5 things we learnt from this week’s UEFA Champions League action

By: Souvik

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Chelsea has found its European kryptonite

The Blues managed to plod through to the second round of this year’s Champions League but not because of their performance. The Londoners scrapes through courtesy of a tame goalless draw between Steaua Bucharest and Schalke, although they themselves slumped to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Swiss giants Basel. Chelsea may have finally found their “kryptonite” in European competition. Few teams have been as big a reason for misery for the Blues as much as Basel in the recent past. This year’s Champions League has seen the Blues rampaging through the group stage taking Schalke for a ride in a 3-0 win over the Germans and followed it up with a 3-0 battering of Bucharest only to come unstuck time and again against Basel.

Chelsea were at their authoritative best last weekend away to West Ham romping home to 3-0 victory. Up against Basel, the story however was totally different. The midfield which had looked impermeable against the hammers was undone at will. Only Jon Obi Mikel was able to make some imprints into the game but had too much to on his hands to make a difference. This game is one that the Chelsea fans would rather lock up in the cupboard and forget about it. Basel’s keeper Yann Sommer was a virtual spectator throughout the game as the Londoners failed make a single attempt on goal. To compound Chelsea’s misery further, Samuel Eto’o had to be taken out on a stretcher for what seemed to be a problem with the Cameroonian’s groin. With Torres also recovering from a recent injury of his own, Mourinho’s options upfront seems to have been further stretched.

Isco making Ozil a distant memory at Real Madrid

When Real Madrid decided to purchase Gareth Bale at the expense of Mesut Ozil, it was like someone selling his house to buy a fancy car. The German, who in his few years had become the lynchpin of Real Madrid’s game going forward, departed amidst discontent and disbelief from the Real Madrid fans. It was on Isco’s young shoulder that Real Madrid had entrusted the job of becoming the “play-maker”. The quick-footed Spaniard, who had showed some real potential last season with his performances for Malaga and Spanish U-21, has taken to job like a duck to water.

Isco’s performances this season has taken even the staunchest Ozil admirer to take a step back and applaud the young Spaniard’s coming of age. He has seamlessly fitted into the scheme of things for Carlos Ancelotti. Five goals and two assists in the league itself coupled with a further two goals in the Champions League is a testament to the early season return that Isco has been providing. Showing maturity beyond his years, Isco is making Ozil a fading memory at the Bernabeu. Isco’s imprint in this week’s Champions league game against Galatasaray was there to be seen. With Isco at the fore, even with 10, Los Merengues were the superior team. On the 3 minute mark, he played in Bale in with a sublime ball, only for the Welshman to strike it wide. He was again in the thick of things in Madrid’s attacking game, playing an instrumental role in starting the move which saw Madrid extend their lead 3-1 through a penalty. Then on the stroke of 80 minutes, Isco rounded off his brilliant performance with a goal of his own to see Madrid home in comfortable fashion. 

Bold decisions can bear fruit for Moyes

There wasn’t any better team display from any of the other 31 teams involved in Gameday 5 of the Champions League than Manchester United’s 5-0 demolition away to Bayer Leverkusen. The red devils played with a swagger that we have generally have come to associate with them in the years past.

Coming into the game, Leverkusen were eight games unbeaten at home and sitting in second spot in the Bundesliga table. Given Bayer’s recent form they would have fancied their chances against a team yet to build an identity under a new boss. What proceeded in the following ninety minutes had Leverkusen Sporting Director Rudi Voller at a loss for words.

Moyes, who played both Rooney and Kagawa in their much preferred roles as the Centre Forward and the just behind the main forward respectively was rewarded with 5 goals in a 5 star performance from the United side. The game was one of Moyes’ biggest yet in his short tenure as the Manchester United manager. This match might create selection headaches but that’s one headache that every manager would prefer to others. Kagawa seemed like the man that the Red Devils had paid all the moolah for. Ryan Giggs, two days shy of his 40th birthday turned round the clock and seemed to play with the vigour of a teenager. For once even the backline seemed to have found their niche.

A must win game away to one of best German sides would have been a test for the best of managers let alone the new Scot at Old Trafford. Moyes not only passed the test but made a mockery of it. With many more tests to come for Moyes yet, there will be many more occasions where he needs to take some unflinching decisions that may even include rotating between RVP and Rooney to get the best out of Kagawa.

This might be Manchester City’s year finally in Europe

Firstly les make things clear: This being Manchester City’s year should mean in no ways that they are favourites for the title. They can however do some serious damage to Bayern Munich and other big hopeful’s chances towards lifting the trophy come June 2014. In doing so the Citizens’ are also well on their way to shrug off their tag of “perennial chokers” in Europe.

City had already made it through to the second round of the Champions League coming into this week’s game at the third time of asking. However, their performances of late will warrant ornate looks from the other big boys in the competition. Carrying on from their fine display at the weekend which saw Pellegrini’s men thump six past Tottenham, City cruised home to a 4-0 demolition of a hapless Plzen. The blue half of Manchester seem to be certainly going up the gears as recent results have seen City hit 4,5,6 and even 7 goals past their opponents.

Salah and Mitroglou’s futures lie elsewhere 

This is the nature of the game of football. It’s sad but it’s the harsh truth. As soon as a player begins to shine and garner some reputation playing for a club with not much to offer in terms of financials, silverware or a reputed league; the big boys swoop in to take the prized possessions away. Basel’s Egyptian forward Mohamad Saleh and Olympiakos’ Kostas Mitroglou have been the real revelations in this year’s group stages of the Champions League.

Mitrolglu, who came into the game against PSG having scored 20 goals in 16 games for club and country, was a constant thorn in the PSG defence though failing to find the back of the net. With all the big clubs mooted to be interested in the giant Greek, Olympiacos will have a decision soon on their hands on “when” rather than “whether” to cash on their hitman.

While Mitroglou has been busy taming the Mediterranean, further north a 21 year old Egyptian has been taking his reputation to new heights. Mohamed Salah performances of later has seen his already alluring profile reach new peaks in the dizzy altitudes of Switzerland. The southpaw, who has been a cause of real sorrow for all Chelsea fans, was at the thick of things again this week. Saleh scored the decisive goal yet again to ensure Basel’s double over Mourinho’s Chelsea in the group stages. With 9 goals and 7 assists in 27 games this season, the fleet footed forward has had scouts across the continent going gaga over his talent which combines raw pace with some nifty footwork and an eye for goal.

It won’t at all be surprising if we see the Egyptian or the Greek in new colours as early as this coming January.

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