hard time. Great play by Oriol for De Guzman’s goal, but Ribery got a third to rub it in after another defensive mistake.
Real Madrid 6 - Dynamo Zagreb 2
A far superior Real Madrid from the start against a weak opponent. After 10 minutes they were already winning 3-0. A few changes in the starting line-up: Adan in goal, Sahin and Callejon starting, Lass again as right back and up front playing alongside each other were Benzema and Higuain. At half time 3 changes: Altintop, Albiol and Granero to rest Ramos, Xabi Alonso and Ozil. Admirable combination play from Madrid, helped by the defensive frailties of the opposition, with rapid transition defence to attack (few touches, accurate and penetrating passing), good positional interchange and mobility of the players in the first and second lines. The scorers were Benzema (2), Callejon (2), Higuain and Ozil, with the first two lively for the whole game. At the end, Dynamo, league leaders in their domestic league, scored two from two defensive mistakes by Madrid.
Napoli 2 - Manchester City 1
Napoli started with a classic 1-3-4-3, with Hamsik, Cavani and Lavezzi up front and causing a lot of problems throughout the game, especially in counter attacks. Defensively, they had a 5 man defensive line, with Dossena dropping on the left and Maggio on the right, but they also had the energy to get forward and give width to the team in attack. Great work in midfield by Gargano who made up the numbers in defence. As for City, they began with 1-4-3-3 but with free movement of Balotelli and Silva, the supposed wide players but with Silva almost always in a central position, and Toure and Milner, nominally midfielders, protected by De Jong. After a quarter of an hour, Cavani put Napoli in front heading in a corner from Lavezzi by getting in first at the near post. Balotelli equalised on 15 minutes after a bad clearance by Aronica in his own box. Cavani scored again (2-1) at the beginning of the second half from an assist by Dossena. From then on both teams had chances, 3 clear ones for Napoli with Lavezzi, Hamsik and Cavani going close and Balotelli involved in both of the clear ones for City one of which produced a good save by De Sanctis. Nasri came on with 20 minutes left moving Toure to centre midfield to be more creative and Aguero with 10 minutes to go but the scoreline did not change. The third change was Johnson, right at the end to give more width and try to get 1v1 on the wing but he had no time.
The mobility of City players in attack, to make things less predictable for opponents, means they leave space in defence and allow the opposition to counter attack. Now City will have to rely on the Villarreal – Napoli result to qualify and only if they win against Bayern which will not be easy.
Manchester United 2 - Benfica 2
A game with good tempo from the start. Benfica came o ut strongly and went ahead after 3 minutes with a piece of luck and an own goal by Jones, but which was after a good team build up. Berbatov equalised on the half hour but was debatedly offside. After that the game was a series of attacks and end to end for both teams producing clear chances to score (Young, Aimar, Fabio da Silva, Berbatov…) After 60 minutes Fletcher put United in front from an Evra cross from the left. But a minute later Aimar equalised from a period of play that started by a poor De Gea clearance. In the end Benfica gained a draw at Old Trafford against United. Now the English side will have to play all out in Basel to go through while Benfica are already looking at the next phase.
Trabzonspor 1 - Inter Milan 1
Inter went ahead after 18 minutes with a good piece of play by Ricky Alvarez after a 1-2 with Milito and Trabzonspor equalised a few minutes later through a shot by Altintop which came off Samuel and left Julio Cesar stranded. After that there were chances for both teams. For Inter, Zarate had three good chances to score. Trabzonspor had a clear chance when Merzejewski hit the post with a few minutes to go.
Zenit 0 - Apoel 0
The game was suspended for a while at the beginning of the second half because of smoke from the fireworks set off by the crowd. A lot of possession and chances for Zenit but Apoel held out. They did it by having numbers behind the ball and with determination when necessary and the occasional save by the goalkeeper. Just a debatable penalty decision of note and not much else. No doubt though, the outstanding thing was that Apoel made history by qualifying for the next phase.
B. Leverkusen 2 - Chelsea 1
Both teams started with 1 -4-2-3-1 formations trying to control the central areas. Leverkusen tried to play out from the back whilst having the option of Kiebling if they wanted to play long and Ballack behind him trying to join him from deep.
Chelsea, for their part, played with Bosingwa on the left which hampered his attacks as he is right footed even if he has the energy to do it. Meireles and Ramires were in the centre and Lampard a free role in front of them. Sturridge was wide on the right and Mata on the left with Drogba as the target striker. A first half Drogba chance was the only thing of note in a first half lacking tempo.
The second half began with Drogba’s goal to make it 0-1 and a few minutes later Ballack had two shots forcing two big saves from Cech. A Kiebling chance and a couple of scares followed. Leverkusen realised they were on their way out and pressed. We saw the same happen as last Sunday against Liverpool; Chelsea playing out from the back with the centre backs wide and looking to play to the midfielders, this time Meireles which shows us that Villas-Boas is sticking to his philosophy of playing out from the back.
The equaliser by Derdiyok was followed by a drop in intensity by the Germans who had their eye more on the match against Genk but football can be cruel and in the last minute a goal by Friedrich from a corner means that Chelsea must draw 0-0 or win against Valencia to go through.
Valencia 7 - Genk 0
The scoreline says it all. Valencia superiority from beginning to end, a great goalscoring night for Soldado and everyone was happy. A massive match next at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea is to come. One thing to note, they did not get the record for a Champions League win which is still held by Liverpool for the 8-0 win against Besiktas when I was fortunate enough to have been on the bench.
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Milan 2 - Barca 3
Milan played with a 1-4-4-2 with a diamond midfield or 1-4-3-1-2 if you prefer. What is more important than the numbers are the movements and Boateng dropping in on the left creating numerical superiority in that area of the pitch. The three man defence that Guardiola uses in some matches can create problems at the back but he can argue that it gives more control in midfield and they penetrate more. It happened in the first half against Valencia at the Mestalla and when they changed to 4 at the back they regained control of the game. Yesterday they had problems again with this system but this Barcelona has a lot of quality and find their own solutions to the problems. A very tight pass from Messi to Xavi at the end of a great piece of possession with a good touch and finish. Sensational goal.
As for the match Barcelona won possession and regained the ball high many times as usual. Their passing triangles made Milan work very hard in defence which they are not used to in the domestic league because they usually have more possession than their opponents. The Barcelona second line made the difference in the game with penetration and finishing.
Some notable things form the game, Ibrahimovic’s goal against his former club, Messi’s yellow card for his ‘feint’ at the penalty kick (the new rule regarding the ‘last step’ which was recently introduced) and another excellent piece of quality for Kevin Prince Boateng’s goal, a memorable control and finish. We would like to wish Tito Vilanova all the best from us.
As for Bate – Viktoria Plzen (0-1) it suffices to say that it was the first Champions League win in their history and they get the chance to play in the Europa League. Congratulations.
Arsenal 2 - B. Dortmund 1
Arsenal are playing with more belief. I liked the first goal a lot. Because of Song, with his power and quality, but also because of Van Persie’s header executed with good technique. The second goal is interesting to analyse. Dortmund were marking with a mix of zonal and man to man. A man to man marker went for the ball and left Van Persie alone. Does anyone notice that man to man marking can also fail?
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As for Dortmund, they had problems with injuries to important players and everything will rest on their home game against Marseille, even though they will have to rely on the Olympiacos result to find out their fate.
In the Marseille – Olympiacos game (0-1) there was not much of note. A great result for Valverde’s Olympiacos who have every chance of qualifying with Arsenal in the last round of matches.
In Group G, Shakhtar – Porto (0-2) there were a couple of chances at the start for the Ukrainians. But it was Porto who got the goals. Two deflections but sometimes deflections take the shortest route. The Portuguese are favourites to qualify playing at home next.
And to finish a piece of advice. Remember some of the goals and play from this round as they are really enjoyable.