Pitchside

5 things we learned from this week’s Champions League

Pitchside

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The second legs of the quarter-finals delivered on their promise of drama and intrigue – even in those games which had seemed dead following the first leg. Here is what caught our eye in the Champions League this week.

1. Manchester United have become Celtic

The epithet ‘brave’ is one which is usually applied to Celtic’s annual heroic defeats in the Champions League. Indeed, the Scottish champions have become well accustomed to being patronised as ‘plucky’ after being outclassed by a far superior opponent and dumped out of the competition. Yet now it is United, former titans of the European game, who are being lauded as brave after leaking three goals to Bayern Munich in the wake of taking a shock lead in the Allianz Arena.

One suspects Sir Alex Ferguson wouldn’t have welcomed the back-handed compliment, yet David Moyes was playing up to the narrative by praising his players for “a great job” in a match in which United had six shots to Bayern’s 25, four shots on target to 14 and had only 37% of possession. This is of course a reflection of Bayern’s awesome strength, and United did perform stoutly for the first hour or so, but the fact Moyes’ side have been praised for a 3-1 defeat tells you, to paraphrase The Wire’s Bunk Moreland, how far they done fell. Moyes’ brave Bhoys.

2. Arjen Robben was Arjen Robben

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In an alternate universe, Arjen Robben is a Manchester United player. In 2004 the then 19-year-old winger was given a tour of the club’s training ground in anticipation of a transfer that had been months in the making, only for former United chief executive Peter Kenyon to take him to Chelsea instead. Since then he has impressed against United, scoring a scorching volley to knock them out of Europe in 2010 and, last night, killing off any hope of a comeback.

He got lucky with the finish, with a big deflection coming off Nemanja Vidic, but the goal was trademark Robben: drifting in from the right wing onto the left foot he favours so heavily, drifting past a few players and firing in a low effort. It is a move Robben has been pulling for years and years and still teams seem to be unable to stop it.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo is Ron Manager

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The Real Madrid forward was an unused substitute as his side clung on to record only a 2-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday night and make it through 3-2 on aggregate, but even when sidelined Ronaldo proved a star attraction.

While Carlo Ancelotti was ostensibly the man in charge in a tracksuit, Ronaldo was roaring his team-mates on with gusto, offering advice and pointers as he kicked every ball from the technical area. And if any further proof were needed that Ronaldo might have picked up some pointers from former boss Sir Alex Ferguson, it came at the end of the match in Germany when he started pointing furiously at his watch.

4. PSG need a manager to match the quality of their playing staff

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Laurent Blanc will lead Paris Saint-Germain to the French title this season but a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea on Tuesday showed him up as a Champions League lightweight. Enjoying a 3-1 lead from the first leg, the Parisians should have done just enough to get through but instead their gameplan fell apart as they looked unsure how to play the occasion, with Blanc failing to offer enough guidance to his players.

Jose Mourinho, by contrast, trained Chelsea for all possible scenarios during the week and was always aware of how to shift things to his advantage. The difference between good managers and great managers was thus displayed, and if PSG continue to spend money on the planet’s best players, they will surely realise they need a coach to match.

5. Atletico’s substance stifles stylish Barca

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In what is rapidly becoming a quite remarkable campaign, Atletico Madrid advanced into the European Cup semi-finals for the first time in 40 years and are now on the brink of capping the finest season in the club’s history. Renowned for their stylish, tiki-taka football, Barcelona once again came up short against the Madrid-based outfit. Having faced Diego Simeone’s side on five separate occasions in all competitions this this term, Barca have failed to record a single win – scoring just two goals.

And once again in the last-eight tie, the reigning La Liga champions were stifled by the resolute, disciplined and effective Atletico. Neymar was almost at his very best for the visitors, entertaining with every touch, but it was Los Rojiblancos’ substance that helped steer them past their Spanish rivals and to within one tie of the Champions League final. No team wants to draw the remarkably well-drilled and formidable Atleti in the last four.

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