Champions League: Top Observations

Pressure Continues to Mount on Van Gaal

David Moyes was fired by Manchester United after a poor season in which the club uncharacteristically failed to qualify for the Champions League after finishing outside of the fabled “top 4”. His replacement, experienced Dutchman Louis Van Gaal, was charged with returning the club to its rightful place at Europe’s top table. He achieved that at the first time of asking to complete the first phase of his infamous “process”. However, Manchester United were eliminated after a limp performance in Group B. Ironically this was possibly United’s most entertaining match of the group phase from a neutrals point-of-view, with, yet the defending was naive as both United goals were countered by equalisers within minutes. Some of the selection choices were baffling. Poor Guillermo Varela was thrown to the wolves, whilst experienced players such as Young and Carrick were benched. Fellaini fumbled in midfield and Mata was replaced by forgotten-man Nick Powell late in the game. Overall it was a disastrous campaign by a side lacking confidence and a manager seemingly running out of ideas. United made an absolute meal of a perceived “weak group” and now Thursday nights in the Europa League beckon.

 

Mourinho Gives Himself A Reprieve

Having won the league last year, you could argue that Chelsea’s priority this year would be the Champions League. After all, Mourinho has yet to lift the trophy with the Stamford Bridge club. The dreadful league form will no doubt add fuel to this fire. Therefore tonights clash at home to Porto was vital to keep their season alive. The first goal had a touch of luck about it, the same luck that the manager says has been absent from their recent performances. The second was more emphatic, Willian lashing home a pass from Hazard. Having topped the group, Chelsea will now be hoping for an “easy” tie and a relatively straightforward passage to the last 8.

 

Gary’s Baptism of Fire

It was one of the surprise football stories of the year when Gary Neville was appointed manager of La Liga’s Valencia. Yes, his brother Phil was already in place at the Mestalla, and Gary has links with Singaporean Peter Lin, yet it was still a shock. His first assignment: a make-or-break Champions League clash with Lyon in front of his new fans. The match ended in a 2-0 defeat and consigned Valencia to the Europa League. The Neville brothers will be hoping for a good run in Europe’s second continental competition plus an upswing in league form if they are to remain in the hot seat beyond the end of the season.

 

City Almost Shoot themselves in the Foot Again

Despite a tough-looking assignment, Man City were still expected to qualify from Group D along with Juventus. And that they did! At one point it looked like City would shoot themselves in the foot and fail to capitalise on Juventus’ defeat in Andalusia. They were trailing 2-1 and looked like “doing a City” until a Sterling brace and a Bony goal sealed the game and led City to an impressive win against the in-form German visitors from Monchengladbach. City will be delighted that they have finally managed to win a the group. For years they’ve complained about seeding, being drawn in some tough groups alongside the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. Now they’ve qualified from a tough group and they’ll be now hoping a favourable draw gives them a real chance of finally reaching the quarter-finals.

 

The Eternal Predictability of the Champions League

The action on the pitch in the Champions League, as with most modern football competitions, is nothing more than a sideshow for the real game of making money. Often before ball is kicked it is obvious who will progress to the round of 16 and this year has been no different. If UEFA are going to pursue with the groups then it is clear it is time that all 32 teams were thrown into a big pot and drawn at random. At the end of the day, only one team can win it so does it matter who they play in the groups? This was proven as out of the 16 qualifiers, 12 were seeded in the top two pots when the groups were drawn and therefore expected to qualify. The only teams to upset the applecart were Wolfsburg, Roma, Dynamo Kiev and KAA Gent. Only Manchester United’s exit can be classed as a real shock. It’s time for a change to stop the competition becoming stale, but money talks.

Follow Dan on Twitter @winkveron

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