After a cracking Matchday 5 in the Champions League on Wednesday which featured a mammoth 32 goals in 7 games, we have a look at the results and what they mean to the teams involved. With some teams looking to secure qualification to the next group, and others, having already qualified, playing for top spot in their group, everything was to play for in this round of the Champions League for the teams from Groups A, B, C and D. We bring out the talking points from last night’s action.
Big Guns Go Through
It was an expectant night for the giants of European football Real Madrid, Manchester United and Paris St. Germain. We start in the Spanish capital. Nine time winners Real Madrid were facing off against Galatasaray at the Santiago Bernabeu, knowing full well that a draw would be enough for them to qualify for the knock-out phase of the Champions League. They would, however, have to do this without their star forward Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese will be on the sidelines for an indefinite period and Los Blancos looked to be facing a tricky fight against the Turkish side. So did the Juventus fans, who were rooting for a Madrid win, a result that will favour the Old Lady’s own qualification quest.
Brows in Madrid and Turin furrowed even more when Sergio Ramos was sent off for a foul on Umut Bulut in the 26th minute, Madrid shrugged off their opponents. With Ronaldo sidelined, up stepped 85 million pound man Gareth Bale, to curl a 33 yard free kick into the net, giving Madrid the lead in the 37th minute. Madrid fans looked dismayed at half time when the two teams walked into the tunnel level on 1-1, Umit Bulut being the thorn in Madrid’s flesh again with an equalizer a minute after Bale’s opener.
However, the second half was a different story, with Madrid coming up trumps against the Turks, scoring thrice through Alvaro Arbeloa, Angel di Maria and Isco, to qualify top of Group B. The result had further implications on Juventus’s fate in the Champions League, who climbed out of the bottom of Group B with a 3-1 victory against Copenhagen. Madrid’s result was much needed by the Turin club, who now take second spot and look set to qualify for the knockout phase with a draw at Galatasaray enough for them to qualify. Juventus look out of sorts in the group stage but if they qualify from the group, they will get a fresh lease of life in the competition and might go a long way in the knockout phase.
Paris St. Germain too qualified from Group C after edging out Olympiakos 2-1, thanks to a late Edinson Cavani. PSG, like Madrid showed their quality after being down to 10 men, after midfielder Marco Verratti was sent off for the Parisians. And as Kostas Manolas planted a header into the goal in the 80th minute to cancel out Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 7th minute opener in his 100th Champions League appearance, it looked like the Greeks had escaped with a point from the Parc des Princes. However, Cavani had other ideas as he ran onto an Adrien Rabiot pass and smashed in the winner, ensuring the Parisians qualified top of Group C.
United’s Night Out
The biggest winners of the night have to be Group A winners Manchester United. David Moyes saw his side’s best performance of the season so far as they thrashed Bayer Leverkusen at the BayArena 5-0. The result ensured qualification from Group A and a draw in their last game would ensure top spot. It was United’s biggest win away from home in the modern Champions League format and Moyes was understandably gushing after such a hammering of their opponents.
“(The performance) is what I’ve been hoping to get more often – I’ve not had it as often as I’d like,” he told Sky Sports.
“There have been signs that we’ve been getting better. There have been times that we could have got three or four goals and tonight, thankfully, we did.”
“Obviously to score five goals, we’ve not done that yet, and to do it in a game of this magnitude away from home is special.
“I hope I can continue the standards of before (under Sir Alex Ferguson). Tonight showed that. Qualification is expected, as is to do well in the league and cups”, said the United manager.
Antonio Valencia, at the far post, opened the scoring in the 25th minute off a Wayne Rooney cross from the left. The second goal also came from a Rooney assist from the left as Leverkusen defender Emir Spahic could only nod the ball into his own net from an accurate Rooney free kick looking for Jonny Evans. Evans did score in the 65th minute through a tap-in before Chris Smalling slotted the ball into the net in the 77th minute. Nani rubbed salt on Sami Hyypia’s wounds as he capped off a brilliant night for United with a delightful chipped finish in the 88th minute.
United were missing Robin van Persie to lead their attack, and with Michael Carrick out long term and Marouane Fellaini picking up a knock, the onus fell on Shinji Kagawa to play the number 10 role he relishes so much behind Wayne Rooney. Kagawa turned out a fantastic performance against the Germans. Having looked lost on the left side of midfield in the Premier League, Kagawa thrived in his familiar role in the middle of the park. Creating most of United’s moves last night, Kagawa fed Ryan Giggs for United’s opener. The Welshman, 2 days short of his 40th birthday then rolled the ball on to Wayne Rooney. The Japanese playmaker then ran into the box, distracting left back Emre Can and leaving Valencia unmarked at the far post to tap in.
Wayne Rooney was in especially fine form, getting four assists on the night and looking sharp in his forward play. Ryan Giggs too performed at a top level and showed why Moyes looks at him to be an example to the youngsters at United. Giggs completed 90 minutes and looked impressive in midfield, nearing the age of 40. United could now finish top of their group if they at least draw their last match in the group stages.
Bayern Setting the Standards and City Keep Top Spot Hopes Alive
Group D already had Bayern Munich and Manchester City qualified for the knockout phase, so the battle in the group now remains for the top spot. Bayern, with 15 points from five games and City, with 12 will face off in the Allianz Arena in their last group encounter. City would need to win by a margin of three goals, or score four or more and win by a margin of two goals to qualify top of the group.
Bayern maintained their 100% start to the season by seeing off CSKA Moscow in freezing conditions. Arjen Robben kicked off the scoring for the Bundesliga leaders and Mario Gotze doubled the advantage in the second half. Keisuke Honda converted a penalty for the Russians in the 61st minute before Thomas Mueller also scored from the spot for the Germans to maintain the two goal lead in Moscow.
Manchester City showed off their attacking flair under Manuel Pellegrini, as they won 4-2 against Viktoria Plzen. Pellegrini made seven changes to the side that hammered Spurs at the weekend, but his much changed line up still had the quality to score four goals past Plzen. But the game was more difficult than the scoreline suggests. Sergio Aguero’s 33rd minute penalty was cancelled out by Tomas Horava just before half time, and Samir Nasri’s 65th minute volleyed goal was pegged back by Stanislav Tecl’s goal for Plzen.
In the end it was left to substitute Alvaro Negredo to snatch the winner in the 78th minute and Edin Dzeko put the icing on the cake with a headed goal in the 89th minute to confirm victory for City. Pellegrini’s men now look forward to the battle in Munich and City’s James Milner was optimistic about his side’s chances of finishing top of the group:
“It would help to come top in the group,” City midfielder James Milner said. “It will be tough out there but hopefully we can go out there and give Bayern Munich a game.”