CFR Cluj

Snap Judgments: Quick reactions to UEFA Champions League Tuesday

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Coming into the day, only Manchester United had clinched a Round of 16 spot from UEFA Champions League groups E through H. After Tuesday’s action, four more clubs had locked up places in the knockout round, with 2010-11 champions Barcelona joining the Red Devils as group winners.

The other side of that coin: Three teams confirmed they’ll be out of Europe come January, locking up last place spots in their groups.

We’ll spend the rest of the night getting caught up on the action. For now, here are our Snap Judgments.

Group E

Juventus 3-0 Chelsea – There’d be more irony to Chelsea missing the knockout round if a Champions League title didn’t so thoroughly overshadow the Blues’ subsequent slip ups, yet the growing chatter about Roberto Di Matteo’s job (most of which is probably unfounded) will only increase if the defending European champions end up in Europa League. After last year’s first and second place Premier League finishers where relegated to UEFA’s other club tournament, this possibility is more unexpected than shocking.

MORE: Juve rolls over the defending champions.

Nordsjaelland 2-5 Shakhtar Donetsk – Three goals from Luiz Adriano is the footnote to the Brazilian’s foray into amoral pragmatism. After his teammates tried to concede possession to the Danes after a first half drop kick, Adriano collected a long ball, rounded Nordsjaelland’s keeper, and scored into an empty net. When Shakhtar boss Mircea Lucescu tried to get his team to concede an offsetting goal, this players tackled Nordsjaelland’s attacker. Good thing the game wasn’t closer.

Impact – Shakhtar is through to the second round, sitting on 10 points and holding the tiebreaker advantage over Chelsea (seven points, third). Juventus needs a win or draw in Donetsk on matchday six to send Chelsea to Europa.

Group F

Valencia 1-1 Bayern Munich – Antonio Barragan, a reserve defender getting the start at right back, collected two cards in 33 minutes to handcuff Los Che. Valencia did eventually take the lead, Sofiance Feghouli opening the scoring int he 77th minute, but when Thomas Müller responded five minutes later, Bayern got the result they needed. The draw in Spain gives Bayern the tiebreaker, assuring they’ll take Group F with a matchday six win over visiting BATE.

BATE 0-2 Lille – LOSC’s first points of the tournament came on a barely visible field in Borisov, their two goals through the fog within the first 31 minutes allowed Lille to survive Djibril Sidibe’s late sending off. This was the BATE we expected to see at the tournament’s outset when they were picked to finish last in the group. That’s where the Belarussians may finish, now that Lille holds the tiebreaker between the teams.

Impact – Bayern and Valencia sit tied at 10 points on top of the group. Lille, three points behind BATE for third, can still qualify for Europa League with a win over Valencia and a BATE loss.

Group G

Spartak Moscow 0-3 Barcelona – In a tournament where little has been easy for Barcelona, Spartak Moscow gave the Catalans a day off. If Unai Emery’s side took any inspiration from Celtic’s upset of Barça, it didn’t show. The Russians saw themselves out of Europe.

MORE: Drilling down on Barcelona’s Moscow success.

Benfica 2-1 Celtic – In another match where Celtic took playing without the ball to an extreme, Benfica eventually found a winner, Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay sending his team to second place with a 71st minute goal. Benfica outshot Celtic 30-9, though the shots on target numbers (8-5, Benfica) better approximate the teams’ threats.

Impact – Benfica’s win means Barcelona locks up first in their group. It’s fortunate news for the Eagles, who need a matchday six win over Barça to ensure they advance. Celtic needs to out-point Benfica to advance.

Group H

Galatasaray 1-0 Manchester United – The Red Devils started one first-choice player, and Michael Carrick was in defensive, not midfield. Gala found a second half goal through Burak Yilmaz, the least they could have done against a League Cup-quality team.

CFR Cluj 3-1 Sporting Braga – Rui Pedro, a Portuguese forward who’d accumulated 0 Champions League goals before today, scored three times in 33 minutes to keep Cluj within sight of the knockout round. A 45th minute red card to defender Douglão tossed away what little chance Braga had of coming back for a result.

Impact – Galatasaray and Cluj are tied for second with seven points (and no chance to catch Manchester United). Gala holds the tiebreaker and has a December visit to Braga to close out group play. Cluj visits a Manchester United team that’s unlikely to be stronger than the team of second-choice players Alex Ferguson took to Istanbul.

Snap judgments: Quick reactions to Wednesday’s Champions League action

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There may not have been many remarkable results in Wednesday’s Champions Legaue action (with the exception what happened in Glasgow), but fans can take recourse in one number: 35. That’s how many goals were scored over the day’s eight matches, and while the diehard soccer fan doesn’t need big scorelines to be drawn in, Champions League represents a rare opportunity to lure a casual consumer. Goals tend to do that.

Amid all those goals were a hat trick from a Turkish international, a Brazilian giving a London giant a glimpse of what they’re missing, and an awaken from an Italian titan rebounding from weekend disappointment.

Group E

Chelsea 3-2 Shakhtar Donetsk: The defending champions salvaged a victory they had little right to claim, but after Shakhtar gave them two first half goals from elementary mistakes, it’s hard to feel bad for the visiting side. Ukraine’s champions had a chance to lock down first on Group E (having a home game against Nordsjaelland still on their schedule), but thanks to a 94th minute goal by Victor Moses, Mircea Petrescu’s team will need a result in their upcoming match with Juventus.

MORE: Chelsea takes advantage of Shakhtar mistakes

Juventus 4-0 Nordsjaelland: The Old Lady finally gives the type Champions League performance pundits and fans have expected, scoring three times in the first 37 minutes, paving their way to their first win of the tournament. Nordsjaelland, who got a draw from Juve two weeks ago in Copenhagen, were held to one shot on goal.

Impact: With two home games remaining, Shakhtar is the slight favorite to win this group, particularly with Chelsea still facing a trip to Turin. That match at Juventus will likely decide who goes through with the Ukranians to the knockout round.

Standings: Chelsea 7 pts. (+4), Shakhtar 7 (+2), Juventus 6, Nordsjaelland 1.

Group F

Bayern Munich 6-1 Lille: Remember yesterday, when I called Zenit and Manchester City the most disappointing teams of the tournament. Obviously, Lille felt ignored, because they spend 90 minutes in Munich reminding the world they bare little relation to the team that finished first and third over the last two years in France.

Valencia 4-2 BATE Borisov: It’s not even midnight, and Cinderella’s already being shown out of the ball, though BATE did make it interesting. After falling down three shortly after half time, the Belarussians fought back to within one only to see Sofiane Feghouli put the game away in the 86th minute.

Impact: BATE, six points up on Lille for third, have a Europa League spot locked up. Bayern and Valencia will decide the group champion on Nov. 20 at the Mestalla.

Standings: Bayern 9 pts., Valencia 9, BATE 6, Lille 0

Group G

Celtic 2-1 Barcelona: Previewing the first matchday of this year’s tournament, I said Celtic might be the worst team in this tournament. Clearly, they’re not. An incredible night at Parkhead (and a gift second goal) gives Celtic a famous and deserved victory over Barcelona.

Benfica 2-0 Spartak Moscow: Jorge Jesus’s side gets their first win of the tournament thanks to a strong left flank of midfielder Ola John and left back Lorenzo Melgarejo. For the second time this tournament, Spartak finished a match on 10 after Nicolas Pareja saw red in the second half.

Impact: Barcelona is still going to win this group, but for a team with Celtic’s conservative style, being able to draw your way into the knockout stage is very reassuring.

Standings: Barcelona 9 pts., Celtic 7, Benfica 4, Spartak 3

Group H

Braga 1-3 Manchester United: The Red Devils never look good in group stage, do they? An uninspired performance gave Braga the opener after a Jonny Evans’ 49th minute foul allowed Alan to convert from the spot in the. United’s malaise persisted until the 80th minute when a Robin van Persie goal put the Red Devils on course to a 3-1 win. The final score looks impressive, but the performance was not.

CFR Cluj 1-3 Galatasaray – All the strides Cluj had made to get to second place through three rounds were cancelled out by a poor home performance against the Turkish Champions. Burak Yilmaz had his best day since joining the Istanbul club this summer, scoring three times as Gala vaulted to second in Group G.

Impact: Manchester United clinch first place and are likely to start second choice XIs in their final matches against Cluj and Galatasaray. Still, being done with United, Braga has to be favored to claim second place.

Standings: Manchester United 12 pts., Galatasaray 4, Cluj 4, Braga 3

 

Snap Judgments: Initial reactions to Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League results

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What once looked like a day for the underdog saw a series of reality checks put Tuesday’s Champions League action back in check. By the time final whistles blew on the 2:45 p.m. Eastern kickoffs, the scoreboard looked like any other matchday’s. You would have never known major upsets were brewing in Copenhagen, Manchester and Barcelona.

Here are PST’s Snap Judgments on a nearly-remarkable UEFA Champions League Tuesday:

Group E

Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 Chelsea – 3-1 would have probably been a better reflection of how the game was played, but it all looks the same in the points column. Shakhtar now have a viable route to winning this group, especially if they can take a point from Stamford Bridge next round.

MORE: Breaking down Shakhtar’s big night

Nordsjaelland 1-1 Juventus – The Old Lady needed a late goal from substitute Mirko Vucinic to avoid an upset that would have rivaled last round’s Bayern Munich loss at BATE Borisov.

This game might be a rare match where a team scored too soon. Nordsjaelland kept Juventus at arm’s length before their 50th minute goal, after which Juve started their pursuit. You can’t pick and choose where you score, but if you could, the Danes would have wanted Mikkel Beckmann’s goal to come a little later.

Impact: Shakhtar has control of the group, for now. With only three points through as many rounds, Juventus is in bad shape. They close the phase with Chelsea at home before visiting Donetsk.

Group F

Manchester United 3-2 Sporting Braga – This performance would be disturbing if it wasn’t so Manchester United. The Red Devils were down two within 20 minutes thanks to Alan Silva, but thanks to two goals from Javier Hernández (retrieved from the lost and found, you’d assume), United stayed perfect.

Galatasaray 1-1 CFR Cluj – For Cluj, it’s a good result, if a mixed one. Galatasaray carried a four-match home losing streak in UEFA competition into this game, and with an early 1-0 lead, Cluj had a chance to extend it.

Ultimately, Gala got a deserved result. A still-hobbled Burak Yilmaz had to come on late to claim an equalizer, but that was after an own goal and a missed spot kick from Felipe Melo.

Impact: Cluj now has four road points and should be able to complete an improbable knockout round run with home results against Gala and Braga.

Group G

Lille 0-1 Bayern Munich – For the second straight year, Lille looks destined to crash out of Europe after group stage. No knockout round. No Europa League. Just some television money and bruised egos. Today, they failed to get a shot on target, losing the match on a 20th minute spot kick from Thomas Müller.

BATE Borisov 0-3 Valencia – Los Che learned the lesson Bayern and Lille did not, with a Roberto Soldado hat trick giving BATE their first loss of the tournament. BATE’s early upsets may have had the unfortunate consequence of eliminating their element of surprise.

Impact: Three teams are tied with six points at the top of the group, though after today’s results, it looks like the fifth round meeting between Valencia and Bayern will determine the order of the top two.

Group G

Barcelona 2-1 Celtic – Barcelona again conceded the first goal at home, with Georgios Samaras staking Celtic to a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute. From there, it was all Barça, who finished the game with 82 percent of the possession. Still, they needed a stoppage time goal from Jodi Alba to avoid what would have been a shocking result.

Spartak Moscow 1-1 Benfica – Unai Emery called it a crucial match, and his team responded, holding onto a lead given to them by Jardel’s 43rd minute own goal. The path out of group is still tricky for Spartak, a team that likely needs results in Lisbon and Glasgow. Today’s win got them off life support.

Impact: Barcelona’s perfect and going to win the group. Celtic’s in a second with four points and has two of their final three matches at home. Give Neil Lennon credit: He’s got his team in position to make it to the final 16.

Continuing Manchester United’s easy ride – UEFA Champions League Group H preview

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Group H seems to be making up the numbers. While groups like Chelsea’s have enough depth to guarantee a marquee match every round, Manchester United’s packet is too shallow to produce games that capture the imagination. Though the United brand assures the Red Devils will garner the attention (and airwaves) of UEFA’s broadcast partners, a MUFC-Braga match doesn’t exactly capture the magic of European soccer. Unfortunately, it’s the best this group has to offer.

The silver-ish lining to the weak group: Second place is still there for the taking. While CFR Cluj has an early edge, that will disappear if Galatasaray can win at home on Tuesday.

Manchester United (England) vs. Sporting Braga (Portugal)

Old Trafford, Manchester, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

After a turbulent weekend in Red Devil land that saw defiance, threats, and (ultimately) reconciliation, all seems to be back to normal at Manchester United. Another Champions League matchday has arrived, but since it’s merely the middle of another easy group stage, the Premier League isn’t far from United’s plans. Manager Alex Ferguson has already announced defenders Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra will be among those rested in anticipation of this weekend’s match with Chelsea.

Of course, with the type of depth at Manchester United’s disposal, the rotation of a few veterans shouldn’t hurt their chances at home against Braga. If United’s going to stubble, it’s going to be because of poor play, not because of the likes of Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez lack talent. The Red Devils’ second XI could win this group.

Braga, however, should pose a bigger challenge than Galatasaray or Cluj, United’s first two group stage opponents. Though the Portuguese side stumbled in their Champions League opener, they’ve since awoken. They’re unbeaten in their last five games, including a 2-0 win in Istanbul. During that time, a previously dormant attack has found its stride, scoring 15 goals, with forward Éder claiming four.

That production’s unlikely to continue at Old Trafford, but if Braga can somehow claim a draw in England, they’ll take more points than they were expecting from the group favorites. For Manchester United, even if the worst happens on Tuesday, they’ll maintain a share of the group lead.

From Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson:

“I think the level of the game in England and Europe is so high now, that making yourself unpredictable can be a strength. When it comes to United, teams will now have to think: ‘Are they going to play with two out wide? Or with a midfield diamond?’ With players like Kagawa, Cleverley and Giggs, they can give us that flexibility.”

From Sporting Braga head coach José Peseiro:

” Of course, we don’t have the same resources as United, but I have complete faith in the players I’ve got. It doesn’t do the coach or players any good at all if you start thinking any other way.”

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More previews: Group E Group F Group G Group H

Galatasaray (Turkey) vs. CFR Cluj (Romania)

Türk Telekom Arena, Istanbul, 2:45 pm. Eastern

Despite a four-match winless run that’s seen Gala concede eight times, head coach Fatih Terim remains relatively calm ahead of what many would see as a crucial match against Cluj. The Galatasaray coach insists Tuesday’s game will not decide his team’s destiny, even if a loss will leave them on no points through three rounds. While it may seem a long shot for the Turkish champions to lose at home to Cluj, after Gala dropped a 2-0 result to Braga on Oct. 2, nothing can be taken for granted.

For Cluj to prolong Gala’s struggles, they’ll have to reverse their own misfortune. Cluj’s three-match losing streak is their worst stretch since April 2005, with their last defeat coming at home despite being up a man for the last half hour. The downturn has Cluj sitting 10th in Romania’s 18-team Liga, already 13 points behind Steaua Bucharest.

If Cluj can defy their form and replicate their opening match win at Braga, they will take a huge step toward the knockout round. Although they’ll likely only sit three points ahead of Braga, the Romanians will have taken six points from trips to Portugal and Turkey. Merely holding serve at home against Braga and Galatasaray would then put Cluj into the next round.

From Galatasaray head coach Fatih Terim:

“We have our own playing philosophy and we never deviate from it. Maybe there will be some minor changes, but we never modify the core of the team.”

From Cluj head coach Ioan Andone:

“We see it as a two-game battle, and getting four points from these two games will be crucial.”

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More previews: Group E Group F Group G Group H

Winners, losers from Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League action

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We’ve given our thoughts on the results, but now let’s look beyond the final scores to take inventory of the day’s big winners and losers – what stood out from Champions League Tuesday:

WINNERS

1. Road teams rock – Visiting sides crushed it on Tuesday: Five wins, one draw in eight games. Having Barcelona, Chelsea, and Manchester United on the road helped that total, but as we saw in Minsk, big names aren’t guaranteed results. We may have to call UEFA to figure out how often this happens, because no single day in last season’s tournament produced more than four road wins.

2. Minnows with bite – It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of BATE’s upset over Bayern Munich, winning 3-2 in Minsk. Bayern had been the hottest team in the world, but not anymore. Come minute 91, they were just the latest part of BATE’s perfect Champions League start. In a group with Bayern, Valencia, and Lille, it’s the Belarusians who have an improbable lead.

In Russia, a minnow got a rare road win, though it’s unusual to think of Celtic as minnows. Still, given how they’ve recently performed in Europe, a win at Spartak Moscow looked highly unlikely. But thanks to an early goal, a sending off, and a Spartak overgoal, Celtic was able to take a 3-2 win out of the Luzhniki Stadium. Through two rounds, Celtic sits on four points, more than many would have picked them to claim all competition.

3. The future of Rooney-van Persie – It’s been a big topic of discussion since Robin van Persie traded London for Manchester: How good can this duo be? Fitness issues, poor form, and the bottom of Hugo Rodallega’s boot held Rooney back, but if the last 135 minutes of play are any indication, this duo could dominate. Rooney’s inclusion against Tottenham almost turned Saturday’s match, while a beautiful 35-yard pass in today’s second half helped setup van Persie’s winning goal.

4. Cesc Fábregas – One week ago, Fábregas was worried about his place in the Barcelona team, with Tito Vilanova showing him less playing team than he’d seen under Pep Guariola. There were (thin, comical) rumors of him moving back to Arsenal. Since, Fábregas has three goals in two games, including one on Tuesday against Benfica. Cesc looks just as much a part of Barcelona as he did last season.

MORE: Snap judgments from Tuesday’s action

LOSERS

1. Carles Puyol – Puyol has been a miss for a Barcelona team that’s often had to go with two midfielders (Alexander Song and Javier Mascherano) in central defense. He returned today only to be stretchered off the field, suffering a dislocated elbow. The timetable for his return wasn’t immediately available.

2. Matchday one momentum – Cluj pulled an upset, Juventus got a surprise draw in London, while Spartak Moscow and Galatasaray had close calls at giants on matchday one. Did any of that matter on matchday two? Mostly no, though Cluj played with the confidence of a team that’s thinking second round (even if they still lost to Manchester United).

For the other three teams looking to build on day one results, there were no silver linings. Juventus were played to a draw in Turin while Spartak and Gala were upset at home.

3. Istanbul’s reputation – That upset of Galatasaray deserves an extra bullet point. Coming into the tournament we heard the likes of Ryan Giggs talking about the nightmare that was playing in Istanbul. But how much of a nightmare can it be if Sporting Braga got a 2-0 result at the Turk Telecom Arena?

When you ask a question like that, it’s always easy to overlook the winner’s performance. Still, it’s hard to consider Istanbul such a difficult trip when a team like Braga can go from being embarrassed at home by CFR Cluj to winning at Galatasaray, Turkey’s champions. The Super Lïg’s best can no longer hold their own.

4. Bayern mystique – In the past, the name “Bayern München” would have won these matches before they started. Obviously, BATE does not live in the past. Bayern allowed more goals on Tuesday (three) than they’ve given up all season in Germany. No matter your opinion of BATE (who now sit on six points), Tuesday’s result was an bust for FC Hollywood.

More: Chelsea, Man United get valuable road points