Champions League – Matchday Four Review (Wednesday)

by Ger McCarthy

Manchester United and Manchester City recorded important victories on Matchday Four of the Champions League to move a step closer to qualifying for the last sixteen. Real Madrid made it through to the knockout phase thanks to a fourth consecutive win on the same evening Bayern Munich, Ajax and Inter Milan secured vital home victories.

Group A

A Villarreal side shorn of the talents of seven first team regulars proved no match for Roberto Mancini’s expensively assembled squad at the Estadio El Madrigal on Wednesday evening. Man City recorded a second consecutive victory over their Spanish opponents to move into second place in Group A following a merited 3-0 win. David Silva released Yaya Toure on the half hour and the City midfielder evaded a defender before firing home.

City dominated possession for the remainder of the opening period and made it 2-0 in first half injury time. Mario Balotelli was fouled in the penalty box and dusted himself down before converting the ensuing spot-kick to send the Premier League leaders in with a comfortable lead at the interval. The Yellow Submarine made life as difficult as possible for City in the second period but spent much of the remainder of the tie defending their goal and only threatening sporadically.

Yaya Toure capped a fine individual display with the third and match-winning goal in the 71st minute. Toure split the entire Villarreal defence with a burst from midfield and slipped the ball past Diego Lopez to complete an impressive win.

Bayern Munich and Napoli played out a five goal thriller in the Fusball Arena in Munich with the home side edging the final result 3-2. Both sides had opportunities in a positive opening to the tie Munich striker Mario Gomez broke the deadlock after 17 minutes with a terrific turn and finish. Gomez executed a marvellous volley six minutes later to make it 2-0 and the Bayern hit-man completed a first half hat-trick minutes before the interval to seemingly secure the points.

Napoli struck back in first half injury-time when Federico Fernandez thumped a header home to reduce the deficit. The home side lost Bastian Schweinsteiger to injury before Napoli’s Zuniga received his second yellow card of the evening and was sent off. Bayern then lost defender Badstuber after a second yellow card resulted in his dismissal and worse was to follow when Fernandez’s second of the evening made it 3-2. Munich held on for a vital win and remains top of Group A with two rounds of fixtures remaining.

Next Up
Group A – Matchday Five: Napoli vs. Manchester City and Bayern Munich vs. Villarreal

 

Group B

Inter Milan need one win from their remaining two Group B Champions League fixtures to secure a place in the knockout phase of the competition following a Matchday Four victory at home to Lille. There was a bright opening to proceedings with Lille looking to get forward at every opportunity but Inter were the ones to score first when Walter Samuel rose highest to head into the net for a 1-0 lead. This Group B fixture had extra significance as Inter were fielding the oldest Champions League team in the competition’s history.

 

Diego Milito hit the Lille crossbar but the Ligue 1 side created the better chances until the Argentinean striker sealed Inter’s win with a fine effort. Javier Zanetti’s powerful run and cross found Milito inside the box and the Inter hit-man flicked a first time effort into the net to make it 2-0. De Melo came off the bench to pull one back for Lille late on put it proved a mere consolation as Claudio Ranieri’s men ran out deserving winners.

CSKA Moscow and Trabzonspor drew 0-0 in Turkey in a result which leaves both sides level on five points apiece with two rounds of games remaining. The visitors Seydou Doumbia was sent off 20 minutes from the end but CSKA held on for a precious point and look the favourites to grab the second qualification berth behind Inter from Group B.

Next Up
Group B – Matchday Five: CSKA Moscow vs. Lille and Trabzonspor vs. Inter Milan

 

Group C

Manchester United made it back to back 2-0 wins over Otelul Galati to stay joint-top of Group C in the Champions League following a difficult night at Old Trafford. The hosts got off to the best possible start with an opening goal inside the first 10 minutes. Dimitar Berbatov released Phil Jones down the right wing and the United defender’s low cross took a deflection before landing at the feet of winger Antonio Valencia who side footed home from three yards out.

With Wayne Rooney pulling the strings in midfield an expectant Old Trafford crowd sat back and waited for a deluge of goals. Instead it was the visitors who moved up a gear and caused some moments of panic in the United area with some incisive counter-attacking. Phil Jones had a close range effort blocked before David De Gea had to be on his toes to flick away another Galati effort.

The Romanians continued to press forward forcing a succession of corners which had the Manchester United defence scrambling to clear on occasions. The home side showed signs of life midway through the second period with Anderson seeing a shot hacked off the line and Berbatov finding the side-netting with only the goalkeeper to beat.

Wayne Rooney finally broke Galati’s stubborn resistance with a second and match-clinching effort two minutes from time. The United playmaker was afforded far too much time and space 20 yards from goal before unleashing a thunderous effort which took a wicked deflection off defender Sarghi before nestling in the back of the net.

Benfica kept pace with Manchester United at the summit of Group C but only after a hugely disappointing 1-1 draw at home to FC Basel in Lisbon. The Portuguese side wasted a glorious opportunity to put two points between themselves and Sir Alex Ferguson’s team after throwing away an early lead and allowing Basel back into the tie.

Rodrigo opened the scoring after only four minutes had elapsed after latching onto a Gaitan flick and expertly volleying the ball into the top corner of the net for one of the best goals in this season’s Champions League. Benfica went on to dominate possession for long stretches but failed to convert their dominance into goals and FC Basel made them pay in the 64th minute. Benjamin Huggel raced into the box and connected with a deep cross to earn the visitors a point and severely dent Benfica’s qualification aspirations.

Next Up
Group C – Matchday Five: Otelul Galati vs. FC Basel and Manchester United vs. Benfica

 

Group D
Jose Mourinho’s in-form Real Madrid secured qualification for the knockout phase of this season’s Champions League with a fourth consecutive Group D victory on Wednesday evening. Real travelled to the Stade de Gerland and overcame the challenge of Lyon thanks to a virtuoso display from the mercurial Ronaldo.

The French side proved no match for a rampant Madrid display and in truth, were it not for the brilliance of Lyon shot-stopper Lloris the final margin would have been much wider. Real hit the front after 24 minutes when Karim Benzema won a free kick just outside the penalty area and Ronaldo made no mistake with a curling effort to put the visitors one up.

Real secured their fourth Champions League win in as many games when Ronaldo was brought down in the box by Mouhamadou Dabo and recovered to convert the ensuing spot-kick.

Ajax moved into outright second place in Group D thanks to a one-sided 4-0 defeat of Dinamo Zagreb at the Amsterdam ArenA. Christien Eriksen was the best player on the pitch and set the tempo for a wonderful Ajax display with his incisive passing and movement. Eriksen setup Gregory van der Wiel for the home side’s opener with an impudent back heel after 20 minutes.

Miralem Sulejmani finished off a flowing Ajax move five minutes later to make it 2-0 and the Dutch side made sure of their victory when Siem de Jong connected with a Christien Eriksen pass and fired home from 12 yards out. There was still time for Nicolas Lodeiro to angle a terrific first time effort into the net deep into injury time as Ajax ran out deserving 4-0 winners.

Next Up
Group D – Matchday Five: Real Madrid vs. Dinamo Zagreb and Lyon vs. Ajax

Follow Ger on Twitter: @offcentrecircle

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