UEFA Champions League: 10 Things We Learned from Champions League Week 3
Week 3 of the UEFA Champions League was just as good as promised and just as good as any other week we've seen in the tournament so far.
There were the dramatic wins, the heartbreaking losses, spectacular goals and remarkable comebacks that always seem to find their way into these group stage fixtures, but there were also plenty of things that we didn't expect to take place this week.
Let's take a look at some of the things we learned from Week 3 of the UEFA Champions League and from the spectacular results it provided.
1. The Future Is Bright for Nordsjaelland
Coming in to the UEFA Champions League for the first time in the history of the club, FC Nordsjaelland were going to be hard-pressed to achieve anything in a group that featured Chelsea, Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk.
And whilst we were correct in our assumptions—Nordsjaelland sit last without a win through three matches and very unlikely to progress through to the group stage—the future is bright for the club.
They've shown against Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk and Chelsea that they can play good quality football and will be a competitive force throughout the Europe in the next few years. The joy of playing European football should do wonders for this club and should keep their best players for a lot longer still.
Can they get their win in Europe? Probably not, with only one home match to come and against arguably the hottest team in world football right now.
But they have shown that they have a bright future in both the domestic and European competitions and look to be in good shape to continue playing good football for many years to come.
2. Juventus Have Some Big Matches Ahead
Juventus have had to come from behind in all three of their Champions League fixtures so far and were very fortunate to pick up a point against Nordsjaelland in their most recent encounter.
At the halfway point of the group stage, the Italian champions currently sit in third place—one point behind Chelsea—and with two huge fixtures ahead of them.
The biggest of which will be when they take on Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine, a fixture in which Chelsea recently walked away with zero points, having been completely dominated right throughout the match.
The Italian side are yet to win a single game in the Champions League this year, and whilst they are yet to lose, they have done an awful lot of late second-half scoring rather than early first-half scoring to achieve their three competition points.
You get the feeling that somewhere along the line, they simply aren't going to be able to find that goal to bring them level, and unless they can earn all three points when they take on Chelsea at Juventus Stadium later next month, it could be the end of Juventus before the knockout stages even begin.
3. Manchester United Have a Deep Squad
Down 2-0 halfway through the first half, Manchester United were always expected to go down with a fight, but few expected that they could come all the way back to win the match 3-2, especially given the squad that they had at their disposal.
Sure, the likes of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa were all playing, but with Sir Alex Ferguson still trialling his new diamond formation, the Red Devils might have been forgiven for not yet knowing how to best attack and thrive in this positional shift.
3-2 victory—I think they might have figured it out.
United now sit on top of Group H with three wins from three matches and have seemingly locked up their qualification through to the knockout stages of the tournament.
But to think that they have earned these results without players like Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand speaks a great deal about the depth of talent and character in this Red Devils lineup.
Last season, United were shot at the back when they lost Vidic. This season, whilst it still does hurt them and they do look very exposed, they have managed to get the job done in his absence with their makeshift defense and haven't thrown away their chances at European glory just yet.
4. Celtic Aren't out of It This Year
After a 0-0 draw at home to start their Champions League campaign, I vividly remember writing off Celtic as having no chance in this year's competition—picking them to come last in their group and without a single win (perhaps even goal) to speak of for the tournament.
Oh, how wrong I was.
At the halfway mark of the group stage, Celtic currently sit in second place in Group G with four points—including the respect of football followers worldwide for their brave performance against Barcelona at Camp Nou recently.
The Spanish giants dominated the match—recording a phenomenal 90 percent possession—but took until the 94th minute for Jordi Alba to find the match-winning goal, perhaps an undeserved result given the determination and resolve shown by Celtic throughout the match.
They now play a reverse fixture against Barcelona, which I'm not sure they'll win, but with their two remaining matches against a struggling Benfica side and a Spartak Moscow team they have already beaten in Russia, there's a distinct possibility that Celtic could well qualify for the knockout stages of the competition.
Achieving a result against Benfica will be the key, but even still, there's no way that Celtic are out of it this year. Definitely not.
5. Winning Ugly Is Still Winning
Obviously, when teams win, they like to do it with some sort of style and flair. They like to impressive in attack, brutally dominant in defense and leave their opponents no room to get anything going throughout midfield—running out four or five goal winners.
That would be the ideal result, but so often in world football and indeed the UEFA Champions League, sometimes all you have to do is win. You can be as ugly and as inefficient as you want, but as long as you're still winning, then you're doing OK.
Think of Chelsea's run last year to the title. They certainly weren't playing beautiful, expansive football, but they were doing enough to get the job done, and they were eventually crowned European champions because of it.
And I think the same applies to Bayern Munich this year, ironically enough, who have been largely unimpressive and inspiring through their group stage matches, yet still with a real chance of progressing through to the knockout stages of the tournament.
Their 2-1 win against Valencia was a good start, but their two most recent performances—a 3-1 loss to BATE Borisov and a scrappy 1-0 win over lowly Lille—don't inspire much confidence in the German giants, who finished second in last year's tournament.
Yet in spite all of this, Bayern are winning and that is good enough. They can be as scrappy and as inefficient in attack, but if they still come away with three points, there's not a whole lot more that any one can ask of them.
Winning ugly is still winning.
6. Winning Late Is Still Winning
On a similar note, winning late is still winning, and as heartbreaking as it might be for the other team, people will look back on the result and see not how you won or how you played, but more that you did win or you did lose.
With just six matches to prove your existence in the knockout stages of the most prestigious tournament in the world, getting results is all that matters, and it doesn't matter whether you win it late or win it five minutes into the match—a win is still a win.
Sure, managers and fans alike would love to not sit through the tension and "I can't bear to watch anymore" phase that the last 10 minutes often becomes, but at the end of the day, they will take a win—however it comes—any day of the week.
This week, the late-winners came courtesy of Barcelona against Celtic and Olympiacos against Montpellier—both of whom desperately needed the three points that their late win provided.
You can win late or you can win ugly. However it comes, it's still a win, and it beats the pants of a loss any day of the week—especially in the Champions League.
7. Borussia Dortmund Are the Real Deal
Before the match, I went out on a limb to predict that Borussia Dortmund would beat Real Madrid in Germany—announcing themselves as a genuine contender for the title this year and one of the toughest sides in world football.
It only happens once every eight years, but this time, I was right.
A 2-1 victory by the Germans has completely shaken up Group D—the Group of Death—and has placed the reigning Bundesliga champions in a great position to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition.
They are the real deal this year with one of the most potent counter-attacks in the league, and given the depth of talent they have at their disposal in attack, it's understandable why no team in this group of champions has been able to beat them as of yet.
Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Robert Lewandowski, Julian Schieber—this is an incredibly deep attacking team and one that could make some serious noise in the latter stages of the Champions League this year.
8. Porto Have Group A
Porto, with their third win from as many matches, look to have locked up Group A—or at least their qualification from it.
Their only real danger for the top spot in the group is Paris St. Germain, but with the French side three points behind them and the Portuguese club not looking like dropping points to the likes of Dinamo Zagreb or Dynamo Kyiv any time in the near future, it will be tough for PSG to run them down.
Porto are definitely still flying under the radar at the moment, something that could well change if they push their winning streak in the competition to four, five or even six matches heading into the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Vitor Pereira knows that his side is a good football team and, if they can bring "tactical and emotional maturity" to their game as well, will be too tough to stop in Group A this year, placing them in a good position heading into the knockout rounds.
9. Manchester City Are in Real Trouble
Playing in a group that featured the Spanish champions Real Madrid, the German champions Borussia Dortmund and the Dutch champions Ajax was always going to be a tough ask for the English champions, Manchester City—as good as their team is.
And three weeks into the Champions League with just nine points on offer through the remainder of the group stage competition, it seems like Roberto Mancini's men will not be qualifying through to the knockout stages due to the strength of their group.
They are in real, real trouble of being eliminated in the group stage.
The Citizens haven't won in the tournament yet this year—beaten away from home by Real Madrid and Ajax—and were incredibly fortunate to be awarded a penalty to give them a draw when Dortmund came and played at the Etihad Stadium.
Whilst I can see City beating Ajax when they meet in England next match, I can't see them achieving anything but a draw against Real Madrid when they come to town—not with Jose Mourinho's side potentially needing the win to stay alive in the competition.
Beating Dortmund in Germany seems completely out of the question, and unless there's a minor miracle about to take place in the blue half of Manchester, it seems that City are going to be knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage this year.
10. Are Barca Trying Too Hard?
Call this more of a question and more of an expanded thought more than a known fact that we are all assured that we learned.
Just watching Barcelona play against Celtic—as good as they were and as wonderful as they were to watch—you get the feeling sometimes that this is a side that plays too many passes.
They knock the ball back too often and, had they been more direct in their attack, most likely would have beaten Celtic by a scoreline like 3-1 or 4-2, such is their attacking potency and dominance with the likes of Lionel Messi floating around.
According to WhoScored, Barcelona finished the match with 82 percent possession and a 93 percent pass completion percentage. They had 28 shots—one every three and a bit minutes—and the likes of Alexandre Song, Jordi Alba, Andres Iniesta and Xavi all finished with over 100 passes for the match.
The argument is that their attack is fine and that they don't need to be more direct, but they did nearly lose to Celtic, at home, with stats that suggest they should have won by about seven or eight goals. I just wonder if the tika-taka can be partly blamed for that.
I'd love to hear from some people who watch the Spanish league leaders more intently than I do, but I wonder if, with the managerial shift from Pep Guardiola to Tito Vilanova, Barcelona have lost some of their attacking direction and have become victims of their own tika-taka style, to an extent.
Obviously the idea is to wear their opponents down. I just wonder if they're wearing themselves down as well by trying to throw just one too many passes sideways when they have the option of going forward.
After all, they do have the best striker in the game in Lionel Messi. Perhaps a little more forward movement wouldn't hurt from Barca. Just a thought, I guess.
What did you learn from the Champions League this week?
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