UEFA Champions League: 10 Things We Learned from Champions League Week 4
What another brilliant week in the UEFA Champions League!
Once again, we were treated to a marvelous two days of scintillating football, including stunning upsets, remarkable comebacks and dominant victories.
We spurred Manchester United on to come from behind against Braga. We leapt at Chelsea's last-minute winner against Shakhtar Donetsk. We witnessed Bayern Munich smack six goals past Lille, and we watched lowly Celtic upset football heavyweights Barcelona.
So much action and developments in just two days of football!
Here are 10 things we learned from the Champions League this week.
1. Barcelona Are Beatable
We might as well start with the biggest development of the Champions League tournament as a whole—Spanish giants Barcelona are beatable.
Barca had gone through their opening three matches with three straight wins, and while they weren't at their most convincing against Celtic in their last match, we had assumed still that they would not be troubled by any of their group-stage opponents.
Oh, how wrong we were.
Celtic pulled off the upset of the competition, beating Barcelona 2-1 in Scotland to record a famous victory for both the club and football as a whole—proving that Lionel Messi and his merry men are no longer the unstoppable force they are portrayed to be.
The Spanish club did dominate the match and will reflect back on the result in sheer disbelief that their possession, passes and goal-scoring opportunities did not yield more goals and three competition points. But it is what it is, and Celtic can claim the three points as theirs and theirs alone.
2. As Are Shakhtar Donetsk
We should also throw Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk into the ring there as sides that showed they were beatable in the Champions League this week, with reigning champions Chelsea toppling their dangerous opponents 3-2 at Stamford Bridge.
It took a last-second winner from Victor Moses to break the deadlock for the home side and record a remarkable victory over a side that had outplayed them in every aspect of the game just two weeks earlier in the competition.
Shakhtar are still one of the more potent sides in the competition and, particularly at home, will prove to be a genuine contender of the Champions League title this year.
But teams will know that they are beatable and that their flowing attack can be handled. If a defense without John Terry and Ashley Cole and with David Luiz in it can hang on for victory, then surely most defenses in the Champions League can do the same.
3. Manchester United Are EPL's Top Team
With Manchester City again failing to pick up their maiden win of the competition and Arsenal surrendering a two-goal lead to finish in a 2-2 draw against Schalke, it is clear that Manchester United are the best Premier League team in the tournament this year.
Currently on top of the domestic table also, Sir Alex Ferguson's men are the only team out of the 32 in the competition who have picked up four wins from their four group-stage matches, and they've booked their place in the knockout rounds because of it.
Their attack is one of the best in the world at the moment, with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie combining to form a lethal striker partnership.
Once the likes of Nemanja Vidic return from injury, you get the feeling that this could be a team that will be very tough to beat this season—in both attack and defense.
Whether or not they are England's only hope at the title this year still remains to be seen, but they are still clearly the best from the four Premier League contenders.
4. Zenit St. Petersburg Have Nothing
After some big spending over the summer transfer window that saw them bring in Hulk and Axel Witsel, there was a great deal of excitement and anticipation about Russian club Zenit St. Petersburg.
They had won the Russian Premier League just the year before and had strengthened their squad significantly since then—potentially ready to explode on the Champions League stage and announce their dominance in world football.
Only that never happened. And they haven't even come close.
Zenit St. Petersburg have been the biggest disappointment of the competition so far, yet they could still progress through to the Champions League group stages should a few results fall their way over the remaining two weeks—that's how weak their group is.
A side that promised so much lost to Anderlecht this week, sits last in their group and perhaps played AC Milan back into form in the process.
They deserve to be eliminated from the group stages in two week's time, for they simply haven't been good enough for Europe's most prestigious tournament.
5. Oscar Is Made for the Champions League
Bought by Chelsea over the summer transfer window for £25 million, young Brazilian sensation Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Junior came to the defending European champions with the full knowledge that he would be expected to perform and thrive in the Champions League.
And while he might not yet have left his mark on the domestic competition, the 21-year-old is certainly proving that he is indeed made for the European competition. He has netted four goals in as many matches for the Blues and also leads the team in assists and most passes per game (per WhoScored.com).
Juan Mata might be dominating the Premier League for Chelsea, but Oscar is showing himself to be the club's midfield maestro in the Champions League this season.
Without any experience previously in the tournament, the youngster's brilliance in attack is an exciting prospect for Chelsea and football fans alike—especially if he continues to perform like he has done through his four performances to date.
6. Robin van Persie Is United's No. 1 Striker
Even when he doesn't start for Manchester United, Robin van Persie still shows himself to be a world-class striker and United's best attacking weapon this season.
Coming off the bench against Sporting Braga, the Dutch international immediately made an impact for the Red Devils—converting a goalkeeping error to draw his side level and become his team's leading goalscorer in the competition to date.
The 29-year-old has netted three goals in as many matches for United in the Champions League—taking his tally to 11 goals in 11 games for the season as a whole.
And as long as Wayne Rooney continues to line up in midfield and allow the Dutch international to dominate the attack, van Persie must be considered the No. 1 striker at Old Trafford. That's nothing on Rooney—it's just the way that their relationship is working at the moment.
The England international is no longer United's talisman. That honor falls on van Persie, who is proving to be one of the top transfer signings ever for Sir Alex Ferguson.
7. Malaga Continue to Impress
They might have ruined their perfect winning record, and they might have conceded for the first time all tournament, but Malaga continue to impress in the Champions League this year.
The up-and-coming Spanish side booked their place in the final 16 of the tournament with a 1-1 draw at the San Siro against AC Milan—which is no mean feat—and have now conceded just one goal in their past four Champions League appearances this year.
Keep in mind that this is a side that lost their star playmaker Santi Cazorla to Arsenal over the summer transfer window—a loss that few sides would have coped with as well as Malaga has.
Somehow, they continue to fly under the radar in terms of danger teams and title contenders. So make no mistake—this is a very, very good football team.
And definitely a Champions League contender.
8. Manchester City Are out
Manchester City should feel that they were very unlucky in the Champions League this year.
They were drawn into one of the hardest groups known to man, lost in the final seconds to Real Madrid and were somehow held to a draw against Ajax courtesy of some terrible refereeing decisions.
Truth be told, Roberto Mancini has every right to feel unlucky.
But as unlucky as he might feel, Manchester City are out of contention this year for the most prestigious tournament in world football. The champions of England are out.
Sure, mathematically they could progress, as long as they beat Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium and Borussia Dortmund in Germany and Ajax beat Madrid at the Bernabeu. If that all happens, then yes, City will still be in the tournament.
But that isn't happening.
They couldn't beat Ajax or Dortmund in England, so why will they suddenly be able to beat Spanish giants Real Madrid?
And they were terribly lucky to pick up a draw against Dortmund despite that home-field advantage, so why will they suddenly be able to defeat them in Germany—a place where Ajax or Real Madrid couldn't win?
Manchester City are out. It's just a fact.
9. Someone Big Is Missing out in Group E
Out of all the groups in the Champions League this year, it seems that Group E (and not Group D) is going to go down to the wire in terms of who makes the qualification cut and who is eliminated.
And in terms of this group, someone big is going to miss out on the Round of 16—defending champions Chelsea, Italian champions Juventus or Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk.
Either way, in a month's time, one of these three powerhouses will be out of the competition.
Shakhtar are in the best place to progress, through, and likely will do that with a fixture against Nordsjaelland coming next week. So the real battle is Chelsea and Juventus, who will do battle in Italy next week in a must-win fixture for both clubs.
Should Chelsea win that, they would likely progress to the Round of 16. If not, they'll be desperately awaiting results to fall their way next week—something that no team likes to be banking on in the final group-stage match of the tournament.
Someone big is going to miss out in Group E this year.
Who will it be?
10. Borussia Dortmund Are Title Favorites
They might not have picked up all three points like they did last week, but playing against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu Stadium, German champions Borussia Dortmund confirmed what many had been thinking for several weeks now.
They are the current favorites for the Champions League title.
Undefeated in the hardest group in recent history, Dortmund have been unlucky in both of their two draws—conceding late goals that they probably shouldn't have conceded.
Their attack boasts the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Jakub Blaszczykowski—all of whom would be respective individual stars were they to play on different teams.
As it stands, Dortmund are the team to beat in the Champions League. And as it stands, nobody has been able to do that yet.
What did you make of the Champions League this week?
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