Manchester City and Arsenal’s Champions League hopes are left hanging by a thread after both sides lost their home legs 2-0 this week. While they are clearly two of the top teams in a very competitive Premier League, Europe’s big guns come from Spain and Germany.
First lets go to Tuesday night and the much anticipated game at the Etihad. Manchester City were many people’s favourites as a result of some of their superb performances this season. Barcelona, on the other hand, were wrongly written off by some people.
The Catalans proved the doubters wrong against City as they comfortably controlled possession for long periods of the game. Their game plan was simple and effective. The Spaniards knew the threat City posed if they were given the ball so Barca did not leave that happen and quietened the City faithful. Barcelona were not even at their best as they created few chances until Demichelis got sent off.
Man City had their own moments. Manuel Pelligrini was very critical of the referee but his team selection has to be criticised. Demichelis is effectively an accident waiting to happen and cost City dearly, Joleon Lescott would have been a much better option. The decision to leave a player of the ability of Samir Nasri on the bench who has been fantastic this season has to be questioned; Pelligrini opted for caution in selecting Kolarov. This was not the first time Pelligrini has gotten things wrong in big games. Negredo was a threat but the loss of Sergio Aguero was a bad break for City, he is effectively their Lionel Messi. Messi converted the penalty as expected and Barca had their away goal, there was a feeling if City could keep it to 1-0, they were still in the tie. However Alves’ late goal was a bad blow and a 2-0 deficit looks a tall order at the Nou Camp for City as good as they are. Barcelona are big contenders in Europe again this year, while City might have to settle for domestic success.
863 passes compared to Arsenal’s 222, 78% possession, 26 attempts on goal compared to Arsenal’s 8. Bayern were simply dominant. People will say Arsenal being down to ten men contributed but Bayern showed us why they are the best side in the world. Toni Kroos was outstanding. Arsenal made a bright start and had Bayern penned back with some good football and energy for the first 15 minutes or so. Arsenal got their chance when Mesut Ozil was brought down by the clumsy Dante but his poor penalty summed up his current form, he just doesn’t seem like the same player as he was last season at the Bernabeu.
Ozil’s alarming dip in form couldn’t have come at a worse time. If Giroud was on the pitch for the penalty things could have been different. The missed penalty deflated the Emirates and Bayern began to stamp their authority on the game, Arsenal’s soft mentality came to fruition. Arsenal have been unlucky with red cards and penalties in big European games and Wednesday night was no different as Wojciech Szczesny was given his marching orders. His gesture as he went into the tunnel highlighted the palpable frustration at the Emirates.
Cazorla was sacrificed for Fabianski and with Kieran Gibbs off injured Arsenal were in trouble. David Alaba missed the resulting spot kick but it was always going to be an uphill battle with ten men against the European Champions. The likes of Kroos, Thiago, Lahm and Goetze had a field day. Bayern totally controlled the rest of the game and got their reward through a super strike from the brilliant Toni Kroos and a late Thomas Muller header surely put the tie beyond Arsenal. Another disappointing Champions League exit looks on the agenda for the Gunners. Bayern will take some stopping.
As a result of topping their respective groups Chelsea and Manchester United will fancy their chances of advancing. United are vulnerable to losing to a lot of mediocre teams this season but the Champions League is their only hope of salvaging a disappointing season. Surely United will do the business against an Olympiakos side who sold their star striker Kostas Mitroglou to Fulham.
Meanwhile, it’s Drogba against his old club and Mourinho against Mancini as Chelsea face a tricky trip to Galatasaray. However over the two legs you’d expect Chelsea to advance. Chelsea represent England’s best hope of a winner this season, it will be interesting how they perform if they come up against Bayern, Real or Barca. It is very difficult to see United gaining Champions League glory but stranger things have happened. The general feel is the trophy will either stay in Germany or be on its way to Spain. English clubs have a little catching up to do.
Pundit Arena, Vincent O’ Shea.