5 talking points from this week's Champions League action

Liverpool stumble once again, Messi and Ronaldo continue to thrill and other important issues.

Steven Gerrard leaves the pitch after the Champions League Group B soccer match between Ludogorets and Liverpool.
Steven Gerrard leaves the pitch after the Champions League Group B soccer match between Ludogorets and Liverpool.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

1. Wenger deserves patience and respect

EVERY TIME THE criticism of Arsene Wenger intensifies, he shows an uncanny ability to come up with a big result.

Wenger suffered the wrath of the English media following Arsenal’s loss to Man United at the weekend — a result that ensured the Gunners’ worst start to a domestic campaign in 32 years.

Yet by this stage, Wenger has been accused of having ‘lost the plot’ so many times over the years that the words no longer possess meaning.

Their 2-0 win over Dortmund saw them reach the last 16 of the Champions League for the 15th consecutive season — a feat no other Premier League team can match.

Therefore, last night’s game was a timely reminder, if any were needed, of the incredible influence Wenger has had on the club for almost two decades as manager there.

On the one hand, fans’ frustrations are understandable — they sit eighth in the league, with old familiar failings continuing to undermine the club, and an unwelcome sense of déjà vu threatening to tarnish the French manager’s image.

Yet surely Wenger, of all people, deserves the trust and support of the board — give him to the end of the season at least, as even now, few would be brave enough to bet against Arsenal securing Champions League football for the 18th consecutive year.

2. Liverpool on borrowed time in Champions League

Even if Liverpool pull off the victory needed to progress against Basel in their next European game, it’s difficult to see them going much further thereafter in the Champions League.

Despite having the good fortune to be drawn with two relatively weak sides, the Anfield club have consistently made life difficult for themselves, owing to their now almost routine moments of defensive ineptitude.

Both goals that Ludogorets scored were easily preventable and the visitors were fortunate that their opponents were similarly obliging down the other end of the field.

Nevertheless, in spite of these mishaps at the back, as with their recent loss to Real Madrid, there were also positives for Liverpool to take from the game, and it was not entirely disingenuous of Brendan Rodgers to subsequently declare himself satisfied with the team.

Rickie Lambert did a decent job leading the line in the conspicuous absence of Mario Balotelli, while the intelligent play of Lucas Leiva brought more balance to the midfield, with the Brazilian consequently reaffirming that he is one of the Premier League’s most under-appreciated midfielders.

Yet these minor improvements will all prove irrelevant if Rodgers’ side continue to demonstrate a penchant for defending set pieces in such a kamikaze fashion, as was the case for the Bulgarians’ decisive late equaliser last night.

3. Sergio Aguero deserves to feature in Champions League latter stages

Sergio Aguero famously said recently that he would not leave Manchester City until they won the Champions League, and the Argentine international is backing up these bold words with similarly audacious actions.

Aguero has scored an incredible 64 goals in 83 starts and 16 substitute appearances since joining City and when fit and on form, there are few players that any manager would rather have in their side.

And on Tuesday night, in a match that featured several world-class talents, Aguero ensured that there was only one name on people’s lips come the final whistle.

Granted, City are a patently superior outfit to Liverpool, but the manner in which Aguero managed to elevate an otherwise average performance from City against 10-man Bayern Munich was starkly comparable to the miracles that Luis Suarez produced with the Reds last season.

Whatever about their problems elsewhere, Manuel Pellegrini’s side will always have half a chance with the 26-year-old striker fit and in the team.

4. Chelsea look worth a punt

Chelsea are currently fourth favourites to win the Champions League behind Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.

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Nevertheless, on current form, the Londoners are arguably playing better than any team in Europe — an opinion backed up by their emphatic 5-0 win against Schalke on Tuesday in a game that coach Jose Mourinho indicated was their most impressive away performance of the season.

The club now haven’t lost competitively since last April, and domestically at least, look unstoppable.

Moreover, the accomplished manner of the performance was all the more impressive given that they had already all but secured qualification, yet still showed a noticeable degree of conviction to secure the all-important group top spot in emphatic fashion.

They do, of course, desperately need key men such as Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa to stay fit for substantial periods, but the same could surely also be said of all the club’s main rivals and their difference makers.

5. Messi-Ronaldo rivalry football’s answer to The Beatles versus The Beach Boys

Beatles legend Paul McCarthy freely admits that listening to The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album led to the creation of another musical masterpiece, Sgt Peppers.

Indeed, both groups spent a considerable portion of the 1960s trying to outdo one another, and were stronger individually as a consequence.

In footballing terms, there is an obvious comparison with the world’s two current best players — Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The pair seem compelled to share headlines, rather than letting one solely hog the limelight for even so much as a week. The past few days have been no exception to this general rule, with Messi breaking the Champions League goalscoring record on the same week that Ronaldo equalled Raul’s previous best tally.

The duo are civil towards one another in public, but the underlying tension that ostensibly exists between them has been well documented.

They were inevitably both destined to be great players regardless, but without one, would the other seem intent on being quite so relentlessly spectacular?

Brendan Rodgers pleased despite Ludogorets late show>

Alexis Sanchez doubles Arsenal’s lead with a Thierry Henry-esque strike>

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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