Mesmerising Messi: Lio was back in the goals again for Barca when they took on AC Milan at Camp Nou on Wednesday
After what was yet another eye-catching round of group-stage fixtures in the UEFA Champions League, there was plenty to be dissected and discussed from Week 4 of Europe’s premier club competition.
And whether it be Lionel Messi’s return to goalscoring form for Barcelona, yet more brilliance from that man Cristiano Ronaldo or controversy in the Basque country, we will debate it all here...
Barcelona playmaker Lionel Messi scored a brace either side of half-time against AC Milan at Camp Nou on Wednesday night to silence the doubters who had slowly begun to start whispering that the great man was struggling for form of late.
The Argentina international’s two goals, one a first-half penalty, ended a run of four Liga matches without a goal for the little maestro, which by his comparatively high standards did represent a crisis of sorts.
And not only that, but the attacker’s double also now takes him to within just six goals of former Real Madrid striker Raul Gonzalez at the top of the all-time Champions League goalscoring charts, while at the same time putting to bed suggestions from team-mate and compatriot Javier Mascherano that the Argentinian has simply been saving himself recently for next summer’s World Cup.
What exactly is it about the Shed End at Stamford Bridge and opposition goalkeepers of late?
First we had Cardiff City’s David Marshall getting dispossessed, albeit illegally as it turned out, by Chelsea front man Samuel Eto’o last month, then it was the turn of the now dropped Manchester City keeper Joe Hart, who ill-advisedly raced from his line in the dying moments of a Premier League clash recently to hand the Blues a 2-1 win.
Now after Wednesday night, we can add the name of experienced Schalke 04 No. 1 Timo Hildebrand to that list after the one-time Germany international’s horrendous gaffe had gifted the west Londoners, and that man Eto’o again, the opening goal in their Group E clash.
And if I were West Bromwich Albion manager Steve Clarke, I would be having a word or two with shot-stopper Boaz Myhill ahead of the Baggies trip to Chelsea in the Premier League this Saturday!
I feel like we’ve been here before with Manchester United wide man Ashley Young, although one also hopes that after the England international’s latest tumble in the box at the Anoeta on Tuesday night, this might be the last occasion for some time that we are talking about this.
Young, who earned the Premier League champions a dubious second-half penalty after conveniently falling over the outstretched leg of Real Sociedad midfield player Markel Bergara in the area, has previous experience when it comes to “simulation," and quite a bit of it, too.
And whether it be for club or for country—Moldova (Oct. 2010), Man City (Oct. 2011), QPR (Apr. 2012), Aston Villa (Apr. 2012) and Crystal Palace (Sept. 2013)—the 28-year-old winger has earned himself an unenviable reputation that he will now find mighty hard to shake off going forward in his career.
After his great rival from Camp Nou had netted a double the previous evening, it was as certain as death and taxes that Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo would respond in kind 24 hours later in Turin.
And the Portuguese’s second-half strike that drew los Blancos level against the Serie A champions, after a horrendous mistake by Juve defender Martin Caceres, was already his eighth so far in the group phase of this season’s competition, and his 59th overall in the tournament from just 100 matches.
All of which means that Ronaldo now has two more games left in which to grab one more goal and take the record for the most amount of goals scored in the group stage of Europe’s premier club competition, which the Madrid man is currently sharing with Ruud van Nistelrooy, Hernan Crespo, Filippo Inzaghi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Borussia Dortmund head coach Jurgen Klopp had likened Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal to an “orchestra” before their meeting at the Westfalenstadion on Wednesday night, while labelling his own team a heavy-metal band, but in the end it was the north London club’s fans who could be heard singing the loudest come the full-time whistle.
And to put the Gunners’ 1-0 triumph into better perspective, here are a few eye-catching numbers to digest from their win...
- This was only the second time in the past 61 matches that the Germans had failed to score at home.
- Arsenal were the first English team to win at Dortmund in the history of the Champions League.
- Dortmund had won their previous eight matches in all competitions at the Westfalenstadion, and their last seven in the Champions League, too.
- Arsenal have now gone 15 matches unbeaten on the road in all competitions, including 14 wins, since losing the North London derby last March, as they head to Old Trafford on Sunday.
- And last, but not least, Aaron Ramsey’s second-half winner on Wednesday was the Welshman’s 11th goal in just 17 matches in this campaign, with the midfielder previously needing 150 games to score as many goals.
But a word of warning, though, to all those Arsenal fans already plotting their route to the final in Lisbon next May—should Dortmund win their final two group games, while Napoli also beat Arsenal at home in the last fixture, then assuming the Gunners also overcome Marseille next time out, all three sides will be level on 12 points...
If I had said to you back in September at the start of the group phase that a team from Madrid would have already qualified for the knockout rounds two games early on the back of the goals from the Continent’s most in-form and deadly marksman, then to a man the reply would have been, “Yes, but that does not necessarily mean that Real Madrid will win the competition.”
However, I am of course talking about Atletico de Madrid, and not los Blancos, after Diego Simeone’s men thrashed Group G whipping boys Austria Vienna 4-0 at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday night to seal their safe passage through to February’s second round, with that man Diego Costa yet again getting his customary goal to round off the scoring.
And that goal by the new Spain international has taken the lethal striker’s tally so far in this season to a remarkable 16 strikes in just 14 Liga and Champions League outings, goalscoring form that must make Liverpool fans despair after the Merseysiders failed with a summer bid for Costa.
But after Atleti’s latest victory, there can be no doubt whatsoever about who Europe’s most in-form side and striker are at present.