Champions League winners and losers

Date published: Thursday 15th September 2016 12:20

Gundogan

WINNERS

The dominance of Europe’s elite
Europe’s ‘big three’ (Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid) scored 14 goals and all won their games. The only surprise was that Real struggled to do so.

Bayern, Barcelona and Real Madrid’s last 60 combined home CL group games:

Won – 56
Drawn – 3
Lost – 1 (Bayern vs City, 2013)
Scored – 192
Conceded – 34

The combination of a lack of BT Sport subscriptions and predictable progression of the big clubs is in danger of rendering the Champions League a February-May contest. Still, you’ll always have our winners and losers. Lucky people.

 

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar
The first game Barcelona’s holy trinity started together this season provided the sort of spoils we’ve come to expect:

Messi – three goals, one assist.
Suarez – two goals, one assist.
Neymar – one goal, four assists.

Since Suarez joined Barcelona in July 2014, him, Messi and Neymar have scored 266 competitive goals for Barcelona. That’s absolutely obscene.

 

Leicester City
Club Bruges’ pitiful defending did provide Leicester’s VIP pass to Champions League victory, but you just try and see if Claudio Ranieri’s team care. Those worried that Leicester might struggle to deal with the unfamiliarity of a European away trip (and I was one) look foolish indeed. Leicester didn’t just beat Bruges, they pumped them into the middle of next week.

Ranieri spoke after the game about how the Champions League music “charges the batteries” of players, and this was the evidence. Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton all looked more energised than during their domestic games. Bruges’ ineptitude offered at least half a helping hand, but Leicester maximised their hosts’ generosity. It will not always be this easy, but Ranieri will take as many relaxing nights as he is offered when Leicester are constantly walking on untrodden ground.

With FC Copenhagen and Bruges still to come to Leicester, Ranieri will be confident of taking at least nine points from this Champions League group. That leaves just one or two points to find from two fixtures against Porto and a trip to Denmark. It’s on.

 

Riyad Mahrez
Well that’s one way to get that Barcelona move you’re after. A stunning free-kick from a player who has been conspicuous by his comparative absence during the first few weeks of the domestic season.

 

Marc Albrighton
In May 2014, Albrighton was released by Aston Villa alongside Nathan Delfouneso. He had started 13 Premier League games in the previous two years, for a team who had twice finished 15th in the Premier League. During his final season, Albrighton was loaned to Wigan Athletic in the Championship.

This week, Delfouneso scored as a substitute for Swindon Town in the EFL Trophy. Premier League winner Albrighton scored Leicester’s first ever goal in the Champions League. Sometimes football is a bit weird.

 

Arkadiusz Milik
Not the star of Euro 2016 that I so desperately wanted him to be, but two goals on his Champions League debut for Napoli to turn defeat into victory. Napoli supporters will be happy to know that Gonzalo Higuain has never scored more than one goal in a European away game.

 

David Ospina
Arsenal’s back-up goalkeeper was the first ever early Champions League winner. Clear your mantelpiece fella, there’s a new award in town.

 

Pep Guardiola
Eight players winning possession at least four times. Five players creating three chances or more. Six players with a passing accuracy of 90% or above. Four players with 80 or more touches of the ball, including an attacking midfielder, central midfielder, central defender and a full-back. Twenty-three shots and 11 on target, with no team allowing fewer shots.

Guardiola has had weeks rather than months in charge, but his team already look ominous. Pass and move (it’s the Manchester City groove).

 

Sergio Aguero
He’s reached nine goals for the season, it’s only September and he’s only played 441 minutes. Every time I think Kevin De Bruyne is the best player in the country, Aguero states his own case. His reputation suffers for just how bloody easy he makes everything look.

 

Ilkay Gundogan
Three chances created, second only to Aguero for shots on target and the assured passing we know the German is capable of; a lovely way to make your debut. I know comparing transfer fees is A Bad Thing, but Manchester City’s signing of Gundogan for £20m in *this* transfer market is something approaching a steal. Less than twice the price of a Jeff Hendrick, if you will.

 

Bayern Munich
Now 13 straight home wins in the Champions League, a run extending back two years. Bayern have scored 48 goals in those games, which is bloody ridiculous. With cup specialist Carlo Ancelotti on board and Barcelona with Manchester City for Group C company, should Bayern be the favourites to lift the trophy?

 

Robert Lewandowski
Mr Reliable has now scored in nine of his last ten European home games.

 

Ludogorets
A club that started its Champions League campaign three days after the Euro 2016 final earned a magnificent point in Basel, given that they lost 4-0 in the same fixture two years ago. With Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain also in the group, Ludogorets and Basel might be playing for a Europa League spot. First blood to the Bulgarian champions.

 

Arsene Wenger
A winner not for the performance, because it could – and probably should – have been a wretched evening for Wenger, but for the result. Had Arsenal lost by two or three goals then the questions asked of that team selection would have been shouted angrily into an ArsenalFanTV microphone rather than noted on a bloody excellent football website.

 

Atletico Madrid’s defence
Atleti’s defence has now kept eight clean sheets in their last 12 Champions League games. Break them down if you can.

 

Toby Alderweireld
I could write plenty on Alderweireld’s brilliance, but this says it far more succinctly.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo
You can reset your counters, folks, Ronaldo’s finally scored a free-kick. He saved his club in the process, because that’s what he does.

 

Real Madrid
The last time Real lost a home Champions League group game was in 2009 against Milan, but they won’t get much closer than Wednesday.

Since that defeat to Milan, their home group stage record reads: P 20, W 19, D 1, L 0. They have scored 66 goals and conceded just 11. Ridiculous.

 

Lyon
A first Champions League home win for seven years, celebrated while the best two teams in the group drew. Who needs Alexandre Lacazette anyway?

 

Borussia Dortmund
That’s how you follow up league defeat to a promoted club. By ‘doing a Newcastle’.

 

Borussia Monchengladbach
A 4-0 defeat isn’t anything to cheer, but well done to the bright spark at Monchengladbach who left sample letters on the seats of supporters in the ground, addressed to their managers at work and explaining their 24-hour delay in returning home. It’s the little things that make you feel warm inside.

LOSERS

Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers in Winners and Losers; it’s been a while.

Nobody expected Celtic to take a point against Barcelona on Tuesday, or even stop Luis Enrique’s side scoring three or four goals. What supporters did expect was for Celtic to avoid their heaviest ever European defeat, and one that removes most, if not all, of the goodwill Rodgers earned for the 5-1 victory over Rangers at the weekend.

Herein lies Rodgers’ problem at Celtic, as he tries to rebuild the reputation that was damaged by his Liverpool exit and lack of subsequent high-profile job offers in England. Celtic have won five titles in succession, so there is little to be gained by repeating the feat.

Even with Rangers back in the top flight, they are operating on far fewer resources than their Glasgow rivals. Rangers bought only one player for a fee, striker Joe Garner, while Celtic signed the exciting Moussa Dembele from Fulham, Scott Sinclair from Aston Villa and Kolo Toure from Celtic. They already had comfortably the strongest squad in the country.

Rodgers’ standing will not be dented by title victory, of course, but he is likely to be judged on his performances in Europe. After scraping through the qualifying rounds against teams from Gibraltar, Kazakhstan and Israel, a 7-0 defeat is no way to announce your intentions. Celtic must battle Monchengladbach for a place in the Europa League.

Even more galling is Rodgers’ refusal to leave his head-in-the-clouds optimism behind. While captain Scott Brown angrily insisted that Celtic should not be losing 7-0 to any side, Rodgers said that Celtic shouldn’t be embarrassed by the result.

“This is a competition which is going to be a brilliant learning season for us,” Rodgers said. “Tonight is one of those nights you have to take. There can be no embarrassment. But this won’t hamper us in any way. We will always take positives from it. It’s still very early for us working together. The home games are always going to be important for us. Away from home, it’s been difficult for Celtic over many years.”

It has indeed, Brendan. Just never this difficult.

 

Edinson Cavani
“As a club, they have lots of good players so I don’t think Ibrahimovic’s exit affects them at all,’ said Hector Bellerin on the eve of the game. “They have a really strong three and any player up front will be dangerous. We have to face the match in the same way that we would if Ibra was playing. We feel up for it.”

Bellerin should be congratulated for his excellent hex work. Not only do Paris St Germain generally miss Ibrahimovic in the way any club in Europe would, Cavani chose the wrong night to get the yips.

Unfortunately for the Uruguayan, it’s not the first time recently that his shooting has been off. The video below shows Cavani’s dire performance against Metz this season, and his Arsenal display was a near-exact copy. Is there any other ‘elite’ striker in Europe who suffers in such a way? I said elite, Olivier Giroud.

“There are many positive things to take from the game. But in the end, we pay dearly for our lack of consistency in front of the goal,” Cavani said after the game. “I take responsibility for it because I had the clearest opportunities.”

Expected to take on the mantle from Ibrahimovic and thrive in the Swede’s absence, Cavani has instead chosen the worst possible time to suffer a total loss of confidence and form. The chances are still coming (and cliche dictates that that is what matters most), but that’s no consolation to Unai Emery and PSG supporters. This one’s on Cavani, and him alone.

 

Moussa Dembele
Saturday’s hero was Tuesday’s villain. Dembele scored a hat-trick in the Old Firm Derby at the weekend, but failed when given the perfect opportunity to equalise in the Nou Camp. A chance for 1-1 quickly became a rotten evening for Celtic.

Dembele’s mood will not have been helped by Rodgers blaming that penalty miss for Celtic’s defeat, despite the defence conceding seven times: “Moussa was happy to accept the responsibility and the keeper read it and made a good save. I credit the goalkeeper. That was a moment for us that needed to go our way. When the ball hits the back of the net for us it would have given us a lot of energy so I think that was a turning point.”

Cheers, gaffer.

 

Bayer Leverkusen
German clubs are generally pretty brilliant at making the most of social media, but crowing about winning games after half an hour looks pretty dim when you blow that two-goal lead and draw at home to (probably) the weakest team in the group.

 

Harry Kane
Our early loser, with an examination of the statistics surrounding Kane’s poor start to the season. ‘It was fine last year’ isn’t quite a satisfactory excuse…

 

Mauricio Pochettino
And while I’m plugging things. Pochettino doesn’t get much wrong, but breaking up the Dier-Wanyama defensive midfield axis was only logical to allow the introduction of Mousa Dembele. Moving Alli deeper to allow Erik Lamela *and* Heung-Min Son to start felt like trying to squeeze five players into four positions.

A manager is judged on his tough decisions. If Son hadn’t scored twice against Stoke on Saturday, would Pochettino have moved Alli deeper?

 

Ben Davies
Still only 23, but Davies’ career is in some danger of stalling. When given the chance to impress at Wembley, the left-back blew his chance. He is a jack of all trades full-back, neither comfortable facing a proficient winger or attacking a proficient right-back.

 

Jan Vertonghen
Why oh why would you show a left-footed attacking midfielder towards goal when he’s cutting in from the right wing? Vertonghen made the sort of mistake that won’t usually be punished in the Premier League, but is far more likely to be on this stage. It cost his team.

 

Sporting
The only teams to have beaten Real Madrid in the Bernabeu in the last 18 months are Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, but Sporting came mightily close to pulling off the feat. Leading with two minutes to go, Jorge Jesus’ team somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

 

Legia Warsaw ultras
A 6-0 home defeat, but any sympathy for Legia Warsaw evaporates instantly when you witness the behaviour of their hooligan element. During clashes with security forces at the game, fans sprayed pepper spray into the eyes of stewards. We await UEFA’s meaningless slap on the wrist with bated breath.

 

Benfica
Having loaned Anderson Talisca to Besiktas this summer and promptly been drawn in the same Champions League group as the Turkish champions, Benfica surely knew what would inevitably follow. Step forward Talisca in the 93rd minute, to curl home a wonderful free-kick and earn his loan side a vital (and surprise) point against his parent club.

We turn to Bobby Robson, our official ‘player scores against parent club’ correspondent: “He’s hurt us today.”

 

Daniel Storey

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