Carrick, Pochettino, Thiago among Champions League winners and losers…


The caretaker manager and the current favourite to become Manchester United’s next boss had contrasting weeks in the Champions League on matchday five…

 

Winners

Michael Carrick
The interim-interim Manchester United manager had two days to stamp his mark on a woefully underperforming side and with a couple of tweaks, Carrick inspired a rare clean sheet and serene progress into the Champions League knockout stages.

Dropping Bruno Fernandes to the bench was Carrick’s headline call and it was certainly a ballsy move. Fernandes would be way down the list of players culpable for United’s slump under Solskjaer, but like the sacked boss, Carrick felt unable to play Donny van de Beek in a deeper role.

Fernandes reacted to his omission by coming off the bench for the final 25 minutes, which was long enough for the Portuguese playmaker to set up another goal, in doing so becoming the first player for an English club to provide an assist in each of the opening five games of a Champions League campaign.

No doubt Fernandes will have been raging to have been dropped but for Carrick it was a power-play that paid off. It contributed to a performance which was just enough to get the job done for United while demonstrating that Solskjaer’s former assistant is his own man, even if Paul Scholes reckons he was guilty by association in the axeing of the ex-boss.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo
Like Fernandes, Ronaldo maintained his momentum in the Champions League, with his 799th career goal breaking the deadlock in Villarreal.

His 78th-minute lob continued his run of having scored in every Champions League game this season.

But sure, he’s the problem.

 

Jadon Sancho
While Ronaldo racks up the goals, Sancho was just delighted to get his first in Manchester United colours.

A 90th-minute ripsnorter got the winger off the mark for his new-ish club, capping perhaps his best performance yet since moving for £72million in the summer.

It’s hardly a coincidence that it came as a starter on the right side of United’s attack. Solskjaer has made a number of strange calls this season, but few as perplexing as his refusal to play the winger in the position for which he was bought.

Under Carrick or whoever’s turn it is to sit in the United hot-seat next, Sancho now deserves a run of games on the right. And for the next boss, demonstrating that they can tease some form from the England star is an easy win, even if it is common sense: players play better in their preferred position.

 

Man City
City also proved something we already knew while wrapping up group A: a well-drilled team will always outperform a rabble of individuals.

That is a succinct summary of the fare on offer at the Etihad on Wednesday night. City, missing arguably their three biggest attacking threats, were utterly dominant over a PSG side that continue to satisfy the whims of their three biggest attacking threats.

The 2-1 scoreline was not an adequate reflection of that domination. In the first half, Pep’s XI mesmerised Poch’s VIII-plus-III, with only some panicky last-ditch defending and a lack of ruthlessness preserving parity at the break.

PSG’s make-up means they have no option but to defend that way – more on that later. But City were a joy to watch in a game Guardiola will doubtless reflect upon as one of the favourites of his reign.

Victory secured top spot – again. That’s five seasons in succession that City have qualified from the group as winners. Never have they looked better equipped to take that dominance into, and through, the knockout stages.

 

Bernardo Silva
This is ridiculous…

 

Chelsea’s academy
The holders’ victory over Juventus was one made almost entirely in Cobham.

The scorers of their opening three goals, Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Trevoh Chalobah joined Chelsea aged, seven, eight and nine respectively. For only the third time in Champions League history did three English players net in a match for a single side.

Thomas Tuchel nailed it: “This is what makes teams special, not only the superstars  and the best players form abroad, but it’s the mix, to have talented and humble guys from the academy who it’s their biggest dream to perform in blue and be part of a strong Chelsea team.”

Juventus are a shadow of their former selves but their Champions League record was flawless before turning up at Stamford Bridge. Battering the Old Lady sent another message to the rest of Europe while taking over at the top of the group.

 

Tyler and Thiago
With Liverpool already having p*ssed the Group of Death, Jurgen Klopp could do what he wanted for the visit of Porto. The Reds boss swerved the temptation to stitch up Diego Simeone by balancing rotation with a desire to maintain their perfect record so far, which was achieved thanks in no small part to an unfamiliar partnership in the middle of the park.

Klopp gave Tyler Morton his Premier League debut in a cosy last few minutes while 4-0 up against Arsenal at the weekend but the teenager’s inclusion against a dangerous Porto side was a far bigger show of faith.

The young midfielder, who joined his boyhood club aged seven, justified that faith with a performance full of the industry and technical quality Klopp expects. He might not be ready yet to fill the hole that still exists in Liverpool’s midfield, but Morton appears ready for greater responsibility.

Some consistency from Thiago could fill that void and the Spain midfielder turned in one of his better performances for Liverpool, crowned by the type of strike that can only be described via the medium of Patrick Bateman’s face…

via GIPHY

 

Record-breaking Reds
Mo Salah’s goal, gorgeous in a different way, means Liverpool have now scored two or more goals in 16 consecutive matches – the best run for an English side since Wolves in 1939.

 

AC Milan
Former fridge deliveryman Junior Messiahs chose a bloody good time to score his first Milan goal when the Rossoneri were moments from elimination.

Now, after Messiah’s 87th-minute header, Milan remain in the hunt for a last-16 place or even a Europa League spot that looked unlikely when they began the group stage with three successive defeats.

Their win in Madrid was nothing more than they deserved. Stefano Pioli’s men were braver than Atletico, though they had little other choice. Anything but their first Champions League victory in over eight years would have made progress impossible.

Now, after Messiah’s late bench-emptier, Milan have the momentum, even if they are reliant on results elsewhere.

 

Sebastien Haller
Move over, Erling Haaland…

 

Edin Dzeko
It was a landmark night too for Dzeko, who while bagging his 49th and 50th European goals sealed Inter’s place in the last 16 for the first time in a decade.

The Nerazzuri can still take top spot from Real Madrid if they win at the Bernabeu in a fortnight.

 

RB Leipzig 
No coach or captain? no problem…

Leipzig splattered Club Brugge 5-0 in Belgium to earn their first Champions League win of the season and move above their hosts in the race for the consolation of Europa League spot. Which they achieved while coach Jesse Marsch and skipper Peter Gulacsi were back in Germany with a dose of the ‘rona.

Christopher Nkunku helped himself to another couple of goals to take his tally to seven goals in five Champions League games. Only Haller and Robert Lewandowski have scored more.

 

 

Losers

Donny van de Beek and Anthony Martial
It’s hardly fair to glean from an uninspiring 65 minutes that maybe Solskjaer was right all along, but Van de Beek did himself few favours on a rare start for Manchester United.

Nor did Martial, but we’ve come to expect that from him. His inclusion was a bigger surprise than Van de Beek’s but his failure to assert himself on the game far less so.

One of Van de Beek’s problems is that whoever manages United will not drop Fernandes long-term to accommodate the Dutchman. So he must battle for one of the deeper roles but Carrick, like Solskjaer, seems unwilling to trust Van de Beek in a double pivot.

 

PSG
PSG’s defeat highlighted just why Pochettino is willing to swap the glamour of Paris for the dumpster fire at Manchester United.

Pochettino cannot manage PSG, with this squad, in the way he might wish. Within his XI, Poch is managing two teams: a front three that come and go as they please, and a back eight that try as they might cannot make up for their privileged team-mates’ refusal to do the dirty work.

Contrary to popular opinion, not every team with eyes on the biggest prizes must press from the front like rabid dogs but any side serious about their ambitions needs all their players to buy in to the defensive side of the game. Even if that means simply retreating behind the ball.

But Neymar, Messi and Mbappe appear unwilling to do even that bare minimum. Perhaps they can get away with that in Ligue 1 – the table certainly suggests so – but opponents beyond the group stage will pick PSG off in a similar way City did at the Etihad.

At the Parc Des Princes, under these conditions, Pochettino is doomed to fail. At least at Old Trafford, he would be allowed to screw it up his own way.

 

Atletico Madrid  
Jurgen Klopp is the least of Diego Simeone’s problems this morning…

Atletico now sit at the bottom of Group B after a gut-punch of a defeat at the Wanda Metropolitana, their third in succession.

In some ways, Simeone asked for it. Liverpool actually did Atletico a favour by dealing with Porto, which Simeone was presumably aware of if his substitutions are any indication. With a draw almost as mush use as a win, Atletico retreated deeper and deeper, allowing Milan the opportunity to feed on their desperation for a victory, which duly came in the 87th minute.

Mercifully for Simeone, in the group of death, Atletico still have a pulse. The Rojiblancos, Milan and Porto can all qualify, drop into the Europa League or tumble out of Europe completely. But Atletico’s fate is not in their own hands, nor is Milan’s, but the Rossoneri will be far more satisfied with the current state of play than their vanquished hosts.

 

Barcelona
Our early losers are precisely where they deserve to be. And it could have been a lot worse…

 

Haris Seferovic
Barca’s fate is in their own hands, even if they have to go and win at Bayern. But Benfica would have leapfrogged Barca into second place had their striker not done this in the 93rd minute…

Jorge Jesus didn’t take it well…

“I’m devastated. In 30 years as a coach, I’ve never seen anything like this. But it happened. To me and to Benfica.”

 

 

Juventus
Being thrashed by Chelsea represented the first dropped points of Juve’s campaign so far but Tuttosport cared little for the fact they have already qualified.

Their performance was described as ‘shameless’ and ‘unwatchable’ and contributed to the Old Lady’s heaviest-ever defeat in the Champions League and their biggest loss since 2004.

Wojciech Szczesny has now conceded more goals at Stamford Bridge this season than Edouard Mendy but it could have been a lot worse for Juve without several saves from the keeper.

He called it a ‘tragic’ display as Juve meekly surrendered top spot in the group.

 

Malmo
Despite being the Group H whipping boys, Malmo could still have kept themselves in hunt for a Europa League place by beating Zenit.

They scored their first goal of the group stage and saved a spot-kick to take a lead into added time before they were undone by a ridiculously-soft penalty award in the 92nd minute.

Not that clinching the Europa League berth spared Zenit. Andrey Arshavin reflected on a performance that ‘leaves a feeling of sadness’ while his punditry colleague Vladimir Bystrov called the Russians ‘cowardly’.

 

Borussia Dortmund
Dortmund improved slightly on some wretched performances so far but still they succumbed to a 3-1 defeat at Sporting Lisbon to exit the Champions League with a whimper.

“Just a rubbish evening,” reflected Marco Reus. “We’re discussing the same mistakes over and over again.”

Those individual mistakes have hurt Dortmund more than injuries and suspensions, even if Bild pinpointed the absence of their leading marksman: ‘Really bad – No Haaland, no chance!’

To the Europa League they go.

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