Champions League: Top Observations

Chelsea leave the quarter final door open

It may be a cliche, but Chelsea would have accepted returning from Paris with only a one-goal deficit, knowing that they clinched a crucial away goal and have captain John Terry to come back into the side for the second leg at Stamford Bridge. Another John, Obi Mikel, was the hero and the villain for Chelsea. For the hosts’ first goal he gave away a free kick and then turned his back in the wall. The resulting set piece, struck by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, deflected off Mikel and past the despairing Courtois. Then, from a corner, Mikel found himself in acres of space in the penalty box to lash home the equaliser, only his sixth goal . Paris Saint Germain’s winner was a piece of pure football brilliance. Angel Di Maria, considered surplus to Manchester United’s philosophical process, beautifully clipped the ball over the top of Chelsea’s back line, spotting the run of Uruguayan forward Edison Cavani, who showed great movement to stay onside. The Chelsea goalkeeper perhaps could have done better but the pass and the finish were a joy to watch. This tie is still wide open going into the second leg.

Ronaldo’s Real rule in Rome

Real Madrid all but booked their place in the quarter finals with a 2-0 win in the Italian capital, a fairly comfortable game in which they enjoyed 61% of possession. Cristiano Ronaldo, apparently suffering a physical decline, turned back the clock by showing a burst of pace to latch onto Marcelo’s pass down the left-hand side, before plying his trademark trick to turn inside the right full-back and launching a cracking shot past the Roma ‘keeper. After petulantly storming out of a press conference earlier in the week, it was nice to see the Portuguese let his feet do the talking. Roma threatened Keylor Navas’ goal on several occasions but their finishing was poor, with only 2 of their 11 shots hitting the target. The visitors wrapped up the win with a few minutes to spare. Substitute Jese must have thought all of his Christmas’ had come at once, as he ran almost in a straight line unchallenged from inside his own half. The Roma defenders jockeyed but didn’t put a foot in, and he struck a right footed shot across Wojciech Szczesny, on loan from Arsenal.

Draxler the man for Wolfsburg

In what was probably the most entertaining game for the neutral, German’s Wolfsburg beat KAA Gent, the Belgium champions, 3-2 on their own turf. Both teams were playing their first games at the last 16 stage of Europe’s premier cup competition, and both showed naivety and exciting reckless abandon not always evident with more experienced campaigners. Wolfsburg took a seemingly unassailable 3-0 lead, and even hit the post, which would have made it four. Julian Draxler, signed in the summer from Schalke 04, scored two of the best goals you are likely to see in this season’s competition. He completed a nice turn, then a one-two with a team mate, before opening up his body and finding the far right corner. If his first goal was the result of good team work, his second was more individualistic. Showing determination to press his man, he won the ball before nutmegging the defender and deftly lifting the ball over the goalkeeper. Max Kruse made it 3-0 with a neat finish on the volley, and perhaps should have made it 4, the post rescuing the hosts. Gent showed great character to pull back two goals although the Wolfsburg ‘keeper could have done better with both. It’s difficult to see anything other than a home win in Germany and Wolfsburg progressing to the quarter finals.

Last-minute drama at the Stadium of Light

In what wasn’t a game for the purists, Benfica grabbed a last-minute winner to win 1-0 against Zenit St. Petersburg in Lisbon. The Russians, playing their first game in 10 weeks following their winter break, were always likely to struggle. The hosts enjoyed 65% of the possession and registered 15 shots to Zenit’s 5. The game was decided, however, in the last minute by a set piece. The referee, known to like his red cards, penalised Domenico Criscito for what seemed a fairly innocuous challenge. It was his second yellow and therefore he was off. Benfica clipped the ball into the box for striker Jonas, who headed in his 25th goal of the season. Zenit should be sharper for the second leg, and this is all to play for.

Follow Dan on Twitter @winkveron



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