Champions League Winners and Losers

United and Moyes deservedly top the winners after the perfect away performance against a strong home side. Wilshere, Mourinho, Celtic, hipsters are all covered...

Last Updated: 28/11/13 at 13:46 Post Comment

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Winners


Manchester United
"We won well, we played well, with some outstanding performances. To come to Germany and win 5-0 puts the result in perspective."

We have been intensely critical of United at times this season (heck, United fans have been intensely critical of United this season) but there should be little doubt about the performance in Leverkusen on Wednesday - this was utterly excellent.

Nor too should David Moyes be left out of such praise. Having been the subject of (admittedly inevitable) unfavourable comparisons to his predecessor, this was a night for Moyes to put in his pipe and smoke - not just the most comfortable win of his short tenure but United's biggest on the road in Europe for almost 50 years. Have they played as commandingly well in Europe since the 4-0 defeat of Milan at Old Trafford in 2010?

The contrast to both games against Real Sociedad was stark. Lassitude and stagnation were replaced by verve and dynamism, and 18 shots is the most they have managed away from home all season. It is an evident statement, but Bayer Leverkusen are no pushovers - this side sits above Dortmund in the Bundesliga and had lost just two of 27 home league games (to Dortmund and Bayern) - but they were put to the sword by a side that looked to have clicked into rhythm in qualifying for the knock-out stage with ease.

One satisfying aspect for Moyes will have been the identity of his goalscorers at the BayArena. Of his side's 20 Premier League goals this season, 16 have been scored by strikers, with Adnan Januzaj the only non-striker to have contributed more than once. That United's goals were shared around midfield and defence will act as reassurance that Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie are not the only source, a necessary component in achieving success. There was even the goalscoring return of Owen Goal, rarely seen since his glut for United in 2010.

That is not to say that one of Moyes' forwards was not integral, and Wayne Rooney is bang in the middle of one of those runs where everything he touches turns to goals. Four assists on the night for the Man of the Match, and Rooney once again acting as the heartbeat of United's energy and spark.

Supporters may have been prepared (or even happy) to see him leave in the summer given the obvious confusion over his short-term future, but a) holding onto Rooney and b) managing to almost immediately have his striker perform at close to his best, will go down as the finest achievement of Moyes' first six months in charge. It is rather frightening (boo!) to imagine where United would be right now without him.

"He doesn't need a rest just now but I'll watch for any sign that he does," was Moyes' response to questions about Rooney's possible fatigue. "I think everyone knows he's one of those who is better playing."

Better for Rooney, better for Moyes and better for United.


Shinji Kagawa
Matthew Stanger has already written here (and very nicely too) on Kagawa impressing significantly in a central position, so I will leave my two cents worth at this: it's amazing how well a round peg can fit into a round hole.


Ryan Giggs
"Some people have mentioned his age, but you can't mention anything about his football ability. He'll tell us when he has had enough," says Moyes.

Giggs has now reached the age (and United supporters' patience worn thin enough at a lack of midfield quality) where every poor performance from the Welshman is greeted with calls for him to retire immediately. Displays such as the one offered on Wednesday back up claims that he could continue playing next season.

He's 40 years old, he's played 90 minutes and he goes and plays a pass like this to cap off victory. We should stand up and applaud.


Arsenal
An expected victory against an understrength and winless Marseille side, but one that still managed to provide additional reasons for optimism.

Whilst I am refusing to resort to the 'win whilst playing badly' cliche (it's the hallmark of champions, y'know), there is something remarkably reassuring in Arsenal clocking up wins with the minimum of fuss, barely touching on the accelerator pedal. I'm using the cliche, aren't I?

Jurgen Klopp this week insisted that Arsenal could win this season's Champions League as long as they didn't face Bayern, and whilst his comments were evidently tongue in cheek, they contain a valid point on Arsenal's improvement. Participation in the latter stages of the competition largely depends on finishing top of the group, something that Arsenal failed to do last season - they were then 'rewarded' with Bayern Munich in the last 16, and that was that.

During last season's group stage, Arsenal kept just one clean sheet and conceded eight goals in finishing second to a Schalke team that possessed a squad of lower quality. If the Gunners were punished for their sloppiness at the back, it would be remiss to not praise their defensive stability this time around. Given the quality of opposition in the group, it is mightily impressive that only Bayern Munich have conceded fewer goals than Arsene Wenger's side in the competition, and three clean sheets in five matches would have been four but for a late Andre Ayew consolation in Marseille.

However, whilst much of this solidity has been provided by Matthieu Flamini at the base of Arsenal's midfield, Tuesday night actually revealed how Flamini's presence actually assists his side in an attacking sense.

Last season, without a player able to sit merely as a guard in front of the defence (Mikel Arteta is not that player), Arsenal's full-backs were unable to surge forward at will, because they would always be required to guard against a counter-attack leaving central defenders exposed. With Flamini acting as a second layer of defence, Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs (or Nacho Monreal, as on Tuesday) can operate higher up the field and assist in attack.

This is particularly useful given that neither of Arsenal's two widest midfielders (tactically rather than physically) on Tuesday, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky would ever claim to be wingers. With Flamini as insurance, Sagna and Monreal could almost play as wing-backs, allowing Wilshere and Rosicky to tuck infield and support Mesut Ozil in behind Olivier Giroud. Wilshere's goals were a testament to being able to almost constantly come in from the wide positions and utilise space in the centre of the pitch. It all just seems to be falling into place.

Barring a heavy defeat in the Stadio San Paolo in a fortnight's time, this is job very well done for Wenger and his side. Avoid defeat of any kind and they will top the group, a seemingly unlikely scenario after defeat to Dortmund at the Emirates in October.


Jack Wilshere
"What Ramsey has done puts in Jack's mind that he has to score as well. If you're a midfielder you want to score goals. He's starting to think 'what Ramsey can do, I can do as well', the first goal shows that," said Arsene Wenger.

Given the revelatory performances of Aaron Ramsey this season, there was a danger that Wilshere was becoming a back-up option for both club and country, but Tuesday night was a reminder from the midfielder of his undoubted quality.

Having midfielders scoring goals is vital for Arsenal given the continued presence of Olivier Giroud as the only realistic contender to start up front. The Frenchman is not in sparkling goalscoring form but that matters not a jot if midfielders are contributing their share, something covered by Sarah Winterburn here.

The lack of goals in the Wilshere's game is something of a mystery, really. He is a more adept creator than finisher, but a career record that before last night read as one goal for Arsenal and England for every 21 games played is a startlingly meagre return.

As hinted at in his manager's words above, that English-style hard work and determination that Wilshere infamously referred to earlier this season is all well and good, but nothing shouts louder than goals. This was Wilshere's 149th career match for club and country, and the first time he has scored more than one goal in a game. Nice timing indeed.


Ajax
On Tuesday, Ajax became the first team to beat Barcelona this season, and Barca's last four defeats highlight the might of Ajax's achievement: Bayern Munich, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Real Madrid.

Thanks to Celtic's capitulation against Milan, the victory almost still saw them as losers, but still extended the possibility of an almost unfathomable comeback from Frank De Boer's side. From a position at the bottom of the group with one point from their opening three matches, consecutive victories have taken Ajax to within one final victory from qualification.

And so to a winner-takes-all match in Milan.


Basel
Like Ajax, Basel prolonged their chances of making the knock-out stage with a home victory over loftier opponents. Avoid defeat in Gelsenkirchen in two weeks' time and the Swiss side will progress beyond the group stage.


Arturo Vidal
Another three cases to add to the weight of evidence in the prosecution of Europe's richest clubs - why did no-one bid big for the Chilean in the summer?


Manchester City
I'll get shouted at by choice individuals in the comments section if I don't include City in the Winners, but Wednesday provided us with absolutely nothing that we didn't already know, especially given the quality of the opposition.

Go and win 3-0 or better in the Allianz in a fortnight's time and you'll get more of a write-up, I promise.


Sergio Aguero
I need no second invitation to shower praise and kisses upon Manchester City's most prized asset. The handsome Argentine has now failed to score in just one of his last nine matches. Only Cristiano Ronaldo can match that in Europe's top five leagues.


Multiscreen viewers
Never mind the inevitable headache gained from watching eight games simultaneously, 36 goals in eight matches on Wednesday makes any degree of migraine bearable. You greedy b*stards.


Losers



Chelsea
It is difficult to lambast Chelsea simply for losing to Basel, given that this was a night in which their qualification to the latter stages was confirmed. Beat Steaua Bucharest at Stamford Bridge in a fortnight and they will top the group, very much job done.

The fact that Chelsea didn't even have a shot on target in the entire 90 minutes for the first time since last season ensured their place as Losers. This was just their second goalless Champions League match in their last 25, and given Schalke's draw in Romania, this constituted a missed opportunity to win the group, thus being afforded the chance to rest players in their last group match. Given that December will contain nine fixtures, such gift horses should not be too closely investigated.

This was also the chance to stamp some consistency into Chelsea's form. After memories of the recent draw against West Brom and defeat to Newcastle has been partly extinguished by a composed and comfortable victory at the Boleyn Ground on Saturday evening, they will once again surface ahead of a crucial game at home to Southampton on Sunday.

And it could have been worse. Petr Cech saved expertly from eventual goalscorer Mohamed Salah and Fabian Frei, and John Obi Mikel cleared off the line from Ivan Ivanov (suitable name respect offered) as Chelsea barely threatened to trouble Yann Sommer. Samuel Eto'o was withdrawn with injury.

There isn't any point labelling this as a disaster, because it palpably wasn't so. However, there similarly isn't any benefit in ignoring it as a meaningless defeat. During a season in which consistency looks set to be key in proving victorious domestically, Chelsea limply passed up such a chance.


Jose Mourinho
"I felt the team was tired and maybe I should have made more changes to the starting line-up. They were tired, no reaction, wrong decisions, so I'm not so sad with them because I think I understand. The team was not fresh."

Quite why Mourinho chose to select ten of the same players for trip to Basel that had played in a London derby fixture on the Saturday evening is unclear, but it backfired substantially. This was not the thinly veiled dig of the Newcastle defeat ("I made 11 mistakes") but an honest admission of guilt - Jose had little choice but to do so after his side looked so toothless.

Given the resources at the manager's disposal, why did he not freshen things up? Why was Demba Ba not given an opportunity? Why was Juan Mata again not picked? And why was Andre Schurrle not given vital minutes? Only Mourinho knows, but should Chelsea play with the same lethargy and inertia against Southampton there will be further questions asked still.

As an aside, that's a quarter of all matches Chelsea have lost since Jose's return. The Frowny One.


Celtic
And so Celtic supporters prepare to wait another nine months until another 'big' match. They will win the title at a canter, possibly adding another domestic cup competition, but even with one game to go are already guaranteed to not be playing European football after Christmas. Roll on August 2014, and the qualifiers once again.

Charlie Mulgrew's reasoning for Celtic's dismal home defeat to Milan and subsequent elimination raised an eyebrow or two (I've only got two): "We never got the wee bits of luck we got last year. We felt we were strong enough and felt that we could compete. I think we proved that with the chances we created and I do think we had a strong enough squad."

No Charlie. No, no, no. The squad is just not good enough to compete at this level. It has lost Victor Wanyama (for a good fee, admittedly) and top scorer Gary Hooper, and replaced them with unwanted attackers from Ajax and Schalke and a central defender from Groningen. Cardiff, Scunthorpe, Derby and Wolves, this is where Celtic have been shopping on recent years, and it just isn't good enough. The victories over Barcelona and Milan and the last-16 tie against Juventus are the exceptions, not the rule, and the sad fact is that Celtic finishing bottom of this group does not represent significant underachievement.

Supporters (including one chap in our Mailbox) attacked the club itself for not investing more over the summer, but high-profile players need reasons to be tempted - a title race won at walking pace without significant competitors, an Old Firm derby off the menu and team-mates of an insufficient ability are not temptations for quality players. Instead, a vicious circle is created: a difficulty in attracting players leads to lesser performance, only making recruiting such players more unlikely. One suspects that this summer one is more likely to see Fraser Forster and Emilio Izaguirre leave Parkhead than adept reinforcements recruited.


Manchester City's defence
It's now seven goals conceded in three Champions League home matches for City, strange given their utter dominance in the Premier League on their own patch. They have scored ten goals in the same games, but as Samir Nasri has admitted, that isn't good enough.

"We are scoring a lot of goals but we cannot score four goals every game. We need to improve how we defend as a team."

A trip to Munich should provide a stern enough test of that.


Napoli
Three enjoyable teams to watch with exciting squads was always impossible to force into two qualifying places, and it appears that Rafa Benitez's side will be the high-profile victims of the 'Group of Death'. Only a three-goal victory over Arsenal will save them.


Hipsters
"A Leverkusen side sat above Dortmund in the Bundesliga losing 5-0 at home to an English side? How very vulgar."

"Pass this independently brewed German ale back to the barmaid for me and ask for a watery lager.

"Bayer 04? More like Bayer 05. LOLZ."


Sergio Ramos
The pull on Umut Bulut saw the Spaniard receive the 17th red card of his club career. He's only 27. Fantastic work.


Galatasaray
Oh Roberto, when will the Champions League ever treat you well?

Playing for over an hour against a ten-man Real Madrid side that were missing Cristiano Ronaldo was the perfect opportunity for Mancini's Galatasaray side to take the clear advantage in their bid to qualify in second place ahead of Juventus in Group B. Their woeful response was to ship four goals, meaning that they must beat the Old Lady in the Ataturk Stadium in two weeks' time. The winner takes it all...


Porto
A draw at home to Austria Vienna was as catastrophic as it should be at this level. Porto must now better Zenit's result on the final day to qualify. Given that they face Atletico Madrid whilst Zenit travel to Austria, it looks unlikely.

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Readers' Comments

I

may well get slated by other United fans for this, but out of the three contenders, I'd far prefer Liverpool to win the title. Yes some elements of their fanbase can be a bit OTT, yes they're our biggest rivals and yes it will make our poor season feel even more like the end of an era (Fergie's gone, Liverpool are back on top). However I just have to applaud Brendan Rodgers and the way he's turned Liverpool around in just a couple of seasons. It...

Mike_Christie
Please Stop Telling Us What To Think

H

ooray! We are all excited now, we beat a very mediocre team! With all due respect to WHU supporters, not winning that game shouldn't even be a consideration. This is the problem, there is no winning mentality at the Emirates - we're all congratulating ourselves beating a team that we have a winning record against.

TheWhiz
Wenger hails important win

I

s this meant to be an aspiration for United supporters? Moyes mediocrity strikes again. I see the Bayern boys don't want to sign for him, and his reputation amongst the senior European coaches make other key signings unlikely.

redbornandbred
De Gea's Europa League target

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