Football NewsThursday 29th September 2016

Champions League round-up: Brendan Rodgers is a football genius

Champions League round-up: Brendan Rodgers is a football genius

Brendan Rodgers is a football genius

City were largely, to use a technical term, plops. This is not surprising, given their defence has been suspect for a couple of years. Vincent Kompany’s absence doesn’t help, but nor does the presence of John Stones, Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta, Claudio Bravo, Aleksandar Kolarov or Nicolas Otamendi. Stones and Bravo may come good over the course of the season, and Kolarov’s passing from deep is an attacking threat, but at the moment that is a guff defence.

It might be part of a sophisticated set-up, and it might ultimately serve the team in such a way that it keeps many clean sheets, but we are all adults here, and don’t have to pretend. Celtic showed that if you attack them, and just as importantly have the chance to do so, they are nothing special in defence. This has been true, at times, for other Pep Guardiola teams. Brendan Rodgers might not be the greatest coach of all time, despite what he may think himself, but he may have shown English teams a momentary vulnerability of Manchester City.

Paris Saint-Germain can’t relax despite victory

PSG understandably sacked Laurent Blanc this summer. There was no reason to expect any further improvement, and they had done only adequately in Europe. Unai Emery had done more than adequately with Sevilla, and had done excellent work on a budget. Their quiet but apparently sensible business over the summer added depth to a squad that was looking to move on from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Emery was the kind of manager to provide attractive football without a surfeit of superstars. 

It hasn’t quite worked out like that so far, as PSG have already lost twice this season in the league. In their opening Champions League match, they were the more impressive team in a 1-1 draw with Arsenal, but it was nothing spectacular, especially as Edinson Cavani contributed his usual nightmare in attack.

Against Ludogorets, things threatened to get worse, as the game looked like it might drag to a 1-1 draw. The win keeps them in place to qualify for the next round, so far, but it will do little to settle their worries.

Atletico Madrid win, but won’t feel the benefit

On the face of it, it’s an enormous victory for Atletico Madrid. But after a few seconds considerations, it is more of the same. Beating Bayern Munich is testament to the quality of the side built by Diego Simeone, done so on a budget that scarcely compares, and with their best players leaving regularly. He keeps finding replacements, and he keeps the team functioning and improving despite the disruption to long-term plans. Simeone’s consistency is more remarkable for all the obstacles he negotiates to achieve it. But, ultimately, it doesn’t really ever matter. There is almost always someone richer, and always another team who have more money, talent and power, and take the eventual prize. He has his Liga trophy, and the Europa League, but no matter how much he sticks at the task, the chance of a repeat seems to get even further away. They will qualify for the knockout stages, but ultimate success is no closer.

Yannick Ferreira Carrasco of Atletico Madrid scores the winner against Bayern

Son continues to help Spurs live without Kane

Heung-min Son, we can conclusively conclude, is even better than Harry Kane. With Kane injured, Son has continued his excellent early-season form and represents the continued improvement that fans can expect for as long as they have Mauricio Pochettino at the club. Pochettino praised Son’s hard work over the summer, and suggested that this is the reason for his improvement. It appears that every one of the players in Pochettino’s squad is willing to work just as hard. As Emmanuel Adebayor showed, if you don’t buy into his ideas then he is happy to cut you out of his squad even if there is no immediate replacement.

Son’s goal, the only one of the game, gave Spurs a victory against CSKA Moscow. As the cliche goes, Russia is never an easy place to go to, and to take three points after the disappointment against Monaco earlier, was essential. Better teams would have failed, but this squad continues to promise even more than they delivered last season.

Leicester City are unsurprisingly surprising the Champions League

Leicester became the first English club to win their first ever two Champions League group stage games. They are almost assured of qualification, and should consider it a failure if they somehow balls it up. A win against Club Brugge was simple, and their home game against them should be another certain three points. WIth their victory over Porto, that means that they are likely to have at least nine points at the end of the group stages. Two games will be against the unimpressive FC Copenhagen, so nine will be the least they should expect to collect.

The victory against Porto was assured in a way that recalled the performance of the latter stages of last season. It wasn’t the thrilling, counter-attacking shock that they had perfected against teams, but a display that was determined to overcome nerves, and the quality of the opposition. Porto had chances, but most sides will in the Champions League, and Leicester displayed the advantage of taking one when it was presented to them. Islam Slimani scored to continue his excellent recent form, and already appears an upgrade on Jamie Vardy, with room for further improvement as he settles into the team.

Theo Walcott is ominously improving for Arsenal

It was only Basel, but that is the kind of team that Arsenal are well capable of losing too. As mentioned before, this side are giving customary glimpses of what they are capable of, in theory. There is still scant evidence that this will be turned into regular practice, but perhaps this really is their year (of course, it isn’t). Theo Walcott is emblematic of the upturn in Arsenal’s performances lately. In the past, he was a useless striker, a man who was a striker because he decided he was one, not because he had the talent to be one. He might still fall away over the course of the season, and indeed, it is sensible to assume he will because a) he is Theo Walcott and b) he plays for Arsenal. But for right now, his determined run to the back post, and failure to miss, and the goal at the weekend, when he was actually in the right position for a simple finish, suggest he might finally have started to play as is required.

Cristiano Ronaldo must wonder why he bothers

Cristiano Ronaldo is 31. He has kept himself in extraordinary physical condition, considering the many hundreds of games he has played, and the hours of rigorous exertion he subjects himself to in training. He has been booted up hole by rough-house defenders more than he will care to remember, and he has been clattered by midfielders as many times.

He’ll have been kicked, nudged, tripped and bludgeoned for having the gall to be excellent and the confidence to prove it. It has started to show, particularly over the last two. He is no longer as mobile or as explosively quick over short or long distances. To compensate for that, he has become ever more efficient, making sure that his efforts will result in as many goals as he can manage, and it would be no great shock if he were still to break more of his own scoring records over the course of a season.

All of which makes you wonder, when he looks around the rest of the Real Madrid team, the transfer policy, the pressure on a manager who only recently won the Champions League, and the mistake Keylor Navas made against Borussia Dortmund, why he doesn’t sit down and cry.