European Review: Matchday 5
Juventus 1-0 Valencia
The Bianconeri got the win they needed to confirm their passage into the knock-stage, although, the fight for the top spot is still up for grabs as Manchester United are just two points behind.
In another important game, Juve’s manager Max Allegri has seemingly found his preferred starting eleven, especially as Emre Can and Federico Bernadeschi are out injured. The front three of Paulo Dybala-Cristiano Ronaldo-Mario Mandzukic are continuing to build their partnership. The home team had a good shout for a penalty, as Mandzukic appeared to have been hit in the face inside the penalty box early on, but it was not forthcoming – VAR continues to show its worth in incidents like these…
Los Che, were not to be outdone, and they nearly took the lead at the stroke of half-time. A corner came in and Mouctar Diakhaby rose to head the ball with a ferocious power, only for Wojciech Szczesny to pull off a miraculous reflex save to deny the Frenchman! I am surprised the Polish shot-stopper did not hit the back of the net himself after stopping the center back’s chance.
The teams went in at the break scoreless, but it would stay so until the hour mark, as Ronaldo set up Mandzukic to put the two-time European champions ahead. A couple of stepovers, a left-footed cross and he found the Croatian unmarked to tap in the ball from four yards out. Valencia had the ball in the back of Juve’s net soon after, but it was ruled out for a handball after Diakhaby deflected the ball with his arm from a free-kick. Juve gained confidence from the goal but were not able to add to their tally, despite Dybala and Ronaldo forcing the Valencia goalkeeper into a few good saves.
Juve will be hoping to beat Young Boys in their last game to top the group and avoid a tougher second round match.
Roma 0-2 Real Madrid
How the Giallorossi lost this match, only they will know, but their plight is something that has been affecting Serie A teams for nearly two decades now – the failure to put games away!
Following CSKA Moscow’s loss at home to Viktoria Plzen earlier in the day, Roma’s passage out of the group stage was assured, so they played with freedom in this match, but it was not matched by their forwards, as they missed plenty of chances, in an open game at the Stadio Olimpico. As per usual, Patrick Schick missed sitters including a point-blank range effort when the European champions goalkeeper Thiboius Courtois was on the ground.
The away side had their moments as well, but seemed to me they were just biding their time and playing within themselves. Then, the miss of the game – this year – this decade occurred! Real Madrid tried to be fancy on the byline, but Nicolo Zaniolo took control of the ball and put it on a plate for Cengiz Under. The Turkish international somehow missed from three yards out, with an open goal with Courtois on the ground. The referee blew for the half soon after, and the 22-year old was almost in tears, and he had to be consoled by Roma captain Alessandro Florenzi as they headed for the tunnel.
Madrid have dominated Europe recently by not playing good football, but by being clinical in the attacking third, and they did so again to punish a toothless Roma. First, a horrific header back from Federico Fazio straight to Gareth Bale, and the Welshman made no mistake to give the away side the lead. Roma reacted but again could not make their chances stick and before the hour mark, Los Blancos were on the scoresheet again. A cross into the box was knocked into the path of Lucas Vazquez by Karim Benzema, and the Spanish international tapped the ball into the net.
After that, Roma players heads dropped, and the match petted out after. Last year’s semi-finalist will have to be much better if they are to make another decent run, while Madrid are still one of the favorites despite their struggles so far this season.
Napoli 3-1 Red Star Belgrade
In a contrast to the first game in Belgrade, the Partenopei actually took their chances versus the 1991 European champions, as they gave themselves a great chance to advance to the next round.
Dries Mertens almost scored early with a flick, but the Red Star keeper blocked out, but it was a sign of things to come from the Belgium international. However, it was the 1989 UEFA Cup winner’s captain Marek Hamsik who opened the scoring. A corner which seemed to have passed everyone, eventually reached the Slovakian international and he guided the ball into the net, and the home side had the lead they needed.
In an end-to-end game, there were nearly two goals in the space of a few minutes as first Red Star nearly equalized through Veljko Simic who’s shot from point-blank range was saved by David Ospina and then Kalidou Koulibaly found himself up front on a counter, and had a powerful header that was also saved. However, Napoli doubled their lead at the 30th minute, as Fabian Ruiz found Mertens, who flicked the ball first time into the net at the near post. He aso got his second to put Napoli up 3-0, as he cut past the away team’s defense and smashed a shot past the hopeless Red Star keeper.
The away side did have a consolation goal, with a lovely worked move that was finished off by El Fardou Mohamed Ben Nabouhane, but that was as close as they came.
Napoli must get something away to Liverpool on the final matchday, while Red Star can still qualify for the Europa League if they beat PSG at home.
Tottenham 1-0 Inter
Inter have put themselves in a real hole for qualification after a drab display at a below-par Wembley pitch.
The home side, as expected, started off quickly pressing the Nerazzurri high up the pitch. The three-time European champions looked shocked, and they did not respond well one bit, looking languid, especially in midfield where they could not string several passes together to get anything going. In particular, Radja Nainggolan was clearly unfit and he was subbed off in the first half, replaced by Borja Valero. The home side came closest through an Eric Dier shot that hit the post and a few Harry Kane efforts, but the teams went in at the break all tied.
Inter slightly improved in the second and had one or two decent looks at goal, but did not really threaten Spurs goal and it would be the home side that got the breakthrough. Danish international Christian Eriksen was surprisingly left on the bench, but he came on in the second and got the vital goal for the hosts. A well-worked move involving a marauding run from Moussa Sissoko, who passed to Heung-Min Son in the penalty box, he turned and fed the on coming Eriksen and he blasted the ball into the net! After that, there was no way back for il Biscione…
Inter must now beat PSV at home in the final Matchday, whilst hoping Spurs do not beat an already qualified Barcelona.
Milan 5-2 Dudelange
A crazy game at the San Siro where the Rossoneri came from 2-1 down to win and keep their European ambitions alive.
The seven-time European champions, despite being ravaged by injuries, were expected to make light work of the team from Luxembourg, but it was anything but that. The home side did take the lead through young gun Patrick Cutrone, however, they fell behind to a double strike by the visitors within 10 minutes. First, Dominik Stolz with a ferocious half-volley on the run and then David Turpel with a first-time finish that rocketed into the net meant that the upset was well and truly on the cards here. The away side held on to the lead at the half, and the 15,000 fans in the stadium were not impressed.
It took Milan almost 20 minutes of the second half to equalize, and just like the first goal, this one was also very fortunate. A Hakan Calhanoglu cross took a deflection off Stelvio de La Cruz. Four minutes later, the Turkish international got his own name on the score sheet, as his low drive from 25 yards out beat the visitor’s keeper. The play-maker was again involved in il Diavolo’s next goal and yet again, it was an own goal. This time, he whipped in a free-kick, and the ball took a deflection off Tom Schell and lopped over his keeper. Milan were now somehow in the lead by 4-2, and there was more to come. Fabio Borini came on as a substitute and smashed a shot into the goal after Hakan’s shot had crashed the crossbar and rebounded kindly to the former Sunderland man.
Milan travel to Athens to face Olympiacos in the final Matchday and unless they throw away the advantage of a 3-1 lead that they had from Matchday 2, they should qualify for the knock-out stages.
Apollon Limassol 2-0 Lazio
The Biancocelesti having qualified for the knock-out stage left many of their first team players back in Rome and it showed against the Cypriot side.
The home team took a deserved lead at the half an hour mark with a spectacular overhead kick from Faupala, and quite frankly the visitors did not look one bit interested in this match at this point. They tried to push a bit more in the second but as soon as it looked like they might create something, they conceded on a classic counter-attack. Sasa Markovic was the fortunate one to score the goal after Papoulis beat the offside trap and played the ball into him to score from a few yards out. The match was dead more or less after that strike and the game ended.
Lazio will not be able to win the group now and that may cause them to have to face a tougher opponent in the next round.
Another round of European competition has occurred and the record for Serie A teams was three wins and three losses, with only Juve, Roma, and Lazio having guaranteed their spots in the knock-out rounds. Milan, Napoli & Inter still have plenty of work to do and it sets up an exciting final Matchday in two weeks time.