UEFA Champions League: Notes from Matchday 4 - Bayern clinch qualification and Arsenal win in Germany
Matchday 4 of the UEFA Champions League was basically a repeat of the last round of matches with the home and away teams swapping places. The results have left open a lot of possibilities and with just two teams having ensured qualification – there is much to play for and the action looks set to go on right until the final minutes of matchday 6.
Here are the major developments that caught the eye:
Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid book their places in the last 16
At the beginning of the campaign, after looking at the groups, if one were to ask which teams would qualify the earliest for the knockout phase, defending champions Bayern Munich would be right up there. But Atletico Madrid?
Bayern have done what Bayern do best, beat your opponents into submission, scoring 12 goals and conceding just one, in the process snatching a perfect record that has seen them through to the next round. Atletico, have done as well, the only difference in their record from that of Bayern’s is that they have let in a goal more.
While Bayern under new manager Pep Guardiola have combined their high-energy attacking game with some possession football to get even stronger (if that was possible), Atletico have just been a revelation since winning the Copa Del Rey at the end of last season with an explosive attacking combo in Diego Costa and David Villa and a mean defence marshaled by the excellent Diego Godin.
Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid also registered their place in the next round.
Juventus have left it late yet again
The Italian champions for the second year running have left it late to secure qualification into the knockout phase. Last year, they were in a similar predicament, as pitted with Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk and Nordsjaelland, they collected just three points from their first three games, drawing every one of them.
They then won their next three to qualify as group winners with impressive wins over Chelsea and Shakhtar.
This time they have Real Madrid for company and in two matches so far, have not been able to get the better of them – losing 1-2 in Madrid and drawing 2-2 in Turin. That has left Antonio Conte’s team bottom of group B with just three points.
Juve need to win both of their remaining games to keep their hopes alive and their next game is against Copenhagen at home, a game they would be expected to win, while Galatasaray make the tough trip to Madrid.
If those two results do pan out that way, Juventus would leapfrog Gala with six points as against the Turkish club’s four at the moment and would set up the final matchday clash nicely between the two teams when The Old Lady will enter hostile territory in Turkey to try and snatch at least a point.
Manchester City’s attack is on full throttle
City seem to have struck upon a winning formula as the combination of Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Aguero up front is making a killing, giving opposition defences a torrid time. Aguero is easily amongst the best strikers on the planet, and when at full throttle can skin defences in no time with his pace, dribbling and incredible finishing skills. He now has a partner in Negredo who is quite the intimidating physical presence to boss over centre-backs and act as a good foil for the Argentine.
More importantly, David Silva, has once again hit his peaks and is running the show for City from midfield. He is the leading chance creator in the Premier League as well this season.
Last season, Silva appeared jaded and struggled for form reflecting in a drop-off in City’s form too.
Zenit and Porto in a real slugfest
While Atletico have ensured their place in the knockout round, Zenit and Porto are slugging it out to take that second ticket.
They represent an interesting triumvirate these three clubs, having done business with each other on a few occasions. Radamel Falcao and Cristian Rodriguez were both bought by Atletico from Porto, while the Portuguese club also sold Hulk in a big money deal to Zenit.
Porto, traditional powerhouses in Europe, have looked visibly off the pace this season in Europe, struggling to cope with the loss of Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez to Monaco in the summer. Zenit have made use of the opportunity and find themselves in with a shout as they lie second, a point ahead of Porto.
With their head-to-head clashes out of the way, it is now a case of how well they do agains the other two teams in the group. Zenit host Atletico in the next round and that could prove to a very crucial match in the scheme of things.
Celtic-Milan fixture attains epic proportions
Barcelona are almost there, and will in all likelihood secure qualification in their next game against Ajax.
Each of the other three teams though can still make it – with Milan, Ajax and Celtic lying second, third and fourth, separated by a point each. Ajax’s win over Celtic has brought them back in with a shout and hence the match at Celtic Park on 26 November between Celtic and Milan has attained an even bigger significance.
There will be a febrile atmosphere with Celtic fans turning out in large numbers and together with the travelling Milan fans, will contribute to making it a tense and passionate affair. They will be hoping their team can lift their performance to try and get out of last place.
Milan on the other hand, have their own set of problems, and could arrive with a different manager in three weeks’ time. Massimiliano Allegri is under a lot of pressure to deliver and is not helped by injuries to key players.
But Milan are Milan, and expect them to come charged up for such a big match. This key clash between two clubs that boast of fiercely competitive fans, promises to be a ripper.