Champions League Winners And Losers

Atletico Madrid, PSG, Gerardo Martino and Bayern Munich are the winners but it's the losers who are interesting. Wenger and Pellegrini made their mistakes in the summer...

Last Updated: 13/03/14 at 12:46 Post Comment

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Winners

Atletico Madrid
Through to the last eight for the first time in 17 years with victory over AC Milan in a tie that pitted the art of team-building against assembling a group of supposedly talented individuals. It was no surprise that Diego Simeone's side progressed against the ragtag band from Serie A.

Diego Costa underlined his worth with a brace on Tuesday to add to his winning goal in the first leg, taking the striker's Champions League total to seven - or a goal every 54 minutes. If you thought that Spain couldn't get any stronger following back-to-back-to-back European Championship and World Cup triumphs, think again.

It is also worth noting that Atletico's four strikes against Milan were the product of assists from four different players - emphasising the creative threat throughout the team. As many as 11 players in the squad have at least two assists in La Liga and Champions League competition this season, with Koke and Gabi clocking up an impressive 21 between them.

In truth, AC Milan were no real test for an Atletico side who appear to be over their winter wobble of four defeats in six matches. A hard-fought draw in the derby against Real Madrid - which should have been a victory - helped steer Atletico back on course and they will pose a significant threat to potential opponents in the quarter-finals.


PSG
A 6-1 aggregate victory over Bayer Leverkusen to return to the stage where they fell against Barcelona last year. PSG have been defeated only three times in 50 matches since a 1-1 draw in the Camp Nou last April, and were the same draw to be repeated, they should be confident of progression.


Bayern Munich
Mastery with and without the ball as Bayern's penchant for the dark arts revealed itself on Tuesday. While Arjen Robben's first tumble in the box was a blatant attempt at cheating, there was a greater subtlety about Bayern's tactics throughout the 90 minutes.

They were simply smarter than Arsenal - knowing how to win free-kicks as well as how and where to concede them. The sight of Pep Guardiola applauding a late tactical foul may have been enough to make Arsene Wenger feel bilious, but this is sport - you don't win anything by making friends.


Gerardo Martino
As Adam Bate said to me on Wednesday, Martino bears the appearance of a bedraggled salesman who isn't hitting his targets and is forced to beg for another last chance. The oversize suit, the slack tie, the unruly hair and exasperated gestures - all that's missing is a briefcase and demo vacuum cleaner.

It was a anxious night for the under-fire manager and, as he admitted after Barcelona's victory: "This game calms things down for a while, but in the weekend we will be back in the eye of the storm again."

It may be pedantry, but what Martino neglected to realise is that the eye of the storm is usually a region of calm weather found at the centre of tropical cyclones. So, although he intended to say that the pressure will return, what he actually said is that Barcelona can chillax (are people still saying that?).

It's exactly this sort of inaccuracy that has led to his position being questioned.


Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
A bright spark on a difficult night for Arsenal.


Losers


Manchester City
Just not good enough. For all the talk of how far Manchester City have come from the ignonimy of last year's exit - when they finished bottom of the group without winning a game - it was no great achievement to qualify for the knock-out stages ahead of CSKA Moscow and FC Viktoria Plzen. Indeed, with the players they possess and the money that has been spent, it was not unreasonable to expect City to go further than the last 16.

Barcelona were rattled on Wednesday as City spurned plenty of chances to make their opponents sweat, but merely creating opportunities isn't enough. Some of the build-up play was exquisite, but it was far too much foreplay (yes, there is such a thing) when what we really wanted to see was rough-and-ready love-making.

(Winners and Losers is now trying not to picture a euphoric James Milner.)

City will surely be filled with regrets after their exit, knowing that they could have been more adventurous in the first leg and more clinical in the second. PSG knew how to attack Barcelona in last season's quarter-finals when they were eliminated on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate draw. But, despite the weapons in City's armoury, the only strike they could muster was a bundled effort from Vincent Kompany. And this was against a Barcelona side who are at their weakest point in some time.

When Jose Mourinho claimed as such before the tie, it may have seemed that he was only trying to pile pressure on Manuel Pellegrini - who certainly cracked after the first leg - but there was a certain truth to the Portuguese's comments. The intensity of Barca's play - in the pressing and the speed with which they move the ball - has dropped considerably. The defence is (more) vulnerable and they often lack a forward to stretch the play in the final third and create space for Lionel Messi - in the way David Villa previously did on the left, or Pedro - unused against City - can on the right.

Daniel Storey's big match preview focused on the fact that Barcelona have lost only three times at home in the last eight years by a scoreline that would have seen City progress, but going back that far rather ignores the recent decline. Perhaps a more relevant statistic is that Barca have lost three of their last six La Liga matches - including a home defeat to Valencia and Saturday's loss against lowly Valladolid - which marks their worst run in Spain's top flight since the last six matches of the 2007/08 campaign.

Pellegrini will have been acutely aware of the opportunity that presented itself to City but his poor planning was partly responsible for their exit. While Martin Demichelis' only real mistake in the first leg was to lunge into Messi when he knew the consequences (it was Kompany who played the Argentine on-side, although that doesn't seem to fit everyone's narrative), being forced to start the unwanted and error-prone Joleon Lescott in the second leg pointed to the manager's oversight.

Defending Demichelis from the criticism he received for his first-leg red card doesn't mean that we fail to acknowledge his weaknesses. The main argument to support Pellegrini's reasons for signing the centre-back is that Demichelis was a key part of the Malaga side that reached the quarter-finals last year. However, now a year older and a year slower, the Argentine simply does not possess the required ability. At the weekend he was out-witted by Marc Antoine-Fortune, tripping the striker to concede what proved to be a crucial penalty against Wigan. That mistake alone should be enough to convince his manager that it's time to find far more convincing back-up to Kompany and Matija Nastasic.

But in the immediate future, City's attention turns back to the Premier League and Saturday's trip to Hull - who, it should be remembered, battled to a 3-1 win at home to Liverpool earlier in the campaign. With three games in hand squeezed into the schedule, City have no time to dwell on their defeat to Barcelona or the fact that they have lost four times in the last eight matches, winning thrice and averaging just a goal a game. City need to start firing again on Saturday to turn the screw on Chelsea and remind everyone of their strengths before away matches against Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool in the next five weeks.


Joleon Lescott
Sixty-seven minutes of no costly mistakes and then an inexplicable Irish dancing routine that fed the ball for Messi to score. It won't have done his chances of getting a big move in the summer any good.


Arsene Wenger
A specialist in not quite-ism - a term recently added to Winners and Losers' dictionary along with 'frhiskey' - a double measure of single malt served with ice and a slice of blood orange, or other fruit depending on your fancy. The citrus reduces the pungency of the alcohol on your breath, meaning that you can have six or seven during the lunch hour without anyone in the office batting an eyelid.

Where were we? Ah yes, Arsene Wenger and his habit of doing just enough. It seems almost pointless to write the following paragraphs - given that we've heard it all before and the frhiskeys are beginning to take effect - but let's all hold hands one last time and think about Arsenal's second, third and fourth-choice strikers totalling just six goals between them in the Premier League and Champions League this season.

It may seem unforgivable that Wenger failed to strengthen Arsenal's squad in January when the Gunners were still fighting on three fronts, but the groundwork for the campaign petering out was laid in the summer. After the excitement of Mesut Ozil's arrival had died down, the embers of Wenger's transfer policy showed that not enough had been done. Nicklas Bendtner's move to Crystal Palace was cancelled at the 11th hour while Yaya Sanogo was packed off to France on an intensive training regime. Arsenal were going to need every available body if they were to maintain any sort of momentum in the title race.

Predictably, it hasn't been enough. Injuries have taken their toll - as they always do - exposing a lack of squad depth that the world and his dog acknowledged back in September. Desperate Gooners might hang to the hope that Arsenal are only seven points behind Chelsea with a game in hand, but can they really be expected to close that gap with the current injury list and a brittle mentality that has seen them pick up just nine points in eight matches against the rest of the top seven? With Spurs, Chelsea and Everton away to come - along with City at home - the gap to the eventual title winners is likely to increase.

The patchwork side that was sent out on Tuesday gave it their best shot in the toughest of tests, but all too often we have seen Arsenal fall valiantly short, with Wenger then performing his martyr's trick. The manager's reaction to the Gunners' exit was nothing short of pathetic. Arjen Robben might have trouble staying on his feet at times, but his penalties in the first and second leg were both won fairly. Wenger has clearly forgotten the sort of bastardry that can make the difference at this level. Would he expect one of his own players to stay on their feet?

It will be interesting to see the effect the manager's victim mentality has on his team. Was Wenger's 'woe is me' act better than graciously accepting that Bayern are the better team and Arsenal simply couldn't match them, but still provided a spirited performance? Wojciech Szczesny was dismissed in the first leg because he denied a clear goalscoring opportunity - because Arsenal couldn't defend Bayern's attack in the manner required. It wasn't an arbitrary test to see how the Gunners would cope with ten men.

An FA Cup semi-final against Wigan is something - something very fortunate given that it could have been Manchester City. But the last six weeks have taught us that Arsenal are still a long way from challenging the elite. They were hammered by Liverpool, humbled by Stoke and couldn't get past Manchester United in their weakest hour. In the Champions League, their best efforts against Bayern fell some way short. This has been a season of improvement at the Emirates, but that does not mean that the post-mortem should be in any way less scathing.


Santi Cazorla
By no means his worst performance, but it is on nights like Tuesday that we realise why Cazorla was never snapped up by the big two in Spain.


AC Milan
Tenth in Serie A - and a whopping 37 points behind Juventus - and now out of the Champions League after a shellacking at the feet of Atletico Madrid. AC Milan are in crisis - a situation that looks set to be exacerbated by their former European rivals, who now gather like vultures around Mario Balotelli.

Matthew Stanger

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Redknapp leaps to Mackay defence

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