Just a quick update, you can find my scouting report on this season’s UEFA Champions League Group Stage available online at UEFA.com as well as in the print copy of Champions Matchday for January 2015.
Here is the link- http://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/news/newsid=2202605.html , any feedback would be more than welcome.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
Every so often you see something in football that makes your jaw drop, yet next to no words follow. FC Barcelona’s comprehensive domination of Manchester United in the 2011 European Cup final was one such occasion, as was Germany’s 7-1 victory over hosts Brazil in the semi-final of this summer’s World Cup. Last night Bayern Munich forced another such moment with their 7-1 victory over AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, a scoreline which nobody could have predicted.
It was by no means a surprise that Bayern Munich won, that isn’t the issue, it was clear before kick-off that Pep Guardiola’s side has a wealth of talent however this wasn’t a mismatch on paper. Roma, despite finishing second in Serie A last season, are perhaps, due to the exit of Antonio Conte at Juventus, the best team in Italy. Under Rudi Garcia, Roma have returned to Europe’s top table and can be considered, quite fairly, an elite team.
Bayern Munich, however were on another level in the Italian capital last night. It was quite captivating just how close the Bavarian giants came to reaching football perfection, a description solely reserved for Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team in more recent times.
Throughout last season Bayern Munich were impressive, winning the Bundesliga title, German Cup and reaching the last four of the European Cup. It is fair to say that in spite of all that success there was always a feeling that something just hadn’t quite clicked into place as yet, this is by no means a criticism of Bayern as adapting to a new coach, especially one as unique and demanding as Pep Guardiola, is always likely to take time.
Last night however felt to me like the line in the sand performance. The moment where Bayern have entered that sphere that most football teams are never able to, the sphere that Guardiola’s Barcelona reached between 2009 and 2011. Everything seemed to click into place.
Interestingly enough it was Roma who started the match the better with the hosts galvanised by Manchester City’s rather inexplicable failure to hold onto a 2-0 lead away in Moscow. A victory from Roma would have sent the Italians to the top of the group with qualification a serious possibility. Gervinho was busy running through the gap of Boateng and Benatia in Bayern’s back four and Rudi Garcia’s side were comfortable in possession inside their own half.
Of course this was just a five to six minute period but it looked as if we were in for a classic cagey, yet enthralling, European tie.
Then with what seemed like a flick of a switch Bayern turned things up a gear. Arjen Robben received the ball inside Roma’s penalty area and punished Ashley Cole for showing him inside to a shooting lane in the most emphatic way possible. Robben arrowed the ball past Morgan De Sanctis and into the far corner. This is the moment Pep changed the game.
The first shot of celebration on camera was between Guardiola and Neuer however it was more a case of Guardiola giving Neuer instructions. One of the keys to Guardiola’s success as a coach has been a quick pressing game and a high defensive line. Bayern’s defensive line had actually been uncharacteristically deep until the goal, to the visible frustration of Guardiola on the touchline, and it appeared that Neuer had been instructed to tell the defence to push up and thus start controlling the game as well as pushing further forward himself.
From this moment we saw a totally different shape from the visitors. Bayern’s defensive line pushed right up to the half-way line and penned Roma into their half.
Two of Roma’s most influential players, Francesco Totti and Miralem Pjanic were taken completely out of the game. This was the beauty of Bayern’s tactical switch. Roma now had no single outlet to retain possession or possibility to clear the ball and regain their own shape.
The only thing Bayern had to worry about was Gervinho nipping into the space between the two centre-halves and beating the offside trap however this is not a sustainable model of attack given the 50/50 nature of being called offside. Again another means of Bayern holding control.
Boateng and Benatia sat on the halfway line whilst Juan Bernat and Xabi Alonso pressed with speed and penned Totti and Pjanic into a small circle just inside the left side of Roma’s half, thus taking them out of the game completely. With Roma’s midfield bypassed, Bayern could solely focus on attacking and putting pressure on the two full-backs, Torosidis and Cole, who were both enduring nightmare performances.
Singling out one player can fully illustrate Bayern’s development as a team under Guardiola. Xabi Alonso’s pressing work in the midfield was surprisingly quick for a player not known for his speed. In his position last season was Toni Kroos, a player whom Pep Guardiola was hugely reliant on during that period. However one of Kroos’ weaknesses is his physical attributes, he isn’t an energetic midfielder and doesn’t have the tools to press quickly and then regain a shape.
His outstanding talents all come with the ball at his feet, which in a Guardiola team, may be too one dimensional to excel. With Alonso’s willingness to press came a tactic which took Roma’s midfield out of the game and allowed Bayern to show their footballing dominance in the form of seven goals.
What followed was a football team hitting their absolute peak and an opposition team having absolutely no answer. The shots rained in on De Sanctis’ goal and despite a drop in intensity in the middle period of the second-half, the final score could have read a lot worse than 7-1 from a Roman perspective.
Guardiola was keen to urge caution following last night’s result, claiming Bayern “must do better” before labelling the scoreline “an exception” however you would expect nothing less from a coach always in pursuit of total perfection. Last night we saw a football team with natural talent that we have been aware of for the past 2-3 years, however we saw the first real moment of total acclimatisation to Guardiola’s system and one which cannot be reversed and for the rest of Europe, that is indeed a worrying prospect.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Paris Saint-Germain dispelled the belief that the perceived lack of competition in Ligue 1 would hinder their chances in the Champions League with a 3-1 victory over Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea at the Parc des Princes this evening, despite giving up a one goal lead inside the first half.
Much was made of the attacking qualities in the French Champions’ locker before the kick-off and it was no surprise when the hosts went one goal to the good inside three minutes after a very positive start on the front foot. Chelsea were caught cold by the pace of the Parisians’ attack and Ezequiel Lavezzi slammed the ball past Petr Cech when the ball finally fell into a shooting position after impressive work on the flank by Blaise Matuidi.
Jose Mourinho’s decision to play Andre Schurrle as a lone forward cum attacking midfielder this evening was pondered by the media prior to kick-off as possibly a message to owner Roman Abramovich with regards to the purchase of a striker in the summer, however it must be said that the German winger by trade put in a commendable shift. Schurrle consistently harried the defensive pairing of Alex and Thiago Silva and then had the energy to put Marco Verratti under pressure when the ball was moved onto the Italian.
Paris Saint-Germain seemed to have stunned themselves such was the early timing of their opening goal with Laurent Blanc’s side unsure whether or not to pile forward and try and take further advantage of Chelsea’s sluggish start. The home side did in fact show a hint of indecisiveness and elected to sit back on their one goal lead and it allowed Chelsea to compose themselves and gain a foothold in the contest. It was the sort of faux mercy that Europe’s elite tend not to show after taking a lead and that is something Paris Saint-Germain will have to learn from should they progress to the semi-final stage.
Chelsea’s equaliser came through a rare Thiago Silva mistake, the Brazilian defender seemed to get the timing of his challenge ever so slightly off and Oscar was felled by a trailing leg. Eden Hazard comfortably stepped up to wrong foot Salvatore Sirigu with his penalty finding the bottom right hand corner of the net.
Marco Verratti will come in for criticism tonight as the Italian gave the ball away a few times too many however the former Pescara midfielder was crucial to PSG’s ball retention throughout the match. Seldom did you see the French champions play an aerial ball from their own penalty area, the hosts much rather preferred to play the ball out from Sirigu and Verratti was often the recipient. As Marouane Fellaini found last night in a similar position, against a team who presses high up the pitch at pace it is a thankless task receiving the ball from the goalkeeper as you have to turn, often be faced with two or more men and try and slide an inch perfect pass through a miniscule opening.
Verratti did manage to retain possession more than people realise as well as running himself into the ground to create an opening for others to pass into. It was a rather sacrificial performance with Verratti giving up potential rave reviews for his own performance for the good of the team.
The match had slipped into a lull after the break with neither team looking particularly threatening going forward, Chelsea happy with their away goal and PSG rather puzzled with regards to how to regain their earlier tempo. PSG were given a significant helping hand by David Luiz just after the hour when the Brazilian gave away a sloppy free-kick wide on the left hand side in a position where PSG were looking unlikely to develop the move. The man of the match Lavezzi went on to deliver an almost perfect delivery into the gap between the goalkeeper and the line of defenders with David Luiz putting the ball into his own net.
An injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic not long after saw the introduction of Lucas Moura. The direct running of the former Sao Paulo starlet caused Chelsea real problems and Moura’s positivity proved to be infectious to the rest of the team.
Chelsea had lost their momentum courtesy of both the goal and the introduction of Fernando Torres in place of the hard working, if isolated, Andre Schurrle and PSG took full advantage of the newfound room in midfield, Thiago Motta orchestrated the tempo without so much as a second glace from Chelsea’s forward line. It seemed only a matter of time before another PSG goal came.
In truth it looked as if both teams had settled for the result as it stood heading into injury time, until €42million substitute Javier Pastore received the ball in the right hand corner of Chelsea’s half. The Argentinean playmaker seemed to flick a switch and turn on the style out of the blue with his nimble feet seeing him beat three Chelsea defenders before powering the ball past Petr Cech at his near post to send the Parc des Princes into an ecstatic frenzy just seconds before the full-time whistle.
Jose Mourinho was unsurprisingly disappointed with his team after conceding a late goal labelling the manner in Chelsea allowed Pastore to score as “ridiculous.” Mourinho continued on what appeared to be the words of a frustrated man by suggesting it would be “difficult” to overcome the 3-1 deficit with Chelsea “not a team full of talent to score a lot of goals.”
On the topic of PSG, Laurent Blanc’s men showed that they were far more than wealthy pretenders this evening with the widespread quality in the side showing them to be a class above Chelsea, despite a difficult period following the equalising goal. Thiago Silva was a rock at the back with the captain’s reading of the game cutting short Chelsea attacks before they had even had chance to develop, giving away the penalty was the only blotch on his copybook.
There are worries for Laurent Blanc ahead of Tuesday’s return leg at Stamford Bridge with Marco Verratti and Zlatan Ibrahimovic both being substituted through injury with Ibrahimovic appearing to have pulled a hamstring which will almost certainly see him miss the trip to London. Lucas Moura’s twenty minute cameo did however show that there are options from the bench to replace Ibrahimovic without too much of a decrease in production.
With the heavyweights in the competition all in a good position to progress to the semi-final you have to feel that PSG showed tonight that they have a good mentality as well as individual quality on the pitch. A year ago we saw a team which perhaps wasn’t ready for the pressures that come with latter stage Champions League football however this year they have taken that next step. Despite a set-back following their early opening goal the French side remained largely positive in the second half and with this added to their obvious footballing qualities, it is easy to see them being more than a match for any of the side’s left in the competition.
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
Manchester City gain valuable European experience despite falling short: Champions League Diary 13.03.14
Manchester City’s first venture into the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League came to an end in Barcelona last night with the Blues going down 2-1 to the Catalan giants in a 4-1 aggregate defeat. Manchester City were without the touchline presence of manager Manuel Pellegrini who was suspended courtesy of his comments regarding referee Jonas Eriksson just after the first leg where the Chilean coach called into question the Swedish official’s impartiality after he felt there was a string of wrong decisions which went against his team.
With the much maligned Martin Demichelis suspended as a result of his red-card in the first meeting between the two sides, Joleon Lescott was brought into the starting eleven to partner Vincent Kompany whilst James Milner was positioned on the left hand side of midfield to track the forward runs of Dani Alves just as Kolarov had done three weeks’ previously. The first half was a fairly even affair with perhaps Barcelona having the better of the opening exchanges with there being shouts for a Barcelona penalty turned down when Joleon Lescott was far too late to a challenge on Lionel Messi however referee Stephane Lannoy rather inexplicably waved play on.
Whilst Barcelona looked much more comfortable on the ball than their English counterparts in the first half, Manchester City were still more than in the game, Yaya Toure was a real threat in the centre of midfield with the Ivorian looking to push back the duo of Xavi and Fabregas through his marauding forward runs and as the half wore on it became more apparent that there was a sense of panic within the Barcelona backline whenever Toure set off on a forward drive such was the rather uncharacteristic tendency to try and bring Toure down once he got past one player to limit any damage he could possibly cause.
The inclusion of James Milner was a clever one, whenever Toure ran forward Milner would drift into a central position and provide light cover for the now exposed Manchester City midfield and this was possibly something which Pellegrini could have done with in the first leg.
Prior to kick-off Sergio Aguero had been heralded as the great hope for Manchester City to turn the tie around however the Argentine was very much on the periphery of the match with statistics showing the former Atletico Madrid forward had only six touches of the ball throughout his entire evening’s work. Aguero was withdrawn at half-time with a hamstring injury and looking back his first-half display was very similar to Mesut Ozil’s against Bayern the previous evening with the German international too suffering a hamstring complaint.
Manchester City started the second forty five minutes much the better team with captain Vincent Kompany leading from the back. The Belgian’s reading of the game was perfectly displayed last night however Barcelona’s lack of running options in behind allowed the City back four to step out and try and intercept a pass before it had reached its destination as there was no danger of a Pedro or an Alexis Sanchez running in behind and having a one on one with Joe Hart.
Barcelona looked to be on the ropes for the first ten minutes of the second-half with substitute Edin Dzeko looking to be a catalyst for a highly unlikely comeback. There is a feeling amongst Manchester City supporters that you can usually tell whether or not the Bosnian forward is in the mood based on his first few involvements in a match. Going by that charter you could see Dzeko was set to impress and his first touch was a shot which tested Victor Valdes.
In the ten minute period that followed Manchester City may well look back and reflect that they may well have not been adventurous enough to really make the most of their dominance. James Milner, whilst having a good evening doing the task he was entrusted with before kick-off, is not a real creative force. Whenever the ball went to the left hand side for a Manchester City attack it was slowed down by Milner and allowed the Barcelona back four to get back into some form of shape. Had Jesus Navas been introduced on the left hand side at half-time or even if Samir Nasri had just swapped sides there was a real chance for City to turn the screw.
As it happened Barcelona came out of a difficult period unscathed after Edin Dzeko forced a fine save out of Valdes whilst Pablo Zabaleta went close with a half volley from inside the penalty area. City’s valiant defensive efforts were in vain as Lionel Messi put the hosts in front with little over twenty minutes to go following a calamitous first touch from a not fully sharp Lescott allowed the Argentine in behind with only Joe Hart to beat.
City with now an even bigger task continued to fight on but it appeared too little too late and Stephane Lannoy’s decision not to award the Sky Blues a penalty when Gerard Pique clumsily brought Edin Dzeko down from behind only worsened the French referee’s shocking evening. The following complaints from Fernandinho and Pablo Zabaleta earned the Argentinean full-back a second yellow card and he will be out of City’s first Champions League fixture of next season.
Manchester City did pull a goal back in injury time through Vincent Kompany following a poorly defended corner from a Barcelona perspective however with only a surprisingly short two minutes of added time there was no hope for the visitors to mount a historic comeback.
Bayer Leverkusen travelled to Paris already knowing they were all but out of the competition however Sami Hyypia’s team began the match with a sense of freedom and took the lead early on from a smart Sidney Sam header at the back post. If there was even the slightest hint of belief from the German side it was quashed not long after when Marquinhos levelled the match for the Parisians with a powerful header from a corner.
Leverkusen then missed a penalty through captain Simon Rolfes and this killed any momentum Leverkusen had and the game lessened as a contest, it became at times like a practice match and PSG sealed their passage through to the quarter-final stage for the second season running when Ezequiel Lavezzi fired the hosts in front with a powerful shot from the edge of the area which beat Bernd Leno at his near post.
As many will tell you the Champions League is very much a steep learning experience. Manchester City have now had three seasons in the competition and this year was a real sign of improvement. The experience gained from the two ties against one of Europe’s elite in FC Barcelona will only serve as positives for the majority of the squad. At no point over the two matches when it was eleven vs eleven did City look completely out of their depth and with a central defender added in the summer to partner Vincent Kompany there is a very real chance City could improve on their performance in this year’s Champions League next season.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4