Friday 22 November 2019

Stephanie Roche's Champions League review: Petr Cech proves he was money well spent

Arsenal's Petr Cech celebrates after the final whistle
Arsenal's Petr Cech celebrates after the final whistle

Stephanie Roche

Week three in the Champions League was a relatively good one for the English clubs involved.

Wednesday night saw Manchester United come from a goal down rescue a point away to CSKA Moscow, while Manchester City put to bed their poor home form in the Champions League with a home win against a tricky Sevilla side.

On the previous night, Chelsea showed flashes of what they are capable of in a 0-0 draw away to Dynamo Kiev but the pick of this week's fixtures was the clash of Arsenal and German champions Bayern Munich.

It was a game which saw Petr Cech start his first Champions League match for the Gunners after Arsene Wenger had chosen to use David Ospina in the opening two games, much to the dismay of many Arsenal fans.

There is no doubt that Cech has been one of the best goalkeepers around in recent years and with Robert Lewandowski in the form he has been with 15 goals in his previous seven games for club and country, Cech was going to have to be at his best. And he was.

In a match where Arsenal defended with an assurance that has more often than not eluded them in the big games, Cech had to be on hand to pull off some fine saves.

Bayern were always going to have a lot of possession in the game and at times carved Arsenal open but they soaked up the pressure and kept them out.

Crucial saves from Cech gave them hope and in a way lifted the spirits of the team. It was a game that showed as a goalkeeper, one mistake can be devastating. Manuel Neuer will want to forget his part in Olivier Giroud's goal, although there was a hint in handball by the Frenchman, Neuer will know deep down he was accountable. A second goal from Mesut Ozil late on insured a memorable victory and reignites the Londoners hopes of making the knockout stages yet again.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho hasn't held back with his criticism of his players in recent weeks nor has he with his criticism of referees. Once again on Tuesday night the referee was a main talking point for Jose. Having been fined by the FA for his comments after Chelsea's defeat to Southampton, it seems Mourinho hasn't learned his lesson.

He branded Slovenian official Damir Skomina "weak and naive" after Tuesday's clash. His players will be happy that they weren't targeted though, instead he praised his players. In particular Nemanja Matic who was the stand out player for Chelsea.

Matic has had a tough time of late most notably the humiliation of been taking off 28 minutes after coming on as a substitute against Southampton.

Some critics have disagreed with Mourinho publicly criticising his players but his team have responded and as I said previously they showed glimpses of what they are capable of against Dynamo Kiev and in turn have kept their champions league campaign on track.

Kevin De Bruyne was the hero of the hour for Manchester City. His stoppage time winner gave City all three points at the Etihad. Sevilla took the lead through Yevhen Konoplyanka on 30 minutes but Wilfried Bony's deflected shot brought City level six minutes later. With Vincent Kompany on the bench, Manuel Pellegrini's defence was far from convincing at times and Sevilla caused a lot of problems. Kevin Gameiro squandered two very good opportunities and Konoplyanka's free kick struck the post and caused a goalmouth scramble but city survived and late on had De Bruyne to thank.

Elsewhere in the group Juventus failed to win at home to Borussia Monchengladbach as it finished 0-0 but Juve still remain top of the group with two wins and a draw from their first three matches.

It was a game of two halves for Anthony Martial on Wednesday night as he conceded a silly penalty kick in the first half and then scored a crucial equaliser in the second half. Manchester United started well and dominated possession but never seemed to be a threat.

There was an obvious lack of movement in forward areas for United and lone striker Wayne Rooney was left isolated at times. Contrary to United, CSKA had players like Seydou Doumbia and Ahmed Musa who with skill and pace were a threat to United on the break.

It was against the run play that CSKA won a penalty after good play from Mario Fernandes. Anthony Martial stuck his hand up as the right back hooked the ball over his head to give away a needless penalty.

David De Gea saved the resulting peno but Doumbia was quickest to react and fired the ball into the bottom corner. Manchester United had their own penalty claim five minutes previous but the referee waved away the claims of Anthony Martial after it seemed the defender had touched the ball before making contact with the player.

Half time saw the arrival of Marouane Fellaini to the match and as in the first half United started brightly and kept the ball well.

Chances again were few and far between though with Rooney coming closest but all he could do was flick his header towards goal and Igor Akinfeev dealt with easily enough.

It seemed like the elusive goal would never come for Louis Van Gaal's men.

Antonio Valencia had started to get forward quite a bit in the second half and it paid dividends when his cross found the head of Anthony Martial who powered his header into the bottom corner. All in all it wasn't a very entertaining game and although Manchester United could have created more chances I think they will be happy to take a draw away from their trip to Moscow. Wolfsburg are now top of the group after a 2-0 victory over PSV Eindhoven in the other match in the group.

Elsewhere Barcelona showed that they aren't missing Messi too much. Ivan Rakitic played a vital role in their 2-0 win over Bate Borisov. The Croatian scored both goals, the second of which was a delicate flick over the onrushing goalkeeper which Messi himself would have been proud of.

Real Madrid's trip to Paris Saint Germain was a bit of an anti climax as the game finished in a 0-0 draw the other game in the group between Malmo and Shakhtar saw Malmo win 1-0.

Valencia and Zenit are pulling away in their group. Valencia with a 2-1 win over Gent. And Hulk was once again on form as Zenit St Petersburg saw off Lyon in a 3-1 victory. 

And in Italy, Bayer Leverkusen got off to a fantastic start against Roma with Javier Hernandez scoring two early on, the former Manchester United man had a great chance for a hat trick with a header but failed to convert. Roma then scored 4 goals to make it 4-2 but Leverkusen scored twice in the last ten minutes to rescue a point.

In Group C, Galatasaray came away with a 2-1 win at home to Benfica while Atletico Madrid made easy work of Estana in a 4-0 victory. Porto claimed top spot in group G with a 2-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Olympiacos went level on top of Arsenal's Group F all side Bayern Munich with a 1-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb.

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