With the round of sixteen matches completed, we look at the talking points from the Champions League games from Tuesday and Wednesday night.
The Game That Could Save Moyes’s United Career
Twenty four years ago, a Mark Robins goal for Manchester United in their third round FA Cup match against high-flying Nottingham Forest ensured Alex Ferguson’s men won 1-0. The legendary Scotsman had been at the club for three trophyless years and if the tabloids were to be believed, defeat to Forest, in a 1989-90 season where United were already out of contention in the league, would’ve signaled the end of Ferguson’s career at United. Robins, a 20 year old youth academy product, scored the goal that saw Manchester United progress to the final to beat Crystal Palace and win the FA Cup in 1990, helping Ferguson keep his job.
Another Robin could’ve helped another Scottish United manager on Wednesday night. David Moyes came into the match with rumours on that a failure to progress to the quarterfinal of the Champions League would spell the end of the Scot’s career at United. Hand-picked by Sir Alex Ferguson to succeed him at Old Trafford in May last year, Moyes has endured a harrowing domestic campaign where United look to be out of contention for finishing in one of the Champions League spots. The only silver lining in a dreadful season has been their European run. And if this run was broken last night, Moyes could’ve been told he would be let go.
Robin Van Persie, however, had other ideas. After facing intense criticism for his comments about his teammates three weeks ago in United’s 2-0 first leg Champions League round of sixteen defeat at Olympiakos, the Dutchman banged in an emphatic hat-trick that inspired United to overturn the 2-0 deficit from the first leg and qualify to the quarter-finals of the competition 3-2 on aggregate, with echoes of United’s overturn of Barcelona’s 2-0 first leg advantage in 1984 heard around the ground. The Old Trafford faithful saw their team turn-on the screws on the Greeks, leaving them wondering where this kind of incisive play and urgent build-up was forgotten in their previous games at home.
United were playing a high-tempo brand of football, aware that anything less than a qualifying win would be the end of their season. Wayne Rooney was excellent, as he ran himself to the ground, providing the low cross that Van Persie drilled in for his second of the game. But the mastermind of the game came from Moyes, who, going for experience, installed the 40 year old Welshman Ryan Giggs in the middle of the park. Never has a United midfielder dictated the game more efficiently this season as Giggs did Wednesday night. He provided the cross off which Van Persie won a penalty and then provided the lobbed through ball to Rooney, which was crossed in for Robin Van Persie to side-foot home. We may not know it now, but the home game against Olympiakos in the Champions League round of sixteen second leg might have saved Moyes’s United career. And it could be a Robin who did it.
Real Madrid are the Real Deal
For Madridistas, that left footed volley from Zinedine Zidane in 2002 seems more than two decades ago. It has been a long wait for Los Blancos for a Champions League title since that victory against Bayer Leverkusen in Hampden Park, Glasgow. The nine time European champions have been trophyless in Europe for twelve years now and the pain at watching bitter rivals Barcelona stack up 3 Champions League titles since then must hurt.
However, now is as good a time as any to break this barren spell. Barcelona do not look as dominating as they did a couple of seasons ago and Real Madrid have started to look ominously dangerous in the Champions League this season. After a 6-1 first leg pummeling of Schalke in Germany, a weakened Real Madrid side, resting key players with the looming El Clasico in mind, saw off their German opponents in the second leg at home 3-1. Thanks no less than the Cristiano Ronaldo – Gareth Bale combination.
Ronaldo and Bale between them have scored 55 goals this season and they are starting to build an important partnership for the Spanish giants. While Ronaldo provides most goals, Bale’s contribution is equally telling. It is no coincidence that Madrid’s game improved once Bale came on as substitute for the injured Jese Rodriguez in the 10th minute of the game. Providing much needed speed to the Madrid attack, Bale set up all three goals for Madrid.
Ronaldo has just gone from strength to strength. Winning the Ballon D’Or has spurred him on and he almost grabbed a deserving hat-trick against Schalke that would’ve equaled Lionel Messi’s record of fourteen Champions League goals in a season. He will have a pop at that record when Madrid play in the quarter finals after the draw is made for the next stage on Friday. This year could well be Real Madrid’s year.
Eto’o Steals the Show
Jose Mourinho may have made mocking remarks at Samuel Eto’o’s age in a “private” conversation earlier, but Eto’o had the final say on the matter in the fourth minute of their second leg Champions League round of sixteen game against Galatasaray. The game was billed to be Blues legend Didier Drogba’s homecoming and his closeness with Mourinho was there to see as the two embraced each other warmly.
However, it was a Cameroonian veteran and not an Ivorian old warhorse who stole the show. The 33 year old Eto’o put Chelsea ahead in the fourth minute of the game, paving the way for his team’s 2-0 win over the Turkish giants. Despite not firing on all cylinders, Eto’o has by far been the most consistent and dependable of Chelsea strikers, with Mourinho preferring him to both Fernando Torres and Demba Ba to lead the line. The former Inter Milan, Barcelona and Anzhi Makhachkala striker has now scored ten goals this season and has been a regular feature of Mourinho’s starting line-up.
Eto’o would hope his manager continues to have faith in him as he builds understanding and chemistry with Chelsea’s three pronged attacking midfield battery of the explosive Eden Hazard, the wily Oscar and the industrious Willian. Mourinho has known to be an admirer of Eto’o and the reports about his remarks about Eto’o might not have damaged relations between them. But even if they did, Eto’o put in a reminder performance of why he should rightfully be Chelsea’s first choice striker in the rest of their Champions League run to follow.
Unconvincing Dortmund Sneak into Quarters
For a Borussia Dortmund side which was a losing finalist in the Champions League last year, they have come down a notch or two this season. Twenty three points adrift of runaway Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich, Dortmund whimpered into the quarter finals of the Champions League in an unconvincing fashion, unlike their campaign last season when they beat the likes of Manchester City and Real Madrid to advance into the finals.
Juergen Klopp’s men scraped into the quarter finals despite losing at home to Zenit St. Petersburg 2-1, courtesy of their 4-2 win in the first leg in St. Petersburg three weeks ago. It was a dour performance from the Germans, who just about got the job done. Captain Sebastian Kehl’s goal sandwiched in between goals from Hulk and Jose Rondon sealed Dortmund’s Champions League quarter final spot.
However it must concern Klopp that his team looked jaded and lackluster in the contest. There was little urgency from his players and passes were going astray from the players. This defeat was Dortmund’s third loss in the Champions League this season, following defeats to Napoli and Arsenal in the group stages. They have their work cut out if they want to replicate their European performance from last season.