Champions League Wrap: Bayern’s brilliance, Mitroglu’s finishing continue
European champion Bayern Munich was outstanding against Manchester City while the second night of Matchday Two belonged to big-name players as Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Didier Drogba and Franck Ribery all scored. Here are the main story-lines of the night:
Bayern is a class apart
It may only be Matchday Two, but we have a clear favorite to win this season’s Champions League. Bayern Munich, reigning European champion, upped its level Wednesday night with a stunning 3-1 destruction of Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
Bayern was so dominant against City, which had its spine of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero all playing, that it looks most likely to make (recent) history and become the first team to retain its European Cup crown since AC Milan in 1990. “They are super favourites,” said Arsene Wenger earlier this week. Not for the first time this week, Arsene knows.
The biggest surprise was that Bayern only scored once in the first half, the score coming on Franck Ribery’s 30-yard effort that caught goalkeeper Joe Hart flat-footed and flew in at his near post. The goal highlighted several weaknesses for City. Ribery skipped past right back Micah Richards like he wasn’t there — David Alaba continued to do that – and when he broke into the middle, the space around him was huge.
Ribery’s goal will also lead to a frenzied debate in England about the form of Hart, whose lapses have become worryingly regular in the last year. With nine days until England plays the first of two crucial World Cup qualifiers, the spotlight will be on Hart’s place. Coach Roy Hodgson will probably keep him for the games against Montenegro and Poland and then use friendlies (if England qualifies) to trial other candidates, among whom could be Fraser Forster, John Ruddy and — when he’s back from injury — Ben Foster. As the German commentator put it, “Joe Hart is England’s best goalkeeper, but hey, he is still an English goalkeeper.”
It got worse for Hart in the second half. After an early rally from City, Dante caught Gael Clichy dozing, and Thomas Muller pounced on his long through ball to double the lead.
Minutes later came the sucker punch: Toni Kroos tackling Fernandinho on halfway, releasing Arjen Robben, who cut outside Matija Nastasic and lashed a right-footed shot past Hart.
“That’s the second time he’s been beaten at his near post. He has to do better there,” said Gary Neville, who as well as being a TV pundit is also England’s assistant coach. It will be interesting to hear Hart’s reaction to that.
If this was a chance for Fernandinho and Yaya Toure to stamp their authority on the game, they were absent. Toure, in particular, had a poor first period, hardly proving a point to Bayern manager Pep Guardiola, who dropped him for Sergio Busquets at Barcelona in 2009, much to the Ivorian’s chagrin.
Tore had played 40 games in the season Barcelona won all six competitions but was then left out for the local boy. “I didn’t understand it. I had given my body and soul and all of a sudden, with no word I was pushed aside,” Toure said last season. “Pep spent a whole year without talking to me. I feel valued more at City because while at Barcelona I played just in defense, at City I have greater freedom and can play anywhere.”
This was a night to forget for City, despite Alvaro Negredo’s nicely-taken consolation goal and Jerome Boateng’s late red card for a professional foul on Toure. Bar the last ten minutes, the City performance was shambolic, reminiscent of previous European shockers under Roberto Mancini. But even if City had been at its best, I doubt it could have kept in touch with this Bayern team. Guardiola has taken a team that won the treble last season and made it better.
Olympiakos has a Greek legend
Talk about in-form players. Olympiakos striker Kostas Mitroglu scored his third hat trick in seven games as the Greek champion Olympiakos coasted past Anderlecht 3-0 in Group C. His first two were from a combined distance of six yards, but his third was one of the goals of the night: a curling effort from outside the area that will seal Anderlecht’s position as wooden spoon in the group and might give the Greeks hope that it could topple Benfica for second spot.
Olympiakos also owes some credit to goalkeeper Roberto. On Matchday One he stopped a Zlatan Ibahimovic penalty. Tonight, he kept out Aleksandr Mitrovic from 12 yards.
Group C now has a clear favorite, though, as Paris Saint-Germain eased past Benfica with Ibrahimovic scoring twice, sandwiched around a Marquinhos goal. This was a dominant performance from PSG, with Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi impressive in midfield. Motta’s corners again caused havoc while Verratti put in his best performance of the season.
One small headache for Laurent Blanc was the quiet performance of Edinson Cavani (whom the coach called Edison in the pre-match conference). His partnership with Zlatan has yet to ignite. There is the time for that to develop. PSG seems certain to make it to the next round, so Blanc has five months or so to work on it.
High drama in Group B
What was that about Roberto Mancini and his European record? Okay, so he’s only been in charge of Galatasaray for one day, but the Italian, whose record in the Champions League was always the greatest knock on him, almost turned around the look of Group B within 36 hours of his arrival.
Faced with a tricky trip to Juventus and the chance against an old rival from his playing and coaching days in Italy, Antonio Conte, Mancini looked to have the perfect start to his career in Turkey when Didier Drogba reacted quicker than Gigi Buffon to a back-pass and scored the visitor’s opener.
Juventus pushed hard in the second half and leveled with an Arturo Vidal penalty on 77 minutes. Ten minutes later Fabio Quagliarella thought he had won the game for the Italian champion only to see Umut Bulut, on as a sub for Wesley Sneijder, snatch a dramatic equalizer. The result leaves Juventus with two points from its first two games and facing a double-header against Real Madrid: not a great position to be in.
Madrid, meanwhile, eased past FC Copenhagen 4-0 thanks to two headers from Cristiano Ronaldo and two excellent strikes from Angel di Maria, playing for the injured Gareth Bale. Ronaldo now has five goals in two Champions League games, taking advantage of Lionel Messi’s absence yesterday to gain a lead in the top scorers’ list.
Iker Casillas also returned to the side and made some decent saves in the second half. He can expect to return to the bench for Diego Lopez at the weekend.
After two matches, Madrid is in pole position, and could make life for Juventus very difficult in the next two Matchdays.