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5 things we learned from this week's Champions League action

We assess Manchester United’s draw with Real Madrid, plus the problems with referees in the competition.

Manchester United's Phil Jones and Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (right) battle for the ball during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 match at Santiago Bernabeu.
Manchester United's Phil Jones and Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (right) battle for the ball during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 match at Santiago Bernabeu.

1. The referees need to up their game

IN TUESDAY’S GAME between Celtic and Juventus, it was obvious to everyone watching that infringements were regularly occurring at corners in the penalty area.

Yet instead of applying common sense and awarding a penalty, the referee invariably chose to ignore these incidents and even booked the Celtic players for complaining at times.

This tiresome habit of players grabbing each other’s jerseys has been indulged by UEFA and referees for far too long, and unless they act on it, the game will continue to lose credibility as a result.

Moreover, the performance of the referee in the PSG-Valencia tie was equally inept, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s extremely harsh sending off among several officiating gaffes evident on the night.

2. Lennon gets big decision wrong

Neil Lennon has been spot on in most of his decision-making in the Champions League this season, with his highly astute tactics integral to Celtic’s shock victory over Barcelona.

However, he made one error of judgement ahead of Tuesday’s tie with Juventus that looks like ultimately playing a large part in costing the club their place in the competition.

Choosing to start Efe Ambrose, only just after he had completed an exhaustive trip back from African Cup of Nations duty, seemed unwise even prior to the game, and so it proved.

The defender was at fault for two of Celtic’s three goals and also missed a glorious opportunity to score a header at a crucial point in the match.

Ambrose deserves a degree of sympathy, given that the defender would have found it very difficult to turn down the chance to play in one of the biggest matches of his career, but Lennon surely should have realised the peril he was putting his team in by selecting the Nigerian international.

3. Phil Jones is an accomplished midfielder

Ahead of United’s game with Real Madrid last night, some of the English club’s fans were surprised and somewhat concerned at the prospect of Phil Jones being asked to do a job in midfield – an unnatural position for someone who is primarily regarded as a centre back.

Indeed, perhaps such reservations were justified to a degree, given the player’s lack of game time this season, coupled with the fact that Fergie’s tendency to deploy makeshift central midfielders – Alan Smith and Rio Ferdinand spring to mind – often end in failure.

However, last night Jones was crucial in helping United secure a result that has put them in a very healthy position for the second leg.

Aside from one clumsy challenge on Di Maria that could have resulted in a penalty, the ex-Blackburn man gave a performance full of intelligence and commitment, silencing his critics in the process.

4. Dortmund back up the hype

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Given the impressive nature of their performances against Man City among others, many have suggested Dortmund are more than capable of repeating their 1997 feat of winning the Champions League.

The German club undoubtedly possess the talent to triumph, with players such as Robert Lewandowski and Mario Goetze among the finest to grace the competition.

And indeed, the aforementioned two combined well for Dortmund’s opening goal against Shakhtar Donetsk last night.

Moreover, the Germans also demonstrated a significant degree of resolve to complement their technical mastery, with Mats Hummels’ late header earning them a hard-earned point against a strong Shakhtar outfit.

Consequently, they are now favourites to progress in the tie, and will undoubtedly be fancied to go even further in the competition thereafter.

5. PSG dark horses for Champions League crown

Given the degree of rapid change that’s occurred at PSG in such a short space of time, it’s reasonable to suggest that the side remains a work in progress.

And owing to their relative lack of experience with such circumstances, many observers were perhaps expecting a Man City-style flop in this year’s Champions League.

However, the impressive manner in which they beat Valencia away from home the other night suggests otherwise.

They outclassed the Spanish outfit for the most part, and the 2-1 scoreline barely reflected the level of dominance which the visitors enjoyed.

Therefore, suddenly the price of 16/1 on PSG winning the competition seems somewhat tempting.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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