4 Biggest Questions After the First Round of Champions League Group Matches
The Champions League kicked off with a bang this week, featuring 16 enthralling matchups with the best sides in Europe doing battle.
There were some epic comebacks. There were some thrilling collapses. There were some dull battles. It was quite a start to what should be a thrilling season of Champions League football.
With so much of the season still ahead of us, it would be unwise to draw too many conclusions from the teams' first matches. On the other hand, it is clear that some questions should be raised about some of the top clubs after their first match.
So what should we be asking ourselves about the upper echelon of the Champions League heading into the rest of the competition?
Here are the four biggest questions.
Was Sergio Ramos the Troublemaker in Madrid?
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It's no secret that Real Madrid have been suffering through a rough patch in the start of their La Liga campaign. Four points through four matches is just unacceptable for the Spanish giants.
Manager Jose Mourinho was quick to call out his players for the slump, questioning their commitment to the team's cause. More than that, though, Mou made it clear that the problem was caused mainly by two or three players who had their minds on other things besides football.
Lo and behold, mass changes occurred in the side's lineup in their match with Manchester City on Tuesday. Most notably, centre-defender Sergio Ramos was left out of the starting lineup and made no appearance in the match.
Now, this has been written off by Mourinho as being based "purely on sports grounds," but leaving Ramos out against City when he only missed one Champions League match last year (the meaningless final group match) suggests otherwise.
Is Ramos in bad graces with Mourinho? If so, how will this affect the club?
Will Manchester City's New-Found Chemistry Issues Cause Problems?
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Many are pointing to the performance on the pitch as a bad sign for Manchester City. After all, dropping two goals in the final five minutes to go from winning to losing is not ideal.
However, a 3-2 loss at the Santiago Bernabeu does not concern me. What does concern me, though, is the post-match reaction of some key members of the club.
First, it was Sergio Aguero coming out and saying that he would have picked Madrid over City if Real had made an offer to him when he was transferring from Atletico. That's honest and not too big of a deal, but it could point toward an eventual exit from Manchester as Aguero's stock continues to rise.
Then, there was keeper Joe Hart criticizing his side and their inability to hold a one-goal lead in the final five minutes of the match.
Finally, the topper was City manager Roberto Mancini publicly bashing Hart for his comments, saying, "Joe Hart should stay in goal and make saves."
Will these issues cause problems for City through the rest of their campaign?
Can Tito Vilanova Handle the Pressure at Barcelona?
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With 20 minutes to go at the Camp Nou, Barcelona were down 2-1 to Spartak Moscow. The buzzards were already circling. How could Vilanova allow this to happen?
Even after two Messi goals led the Catalonians from behind to snatch the 3-2 victory, the murmurs were still there. Their message: This would have been easier with Pep.
Now, is that fair? No, certainly not. There were some important factors that made that match more difficult, chief among them the missing Iniesta. But that's moot.
It's obvious that Vilanova has some big shoes to fill in the way of Guardiola. Even if they are quiet right now, we know that the question will eventually be asked: Would we be better off with Pep?
We know that anxiety from the manager can leak to the rest of the club, which could really cause trouble. On the other hand, quiet confidence would really bolster the club.
So the big question: How will Tito respond?
What Chelsea Will We See?
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Last season, Chelsea won the European title by, well, "parking the bus."
(Note: I say this phrase with some trepidation, as it has quite a bit of negative connotation surrounding it. Perhaps we should say they won it through defensive prowess.)
After a series of transfers saw the Londoners revitalize their side with talented youth, we saw a much more swashbuckling side against Juventus on Wednesday, as they jumped to a 2-0 lead through a pair of Oscar goals.
From there, though, the wheels came off and they were stuck with a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.
While the play on Wednesday was certainly easier on the eyes than their matches last season, it was undoubtedly less effective.
So what should Chelsea do? Stick with their attacking play, or revert to their old defensive style?
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