Thursday, November 24, 2005

Champions League Matchday 5: November 22-23

Manchester United 0-0 Villareal
It was too good to last, I suppose. After beating Chelsea and then Charlton in the past two weeks, United came crashing back down to earth with another woeful European performance.

They came out hard, which I think was the right approach, and really should have been able to break down the Villareal defence within the first 15 minutes. When that didn't happen, they needed to change their tactics slightly -- slow the game down a bit, make sure they kept control and could build up their passing movement. Instead United kept trying to maintain that same intensity and ended up frantic, with neither team able to hang on to the ball for more than a couple passes. It looked like a ping pong game in midfield. United's defence was solid -- Van der Sar didn't have much to do -- but United didn't really test the Villareal keeper either. The few chances they did have were closed down too quickly and the ball pinged back out to Senna in the Villareal midfield, who spent most of the night making Scholes and Smith look utterly useless. Unless fouling their opponents counts as "useful," that is (actually, I shouldn't blame them too much -- the Villareal players were diving blatantly all night).

The only bright side is that the Lille-Benfica game also finished in a nil-nil draw, so United still have a chance to make it through if they win on Matchday 6.

Thun 0-1 Arsenal*
Aw, the poor little guppies. Arsenal were through to the final 16 regardless of the outcome of this match, and the linesmen basically won it for them. Thun were down to 10 men for most of the game but still fought hard -- and would have had a well-deserved win if not for a dodgy penalty and an even dodgier offside call.

Liverpool* 0-0 Real Betis
You have to feel bad for Peter Crouch. The poor boy just cannot buy a goal. He had about a gazillion chances last night and still couldn't break his duck (where does that phrase come from, anyway?). Instead, one volley that would have been excellent if it hadn't been straight at the keeper, an unlucky handball, and a half-dozen weak headers. He may have a Good Touch For A Big Man, but maybe he needs Luis Garcia to show him how it's done in the air.

Liverpool got the result they needed, but the absence of Garcia and Xabi Alonso was notable (and not just because it meant that I had no opportunity to yell "XABIIIIIIII" at my tv). They were definitely missing that spark in midfield. Steven Gerrard was the only one who seemed to really be creating plays, but that meant he was drifting in from the right wing a lot and they had no width.

Most annoying aspect of the game: ESPN's American commentating team. I don't know if it was the lack of the British accents I'm used to, or if they really don't know what they're talking about, but wow, was that painful to listen to. Although they did manage to work at least three GTFABM comments into the first five minutes of the game, which is impressive.

Anderlecht 0-2 Chelsea*
There wasn't really any doubt that Chelsea was going to win this one, was there? They put the game away within the first 15 minutes and spent the rest of the match in cruise control. Liverpool are still top of the group, however, and as much as Mourinho insists that it doesn't really matter if you finish first or second, I suspect that both teams will be playing for bragging rights at Stamford Bridge next month.

Tuesday's games
A Bayern M├╝nchen* 4-0 Rapid Wien
A Juventus* 1-0 Club Brugge
B Ajax* 2-1 Sparta Praha
C Barcelona* 3-1 Werder Bremen
C Panathinaikos 1-2 Udinese
D Lille 0-0 Benfica

Wednesday's games
E Fenerbah├že 0-4 AC Milan
E Schalke 3-0 PSV Eindhoven
F Real Madrid* 1-1 Lyon*
F Rosenborg 1-1 Olympiacos
H Inter Milan* 4-0 Artmedia
H Porto 1-1 Rangers

* Clinched spot in round of 16

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