Lessons from Chelsea, Man United, Man City & Stoke’s European tests
What did we learn from another instalment of knockout round European fixtures featuring English clubs this week?
The pressure builds on Villas-Boas
Sir Alex Ferguson once described Roman Abramovich as being “obsessed” with the Champions League. If this is the case, then Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas may be in a spot of bother. His side looked poor from front to back as they succumbed to a 3-1 defeat by Napoli in the first leg of the last-16 tie at the Stadio San Paolo. Incisive counter-attacks led by the excellent Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi stretched Chelsea’s back four repeatedly, as centre backs David Luiz and Gary Cahill looked more and more out of their depth as the 90 minutes went on.
Aguero on song as always – Silva and Yaya Toure back with a bang
Manchester City laid down a marker on Wednesday evening as they thumped Europa League holders Porto 4-0 at the Etihad Stadium, winning 6-1 on aggregate. Sergio Aguero scored after just 19 seconds from a perfectly threaded through ball by Yaya Toure. Toure was immense in midfield and showed what Roberto Mancini was missing when the Ivorian was awat at the Africa Cup of Nations. David Silva has had a quiet few weeks by his standards, but he was magnificent on Wednesday, and pulled the strings against a good European team. New loan signing David Pizarro was thrown on in the second half. He set up David Silva’s goal and scored his first for City.
Stoke’s dream is over
Not many of us expected much from Stoke as they attempted to claw back the one goal deficit in Valencia on Thursday, and history repeated itself as they were brushed aside by the Spanish team 1-0 again. Tony Pulis put out a second-string team and left out the likes of Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters, whilst he only named four substitutes. The result somewhat flattered Stoke, and Valencia outclassed Pulis’ side at the Mestalla as they ended the Potters’ plucky run in the competition.
Bad defending makes first-legs more watchable
Villas-Boas bemoaned the absence of John Terry after Chelsea’s defeat to Napoli. Possibly because he was left with the hapless and flappable pairing of David Luiz and Gary Cahill at centre back. Napoli proved in the group stages that they can turn defence into attack as well as anyone, but Luiz and Cahill seemed not to have been privy to this. Although he played brilliantly, both of Lavezzi’s goals were avoidable. For his first, he was given an eternity to line up his curling shot. The second came after Luiz limply knocked what should have been a routine clearance into Cavani’s hip, who squared to the Argentinian who slotted home. In fairness, both goalkeepers were called into action a number of times, as the slack defences allowed almost every attack to seep through the many cracks – setting up an mouthwatering second leg at Stamford Bridge.
United hold on, but look lacklustre at home again
Before the second leg against Ajax, Ferguson’s men looked a shoe-in to the last-16 with a 2-0 lead to protect. They got off to a flyer when Javier Hernández scored after just six minutes. However, Old Trafford has not been the fortress it once was in Europe, and United allowed Ajax to grow into the game. The Red Devils bowed out of the Champions League in the group stages, drawing with both Benfica and FC Basel at home. Thursday’s game was more of the same. Ajax got better and better, and managed to equalise before the half. More pressure and possession in the second period got the Dutch team a late winner on the night, but United held on, and kept the prospect of an all-Manchester final alive.