UEFA Champions League recap: Man United, Bayern join Real, PSG as group winners

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Group A: Manchester United (England) 1, Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) 0

Phil Jones’ converted corner kick midway through the first half was all that separated two sides who shared the game’s chances. Shakhtar should have gone up early, yet after 90 minutes, Jones’ goal had sent the Ukrainians to Europa League, the Red Devils through as group winners.

From our recap:

To the rescue has come a less likely figure in Phil Jones, who has finally turned the valve, releasing the enormous pressure that was continuing to build around an atypically wandering season at Manchester United. His 67th minute goal was the difference as Manchester United rediscovered something to smile about, rolling out a win Tuesday over Shakhtar Donetsk in Champions League.

So United finish first in its group, a big benefit to a club that now gets to dodge the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona and perhaps some other biggies in the next round of tournament play, the first knockout round.

[MORE: Manchester United edges Shakhtar to stop the bleeding, finish atop Champions League Group A]

Group A: Real Sociedad (Spain) 0, Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) 1

Real Sociedad complete a disappointing return to Champions League with their fifth loss in six games, with the lack of urgency on a 49th minute corner allowing Ömer Toprak to score the game’s only goal, sending them to a 1-0 loss. The victory vaulted Bayer Leverkusen into second place, Sami Hyypia’s team overcoming their 5-0 loss to Manchester United to make the final 16.

Group B: Copenhagen (Denmark ) 0, Real Madrid (Spain) 2

Cristiano Ronaldo’s return from a thigh injury saw the Ballon d’Or finalist score his ninth goal of group stage, a new competition record. In an otherwise meaningless game for the visitors, Real Madrid improved to 16 points in six games and go undefeated into the competition’s knockout round.

[MORE: Cristiano Ronaldo sets record for most UEFA Champions League group stage goals]

source: Reuters

Group B: Galatasaray (Turkey) 0, Juventus (Italy) 0 — Abandoned

Thirty-one minutes, no goals, but a hail storm that redefined our perceptions of Istanbul. The game will pick up in the 32nd minute on Wednesday.

From our post:

Thirty minutes into today’s UEFA Champions League match in Istanbul, players were back in their locker rooms, stars like Didier Drogba, Carlos Tévez, and Wesley Sneijder forced to take a back seat to battalion of anonymous, shovel-laden soldiers. What started as a normal game between two teams contesting a knockout round spot soon put all the weather talk around Saturday’s MLS Cup to shame. Roughly 15 minutes before halftime, a hail storm that created a sheet of ice at the Turk Telecom Arena had rekindled memories of the United States’s snow game versus Costa Rica, only this time the game was stopped.

[MORE: Update: Storm in Istanbul sees Galatasaray-Juventus abandoned in UEFA Champions League]

Group C: Benfica (Portugal) 2, Paris Saint-Germain (France) 1

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva even weren’t in Laurent Blanc’s 18 for PSG’s meaningless match in Lisbon, a status that will make the team’s first loss of the tournament easy to bear. Although the French champions still struck first through Edinson Cavani, they were back on even footing after Lima equalized from the spot just before halftime. In the 58th minute, Nicolas Gaitán scored from five yards out, giving Benfica the lead they’d hold through full time. For the Eagles, it was a must-win game, one that kept pressure on Olympiacos to win in Piraeus to stay second in Group C.

Group C: Olympiacos (Greece) 3, Anderlecht (Belgium) 1

Javier Saviola and Sacha Kljestan swapped goals within six first half minutes of each other, the 1-1 scoreline giving Benfica hope the group’s cellar dwellers could take points in Greece. When Saviola missed an early second half penalty kick, those hopes gained momentum, but the former Benfica forward’s second and a late penalty conversion from fellow Argentine Alejandro Domínguez gave Olympiacos a comfortable win, Anderlecht finishing the match with nine men after two late red cards.

Group D: Bayern Munich (Germany) 2, Manchester City (England) 3

Looking to extend their record Champions League winning streak to 11, Bayern Munich got early goals from Thomas Müller and Mario Götze, building a two-goal lead after 12 minutes. A David Silva score pulled one back for the Citizens before halftime, with Aleksandar Kolarov and James Milner giving Manchester City a record-snapping victory at the Allianz.

From our recap:

Though the 3-2 defeat at the Allianz Arena won’t coast Bayern Group D — FCB’s two-goal win in Manchester giving them the tiebreaker over the Citizens — it was Bayern’s first home loss under Pep Guardiola, the club was without a defeat at home since March’s 2-0 Champions League loss to Arsenal. In all competition, Bayern were unbeaten since their German Super Cup loss to Borussia Dortmund (July 27), today’s loss ending a 27-match undefeated run.

For the Citizens, a team that had already confirmed their knockout round spot, the win does nothing for their position in the competition, but with a short history of pronounced disappointment in this tournament, the result marks City’s biggest win in Champions League. And for a man whose Real Madrid team fell short of glory in Spain at the boots of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, Manuel Pellegrini is sure to savor a victory that quells any notion the Chilean can’t beat his former La Liga adversary.

[MORE: Manchester City comeback ends Bayern Munich’s record run; defending champions still win Group D]

 

Group D: Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) 2, CSKA Moscow (Russia) 1

Viktoria’s first points of the competition were enough to push them into Europa League, with Daniel Kolar and Tomas Wágner’s goals after Alan Dzagoev’s dismissal moving the 1-0-5 team into a tie for third. But thanks to their two goals in Russia, Viktoria are through at CSKA’s expense, Leonid Slutsky’s side finishing the match with nine after Pontus Wernbloom’s extra time dismissal. For Pavel Vrba, the future Czech national team coach, the victory sends him out on a high note, the congratulatory celebrations on the Viktoria sideline rejoicing in their coach’s farewell success.

Oxlade-Chamberlain injury update

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Jurgen Klopp does not seem confident that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play again this season.

The Liverpool and England midfielder suffered an injury to his right knee early on in Liverpool’s 5-2 win over Roma in their UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg, as he appeared to extend his right knee under his body when making a challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov.

Speaking to the media following Liverpool’s dramatic win, Klopp was downbeat about Oxlade-Chamberlain’s chances of playing again this season.

“We don’t know exactly but if the medical department are quite concerned without a scan, you can imagine it’s difficult. The season is not that long anymore. It doesn’t look good,” Klopp said. “I’m a very positive person and still hope it only feels bad, but is not that bad. We’ll see. We lost a fantastic player tonight. It’s not good news.”

This injury has come at such a bad time for The Ox.

He has been flourishing with Liverpool in a central midfield role and has delivered key goals and assists in big wins since arriving from Arsenal last summer. Most notably the Ox’s driving midfield runs have caused Manchester City all kinds of problems and he scored two screamers against them in wins at Anfield in the Premier League and UCL.

Georginio Wijnaldum stepped in admirably for Oxlade-Chamberlain against Roma and the Dutch midfielder will be used alongside James Milner and Jordan Henderson from here on out by Klopp, especially with Emre Can battling a back injury.

As for Oxlade-Chamberlain, he will now be focused on trying to be fit for the UCL final on May 26 (if Liverpool get there) and on making England’s 2018 World Cup squad. That seems like a big ask given Klopp’s gloomy assessment.

Wenger: Timing of departure “not really my decision”

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Arsene Wenger has been speaking about his Arsenal departure and there are some intriguing details emerging.

Wenger, 68, announced last Friday that he would be leaving Arsenal at the end of the current 2017-18 campaign after almost 22 years in charge.

But when asked about the timing of his decision during his press conference ahead of the Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid on Thursday, Wenger said it was taken out of his hands…

“The timing was not really my decision, the rest I have spoken about already,” Wenger said. “I focus on what I have to do every day. At the moment, I work like ever.”

Wenger added that he will “for sure” continue to work beyond this season but wasn’t giving anything away on where he would go. The Arsenal boss also said he had a “high opinion of Luis Enrique” but that didn’t “want to influence the next manager” of Arsenal with so many contenders mentioned.

What do we make of all this?

Wenger still had one more year left on his current deal at Arsenal and it appears he was keen to be in charge next season, but he could have simply been saying that he would have preferred an announcement at the end of the season. The growing notion that Wenger stepped down before he was sacked seems to be on point. After three Premier League titles and 10 major trophies in total in over two decades in charge, it appears Wenger didn’t get to decide when he called time on his Arsenal career.

The perfect end for Wenger at Arsenal would be to win the Europa League and then leave on a high, but these comments suggest the Frenchman may not be happy with some of the hierarchy at Arsenal.

These comments amid links to PSG and the French national team also suggest to rule out a role upstairs at Arsenal, at least for the foreseeable future, for Wenger.

Roma condemn violent scenes outside Anfield

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AS Roma have condemned an attack from some of its supporters on Liverpool’s fans before the game after a 53-year-old Liverpool supporter was injured outside Anfield before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg on Tuesday.

The Serie A side said that a “small minority of traveling fans brought shame on the club” as two men from Rome have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after the attack on the Liverpool fan who is in a critical condition after suffering head injuries.

Below is the statement in full from the Italian club.

AS Roma condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent behavior of a small minority of traveling fans who brought shame on the club and the vast majority of Roma’s well-behaved supporters at Anfield after getting involved in clashes with Liverpool supporters before last night’s fixture.

There is no place for this type of vile behavior in football and the club is now cooperating with Liverpool Football Club, UEFA and the authorities. The club’s thoughts and prayers are with the 53-year-old Liverpool fan in hospital and his family at this time.

Salah’s sensational season in context

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Mohamed Salah is having a season on the same level as Lionel Messi.

Some* will even say it’s better.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

There are few ways to overstate how well the Egyptian has performed for Liverpool this season, and few matches have been as strong as Tuesday’s destruction of AS Roma.

Make no mistake about it: Destruction is the right word. I Lupi isn’t dead thanks to the Reds right side of the defense and James Milner‘s arm, but it was fading out of consciousness when Salah departed the game.

It’s not crazy to draw the connection. Just ask Jurgen Klopp:

“If anyone wants to say it is my mistake that we concede the two goals because I change the striker, I have no problem with that,” he said. “Mo was running all the time and it would not have helped us if he gets an injury. What a player. If you think he is the best in the world, write it or say it. He is in outstandingly good shape, world-class shape, but to be the best in the world you need to do it over a longer period, I think. The other two are not bad.”

No, no they are not, but Salah is on their level.

The aesthetics of his first goal were first-class, dinging off the bottom of the cross bar like a vicious swish of a Steph Curry three. When the night ended, Salah had two more goals and two more assists to bring his total to 43 goals and 15 assists in 47 matches. In three more matches, the best player on the planet has 40 and 18 (Ronaldo has 42 and 7 in 39).

[ MORE: LFC supporter in critical condition after Roma attack ]

The reason not to overreact is Luis Suarez’s 2013-14, in which he posted posted 31 goals and 24 assists in 37 games and would’ve arguably made Salah’s season look just “pretty great” if the Reds were in European football (or, one could argue, Suarez wasn’t slowed by the demands of a more congested adventure).

And we also won’t know Salah’s path next season. Take Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2007-08 season, the closest thing we have to Suarez or Salah in this generation. The then-23-year-old posted 42+8 in 49, but took a step back the next season before exploding into space upon debut with Madrid the following season (His second Real campaign, 2010-11, was the first real otherworldly CR7 campaign, with 53+18 in 54).

Salah is the Premier League Player of the Year, and he’s the front-runner for the Ballon d’Or (which is likely to be determined by this summer’s World Cup in Russia, with Argentina and Portugal possibly on a quarterfinal collision course and Egypt in an very winnable Group A with Russia, Uruguay, and Saudi Arabia).

Jurgen Klopp deserves much credit for Salah’s explosion. Even if the Egyptian began his ascent in Italy, there’s been nothing like this. And if he can do it a few more years, he has the chance to land amongst the generational names in soccer (perhaps as the best African player in Premier League history with Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba).

He’ll almost certainly become the all-time single-season Liverpool league goal scorer this season barring rest for the UCL, and he’ll be their top all-time according to Opta if he nabs four or more goals across 4-5 matches (Roma again, Stoke, Chelsea, Brighton, and probably Real Madrid or Bayern Munich).

The Reds were unbelievably good for 80 minutes on Tuesday — 75 of which were Salah-led — and the praise would’ve been flowing like a waterfall had they not switched off for 10 (in which it must be said Liverpool was fortunate to only concede twice!).

*By the way, Messi fans, you’ll be relieved to count me as not one of those who’d say Salah is having a better season. It’s closer than you think. Messi is better than Salah in league play, while Salah is having a superior UCL campaign. Given the general consensus top-to-bottom on Premier League vs. La Liga and Barca’s UCL competition vs. Liverpool’s opponents — which is drawing level now — we’d say it’s even.

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Messi 0.4-0.31
Key passes: Messi, 2.16-1.63
Chances created: Messi, 2.56-1.94
Attack score: Messi, 73.04-54.5
Possession score: Messi, 5.6 to minus-5.12
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-77
Shot accuracy: Even (62%)
Tackles won: Salah, 0.24-0.2
Take-ons won (%): Messi, 69.47-64.96

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Salah, 0.45-0.23
Key passes: Salah, 2.13-1.72
Chances created: Salah, 2.58-1.95
Attack score: Salah, 70.89-55.69
Possession score: Messi, 2.71 to minus-3.34
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-73
Shot accuracy(%): Salah, 73-69
Tackles won: Messi, 0.69-.45
Take-ons won (%): Salah, 76.4-61.4