One Barcelona player in Champions League team of week and it's not Lionel Messi

Chris Bailey 22/02/2018
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The dust has settled on the Champions League round-of-16 first legs and several clashes remain on a knife’s edge, while other top teams are on cruise control into the quarter-finals.

Below we pick out the best performers from this week’s action as Man United escaped from Sevilla with a 0-0 draw, Lionel Messi denied a famous win for Chelsea, Bayern Munich battered Besiktas and Shakhtar Donetsk slipped a 2-1 victory past Roma.

GK – David De Gea (Manchester United)

No matter how many expensive attackers United bring in, their best player remains the one at the very back.

His right glove was a blur as he palmed away Luis Muriel’s point-blank header, but that was only one of many saves as he somehow dragged the Red Devils back to Old Trafford with a clean sheet.

RB – Jesus Navas (Sevilla)

The diminutive Spaniard may not be back in his favoured position, but he is back in his element with Sevilla.

The winger-turned-right-back made a team-best four interceptions against United and helped keep a rather lousy Alexis Sanchez at bay.

CB – Yaroslav Rakitskiy (Shakhtar Donetsk)

Perhaps the most unfamiliar name on this list made his presence known in both a defensive and attacking sense in Shakhtar’s fine 2-1 win over Roma.

His long pass from defence picked out Facundo Ferreyra for the equaliser and he coped well against the high-powered Giallorossi front line of Edin Dzeko, Diego Perotti and an in-form Cengiz Under.

CB – Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

He did make a mistake – diving in a little recklessly on Andres Iniesta after Andreas Christensen’s fateful pass across goal – but that should not overshadow a superb performance against Barcelona.

Marshalling a back three that contained inexperience in Christensen and a rash Antonio Rudiger, his six interceptions, three clearances and one blocked shot tell much of the story.

LB – David Alaba (Bayern Munich)

His team-mate Joshua Kimmich could easily have flanked him on the right as Bayern’s full-backs ran riot against 10-man Besiktas.

The Austrian provided the assist for Thomas Muller’s opener and Bayern did not look back from there.

DM – Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)

This spot could easily have gone to N’Golo Kante, who nipped at Lionel Messi’s relentlessly at Stamford Bridge, but Sergio Busquets stopped Barcelona from unravelling in the face of the blue wave.

The Spain international completed a staggering 128 passes – more than any Barcelona player in any game this season – while also recovering the ball 10 times. The poor performances of Ivan Rakitic and Paulinho only underlines his contribution.

CM – Ever Banega (Sevilla)

Another midfielder who deserved more out of the game if not for the lacklustre efforts of his team-mates.

Banega put Paul Pogba in the shade and created 10 chances for Sevilla against United, but the profligacy of the likes of Luis Muriel meant that the hosts drew a blank.

CM – Fred (Shakhtar Donetsk)

It is easy to see why Manchester City are being linked with the Brazilian – he is the heir apparent to Fernandinho, a Shakhtar old boy himself, based on his showing against Roma.

The spectacular winner aside, Fred made a crunching five tackles and was a marauding presence from midfield. He has plenty of rough edges but he’s waiting for Pep Guardiola to get his polish out.

FW – Willian (Chelsea)

Not Lionel Messi, not Eden Hazard – it was Brazilian Willian who lit up Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night.

He clattered the post twice before finally finding the net with a sumptuous finish and what’s more, completed six dribbles and four key passes according to whoscored.com. A genuine 10 out of 10 display.

ST – Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

Easy pickings Besiktas may have been, but Robert Lewandowski sure knows how to pick out the back of the net.

He drew the foul that saw Vida earn his early bath and his late double means the Poland international has scored an incredible 19 goals in his last 17 Champions League games at Allianz Arena.

FW – Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich)

The ‘ever-reliable’ Thomas Muller has been oddly out-of-sorts for Bayern for much of the past year – not here.

Chipping in with two goals and an assist, Muller is beginning to look like his confident, clinical self again.

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Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco bemoans loss of focus in 2-1 loss to Shakhtar Donetsk

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Roma let a 1-0 lead slip in their loss to Shakhtar Donetsk.

Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco bemoaned his side’s inability to hold on to their lead after Shakhtar Donetsk came from behind in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 encounter.

Young Turk Cengiz Under scored his fifth goal in four games to give the visitors a 1-0 lead in Kharkiv, but Facundo Ferreyra equalised early in the second half and a stunning free-kick from Fred earned Shakhtar a 2-1 victory and a slender lead in the tie.

Di Francesco said on uefa.com: “My team has everything it takes to play 90 minutes at a high level so the mistakes we made are mental. I told the team to play the second half the way we played the first, but what I saw on the pitch is that team was happy to defend. We need to work on that.

“My team lacks the ability to maintain momentum and perform in spite of difficulties. We lost our concentration at 1-1. Shakhtar are a great side. We’ll do everything to turn this around, but it’ll be very difficult.”

Shakhtar’s opening goal came from a long ball over the top, which was missed by Alessandro Florenzi, who started the game despite struggling with illness.

“I wouldn’t blame Florenzi for the goal we conceded,” said Di Francesco. “It’s a team job to help each other and cover for team-mates. I would field the same starting line-up again.”

It could have been significantly worse for Roma had goalkeeper Alisson not been in terrific form, producing great saves to deny Ferreyra and Taison as Shakhtar dominated the second half.

Di Francesco said: “Alisson’s biggest quality is not just just his saves, but his overall presence – he gives us a great deal of confidence. He doesn’t dive just to look pretty in photos, he does it when he has to to make saves.”

Shakhtar have only once reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League, back in 2011 when they defeated Roma.

Coach Paulo Fonseca said: “We didn’t actually start the game too badly, and even created a good chance, but didn’t have a player to poke the ball in. Later there was a problem with our positioning. Roma were aggressive while our lines were stretched. We sorted this after the break and that helped us win.

“The team performed well in the second half. It wasn’t easy to keep up that pace after a long winter break. The only reason we didn’t win by a bigger margin was a brilliant display from Roma keeper.”

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Jose Mourinho questions Manchester United medical staff after Ander Herrera injury

David Cooper 22/02/2018
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Ander Herrera

Jose Mourinho appeared to question Manchester United‘s medical staff after a “bad injury” brought Ander Herrera’s return to an early halt at Sevilla.

David De Gea grabbed the headlines with a string of fine saves to keep the hosts at bay as the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie ended 0-0.

Paul Pogba had dominated the agenda before kick-off after being left on the bench, although just 17 minutes in Mourinho had to turn to the club-record signing.

Having missed the last three matches with a muscle issue, Herrera limped off and is now facing another spell on the sidelines.

“I think it’s a bad injury,” Mourinho said.

“He had a small injury that stopped him for the last couple of matches, but the medical department gave him 100 per cent ready for the last Saturday (at Huddersfield in the FA Cup).

“We didn’t play him to give more work and more protection, but it looks like he was not fully fit.

“The medical department gave him fully fit. They gave him fully fit Saturday and he trained Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and he looked fit.

“The way he was playing during the time he was on the pitch, I think he showed that intensity that is only possible when you are fit.

“He was pressing really high, we start the match not giving one inch to (Ever) Banega, pressing him really high.

“Ander was one of them, Scott (McTominay) was the other one, and you only do that when you feel really good.

“Then the back-heel creates a contraction in the muscular area where he had a fitness problem, and now we have the proof that he was not 100 per cent fit.”

Things would have been worse than Herrera’s injury had De Gea not saved United’s blushes, with his stop from Luis Muriel’s header late in the first half particularly eye-catching.

Mourinho refrained from heaping praise on the man-of-the-match and insisted 0-0 was a fair result, despite Sevilla being on top and managing 25 attempts.

“No, I am not relieved,” the United boss said. “I think we finished the game with more space with more close to the possibility of scoring a goal, so no.

“I think that the only moment where we felt relieved was in the last couple of minutes in the first half, where a couple of our mistakes in possession (meant) they had a couple of good situations, with two great saves from David.

“That gave this fantastic stadium the emotion they normally have for 90 minutes.

“Apart from that I was never relieved. The game was even, the stats are what they are.

“Sometimes you have 15 shots, but 13 of them were what I call ‘statistic shots’, so I really feel that the result reflects what the game was.

“You ask me is it a good result? I say it is not good, it is not bad.

“We had two legs to play and now we have one match to decide everything at Old Trafford.”

Sevilla counterpart Vincenzo Montella was proud of his side’s effort in the first leg.

“I’m proud because the team has shown pride, quality and personality,” he said.

“For the fans, who have been huge, it was a very good night that could have been even better, but the tie is open.”

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