Round 4 was certainly eventful. Here are some important takeaways, mostly focused on the three big leagues.
Never Count Manchester United out
It doesn’t matter if they’re away and down by three goals in the 85th minute. Never count them out.
They came back from being down 1-0 at Braga to winning 1-3 in the last ten minutes (plus extra time). United’s ability to make wild comebacks isn’t new, but the arrival of Robin van Persie seems to have pushed them to a new level.
Of course, it’s possible that if RvP had started this in the first place, they wouldn’t have had to come back in the last ten minutes, but…
English Sides Split
The two English sides that played today will probably be feeling pretty pleased with themselves, and not just because they both came back to win at the end of the game.
Manchester United have wrapped up first place in the group, and while Chelsea will no doubt be feeling less than comfortable with Juve’s win against Nordsjaelland and with the fact that Shakhtar have 2 away goals against them, it could have been much worse if they hadn’t won.
The two that played yesterday, on the other hand, are probably less happy.
Arsenal withstood a lot of pressure from Schalke to come away with the draw, but they also lost a two goal lead. After losing in London to Schalke, that must hurt. This probably won’t hurt their chances of moving on, but at this point they’ll probably end up in second, which they won’t be happy about.
Manchester City did come back against Ajax to manage a draw, which still leaves the door open for a Europa bid. Still, beating Dortmund and Real Madrid is a tall order, and Ajax look the likelier team to move on. Despite the tough group, City probably were not expecting to end up below the Dutch champions at this stage in the competition.
The Bundesliga Is Underrated
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.
All three teams in the UCL did well this week, and all sit at the top of their groups with two rounds to go.
Schalke must beat Olympiakos and Montpelier to be sure of maintaining their position. Borussia Dortmund must beat Manchester City and Ajax. Bayern Munich must beat BATE Borisov and Valencia.
All are quite doable tasks. At any rate, it would be a surprise to see any of the German teams not move on, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them all top their groups… ahead of teams like Arsenal, Manchester City, and Real Madrid.
The commentators kept mentioning Dortmund’s organization and efficiency during their match with Madrid. Is it really surprising to anyone that the Germans were well-organized and efficient?
Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better
That seemed to be Bayern’s motivation of the day. After Dortmund bettered their performance against Real Madrid in the semi-finals last season (Bayern won 2-1 at home and lost 2-1 away, while Dortmund won 2-1 at home and drew 2-2 away), Bayern seemed to go into today with a sense of purpose. They couldn’t beat a very strong team because they weren’t playing a very strong team (sorry, Lille), so they did the next best thing: they won 6-1.
Not a Good Round For Spain
Valencia were (improbably) the only Spanish team to manage to win this round. Real Madrid salvaged a draw against Borussia Dortmund after Mesut Özil scored off a free kick (essentially the only impressive thing he did all game), Málaga drew with AC Milan, and Barcelona suffered a defeat against Celtic. None of those are disastrous results – Málaga have confirmed their spot in the knock out rounds, Barcelona still look well on their way to winning the group, and Real Madrid should still advance easily, though they may come in second. Still, it could have gone better for them.
Barcelona lost 2-1 against an inspired Celtic, despite Messi pulling one back in extra time. This will undoubtedly dominate the headlines for several days, but let’s keep things in perspective: Barcelona are still favorites to win the group and still have that win well within their control. They certainly would have preferred to win, but this is unlikely to mean anything more than Bayern Munich’s loss against BATE Borisov earlier in the campaign.
Because next game, Sergio Busquets will be back, and Barcelona live and die around Sergio Busquets. That’s a slight exaggeration, but not much of one – Xavi and Iniesta get all the press coverage, but at 24, Busquets is one of the most important players on the team, and he’s also one of the hardest to replace.
Moreover, they’ll finally have a real backline back next time around. Pique finally appears to be back, and Puyol could apparently be in the next couple weeks, too. Given that a large part of Barca’s poor showings lately can be laid at the feet of the defense, having real defenders back will be absolutely essential.
Real Madrid’s Still Getting Back to Form
Honestly, it’s nice to see Real Madrid struggling with their defense for once. Everyone else does.
That’s not to say that I’m happy to see Marcelo out for three months – I feel really bad for him, especially since he hasn’t done anything really offensive in a while. Or that I was happy when Arbeloa got injured (once he told Sid Lowe during the Euro that he’d been reading Game of Thrones to escape the media, I forgave him for every bad thing he’d ever done, because, I mean, that’s awesome).
But while I feel for the players (other than Coentrao, who’s a thug), I do feel like the club kind of deserves the run of bad luck – and boy, did it continue against Dortmund, and I’m not at all convinced that it was even down to the injuries. Madrid were just bad. Pepe’s goal was the most useful defensive thing he did all game, because at least it made up for Dortmund’s, and Ramos and Casillas haven’t been at their best, either.
Madrid were poor against Dortmund, and they’re going to have to do better than that against stubborn Levante this weekend.