Champions League Winners And Losers

It was a frustrating night for Chelsea, but a 1-1 draw away from home in the knock-out stage is not to be sniffed at. Plus, more misery for Moyes and Manchester United...

Last Updated: 27/02/14 at 13:26 Post Comment

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Winners

Real Madrid
Another brilliant display from the BBC who, like their namesake, should rightly command a licence fee. Bale, Benzema and Cristiano were simply superb on Wednesday night as Schalke were destroyed in a manner reminiscent of the way Manchester United breezed past the Bundesliga side in the 2010/11 semi-final. Except Real Madrid made it look even breezier.

The La Liga leaders' ruthless performance underlined Winners and Losers' view that this year's tournament will be won by either them or Bayern Munich. The Germans triumphed in the last two knock-out ties between the two teams, but Real Madrid are becoming stronger with each passing week under Carlo Ancelotti. Their 5-0 blitz of Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey semi-final emphasised that point, while the 6-1 victory over Schalke was embarrassing for everyone involved.

With six goals and four assists between them in Gelsenkirchen, Real's remarkable attacking trio sent out a message to the rest of the competition. A message that said: "Hi guys. Real's remarkable attacking trio here. We tried calling but we guess you're busy; was it tonight that you were taking the kids to see Mr Peabody & Sherman? Everything's fine our end, Nanna's feeling much better and Jese is getting excellent grades at school. Anyway, just to let you know, we scored six goals and claimed four assists tonight. Hope you're proud. Let's do lunch next week. Toodles."

Chilling.


Gareth Bale
A month that began with Bale under renewed pressure to prove himself in Madrid has seen the winger star in a 4-2 victory over Villarreal, score this screamer against Elche that caused Sergio Ramos to react like this and then claim two goals and an assist in the 6-1 thrashing of Schalke.

"That was Bale's best game of the season," said Carlo Ancelotti on Wednesday.

The winger already has the best minutes-to-assists ratio in La Liga this season - as well as ten strikes in 17 matches - but now his injury problems are firmly behind him, it seems Bale is finding the next level he went in search of when he decided to leave Spurs.


Borussia Dortmund
Well, that was one way to get Saturday's humbling 3-0 defeat to struggling Hamburg out of the system. Two goals inside five minutes put Dortmund in the driving seat and, while Zenit St Petersburg pretended to make a game of it in the second half, the Bundesliga side all but secured their progression with a 4-2 victory.

As well as all the goals, the best thing about this match was that it was played at tea time. There's something delightful about watching Champions League football at 5pm with chicken kiev, chips and beans on your lap and a Chomp for dessert. More of that, we say.

But back to the football. While this was a confident display from Dortmund, it seems unlikely that they'll go any further than the quarter-finals in this year's tournament owing to a crippling run of luck with injuries. Ilkay Gundogan, Neven Subotic and Jakub Blaszczykowski are all long-term absentees, Mats Hummels is only just returning from a heel problem, while Sven Bender has been ruled out for ten weeks with a groin strain. This just isn't the same team as the one that reached the final last year and wowed us with their attacking brilliance.

That isn't to say that Dortmund can't still play the same way - and they showed flashes of their quick and incisive transitions against an awful Zenit side on Tuesday. However, they have struggled in the league and now sit 20 points behind Bayern Munich and a place behind Bayer Leverkusen - yes, that Bayer Leverkusen - in third.

After back-to-back title wins and a Champions League final appearance all inside three years, this season has fallen a bit flat at the Westfahlenstadion. Dortmund should be in prime position to cement their status as Germany's second strongest club, but they still have plenty to do to build on their recent success. With Robert Lewandowski, who scored twice on Tuesday, joining the cult of Bayern Munich in the summer, it almost feels like the end of an era that was only just getting started.


Olympiakos
Somewhat fortunate to have faced such a dreadful Manchester United performance. As I wrote here, I disagreed with Roy Keane's assessment that United made Olympiakos look good. Olympiakos looked as poor as we all expected, and yet United were somehow worse.

Other than an excellent performance from Chori Dominguez and a stunning goal from Joel Campbell, who did little else, Olympiakos failed to suggest that they can resist a strong comeback from United in the second leg. The question is whether David Moyes can inspire the reaction that is required.


Chelsea
A goal for an English team! Let me see you shake your tail feather! LET ME SEE YOU SHAKE YOUR TAIL FEATHER!

(Winners and Losers is now twerking on the back of Nick Miller's chair as his pleading eyes search the office for help.)

Well, that was a good start for Chelsea, wasn't it? A goal for a striker after just nine minutes, and not just any striker, but Fernando Torres. The same Fernando Torres who has scored just three times since his winner against Manchester City on October 27.

But that was roughly the point where the good news ended for Jose Mourinho. Chelsea belong in the Winners section because a 1-1 draw away from home in the knock-out stage is nothing to be sniffed at but, as Nick Miller wrote before his mental scarring, it could have been so much more. It could have been dinner and pudding, and we all know what we think of delicious pudding.

It was a performance to reinforce Mourinho's claim that Chelsea are not quite ready to challenge at the top level. While his former club were destroying Schalke 6-1 in Germany, the Poruguese squirmed through a frustrating evening as Roberto Mancini's tactical tweaks brought Galatasaray back into the match.

"It is not easy. In the first half it was our game and we had chances to kill the game," said Mourinho. "I am not critical of my strikers because they had a good game, but overall when we have counter-attack situations we are missing the right pass or the right choice, and a second goal would have changed the flow of the game completely."

A second goal would surely have killed the tie and it is on this stage that Chelsea's lack of a convincing striker is really felt. Whereas Eden Hazard and Oscar have helped to mask the inconsistency of Torres and Samuel Eto'o in the Premier League, there was no hiding place in the Türk Telekom Arena on Wednesday. Torres was better than usual, but a Falcao or Diego Costa would more likely have proved the difference.

The concern now for Mourinho is Saturday's fixture at home to Fulham. It might seem a like an easy game to follow a tough night in Europe, but the Cottagers should be in good shape after another week on the training pitch with Felix Magath. And then there is Mourinho's worries over a lack of recovery time for his players.

'In the week ahead, we have the return of the Champions League, as we travel to Turkey for the first leg of the knock-out tie against Galatasaray,' wrote the manager in his programme notes for the Everton match.

'Then we return to London, arriving home around 5am or 6am, to prepare for the derby at Fulham. We play on Saturday at 3pm, which is not ideal after a Wednesday match in Istanbul.

'On another occasion, we would have been allocated a Sunday slot for TV, which would have given us a further 24 hours to prepare.'

As Winners and Losers pointed out earlier this month, Chelsea have repeatedly struggled this season when they have had only had two free days between games. The Blues dropped points at home to West Brom and West Ham, lost to Sunderland in the League Cup, lost at Stoke, lost away to Basel and just about escaped with a point at home to West Brom.

With Mourinho naming almost a full-strength side on Wednesday, there could be several tired legs in the West London derby against a Fulham side in a desperate fight for survival. And then most of the squad will depart for international duty, followed by a two-day break before the visit of Tottenham, with another two-day break coming between the trip to Aston Villa on March 15 and the second leg against Galatasaray on March 18. And after that there are only three clear days before a potential title decider at home to Arsenal.

It's a make-or-break month.


Losers

John Terry
A costly lack of concentration on the same day Martin Samuel used his Daily Mail column to champion the Chelsea captain for the Player of the Year award. Such a shame.


Roberto Mancini
He sounds awfully bitter, claiming credit for Inter's Champions League win and Manchester City's form this season in the space of just a few days.

According to reports, Mancini is looking for a move back to the Premier League in the summer, with the Daily Mail's Ian Ladyman tweeting from Istanbul on Wednesday: 'Further info tonight that Mancini wants to leave Turkey at season's end. Isn't enjoying lifestyle. Would love Tottenham.'

Ah, just what the Premier League needs - more petty managerial squabbles.


Hulk
The star of a poor team who did little else other than smash home a stunning penalty. According to Dortmund captain Sebastian Kehl: "Hulk asked me if he could play in Dortmund from the summer, but I don't know if we could afford him."

What a mistake to choose the Russian rubles over one of Europe's top leagues.


Manchester United and David Moyes
A night on which the English champions were crippled by caution against the weakest team in the remaining 16. This was David Moyes in focus - playing it safe, looking to hold what you have and showing none of the adventure required to achieve at this level of the game. If you gave him a Ferrari to test drive, he'd come back and tell you the brakes are good.

But Moyes is only one of a number of problems at Manchester United, some he has exacerbated, some which serve as mitigating factors in his appalling tenure. In truth, he should have been sacked by now for what has been a catastrophic failure. That all eyes were on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday afternoon - many in hope - rather defines a football club now run more as a business interest from afar. It is in everyone's best interests to change the current situation in Manchester.

This column has previously commented on Moyes failing to instil even the basic principles of his Everton reign at Old Trafford, and Tuesday's abject performance reinforced this opinion. Where was the hunger from United? Where was the fight after going behind? It remained worryingly absent, as it has all season from a team who have repeatedly struggled to respond to setbacks.

That one of Tuesday's back four is certain to leave in the summer - and two presumably set to follow - hasn't helped matters. That Tom Cleverley, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia all know they will be replaced at the first opportunity is a further problem. But the biggest issue is Robin van Persie's frustration. Twelve touches in the first half, 12 in the second, one wasted chance and an uncomfortable interview to Dutch television. Perhaps Moyes has been too busy appeasing the wrong striker.

Van Persie certainly has reason to feel unfairly treated in recent weeks. While Moyes has been buying new train sets for Wayne Rooney, the older brother - the one whose 26 goals fired United to the title last season - has been left a little unloved. It appears that Van Persie is merely waiting for the moment that Moyes decides to pick Juan Mata behind Rooney in his new-look attack. The manager has made it clear who he rates as his first pick, and the possibility of the Dutchman leaving in the summer looks increasingly likely.

Perhaps this is another example of Moyes' caution - stick with the lad you know, the one who runs around a lot. Rooney's contract was surely also a priority for the Glazers, given the threat to the club's brand following the regime change. However, there is a feeling that United and Moyes are going about this rebuilding process in entirely the wrong way. We have seen with Spurs that it is extremely difficult to integrate so many new players, yet all the noises from Moyes suggest a similar plan at Old Trafford in the summer.

There is also the noise of squeaky bums, not in the traditional sense as races go to the wire and titles are attained, but in a creeping feeling that the United board are realising their enormous mistake. The players are not playing for the manager. There has been zero improvement in style and results. Sir Alex Ferguson is clearly much better at football managing than he is at interviewing successors.

And now we wait. One more disappointing result could be enough for the Glazers to lurch in another direction, whether it be failing to get past Olympiakos in the second leg, or losing at home to either/both of Liverpool and Manchester City. If Jose Mourinho had guided United outside the top four - an almost unimaginable idea - there would still be players who would want to play for Jose Mourinho. With Moyes, you have to wonder who will want to join in the summer. It could be a case of throwing good money after bad.


Robin Van Persie's English Teacher
Said the Manchester United striker: "Sometimes we play good but not always."


Schalke
Simply a terrible night that they have to repeat in two weeks' time at the Santiago Bernabeu. Good luck, chaps.

Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.

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