Grade D for Man United after blunt performance at struggling Valencia

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Manchester United‘s season maintained a familiar theme as they were defeated 2-1 by Valencia at the Mestalla in the Champions League.

Juventus were also defeated 2-1 by Young Boys in the other Group H game but United’s result meant the Italians’ still finished top.

Carlos Soler opened the scoring in the 17th minute while Phil Jones stabbed one into his own net early in the second half.

Marcus Rashford pulled one back for United in the 87th minute but it was too little too late.

Here is our report card from the clash.

THE GOOD 

For Valencia – Keeping their shape

Scoring goals has been a problem for Valencia this season, fortunately they were helped out by United in that regard. Defensively though, only Atletico Madrid boast a better record in La Liga and you can see why. Marcelino’s side are well-drilled and rarely caught out of position. In truth, United did little to cause them problems so once they went a goal ahead, they were always likely to win.

For United – Substitutes?

There’s little to choose from for the Reds but surely the only glimmer of positivity came from the bench. Ashley Young and Rashford offered a notable improvement in attack and even combined for a goal in the last 10 minutes with the striker nodding home the former’s cross.

Rashford took on Valencia's defence.

Rashford took on Valencia’s defence.

THE BAD

For Valencia – Striker

Valencia should’ve had more goals in this game. United’s defence is suspect and in this fixture, they fielded a makeshift backline which afforded the opposition every opportunity. Unfortunately for them, Michy Batshuayi was equally disappointing in front of goal, missing a header from inside the six-yard box in the first half. He went on to register four shots, none of which tested the keeper despite coming from good positions.

Michy Batshuayi disappointed.

Michy Batshuayi disappointed.

For United – Blunt attack

The team sheet said it all. Romelu Lukaku started up front and was flanked by Andreas Pereira and Juan Mata, both good players but completely lacking in pace. In the absence of Marcus Rashford or the injured Anthony Martial, United posed little to no threat going forward. Lukaku meanwhile, had zero shots.

TACTICAL TALKING POINT 

Misfits in midfield

Nemanja Matic is overworked to the extent it’s affected his performances massively this season. It’s evident now why Jose Mourinho is reluctant to afford the Serbian a rest. Missing in action this time, Marouane Fellaini started in holding midfield but wasn’t in his element. He kept things tidy but didn’t really direct play and was easily bypassed. Meanwhile, Pogba seems to be lacking confidence and missed a sitter in the first half. Fred was afforded a rare start and did not take his opportunity, misplacing simple passes.

Paul Pogba continues to struggle for form.

Paul Pogba continues to struggle for form.

GRADING 

For Valencia: B

They can be pleased with a rather solid display, booking their place in the Europa League. Hardly stretched by an ineffective United attack.

For United: D

It’s just another in a long line of disappointing results for United this season. Barely competing with La Liga relegation battlers – at this moment at least – is a new low.

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Real Madrid talking points after nightmare loss to CSKA Moscow

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Real Madrid were stunned by a 3-0 defeat at home to CSKA Moscow in the final round of group games in the Champions League.

The La Liga giants had already secured their berth in the knockout stages as Group G winners and fielded a weakened side but no one would’ve predicted a defeat of this nature.

Fedor Chalov opened the scoring, feinting with his right before curling in with his left from the edge of the box in the 37th minute before Georgy Schennikov added another two minutes before the break.

Arnor Sigurdsson then scored a third to put the game beyond the hosts in the 73rd minute.

Here are some talking points from the encounter.

VINICIUS THE ONLY WIN

When Madrid splurged €46 million on secure Vinicius’ signature as a 17-year-old, eyebrows were raised but it was clear what they were trying to accomplish. The idea was to sign Neymar before he became Neymar and on the evidence of Vinicius’ start to life at the Bernabeu, they’ll be quietly confident they’ve succeeded in doing just that.

The Brazilian became the third-youngest Madrid player to start a Champions League game on Wednesday night and he instantly looked like he belonged on club football’s grandest stage, which is more than can be said of his team-mates.

His electric performance featured some incredible play as his ability to cut inside or just as easily storm towards the byline regularly terrorised CSKA’s defenders while he had no problem getting involved in the build-up play, pulling off a couple of neat flicks along the way.

The 18-year-old remains a raw talent as was noticeable by the fact that, for all his good work, he only tested the keeper once and made just one key pass. At the moment though, he is invaluable to Madrid as one of the few players capable of providing the spark they have so often lacked this season.

SOLARI SELECTION

It’s no secret that Madrid have been woeful in defence this season, but this was a new low. CSKA became the first team this term to score three goals at the Bernabeu this season.

Yes, Madrid didn’t have a dog in this fight having already secured their progress into the round of 16 but the manner of defeat is no less alarming as a result.

Even though Santiago Solari fielded several fringe players, there was also a generous spattering of seasoned veterans in the starting XI. Meanwhile, they were no better when the likes of Gareth Bale and Toni Kroos took to the pitch in the second half.

The central defensive pairing of Jesus Vallejo and Javi Sanchez always looked vulnerable but then again, has the preferred duo of Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos inspired confidence this season?

There appears to be a fundamental problem in the way Los Blancos defend while they certainly weren’t helped by the presence of an equally inexperienced midfield double pivot of Federico Valverde and Marcos Llorente ahead of them.

Perhaps Solari should’ve known better. It’s one thing to give a few youngsters a chance but maybe he went a step to far by using them as the complete make up of the team’s defensive core. It was still CSKA in the Champions League, not Melilla in Copa del Rey.

Santiago Solari.

Santiago Solari.

REAL TRAGEDY

Football can be cruel sometimes and CSKA were the latest victims of its merciless nature. The Russian side had a Europa League spot to play for at the Bernabeu and their performance exceeded theirs or anyone else’s expectations.

Having beaten Madrid 1-0 with 10 men in Moscow, they completed the double over the tournament’s champions in four of the last five years. They did it in style as well, comprehensively beating the Spanish giants 3-0 in their own backyard but somehow found themselves finish bottom of Group G.

Viktoria Plzen snatched third place instead, winning 2-1 at home against Roma. The Czech outfit finished with a goal difference eight worse than CSKA but finished above them on the head-to-head rule.

It’s a peculiar scenario and the Russian side have every right to feel hard done by.

'Winners'? CSKA Moscow.

‘Winners’? CSKA Moscow.

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Lucas Moura's famous goal has Tottenham dreaming of glory in second half of season

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Lucas Moura's goal put Tottenham into the Round of 16.

Back in December 2004, on the final day of the Champions League group stage, Liverpool needed to beat Olympiakos by two clear goals at Anfield to qualify for the Round of 16.

They were 2-1 up late in the game with hope fading when Steven Gerrard scored a famous piledriver, delivering on a promise he’d made before the game.

“I don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning in the UEFA Cup.”

Lucas Moura’s goal against Barcelona on Tuesday was nowhere near as good as Gerrard’s from 14 years ago – though, if it leads to Tottenham winning the Champions League, it would prove to be as much a fairytale moment in a miraculous cup-winning run – but the significance was quite the same.

Spurs were meant to move into their new stadium to begin this season, only for that move to be repeatedly delayed.

As fate would have it, the club now expect New White Hart Lane to be ready by February at the latest – though it remains touch and go, with club chairman Daniel Levy having announced another delay on Wednesday which means that a January 13 fixture against Manchester United will not be the stadium’s bow.

The dates that will be circled on the calendars of everyone involved with Spurs are now February 12th and 13th. That’s when Spurs will host a Round of 16 fixture in the Champions League, instead of playing a Europa League Round of 32 fixture on February 14. It would not have been a Valentine’s Day the club would have loved.

Instead, if all goes to the now-revised plan, it could be Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, and Paris Saint-Germain in the new stadium’s first big fixture.

Or defending champions Real Madrid, with the reigning Ballon d’Or winner and former Spurs favourite Luka Modric – not to mention Gareth Bale, another former White Hart Lane hero.

Or Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo, and the possibility of revenge against the team which knocked Spurs out last season. Or Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund, Germany’s biggest club or its current best side.

All this speculation may end up being purely academic; New White Hart Lane may not be ready in time, and Spurs may need another stunning result like Tuesday’s to ensure that Champions League football visits their new stadium this season. Wembley may just have to do.

So much about this Spurs season is closely linked with their new stadium. That they hadn’t moved in to start the season, as initially expected, contributed to the sense of gloom of the early part of the campaign, as much as the seemingly middling displays they were putting in.

The latest wave of optimism has come along with the endgame of their move finally drawing close, even after Wednesday’s latest update.

But that optimism has also come thanks to a series of results from a tough run of fixtures that has kept Spurs’ hopes of making waves this season alive. Chelsea, Inter Milan, Arsenal, Barcelona, and at the end of all that, Tottenham are third in the Premier League, and into the knockout stages of the Champions League.

They would have preferred to have beaten North London derby rivals Arsenal, of course, but all in all it’s a state of affairs that has undoubtedly left Spurs happy.

They’re contenders for the league title. Tuesday’s draw against Barcelona has Harry Kane believing they’re contenders in Europe, too. There is a Carabao Cup quarter-final coming up in a week – against Arsenal, no less.

Tottenham didn’t want to be waking up on Wednesday morning in the Europa League. Instead, thanks to that Moura goal, with the possibilities now endless, they’ve woken up in dreamland.

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