Champions League Results 2014: Biggest Lessons from Tuesday's Matches

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2014

Borussia's Marco Reus blocks Zenit's Axel Witsel, right, from making a kick during the Champions League soccer match between Zenit St.Petersburg and  Borussia Dortmund at Petrovsky stadium in St.Petersburg, Russia, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press

Tuesday's Champions League action was truly compelling. In total, eight goals were scored between the two games, and somehow the only team that didn't get on the score sheet was Manchester United. 

Dortmund scored four goals on the road against Zenit, while Olympiakos shocked everyone by winning 2-0 over United. If you were expecting both games to be close, you were probably pretty surprised by Tuesday's results.

Let's take a look back at the lessons learned from Tuesday's games.


Manchester United Have an Identity Crisis

Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press

Manchester United have played like a team that doesn't quite know what its identity is all season long. That was compounded against Olympiakos on Tuesday, an absolutely miserable performance from the defending Premier League champions.

After the game, Robin van Persie complained to Dutch TV channel NOS about his teammates drifting into the areas where he prefers to play, via Jamie Jackson of The Guardian:

Our fellow players are sometimes occupying the spaces I want to play in. And when I see that it makes it difficult for me to come to those spaces as well. So that forces me to adjust my runs, based on the position of my fellow players. And unfortunately, they're often playing in my zones. I think that's a shame.

It's definitely a shame for United. And it's one of many issues they seem to have across the pitch.

Though Juan Mata wasn't able to play in this match, when he is on the pitch he prefers to drift into the areas right behind the striker where Wayne Rooney happens to be most effective. United still don't seem to have a good option to pair with Michael Carrick in the midfield. David Moyes hasn't seemed to settle on a starting 11 or a proper system for rotating his players.

How does this team, one that won the Champions League a season ago, dip so severely just one year later?

United have lost their swagger, and Sir Alex Ferguson isn't walking through that door. United can still advance with a big win at Old Trafford, but it is pretty clear that the Red Devils simply don't know what type of team they are this season.


Borussia Dortmund Are Still Dangerous

Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press

You couldn't have blamed Zenit for being confident against Borussia Dortmund heading into Tuesday.

Zenit were at home. Dortmund were without key players like Sven Bender, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Ilkay Gundogan, Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels. The German side has struggled domestically this season and is in third place, a whopping 20 points behind Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich.

But boy oh boy, did Dortmund take the game to Zenit. They scored two goals in the first five minutes. After each Zenit goal, the German side responded with their own tally within minutes. The attacking trio of Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus and Henrikh Mkhitaryan carved up the Russian hosts.

Richard Farley of Pro Soccer Talk has more on the pair of Lewandowski and Reus:

On Tuesday, however, playing in an early game that gave Dortmund center stage, Reus and Lewandowski stole the show. Reus played the major part in the team’s first two goals, his dash beyond Cristian Ansaldi setting up the first while a clinical volley doubled BVB’s lead a minute later. All the while, Lewandowski was maintaining a threat that occupied both central defenders, giving Zenit’s Argentine left back little help with one of the best attacking midfielders in the world.

In the second half, it was Lewandowski’s turn, with his nearly unmatched movement along the line creating the openings that produced Dortmund’s third and fourth goals. On BVB’s final tally, Reus carried the ball until the Zenit defense was forced to engage him before laying off to for Lewandowski. The Poland international proceeded to beat Yuri Lodygin far post to restore Dortmund’s two-goal lead.

Dortmund have their weaknesses. They are clearly weak in defense at the moment, though Hummels' return to injury will help. Giving up two goals is never ideal, even when you score four.

But in Russia, Dortmund put the rest of the UCL field on notice that they were still dangerous and still capable of slicing through any defense in the world with their top-notch attackers.


Home-Field Advantage Hasn't Meant a Thing

Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press

Yes, Olympiakos held serve at home on Tuesday, but that puts them in pretty rarefied company as the only home team thus far in the round of 16 to win at home. That's right, the away team is 5-1 in the away matches during the first knockout round.

Of course, it probably helps that those five teams were Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. But some of the home losers—Manchester City and Arsenal come to mind—are hardly pushovers.

Chelsea and Real Madrid will look to become the sixth and seventh away teams to earn a win. Don't be surprised if they get it.