October 24, 2012
The teams competing in the Champions League are now halfway through the group games and the groups are starting to shape up. Four English teams are still in the competition and three of the teams are in the top two spots that qualify for the next rounds. Manchester City are the struggling side, but a couple of good results could change that.
Two of the English teams, Manchester United and Chelsea, were involved in Champions League action on Tuesday night. Both started the week on top of the group after the first two matches, but had to be careful not to slip up in any games.
After a home draw with Juventus, Chelsea thrashed FC Nordsjaelland 0-4 in Denmark to move to the top of group E. On Tuesday they had a long trip to the Ukraine to play Shakhtar Donetsk who started the game in second place in the group.
Within the first three minutes, the Brazilian striker Alex Teixeira poked home to give Shakhtar the lead and shortly after half-time Fernandinho extended the lead with the second for the home side. Chelsea were not really in the game, but a late goal from Oscar was some consolation for the visitors.
This was the first defeat for Chelsea in the Champions League under Roberto Di Matteo and hands control of the group over to their opponents. Luckily for Chelsea, Juventus were unable to beat FC Nordsjaelland in the other fixture so they hold onto second place in the group at the halfway stage. Chelsea play Shakhtar in the return leg in London next, and it is important not to drop any points from that game to have a chance for qualification.
Manchester United have not been performing to their high standards but have taken victories in both previous games to start the week in top position in Group H. Two easy victories against Galatasaray and CFR Cluj in the first two games has given them a 100% record going into the home game against Portuguese side Braga.
Like in the other match, the opposition took an early lead with two goals by Alan in the first 20 minutes. Just five minutes later, Hernandez pulled one back for the home side but no further goals were scored before half time. Evans slotted home to pull the scores level 15 minutes into the second half and then Hernandez hit the winner with 15 minutes left on the clock. Manchester United held on to take the match 3-2 and maintain their 100% record.
With three games left to play Manchester United now have a five point lead over CFR Cluj in second place. A good performance in the return fixture in Portugal could see United qualify with two group games left to play.
In the other matches in the Champions League, Scottish champions Celtic were desperately unlucky to lose at Barcelona when Alba scored the winning goal in the 94th minute. Barcelona now have a five point lead in Group G and can qualify next time out.
Group F is looking very tight with three teams level on six points. Last years beaten finalists Bayern Munich currently lie in third place and will need to improve to qualify for the later stages of the competition.
The other two English sides, Arsenal and Manchester City, were in action on Wednesday night. Both teams had vastly different results in the first two matches, with Arsenal in top spot in their group after two wins and Manchester City in third with a solitary point.
A visit to the top team in the group is always a difficult proposition, especially for a Schalke 04 side that have never won a match on English soil. Their hosts, Arsenal have had a great start to the season, but struggled in to in the last Premier League game at Norwich.
The game was goalless for the first half and looked to be heading that way in the second half when the Dutch pair of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ibrahim Afellay scored for Schalke in the last 15 minutes to give the Germans a comfortable victory. Arsenal started the game with only one striker and rarely threatened the opposing goal. Schalke have now jumped over Arsenal into top spot in Group B, but Arsenal are still three points clear of Olympiakos and should still qualify comfortably for the next stages.
The impressive German side is in control of the group and qualification for the later stages is firmly within their grip.
The defending Premier League champions have struggled in the Champions League and started the day in the Europa League qualifying spot. A last minute defeat at Real Madrid was following by a late goal to salvage a point at home to Borussia Dortmund, but the English champions have not been at their best in the competition.
Knowing they had to win today to stand any chance of qualifying, City started brightly against Dutch champions Ajax and took the lead after 20 minutes when Samir Nasra scored. After the goal, the home side pressed harder and Siem de Jong equalized just before half time. Early in the second half a goal from a Niklas Moisander header gave the home side the lead and ten minutes later Christian Eriksen doubled the lead. No further goals were scored to give the home side a comfortable victory.
Manchester City are now at the bottom of the group with only one point from three games and will need to win at least both home games and hope the other teams drop points to progress. With Dortmund beating Real Madrid it leaves Manchester City five points adrift of the second qualifying spot. This is heading towards the second successive season that they fail to qualify past the group stages and with the vast investment from their owners it is a major disappointment.
The two groups without English teams are shaping up after the matches tonight, with Porto and Malaga taking control of Group A and C respectively. Both teams have 100% records from the first three games. With a comfortable lead, both teams are looking safe to qualify for the final stages.
It was a disappointing week for the English teams, with only Manchester United recording a victory and the other three teams losing. Three of the teams can still qualify, but it will need a better performance in the final games. Manchester City are going to struggle to qualify and might not even make it through to the consolation of the Europa League.