The first round of Champions League group stage games were played out last night, with some thrilling games to kick off the competition. TBR rounds up the action which saw wins for Real Madrid, Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund among others.
The surprise result of the night took place in Piraeus as last season’s runners-up Atletico Madrid fell to a 3-2 defeat against Greek champions Olympiakos. Arthur Makasu put the home side in front after 13 minutes when a short corner was not acted upon by the Atletico defence, allowing him time to shoot from distance. Ibrahim Affelay doubled the lead on the half-hour mark before Atletico’s big summer signing Mario Mandzukic struck near half-time.
That might have been the prompt for Diego Simeone’s men to stage a comeback but instead it was Olympiakos who restored their two-goal advantage in the 73rd minute. Returning from a strange and unfulfilling spell at Fulham, Kostas Mitroglou showed the form of old to beat Jan Oblak and secure the points for Michel’s side. Atletico managed a late consolation through Antoine Griezmann but the La Liga winners are already under pressure after matchday one.
Juventus faced a potentially tricky opening tie against competition debutants Malmo and, while the two-time winners claimed the points, they were made to work by the Swedish outsiders. Malmo got to half-time on level terms and it took an emphatic strike from Carlos Tevez after an hour to wear down the visitors’ stern resistance. Having not scored in this tournament since his Man United days, the Argentine got his second goal of the night with a superb free kick in the closing minutes to ease the home fans’ nerves.
Atletico host Juve in two weeks’ time knowing that they need to get a result to avoid slipping out of contention while Sweden will stage its first Champions League group match since 2000 when Olympiakos visit Malmo.
It was meant to have been a routine return to Europe’s top table for Liverpool, but Anfield was on edge as the five-time winners needed Steven Gerrard to dig them out of a hole yet again. Ludogorets certainly didn’t fear the Merseysiders and created some very worrying moments for a disjointed Liverpool before Mario Balotelli plundered what seemed to have been a late winner. There was a twist in the tale, though, as Dani Abalo stunned the 45,000-strong crowd with a 90th-minute goal for the Bulgarians, only for their debutant goalkeeper to then bring down Javier Manquillo in the box. Not for the first time, Gerrard faced the Kop and lashed home a crucial late penalty to save Liverpool’s blushes.
There were no such worries for Real Madrid, who had Basel well and truly dispatched before half-time. An early own goal sent the holders on their way and a three-goal blitz in eight minutes from Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and James Rodriguez, the three most expensive players in world football, ended the game as a contest. The Swiss side pulled one back near the end of the first half and Karim Benzema got in on the act late on as Real Madrid issued the perfect response to two consecutive league defeats.
The defending champions visit Ludogorets in a fortnight’s time while Liverpool travel to Basel, where they exited the competition in 2002/03.
Benfica’s prospects of getting out of the group took an early battering on home soil against Zenit St. Petersburg, for whom Ezequiel Garay made a swift return to the Estadio da Luz after leaving the Portuguese champions this summer. Hulk, whose reputation took a battering at the World Cup, responded to his critics by scoring inside five minutes and it got worse for Benfica in the 18th minute when goalkeeper Artur was sent off for impeding Danny. Axel Witsel, who like Garay was returning to his former club, made it 2-0 shortly afterwards to leave Benfica with a mountain to climb. Zenit saw out the remainder of the game comfortably to give coach Andre Villas Boas a hugely satisfying away win.
In a meeting of two surprise finalists from the early 2000s, the domestic form book went out the window as struggling Monaco beat Bundesliga high fliers Bayer Leverkusen at the Stade Louis XIV. The German side dominated the first half and laid siege to Monaco’s goal, but failed to convert any chances into goals. They were made to regret their profligacy on the hour mark when Joao Moutinho struck the only goal for the game for the home side, who last played in this competition in 2005.
Next time out, Zenit host Monaco in a game where the winners would be odds on favourites to advance to the last 16. Bayer Leverkusen play host to Benfica as both sides aim to get off the mark.
On their third visit to Signal Iduna Park in 36 months, Arsenal fell victim to a quick-fire blitz either side of half-time from Borussia Dortmund. The Gunners were distinctly second best throughout the game and it was no surprise when Jurgen Klopp’s team hit the front just before the interval through new signing Ciro Immobile. The second half was barely underway when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang maintained his recent good form to double Dortmund’s lead. While Danny Welbeck blazed an excellent chance over the bar late on, in truth the final score flattered Arsenal, who were taught a harsh lesson by the 2013 runners-up.
There was almost an upset in the group’s other encounter as Galatasaray hosted Anderlecht. The Belgian champions were expected to struggle but instead took the lead shortly after half-time through Dennis Praet. They were on course for an unexpected, and rare, away win right until the dying minutes when Burak Yilmaz netted from close range to salvage a point for unimpressive Galatasaray, who travel to Arsenal on matchday two. Anderlecht play host to Dortmund next time out.
Who impressed you the most in the Champions League games from yesterday? Was it Real Madrid’s scintillating football, Dortmund’s highly dominant style, or Ludogoret’s phenomenal efforts against Liverpool? Let us know in the comments or on twitter @TBRFootball .
Jack Wilshere’s injury shows why Arsenal shouldn’t renew his contract
The 26-year-old has been struck down by yet another injury.
Jack Wilshere will be pleased with the progress that he has made since returning to Arsenal from his loan spell at Bournemouth.
He was initially nothing more than a squad player that was out in the cold at international level too, but the midfielder worked hard to gain more game-time in North London.
Across all competitions, he has played more than 30 matches and his form earned him a call-up to the England squad.
It looked like he was getting a once-promising career back on track, but almost like clockwork, he has suffered an injury to set him back once again.
Gareth Southgate confirmed that he wouldn’t be travelling to the Netherlands for Friday’s match and the quotes were reported by Sky Sports.
“It is not a specific injury and over time they flare up and they need to settle down over a couple of days.
“We are hopeful it will settle down pretty quickly. It’s an ongoing problem and it’s not something new for him. He’s very disappointed not to be involved in the game.
“He’s trained well though but if you think about the journey he’s had in the last two years and his big injuries then he’s progressing really well.”
Although it is encouraging that it isn’t a serious injury, it is a reminder that Jack Wilshere remains a risk for both club and country.
It is difficult to build a team around a player that is susceptible to miss matches and the quote from Southgate is a worry as he refers to an ongoing problem.
Arsenal have had a difficult campaign and they will be planning a rebuild over the next 48 months as they transition away from the Arsene Wenger era.
They will have to make tough decisions on many players at the club and Wilshere’s future will be brought into focus over the next few weeks as his contract expires at the end of the season.
There have been numerous reports regarding contract talks between the two parties and there is hesitancy on both sides.
This latest injury suffered by Wilshere and the comments from Southgate referring to an ongoing problem show why it is Arsenal who need to end this association.
Wilshere can’t be relied on to stay fit and to feature prominently in a busy schedule. Arsenal will have ambitions of challenging at the very top of the game and will likely be involved in European competition every season. They need to have a squad of players that are reliable and the 26-year-old isn’t that.
Aside from that, Wilshere represents what Arsenal have become over the last decade. He is a player that had a lot of potential, but he has failed to fulfil it and been very inconsistent at the highest level. Of course, he isn’t to blame for the club’s problems, but he is also unlikely to offer the solutions.
This season has been a nice farewell campaign for him. It would have been sad if his Gunners’ career had ended after being shipped out on loan to Bournemouth.
He has returned to earn some of his credibility back, but the club need to move on and progress if they are to get back to the top of the English game.
A lot of contentious decisions will need to be made and the first should be the release of Jack Wilshere this summer.
Tottenham Hotspur fans react to Danny Welbeck dive
Tottenham Hotspur fans were not pleased with Danny Welbeck’s dive v AC Milan.
Arsenal successfully knocked AC Milan out of the Europa League last night with a 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium. The hero of the night was England forward Danny Welbeck. The striker scored two goals as Arsenal completed a deserved 5-1 aggregate victory over the Rossoneri.
But Milan had taken an early lead through Hakan Calhanoglu’s bamboozling long-range strike. Arsenal, at that stage, were looking on the ropes. Welbeck though won and then dispatched a penalty to level the scoring. The word ‘won’ being the optimum word.
Welbeck dived for the penalty, there is no doubt about that. Ricardo Rodriguez barely breathed on the Arsenal man, who tumbled to the ground hopefully. When the penalty was given, he looked in disbelief.
For Tottenham Hotspur fans it was a moment they did not appreciate.
Spurs have seen Dele Alli victimised throughout the season, and some would say rightly so, for his diving. There is no doubt that the England midfielder has dived this season and not many Tottenham fans would suggest not.
But the anger here lies with what Tottenham fans believe is hypocrisy. There is also a certain level or irony given a thinly veiled dig by Arsene Wenger against Spurs’ players this season.
After the highly controversial 2-2 draw at Anfield, where Harry Kane was accused of diving v Liverpool, Wenger had this to say, as reported by the BBC:
“I remember there were tremendous cases here when foreign players did it.
“But English players have learned very quickly and might be the masters now.”
“Sometimes players play a little bit with the rules. How far can you go? That is down to the referees.”
With Arsenal their next Premier League opponents, Arsene Wenger’s barb was not hard to see.
When that statement came out Tottenham fans quickly pointed out occasions when Arsenal’s English stars had been caught diving. Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott were prominent examples. Now, in Welbeck, Tottenham have seen another.
Arsenal fans will be happy that their team have booked a place in the next round of the Europa League. On balance it was more than a fair result as over two legs Arsenal outplayed the Italian giants.
But the Welbeck moment certainly put an asterix on the game for Spurs fans.
Here is some of the best reaction from Twitter…
Özil against Watford was falling down when a gust of wind went past him. It was appalling. Welbeck yesterday was one of the worst dives
— Joe B ??????? (@JblincoTHFC) March 16, 2018
Only just seen the Welbeck dive, he must be embarrassed even appealing for that.
— Joshhh (@JJonesTHFC) March 16, 2018
— Harry Hotspur (@HarryHotspurWHL) March 15, 2018
If you had any doubt about how this country treats Dele Alli (one of its brightest prospects in years) look at the difference in how the media and in particular fans, are talking about the #Welbeck dive. ? #COYS #THFC
— Gary Ford (@Spursfordie) March 15, 2018
Imagine if this was @dele_official who did this and the media onslaught! Danny Welbeck you diving cheat! Hope the likes of @talkSPORT @GaryLineker @alanshearer to name a few subject Danny to the same treatment they have subjected Dele too this season! https://t.co/MXFMAkOGcN
— H (@LittleMissTHFC) March 15, 2018
— Lucas (@MoughtTHFC) March 15, 2018
Welbeck is a cheat end of. Ruined a good game.
— THFC (@RaoullyT69) March 15, 2018
Look how everyone destroys Dele over diving. No one will comment on Welbeck’s dive. Shocking! #THFC
— Harry Hotspur (@HarryHotspurWHL) March 15, 2018
— Steve Williams (@spurssteve69) March 15, 2018
Welbeck dives. Dele will be in trouble in the morning. #THFC
— Stephen Vincent (@StevieV14) March 15, 2018
If Dele Alli did what Welbeck just did?
— Billy Adams (@ThfcAdams) March 15, 2018
Victory in Milan, but is this another false dawn for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger?
Arsenal were triumphant in Milan despite their recent miserable form.
Arsenal ended their losing run of four matches with an excellent performance away to AC Milan in the Europa League. This competition has the potential to save the Gunners season and the commitment from every player suggested that they want to go all the way.
They were coming up against a team full of confidence under Gennaro Gattuso. Milan hadn’t lost a match since the end of December. The Serie A club hadn’t conceded a goal in six and had won five of those inside ninety minutes.
These sides came into this fixture in remarkably different form, but football is played on grass and not on paper.
Despite Milan having more attempts, it was Arsenal who created the better chances. They had a couple of half-chances early on before the opening goal.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had a hot and cold start to life in a Gunners’ shirt, but he was one of the best players on the pitch in Italy. His goal was emphatically taken as he drove the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma.
It is important to capitalise when you are on top, especially away from home in European competitions and Arsenal did just that. As the first-half progressed, they continued to create the better opportunities. Both Danny Welbeck and Mkhitaryan had good chances to double the visitors’ lead, but they were squandered.
In stoppage-time of half-time, Arsenal scored a second to give them a commanding lead in the tie. It was a great move from the team and Mesut Ozil found Aaron Ramsey who coolly rounded Donnarumma before putting the ball into the net.
The first-half performance from Arsenal was one of the best that supporters have seen this season. They were better all over the pitch and showed the work rate that they had lacked in previous weeks. Milan pushed in the second half, but they couldn’t penetrate the Gunners’ defence.
Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were both excellent. Arsene Wenger will be hoping that both are returning to their best after some uncharacteristic errors in previous matches. The centre-back pairing made eight ball recoveries and were always in the right position on Thursday.
Patrick Cutrone is a teenager with a big future, but the young striker had no luck out of the Arsenal defence and that will encourage the manager.
Another player to emerge with credit is Danny Welbeck. The ineligibility of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the injury of Alexandre Lacazette means that the Englishman started the game up front for Arsenal. It was a huge opportunity for him after being pushed down the pecking order at the club and he took it with both hands.
The Englishman worked tirelessly and caused problems with his movement.
Although his final product wasn’t great, he was a constant threat and led the defensive effort from the front. Welbeck will never be a leading Premier League striker, but he is effective in matches such as this one. He deserves more opportunities during the run-in.
It would be too soon to get carried away for Arsenal fans. There are still questions regarding Arsene Wenger and the work rate of the players, but this was an excellent performance that finally provides the club with positive momentum. They have had a miserable few weeks and the supporters can get excited about their team once again.
When the draw was made, a lot of supporters checked their expectations when it came to the Europa League. Milan were the overwhelming favourites, but Arsenal have taken a dominant position in the tie and should be able to finish the job in London.
If they can do that, they will move into the quarter-final stage. Although it will be difficult to win it, they will have as good a chance as any.
There have been many false dawns for Arsenal in recent years and this could be another one. That said, it takes enormous character to go away to a huge stadium like the San Siro after a poor run of form and win comfortably.
Considering the criticism that they have had for their lack of desire, few would have thought the Gunners to be capable of a result like this.
It is now up to Wenger to prove that he can get this level of effort and performance out of his players on a regular basis. The Frenchman remains in a difficult position with no margin for error. If he is going to keep his job, he needs to finish the season strongly and win the Europa League.
It won’t be an easy challenge, but this performance and result will give him hope that he can upset the odds to claim his first European trophy.
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