UCL round-up: History maker Messi the difference for Barca, nine-man City crash

Andy West 6/11/2014
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Can’t get near him: Lionel Messi dribbles away from Ajax’s Nicolai Boilesen and Thulani Serero.

Lionel Messi joined Raul as the all-time leading scorer in the Champi­ons League with both goals in Bar­celona’s victory over Ajax.

The Argentine’s finishing proved the difference in an otherwise closely contested encounter, send­ing Barca into the knockout stage and preventing the hosts from pro­gressing.

But it might have been very different because Ajax were the superior team in the opening half hour and could easily have taken the lead.

After soaking up early pressure, Barca finally managed their first shot when the otherwise anony­mous Luis Suarez had a long-range strike deflected wide, before a defence-splitting pass from Messi released the onrushing Jordi Alba whose shot was well saved by Jas­per Cillessen’s right foot.

The attack ended with a free-kick which Messi whipped goalwards and Cillessen parried, but the ball was never fully cleared.

When it eventually came back into the box, Cillessen lost a chase against Marc Bartra and the defender’s hook back across goal allowed Messi to nod into the unguarded net.

Barca completed their scoring with fourteen minutes remaining as Messi ran on to a superb pass from Pedro to stab home the ball from close range. 

Messi will now have a chance to overtake Raul as the all-time top goalscorer in the competition when Barca travel to APOEL on November 25 – a day before Ronaldo’s Real Madrid take on Basel. 

 Fernandinho and Yaya Toure were sent off as Manchester City crashed to a damaging 2-1 loss to CSKA in the Champions League.

The pair were both dismissed in the second half as City struggled to get back into last night’s Group E contest they were anxious to win to revive their campaign.

Seydou Doumbia was again City’s nemesis, following up his influen­tial role in last month’s 2-2 draw in Moscow with both CSKA goals.

His Ivory Coast team-mate Toure had cancelled out his first with a superb free-kick – but City again lacked spark in Europe’s elite competition.

The result left them with just two points from four games and bottom of the group.

City could have had two penal­ties in the dying minutes but Ser­gio Aguero, denied two spot-kicks in Sunday’s Manchester derby, was twice refused again.

Aguero was twice denied by Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. But soon the visitors were back in front. City were caught out again when Clichy gave the ball away and Natcho teed up Doumbia again after 34 minutes. Again his finish was clinical as he clipped the ball inside Joe Hart’s near post.

City’s night went from bad to worse as Fernandinho walked just 24 minutes after com­ing on. The Brazilian, booked min­utes earlier for a foul on Dzagoev, was penalised again for blocking Musa on the edge of the area.

Toure soon followed him. His run was blocked by Roman Eremenko but the City man raised his hands to shove him away. He had been booked but the referee showed a straight red.

Frank Ribery and Mario Gotze were on target as Bayern Munich beat Roma 2-0 to clinch top spot in Group E and a place in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Elsewhere, Chelsea must wait to confirm their spot after Eden Hazard missed a late penalty in their 1-1 draw with Maribor. Nemanja Matic cancelled out Agim Ibraimi’s opener before Hazard was thwarted by keeper Jasmin Handanovic.

Sporting Lisbon ensured it remained a three-way fight behind Chelsea with a 4-2 win over Shalke.

In Group H, Jackson Martinez and Yacine Brahimi scored as Porto clinched their last-16 berth with a 2-0 win at Athletic Bilbao. Shakhtar are favourites to join them after Luiz Adriano scored three in their 5-0 win over BATE. 

Edison Cavani hit the only goal as PSG beat APOEL 1-0. 

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UCL Preview: City looking to bounce back, Guardiola fears Roma backlash

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Believe: Manchester City manager thinks his team can have Champions League glory

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini believes his team can still win the Champions League this season.

The Premier League champions have again made an underwhelming start to the competition, collecting just two points from their opening three games in Group E.

They are already seven points behind group leaders Bayern Munich and can ill afford to drop more as they host CSKA Moscow at the Etihad Stadium tonight.

But while there is a danger City could fail to get out of the group for a third time in four seasons, Pellegrini is not entertaining negative thoughts and has even not ruled out a shot at glory.

The Chilean said: “Of course our target is always to try to win the Champions League.

"We must put in our mind that we are able to do it, that we have a good squad.

“Maybe there are five or six squads better than our squad or at the same level as our squad that also want to do it, but with a winning mentality and an ambitious mind, you must always think you can do it. I think we have time to prove it.”

City will at least be aiming to improve on last season’s effort when they reached the last 16 for the first time after two previous failures to get out of the group.

Pellegrini said: “This team are doing very well here in domestic games because in the last three years we won two Premier Leagues and one runner-up and won two cups also.

"So, you must add international games with the Champions League.

“Last year we did one stage more than the other years. I hope that this year we are going to continue improving.”

City need to beat Russian champions CSKA at home to breathe some life into their campaign.

Anything less than victory would further complicate matters, and take City’s destiny out their hands, but Bayern’s dominance of the group thus far does suggest the battle for second spot will be close.

Wary Guardiola fears a backlash from a wounded Roma side

Pep Guardiola insists Bayern Munich’s record 7-1 away victory over Roma a fortnight ago is more of a hindrance than a help ahead of tonight’s return tie.

A fourth consecutive group-phase victory at the Allianz Arena will put Bayern into the last 16 with two matches to spare and see them qualify for the Champions League knockout phase for the seventh successive year.

The German champions trounced Rudi Garcia’s side at the Olympic Stadium last month.

Dutch winger Arjen Robben scored twice to keep Bayern in firm control of Group E and five points ahead of nearest rivals Roma.

Guardiola says the result, the club’s record away win in Europe, now offers them little help in their quest for a place in the Champions League final in Berlin on June 6.

“Unfortunately, we won 7-1 and that will make our task harder,” said Guardiola. “Roma have their pride and won’t want to experience something like that again.

“They have a very good, youth­ful side and can impose their game on you if you give them too much room. It’s a different game. We’re focused on the massive chance we have to progress to the next round.”

Roma are determined to avoid a repeat of the thrashing at the Sta­dio Olimpico, and reaffirm their status as one of the continent’s best up-and-coming teams.

Midfielder Miralem Pjanic said: “Bayern play good football and have a top coach, but as I said we’re intent on making sure this game is different. We’re confident in our ability and we’re set on showing that tomorrow against one of the best teams in Europe.

“It is a rematch but it won’t be a repeat of what happened in Rome. We want to prove the difference isn’t so great”

Suarez will try not celebrate

Luis Suarez says he will attempt not to celebrate if he registers his first goal for Barcelona in tonight’s must-win Champions League trip to former club Ajax.

The controversial Uruguayan star has endured an indifferent start to his Barca career, suffering two defeats and failing to score in his first two games for the club.

And although he is desperate to make his mark in a game which the Catalan team need to win to main­tain realistic hopes of topping the group, Suarez is also keen to avoid upsetting supporters of the club where he established his reputa­tion in Europe with a successful spell between 2007 and 2011.

Suarez, who scored 111 goals in 159 games for the Dutch giants, said: “I would love to celebrate if I score but out of respect for Ajax, I probably won’t do it. But we’ll have to see what happens according to the moment.

“Everyone knows how much affection I have for Ajax and the city after the way I was treated here.”

If selected, Suarez will be making his first Champions League appear­ance since 2010 after three seasons of absence at Liverpool.

Suarez, who has five goals in 11 Champions League games, added: “It’s a joy to return to the Cham­pions League and I will enjoy the game to the full, defending the col­ours of Barcelona – the club where I have always wanted to be.”

Thiago Silva aims for the summit

Knowing victory against APOEL will put them in good shape to win Group E is all the motivation Paris Saint-Germain need for tonight’s clash, according to Thiago Silva.

PSG lead the way after a draw against Ajax was followed up by a 3-2 win over Barcelona and a 1-0 triumph over the Cypriot side.

“We are very motivated because if we win, we get a chance to fin­ish first in the group,” Silva said. “APOEL are a very difficult team to play against, very aggressive. They play very defensively and it’s not easy finding space.”

Meanwhile, Ernesto Valverde believes the pressure to win will prove to be a positive as Athletic Bilbao look to keep alive their cam­paign with victory over Porto.

The Basque outfit have picked up only one point from their first three Group H matches and Valverde acknowledges that a third defeat today would be unthinkable.

He said: “When you have a points advantage you can try to calculate things, but (our situation) simpli­fies everything down and means we do not look at anything else – our only choice is to win all three.”

Elsewhere, BATE Borisov mid­fielder Yevgeniy Yablonskiy admits his team-mates are ready for a fight as they look to avenge last month’s humiliating home 7-0 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk when the sides meet again in Lviv.

“We’re in a good mood, I would even say a fighting one,” he said. “Everyone is looking forward to the game. There is no fear as we believe the match in Lviv will be different.”

In Group G, unbeaten Schalke host Sporting at the Veltins Arena.

Jose Mourinho reluctant to play Oscar over fears of burnout

Jose Mourinho faces a selection quandary ahead of Chelsea’s Group G clash at Maribor.

Mourinho is determined to avoid complacency against a side beaten 6-0 at Stamford Bridge two weeks ago, with the assumption being that those with a point to prove may be given the chance.

Yet the Blues boss may be reluc­tant to turn to his fringe stars after being critical of their performance at Shrewsbury in the League Cup.

Oscar played at Manchester United, Shrewsbury and against QPR and could be rewarded with a rest ahead of Saturday’s Pre­mier League clash at Liverpool, yet Mourinho may not feel he can be without the Brazilian.

Mourinho said: “Does he need a rest? Maybe yes after last week. But is it the right decision to leave him out? I don’t know.

“You can imagine it’s not easy to make a decision to rest a player who, in this moment, is my best player.”

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Ball: Should Real Sociedad hire Moyes?

Phil Ball 5/11/2014
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David Moyes: Much-maligned ex-Manchester United boss in line for Real Sociedad post.

That is the question. From the moment that Real Sociedad relieved their young coach Jagoba Arrasate of his duties (their phrase) on Monday afternoon, speculation has been rife in the European press as to the identity of his possible successor – not because the vacancy would normally attract so much attention but more because of the fact that David Moyes’ name has been linked with the job. In fact his name was in the hat at least a week before, when it was obvious that Sociedad’s poor start to the season was about to culminate in a managerial change.

Moyes is not the only candidate, of course. The other would appear to be Pepe Mel, mostly associated with Rayo Vallecano and Betis, but briefly the coach at West Brom in the Premier League last season too. Apart from the fact that both men have two legs, are 51 years of age and have surnames beginning with ‘M’, they have little in common. Moyes also appears to be the preferred candidate, so let’s talk mainly about him and why the possible move is attracting such interest.

The first point to make, however, is that Real Sociedad play a second consecutive home game this coming Sunday, against the fearsome Atletico Madrid. It’s hardly the sort of fixture they would have chosen to start to turn their season around (they are now next-to-bottom of the league), and on Tuesday night their official webpage revealed that the game would be presided over by the two coaches of the current ‘B’ team. This is an indirect way of saying that whatever the state of play with Moyes (and possibly Mel) the negotiations will not be sorted by the weekend – and even if they are, neither of these coaches-elect will take the team for the Atletico fixture.

Sources at the club today suggested to me that this is related to ‘financial differences’, a phrase that means that Moyes (not Mel) is asking more than Sociedad are prepared (or able) to pay him – but that is standard for the course. Arrasate was paid 300,000-euros-a-year – not an amount that the average man would sniff at, but small beer compared to the amounts most La Liga coaches earn. Moyes was on a six-year contract at Manchester United, and having been sacked after less than a calendar year, walked to the bank with £5 million in compensation. He is financially comfortable, and unlikely to be over-concerned with the salary that Sociedad’s sensible and frugal president, Jokin Apperibay, will have initially offered him in their meeting in London last week. But obviously he won’t come for peanuts either.  

David Moyes or Pepe Mel - the choice facing Real Sociedad.

So the news that Moyes is in line for a return is interesting for football-related reasons only. His ill-fated venture at Manchester United became a cause celebre, and from gaining status and a certain prestige in footballing circles for his steady if unspectacular stewardship of Everton over an 11-year period, he became a figure of fun almost overnight for his seeming inability to cope with the greater pressures of managing a ‘bigger’ club (the inverted commas are inserted to placate any Everton fans reading). And of course, when a big club falls from grace, as United did last season, it becomes major news. Moyes had the misfortune to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson, in charge at the Theatre of Dreams for 27 years – a fact that almost guaranteed a theatre of nightmares for his successor. But Moyes could hardly refuse. Conservative by nature, and nicknamed ‘Dithering Dave’ by the largely sympathetic Everton fans, he was in an impossible position. Stay at Everton and be accused of a lack of ambition, or move to United and face the inevitable post-Ferguson dysfunction. The latter happened, and the rest, as they say, is Moyes’ present ‘sabbatical’.

Whether United’s stumble last season was Moyes’ fault or was due to the simple fact that he inherited a declining team in transition (cynics say that Ferguson chose his exit year shrewdly) is not a concern for Real Sociedad. Moyes is a name, and comes with a certain cachet. The modest Basque club is a discreet and well-run institution, and has rarely gone for big-name managers, preferring to promote from within (as in Arrasate’s case) or employ unassuming figures prepared to work within the club’s ‘cantera’ (youth development) policy. John Toshack was their last big-name manager, and even he is not a member of the coaching jet-set. Moyes would certainly represent a shift in policy, although he himself prefers to portray an image of old-school stability and discipline. There is something rather dour and Presbyterian about him, which won’t bother Sociedad in the slightest, as long as he can turn them around and arrest their current negative dynamic.

Thereby hangs the tale. Is Moyes the right man for Real Sociedad, and is Real Sociedad the right club for Moyes – at this juncture?  Well, if the Scotsman ever sees this article, then I can tell him that the city (San Sebastián) is possibly the most beautiful in Europe, a hidden gem of a resort with great food and great scenery. It certainly beats Southport on a Sunday afternoon. He’ll be well looked after, and well-received, and the Basques are respectful and unassuming, never overcrowding famous people. The club is well-run, and has a very special Basque identity. Its youth policy, recruiting from a region smaller than Wales, is the sixth most productive in Europe, in terms of producing professionals, ahead of neighbours Athletic Bilbao and only two places behind Barcelona’s famous Masia factory, according to a recent poll.

Although their only two league titles arrived in the 1980s, they are historically in the top ten Spanish sides, in terms of seasons spent in the top-flight. They do now recruit from greater Spain and Europe, but prefer to keep these signings to a minimum, and work a Basque-based policy. Moyes would be expected to respect and follow this philosophy, one he has not been renowned for. His forte at Everton was to maintain the club at a competitive level by shrewd purchases in the transfer market, and the main gem of his early Everton youth team, Wayne Rooney, left under a cloud two years after Moyes’ arrival. To expect Moyes to suddenly become the nurturer of Basque youth, at 51 years of age and a career of doing things differently, is a little improbable. If he signs, he is more likely to bring members of his previous backroom staff over (Sociedad have also sacked Arrasate’s support team, presumably in anticipation of this) and use his knowledge of the British market to make some signings at Christmas. Whether this is the way forward is debatable.

Sociedad have a good squad. Carlos Vela is just the most famous name, but there is a whole host of excellent young players who simply need to regain their confidence within a clearer framework. Arrasate, in the end, was unable to provide one. Moyes could supply this, but the immediate problem is garnering points. Anchored down at the bottom, a season after playing Moyes’ United in the Champions League, the squad has lost the excellent Antoine Griezmann to Atlético and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to Barcelona, but there is quality enough to move up the table. But Moyes speaks no Spanish, has been comfortably holed up in Lancashire since the early 1990s (he was at Preston before Everton) and has no experience of coaching abroad. He may be happy to accept a new challenge, vindicate himself and restore his good name, but in the meantime, Sociedad need points. They may not be able to afford Moyes the time to settle in and adjust to the new lifestyle and the very differing demands of La Liga.

Pepe Mel, on the other hand, does speak Spanish, knows La Liga like the back of his hand, and is popular in San Sebastian for publicly defending the club three years ago, when they were unfairly implicated in a doping scandal. He may not have Moyes’ name and fame, but at the moment, he’s probably the better short-term choice. Moyes should continue his holiday, sign up for some Spanish lessons, and apply towards the end of the season. That would be just fine. 

Follow Phil Ball on Twitter: @philballtweets

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