UEFA Champions League Wednesday Roundup: Goals galore see Bayern, Real Madrid thrive, Juventus stumble

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Last time Champions League’s first four groups (A through D) played, eight games combined to produce 30 goals. It’d be greedy to ask for a repeat of that outburst, so as those groups completed their second round of play on Wednesday, we were forced to content ourselves with a mere 28 goals. How ever will we cope?

Those aren’t exactly drought conditions. On Wednesday, there were no 0-0 results. Each match produced at least two goals. Five teams scored at least three times, and there were only three clean sheets. There may not be an obvious reason why these groups are producing so many goals, but you won’t hear many complain about it.

Manuel Pellegrini might have a qualm, though. His Manchester City side was on the wrong end of a 3-0 result. Jorge Jesus with Benfica? His team lost 4-0 in Paris. Stale Solbakken may have appreciated fewer than four goals being put in against his Copenhagen team in Madrid, while John van den Brom will wish his Anderlecht team to held Olympiacos to less than three in Brussels. And, of course, David Moyes (Manchester United), Antonio Conte (Juventus), and Jagoba Arrasate (Real Sociedad) will rue the late goals that cost their teams points.

[MORE: Full-time snapshot: The numbers from Wendesday’s Champions League matches.]

Here’s what else happened in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action:

Group A: Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) 1-1 Manchester United (England) [REACTION

Our Steve Davis, on today’s game:

It wasn’t exactly the ultimate sweep of brilliant relief Manchester United went looking for Wednesday in the Ukraine, but a 1-1 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk qualifies as something of an essential pressure valve considering the state of things lately for the woozy English giants.

That state of things is the disappointing start United’s had in England. Today’s result, however, was one of their better performances since David Moyes took over, even if they were stressed to preserve it come full-time. Will people celebrate this as a strong point won? Probably not. Regardless, an early goal from Danny Welbeck held up, with Taison’s 76th minute score still allowing the hosts to claim second place in Group A.

[MORE: Manchester United makes Danny Welbeck’s early opener hold up.]

Group A: Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) 2-1 Real Sociedad (Spain)

Late goal in the first half (Simon Rolfes), late goal in the second half (Jens Hegeler), and Bayer Leverkusen had full points. If only it were that easy. Although Bayer was the more dangerous team throughout, they only held the lead for seven minutes, with Carlos Vela’s put-back of Bernd Leno’s 52nd minute penalty save initially bringing Sociedad even. It stoppage time, substitute Hegeler snared a deserved win, the loss leaving La Real at the bottom of Group B.

Group B: Real Madrid (Spain) 4-0 Copenhagen (Denmark)

In place of the injured Gareth Bale, Ángel Di María gets to prove his benching was foolish. A regular starter since being acquired from Benfica three years ago, the Argentina international out-shined Cristiano Ronaldo on a night the Portuguese had two goals. Di María had a double of his own, with the ball played off this ‘rabona’ assisting on Ronaldo’s second score:

source:

(Note: This image was floating around Twitter, and I couldn’t resist using it. If you know who should be credited, please get in touch in the comments or @richardfarley. I’d love to replace this note with some credit.)

Also of note: the younger players that got on the pitch for Real Madrid. Asier Illarramendi started in midfield. Álvaro Morata was first off the bench. Spanish U-level stand-out Jesé came on late. Even not-so-unproven Raphael Varane returned from injury, starting along side Pepe in central defense.

Group B: Juventus (Italy) 2-2 Galatasaray (Turkey) [REACTION]

From our recap:

It was a match where, despite their obvious quality, Juventus never saw profits from their control. In the 37th minute, an under-hit backpass for Leonardo Bonucci created the first goal, Drogba finishing into an open net Gianluigi Buffon was compelled to abandon. It was the 78th minute before Juve equalized, a contentious penalty call allowing Vidal to convert from the spot, while Quagliarella (brought on early for an injured Mirko Vucinic) headed home a Andrea Pirlo cross in the 86th minute, apparently giving Juventus a win in Roberto Mancini’s Gala debut.

But two minutes later, when Drogba headed down for Bulut, the script flipped …

It was Roberto Mancini’s Gala debut, and in a match against the club he supported as a boy, he produced a huge turnaround.

In their first Champions League match this season, Galatasaray lost 6-1. Today, they took a point from Turin. Not a bad start for il Mancho.

[MORE: Home draw with Galatasaray should raise concerns for Juventus.]

Group C: Paris Saint-Germain (France) 3-0 Benfica (Portugal) 

Paris Saint-Germain hasn’t always been able to convert Laurent Blanc’s coveted possession into goals, leading to speculation as to whether the tweaks he’s made to Carlo Ancelotti’s winning formula are worthwhile. Today, however, the possession game worked perfectly, keeping Benfica at arm’s length after PSG built a 3-0 lead before half. Maybe this is an example of Blanc’s endgame?

Of course, it helps when Zlatan Ibrahimovic is scoring goals. Coming into the game, Ibra’d been held to two goals in nine games. Today he scored twice in the first half hour.

Funny how everything seems to click when your best player’s scoring goals.

Group C: Anderlecht (Belgium) 0-3 Olympiacos (Greece)

Which Olympiacos was going to show up? The one that outplayed PSG in the first half two weeks ago? Or the one that was dominated in the second?

Perhaps neither. Winning by three, Olympiacos obviously played well, but the level of opposition swung to the other end of the spectrum. Instead of facing a team that was in last year’s quarterfinals, they were matched up against a foe that may miss Europa League. A three-goal win on the road is impressive, regardless, but with Anderlect electing to start 16-year-old Youri Tielemans next to Sacha Kljestan at the base of midfield, the hosts may have rolled out the red carpet.

Group D: CSKA Moscow (Russia) 3-2 Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic)

When it initially rolled it, CSKA’s third goal didn’t look like it would matter, but when Marek Bakos pulled Viktoria within one late, Matús Kozacik’s error came back to bite the Czech champions. Rather than taking a valuable draw out of St. Petersburg, Pavel Vrba’s team remains bottom of their group, with goals from Keisuke Honda and Zoran Tosic giving CSKA their first points of the tournament.

Group D: Manchester City (England) 1-3 Bayern Munich (Germany) [REACTION]

Remember yesterday, when we were touting Arsenal’s as the most-impressive performance of the tournament? Well, they held that title for one day, with Bayern putting in a performance reminiscent of their Barcelona demolitions in last year’s semifinals. Perhaps the scoreline wasn’t as lopsided, but the difference between the teams was.

On the flip side, Joe Hart gave the worst goalkeeping performance of the tournament. He was at fault on Frank Ribéry’s seventh minute opener, played a part in Thomas Müller’s second, and should have saved Arjen Robben’s third. Joe Hart was the anti-Bayern.

From our recap:

For some reason, Guardiola has decided to change that, and only against competition like CSKA or Manchester City have we seen the end game. Sacrificing the second deep midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation for another player higher in a 4-1-4-1, Guardiola has dared to fuse the best of Bayern and Barcelona. He has the audacity to imagine Bayern’s oppression combined with Barcelona’s control.

The holders are the best team in Europe, and nothing we saw today tells us Manchester City will miss the knockout round (again). But we got a clear idea of the difference between these two sides. And it’s huge.

[MORE: Bayern Munich brilliance, Joe Hart follies see Manchester City fall.]

Everton’s Silva: ‘It is concerning about the goals we didn’t score’

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Like in the two games leading into Friday night, Everton have done their part in creating clear-cut chances.

They haven’t done their part in finishing, however. A major point of concern for manager Marco Silva following his side’s 2-0 loss against Aston Villa. From the BBC:

“It is really difficult to see how we can lose this game when we create so many chances to score. It is a tough place to play football.”

The Toffees have now outshot all three opponents they’ve faced this season (34-21), but have only a goal to speak for their attacking dominance. Against Villa, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Theo Walcott squandered ideal chances in the first and second halves, respectively. In the minutes following his Everton debut, Alex Iwobi was the closest to converting for the visitors, hitting the post in the closing minutes of the match.

Silva, as critical as ever before, acknowledges that despite his team succeeding when it comes to creating chances, they desperately need to move the ball past the white line.

“The most difficult thing is to create and when you do you have to put the ball in the net,” the 42-year-old added. “It is concerning about the goals we didn’t score and of course we should score more. Against Palace we created lots of chances to score and didn’t and again today.”

With a challenging bout against Wolves at Goodison Park next on the schedule, the Portuguese will certainly look to tinker his attack to improve the team’s poor conversion rate. Despite falling to score 10 yards in, Iwobi contributed positively for Everton at Villa Park. Moise Kean, still adjusting to the rigors of the league, can be another prudent option to consider.

Luckily, Everton have time – and a match against Lincoln City midweek – to weigh their options. Silva, as he clearly explained at Villa Park, would want the goals to come in sooner rather than later.

Villa’s Wesley hopes to ‘continue like this’ after scoring first goal

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Anwar El Ghazi was the x-factor Friday night, giving every Aston Villa supporter in attendance at Villa Park the excuse to roar at the top of their lungs following his composed finish in the dying seconds of stoppage time.

But about an hour earlier, Villa’s $28-million striker, Wesley, gave the same supporters a reason to believe that they had a chance against Everton, and, most importantly, that Villa made the right decision in securing his signature just months ago.

[ MORE: Recap | Highlights ]

With a timely run and a well-paced strike, the Brazilian opened his Premier League and Aston Villa account. Something manager Dean Smith knew was bound to happen. From the BBC:

“Wesley is not rewarding me but this performance was very good tonight. I believe in him, I have watched him for a while at Club Bruges, playing in the Champions League so I know the calibre of player we were bringing in. You can’t judge someone after two games.”

Prior to Friday, Wesley was less effective than expected in the claret and blue, recording only two shots on target in his first 164 minutes in the league. Smith was swarmed with questions about the striker’s ineffectiveness as the pressure continued to pile on.

Against Everton, however, with the Villa struggling to keep possession and most playing through frenetic counter attacks, the 22-year-old made the most out of the small number of chances he saw. 21 minutes in, he scored. A couple of minutes later – if it wasn’t for a superb last-second tackle from Everton’s Yerry Mina – the Brazilian would have had a brace.

When he wasn’t aiming for goal, the striker was effectively displacing Everton’s back four with his clever runs and brawny hold-up play. One could tell that the Brazilian was playing the game to his strengths, in peace.

“I am very happy tonight, what a performance from the team,” Wesley said after the match. “We worked hard, played very well and we hope to continue like this week by week then we will see what happens.

“The manager knows me, he sees me everyday working hard and the supporters know me too. I keep calm, I know my qualities and today you saw that I can do.

“I hope to continue like this, the last two games were very difficult but now I have to help my team with goals.”

Time will tell if Wesley will continue on the same path, but after a slow start, its quite crystal clear that everyone at Aston Villa is behind the Brazilian striker.

Late El Ghazi goal seals Aston Villa victory over Everton

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With three points under their belt and Villa Park rocking like never before, it now feels like Aston Villa are finally back in the Premier League.

Pinned back the majority of the second half, trying to conserve a 1-0 lead, Anwar El Ghazi‘s last-gasp goal sealed the deal for Villa, edging Everton 2-0 on Friday.

Wesley‘s cathartic welcome to the Premier League 21 minutes in gave Dean Smith‘s side the room to breathe, despite being behind the ball the majority of the match.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]


Four things we learned

1. Certainly not the case last time they featured in the Premier League, Villa now have the luxury of boasting game-changing choices off the bench like El Ghazi, who can come in and finish things off.

2. Three matches in, and the Toffees’ glaring void is a clinical finisher up top. They’ll need to find a solution, sooner rather than later.

3.  In the 30-minute cameo, Alex Iwobi displayed that he can turn out to be a difference-maker for Everton this season, if utilized properly.

4. On a good night, there aren’t many stadiums that roar louder than Villa Park.

Man of the Match


Jota, positive for 77 minutes on the right side of the midfield, combined time and time again with Villa right back Frederic Guilbert for the greater good of creating energetic counters. The Spaniard’s first assist of the season came in similar fashion, when Wesley finished off his precise through ball.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Everton, like in the first half, imposed themselves on the home side, dominating control of the ball. A lack of fishing and creativity in the final third, however, complicated things for Marco Silva‘s side. As the clocked ticked, the ingenuity was nowhere to be found.

Shortly after coming on, Iwobi put forward the clearest chance Everton had experienced all night. The substitute’s shot, though, struck post, denying any chances of a brilliant debut by the former Arsenal man.

Villa continued to sit back with its four-man backline and Douglas Luiz right above as the No. 6, while remaining attentive on when to spring forward and take advantage of an unbalanced Everton.

El Ghazi surprised many, riffling a shot from 25 yards out. Pickford, vigilant as ever before, calmly blocked it out of danger.

Right before stoppage time, the Toffees were a couple of feet from walking away from Villa Park with a vital point. Theo Wolcott, however, failed to keep his strike leveled, skying the ball well over the bar.

Just minutes later, substitute El-Ghazi showed those watching how to finish, leading Villa to their first Premier League win since 2016.

AT HALF: Wesley scores first goal for Aston Villa

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With pressure certainly on, Wesley scored his first Premier League goal, which has Aston Villa 45 minutes out of their first points since their return to the big stage.

Following a sublime through ball from Jota, the Brazilian didn’t shy away from slotting the ball past Jordan Pickford and into the back of the net.

[ STREAM: Aston Villa – Everton ]

Such timely run and clinical finish showcased by the 22-year-old put into perspective why Villa were willing to shell out $28 million for the striker this summer.

Welcome to the Premier League, Wesley.