Champions League Diary 19.02.14
Well the UEFA Champions League is back with the box office tie in Manchester last night between Manchester City and Barcelona kicking-off the business end of Europe’s premier club competition. Bayer Leverkusen were also in action as they faced the financial might of France in the form of Paris Saint-Germain with the German side once again coming up far short against Europe’s elite in their own ground.
Manchester City, for the first time, reached the knockout phase of the Champions League and as soon as Manuel Pellegrini’s team were drawn to face Barcelona the hype began to build with it likely to be the tie of the round. Last night we were not at all disappointed as Manchester City put up a spirited fight against the attacking might of Barcelona with Manuel Pellegrini staying true to his pre-match word that Manchester City would not change their approach.
The hosts kept to their usual 4-2-2-2 system however Aleksandar Kolarov was deployed as the left sided midfielder in place of Samir Nasri. This, as pointed out by Michael Cox in today’s Guardian worked fantastically with the Serbian able to track the marauding runs of Dani Alves which often get ignored by teams. Alves, whilst not great in terms of crossing, can always get forward and then move the ball inside to one of the pass masters and this is so often how Barcelona up the tempo of an attack at less than a seconds notice. Pellegrini was incredibly astute to notice that and make a tactical change to try and limit the effectiveness of that particular move.
The opening forty five minutes was not a cagey affair but it did not have the spark which all the pre-match hype led us to believe. Both teams set about feeling the other out and as a result both teams enjoyed five or ten minute spells of control although Barcelona as expected dictated possession for the whole fixture. City I feel would have been the happier of the two sides going into the break however things could have been even better for the hosts had Alvaro Negredo been able to direct his lob over Victor Valdes into the corner of the net rather than across the face of goal.
As the match drew on it certainly appeared that without the services of Sergio Aguero, Manchester City were playing with one hand tied behind their back.
After five minutes of the second half the match was changed as Jesus Navas was dispossessed just inside Barcelona’s half. Andres Iniesta then duly found Lionel Messi with what would normally be a defence splitting pass however in this instance the Manchester City defence were already split. Vincent Kompany had dropped a couple of yards back to compensate for Demichelis’ lack of pace and Iniesta recognised it with scarily perfect precision.
Demichelis had no chance of keeping up with his Argentine compatriot as he broke through on goal and the former Bayern Munich defender went to ground and brought Messi down just outside the penalty area, or so it appeared. Demichelis was then correctly shown a red card yet a penalty was given despite initial contact between the pair occurring outside the box. Messi stepped up and converted the penalty with consummate ease to hand the Catalan giants the advantage.
City were never really in the match for the next forty or so minutes with Edin Dzeko replacing Negredo and Kolarov being withdrawn late in the game to try and provide an attacking burst to somehow head to the Nou Camp level with Barcelona. With Kolarov no longer on the field the frailties of Gael Clichy were fully exposed as Dani Alves made two surging runs into the penalty area both of which resulting in shots on goal, one of which fizzed past the post, the other nestled in the side of the net and more than likely condemned City to a Champions League exit.
Despite their impressive domestic form this season Bayer Leverkusen have not at all set the Champions League alight as yet with many feeling that the fluid Shakhtar Donetsk were the more deserving team to join Manchester United in the knockout stage. After being drawn against PSG, Sami Hyypia’s Leverkusen were never fancied to progress to their first quarter final since 2002. Last night’s first leg did prove to be a mismatch with PSG running out comfortable 4-0 winners away from home courtesy of a brace from Ibrahimovic and individuals goals from Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye on his European debut for the Parisian giants.
PSG will likely win the second leg comfortably and are certainly in with a shout of reaching the Lisbon showpiece in May, however where do Bayer Leverkusen go from here?
The German side have a lot of positives to take into next season’s Champions League, provided they secure qualification. A years experience in the tournament for both the young players and coach Hyypia can only help matters and the funds that come along with participation in UEFA’s flagship competition can only aid Sporting Director Rudi Voller in his search for new talent this summer. With the club having not recovered from the loss of Andre Schurrle last summer the departure of Sidney Sam to Schalke in July is likely to hit the club even harder.
There must be a real focus on securing exciting attacking talents on either flank to aid Stefan Kiessling and the exciting Son Heung-Min if Bayer Leverkusen are to return to Europe’s top table next year and progress even further than the first knockout round.
Tonight we see a repeat of last year’s first knockout round tie between Arsenal and Bayern Munich as Arsene Wenger’s side host the current European and World Champions who are without Franck Ribery who is still recovering from buttock surgery. The second match tonight is at the San Siro as Clarence Seedorf makes his Champions League bow as a coach against the hugely impressive Atletico Madrid lead by Diego Simeone in what could be an entertaining match when you consider the two centre forwards on show. Mario Balotelli and Diego Costa.
Written by Chris Winterburn
You can follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4