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Dublin: 13°C Monday 17 May 2021

5 things we learned from last night's Champions League action

Plenty of insights were gained on an evening in which Europe’s big guns didn’t have it all their own way.

Barcelona's Carles Puyol is carried on a stretcher after injuring his arm in a fall during their Champions League group G match with Benfica.
Barcelona's Carles Puyol is carried on a stretcher after injuring his arm in a fall during their Champions League group G match with Benfica.

1. United fail to take heed of Fergie’s criticisms

IN INTERVIEWS LEADING up to this week’s encounter with CFR Cluj-Napoca, Alex Ferguson suggested Manchester United’s defence needed to improve, following last Saturday’s error-ridden defeat to Tottenham.

These words, however, didn’t seem to have a particularly galvanising effect on Fergie’s troops.

Their defensive frailties were once again exposed early in the game, as Modou Sougou got the better of Patrice Evra down the right, before crossing to Pantelis Kapetanos, who was allowed far too much space and time to slot into the net.

Although Robin Van Persie’s opportunism subsequently got United out of jail against the underwhelming Romanian outfit, the likes of Ferdinand and Evans continued to look less than assured, and so, serious questions must be asked as to whether this back four remains good enough to compete at the highest level.

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2. The sky’s the limit for Lennon and Celtic

Ever since Martin O’Neill rejuvenated the Scottish side in the early noughties, they often punched above their weight in Europe, beating sides of the calibre of Barcelona, AC Milan and Gerrard Houllier-era Liverpool.

Nonetheless, amid these years of success, one accomplishment continually eluded them – an away victory in the Champions League.

However, yesterday, they finally recorded a first triumph away from Celtic Park in the competition since their win over Shamrock Rovers in 1986 – when it was known as the European Cup.

The defeat of Spartak Moscow, which few critics predicted they would achieve, has put them in a strong position in Group G.

While qualifying from the group will still prove difficult, especially as they have to play Barcelona twice, this impressive result coupled with their traditionally formidable home form in Europe, means many fans will feel slightly more confident of their progression than they were at the outset of the campaign.

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3. In terms of luck with injuries, Carlos Puyol could give Darren Anderton a run for his money

One could not help but think of the ex-Spurs midfielder following Puyol’s misfortune last night. Anderton was out of action so frequently that, on the back of his replica shirt, a fan once printed “injured” rather than a player name above his signature number nine jersey.

Similarly, Carlos Puyol, after suffering an injury that caused him to miss Spain’s triumphant Euro 2012 campaign, finally returned to the Barca side last night from a subsequent early-season injury he picked up, only to be sidelined once again, with a reported broken arm.

While Barca ultimately secured a routine 2-0 win against Benfica, the result was overshadowed by the excruciating-looking incident that led to the legendary Spanish international departing the field prematurely.

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4. Juan Mata doesn’t seem to appreciate being dropped/rested

Most people would have ultimately considered dropping/resting Juan Mata (Roberto Di Matteo will claim the latter, sensationalist football commentators will insist on the former) for Chelsea’s previous Champions League match with Juventus to be an astute move, given that the man who took his place in the team, Oscar, ended up scoring twice.

Yet not to be outdone, Juan Mata proceeded to emulate the Brazilian’s heroics against the hapless Nordsjaelland, as the visitors ultimately earned a comfortable 4-0 win. Perhaps Mata sought to prove a point, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can build on this performance against more taxing opposition.

Moreover, the absence of Eden Hazard from Chelsea’s star-studded starting line-up was another intriguing side-plot to the main event, with the most likely explanation being that Di Matteo felt reasonably confident his side could do without the Belgian international’s imperious ability against the lacklustre Danes.

And with players including Mata, Lampard, Hazard and Oscar all vying for selection, it remains to be seen how Di Matteo can accommodate so many attack-minded footballers of undoubted ability without disrupting the overall balance of the team. Therefore, if the Italian manager is to settle on a first choice XI, it seems unlikely he can simultaneously avoid bruising at least one star’s ego.

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5. Bayern’s Champions League final hangover has kicked in

Having lost the Champions League final in agonising fashion last May, it is perhaps no real surprise that Bayern Munich produced an uncharacteristically sloppy display last night.

Despite dominating for large parts of the game, they fell victim to the efficient counter-attacking play of Belarussian side BATE Borisov – a team not exactly renowned as European footballing giants and whose home stadium has a capacity of less than 6,000.

And the embarrassment of losing to a side who are only competing in the Champions League for the third time in their history was compounded by the ease in which BATE scored their goals, with the Bayern defence culpable to an extent on all three occasions.

Consequently, their chances of emulating last year’s feat of reaching the final, let alone winning the competition, will have lessened considerably in many people’s eyes, on account of this shock result.

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Read: Champions League wrap: Chelsea great against Danes as Bayern fail in Belarus>

Read: VIDEO: Probably the best corner routine you’ll ever see>

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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