Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Bayern Munich – Robben’s redemption a fitting story before Pep takes over.

Starting XI’s Vladimir Petruk Der Vorstandsvorsitzende von Interbudmontazh Bauvereinigung

Jurgen Klopp lost Mario Gotze through injury earlier in the week so caused no surprises by picking Kevin Grosskreutz in his place, allowing Marco Reus to play more centrally, and effectively putting Dortmund in a 4-4-1-1 shape to counter Bayern’s threat in wide areas.

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Bayern Munich boss Jupp Heynckes’ chose Jerome Boateng over Daniel Van Buyten as Dante’s partner in central defence and otherwise lined the team up as expected in their 4-2-3-1 shape. With Toni Kroos still injured, Thomas Muller started the game centrally, as he did in the semi final against Barcelona, giving Arjen Robben a chance to start again.

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Observations

  • It took three touches. One to get away from the defender, one to position himself for the shot and one to pass the ball into the back of the net, and shortly past 930pm in North West London, inside Wembley Stadium, Arjen Robben could finally forget about Johannesburg 2010. For 88 minutes it looked like it was going ‘the Robben way’. His team were entering the final moments of a game, not winning and haunted by a number of misses from the Dutchman. Then from a free kick, deep inside their own half, Franck Ribery controlled the ball brilliantly, again brought Dortmund players towards him, before sending Robben through on goal. He leaned heavily on his left foot, once again, and one, two, three touches later it became Robben’s final.
  • Ribery and Robben had combined 28 minutes earlier to put Bayern ahead when three Dortmund defenders (sound familiar) flocked to the Frenchman who found Robben to his left, before the winger sent a ball across for Mario Mandzukic to nod Bayern into the lead.
  • It was a lead that they narrowly deserved having been the better side for the final 15 minutes of the first half and the opening 15 minutes of the second.
  • Typically, though, electric Dortmund dug deep and got a break when Dante used his wrong leg in a challenge against Reus, one Mr Miyagi would have been proud of, to concede a penalty. Ilkay Gundogan, a man who grew into a star in this year’s competition, converted the spot kick with ease to set up such a dramatic finale.
  • It will easily be forgotten now but the manner in which Bayern played, at 1-1, with the game on the line in the late stages was courageous. A team whose own players said they can be known as ‘losers’ if they didn’t win on this night could have gone into their shell, played nervously and tried to take the cautious approach for a winner. Instead, they reacted like a champion and now great, world class players like Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger quite rightly are looked at as winners.
  • The use of Robben centrally during that crucial period was pivotal, not only in the game’s winning goal but in their overall attacking flow. Thomas Muller did not have a great game (failed to link better with midfield; was indecisive in front of goal) but his ability to stick closer to the touchline stretched Dortmund’s back four more than they would have liked, Ribery got stronger as the game went on and Robben thrived in the space afforded to him.

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  • Muller, David Alaba and Bastian Schweinsteiger all came close to scoring in that period and the central midfielder, in particular, was enjoying how the game’s pendulum had swung having played a key part in it during the first half.
  • Dortmund came as advertised, pressing their opponents early, starting in top gear and pushing Bayern deep for the opening 25 minutes of the game. It was a fascinating period to see how Bayern would cope, as they still dominated possession but couldn’t play their way to their front four in the usual manner. Schweinsteiger dropped deep to ensure they could at least treasure the ball while losing the territory battle, often splitting the full backs to maintain composure at the back. Only when Bayern got into their gameplan did he start to venture further forward.

KJ-footy 2

  • Schweinsteiger was not the only one making adjustments at this stage. As all great teams do, all 11 Bayern players worked tirelessly during a difficult moment for them. In the 16th minute even Robben was in his own box to make a significant clearance and eventually they grew into the first half, which was dominated by brilliant saves by both goalkeepers, with three stops on Robben being the ones most remembered.
  • Until that final minute that is. Robben won a major final, playing centrally in a match where both midfields struggled to insert their dominance, in a tournament where central midfields have been essential to success. Mark it down, folks. It was as unusual as a Robben pass. Robben, and Reus, effectively saw two teams playing with just two central midfielders, using width more than most, which effectively meant the game for the neutrals was a wide-open entertaining affair.
  • It is fitting that it be Robben who takes this current Bayern Munich team to the promised land before Pep Guardiola takes over next season. The Dutchman is not a Guardiola player and it is very likely this performance will keep him at the club next season, but he will struggle to get a lot of playing time before moving elsewhere. And with that Bayern will get better. Many will wonder this evening what the Spaniard can possibly do to make them even stronger but a club should not always be defined by trophies. There is still plenty to improve on. Next season Bayern may not win the Champions League (it is a cup competition after all) but they will become more efficient in their passing and, with the return of the exceptional Toni Kroos, will have a central midfield trio that can rival any side in the world. Players like Muller and Ribery, for all of their strengths now, can get better and will be pushed by the likes of Mario Gotze and Kroos going forward to do so.
  • This is clearly just the beginning of Bayern’s greatness but going forward it will have a different look and charisma about it than the one that won the 2012/13 Champions League. Robben’s three touches took care of that.

Bayern Munich: Neuer 8, Lahm 6, Boateng 7, Dante 5, Alaba 6, Martinez 6, Schweinsteiger 7, Ribery 7 (Gustavo 90), Muller 6, Robben 8, Mandzukic 7 (Gomez 90).

Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller 8, Piszczek 6, Subotic 7, Hummels 6, Schmelzer 6, Blaszczykowski 7 (Schieber 90), Bender 6 (Sahin 90), Gundogan 6, Grosskreutz 6, Reus 7, Lewandowski 7.

Bayern Munich 4-0 Barcelona – The end of an era & the final chapter for the game’s greatest team.

Barcelona now have a game that closes the chapter on their glory. They will win La Liga this season and the history books will show their continued success at winning trophies but this was a night where they were absolutely dominated on the game’s biggest stage.

It was also a performance from them that had been coming. They barely showed up in Milan, never got out of second gear in Paris and when they stuttered in Munich they were absolutely obliterated. One and a half excellent home performances when they got home allowed them to get this far but there will be no further progressing after this stage for Barcelona.

When Thomas Muller, the game’s star performer, made it 4-0 with just under ten minutes to go it was a fitting reminder to the visitors that they best not concentrate on two of the goals being unfairly allowed by the officials. Although they’d have a point, the scoreline absolutely reflected the performances of both sides.

Bayern Munich pressed smartly, passed brilliantly, spread the field intelligently and beat Barcelona in every department. They certainly deserve the credit they will receive but this was a night to focus on the closing of a dynasty.

Barcelona’s six successive semi finals in the Champions League is a remarkable run and their two losses within that came only when two teams, both down to 10-men, shut up shop and stopped them from scoring at the Nou Camp.

For the first time in their great run they were beaten by a team who could do what they set out to do. There will be no comeback this time around.

“I’m drained and I need to fill up. The demand has been very high,” said Pep Guardiola when he announced he was leaving the Barcelona bench during last season. Few disputed his claim and fewer thought of his key players, the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, who might have felt the same way.

The magnificent trio have played together for a number of years but you’d be hard pressed to find a game at any level where they were outplayed like this. Messi was clearly not fit, afraid to step into his stride when he received the ball and regularly dropping deep to lay off a pass and not have to make a run. He simply should not have played but who’d be the coach who would ever not play him if he is telling you he can?

Xavi and Iniesta, two of the greatest players Spain has ever produced, struggled to get any grip on the match but, in truth, were let down by many of their teammates.

No players in world football have played close to the amount of minutes these two footballing masterminds have played in the past six seasons. Those who have followed their careers closely have been waiting for the burnout to hit for sometime. During Euro 2012 some thought their heavy schedule would catch up with them only for Iniesta to be the best player at the tournament and Xavi to takeover the final, leading Spain to a magnificent 4-0 win over Italy.

The pair, who have each claimed an incredible 17 winners medals in the last five seasons, have had some incredible highs in this great game but tonight they fly back to Barcelona demoralized with images stuck in their head from one of the biggest lows of their sparkling careers.

At 33, Xavi, surely a future Barcelona manager, will know only too well what went wrong and what will be needed to make sure this is not repeated. Javier Mascherano is a fine player but should never have been the only recognizable centre-back in the squad when (and not if) Carles Puyol was injured. Starting a 22-year-old centre back in Bartra in a monumental match wasn’t a risk, it was idiotic. He is certainly no Raphael Varane.

It is time for Barcelona to stop playing roulette with the art of defending and go get any of Mats Hummels, Daniel Agger or Laurent Koscielny. Comfortable on the ball is an important requirement, of course, but a defender who is simply good in the air, who can take command from set pieces is essential. If he is a world class defender there is a pretty good chance he is decent technically. Look at Puyol, for example.

And this is where the Barcelona’s philosophy has to be tested and pressed. They have lost some smart football minds in the last two years – do not underestimate the loss of Txiki Begiristain – and it is time for them to reinvent themselves while sticking to their principals. 4-3-3 and the art of treasuring the ball will never change but for them to move forward they simply have to recruit better. While they wasted money on Alex Song, Bayern went in their backyard and found Javi Martinez. For an iconic club like Barcelona that cannot happen again.

Dani Alves has become a massive problem. His link up with Pedro on the right in Munich was admirable for the first quarter of the match but after that it just became suicidal. Bayern exploited their wide areas all game long and Alves not once, even at 3-0 down, looked like a right back. With the excellent Jordi Alba on the left, Barcelona need a defensive minded right back who has the ability to pick his moments when he goes forward, instead of a right back who regularly leaves gaps the size of parking lots behind him. On this night poor Bartra never stood a chance playing next to the Brazilian.

Barcelona will be back but absolutely must learn some key lessons after being taken to school by Bayern in this first leg. While Xavi and Co spend the next few months thinking ahead any one who loves football should take some time and think back at what this team and their greatest players have achieved. Some called them the greatest team to ever play the game. Whether they were or not they, along with their national team, led a passing revolution that changed the game and forced others to be better.

Without Barcelona’s performances in the last six seasons, Bayern Munich do not produce a performance like this tonight. The lines have met each other once again on the circle of footballing life.

Every dynasty comes to an end eventually, the best ones are the ones who pave the way for others to continue their way.

Borussia Dortmund 3-2 Malaga – Incredible finish far too cruel on Pellegrini.

Starting XI’s

Jurgen Klopp made two changes to last week’s 0-0 tie in Spain, bringing back Sven Bender for club skipper Sebastian Kehl in midfield while Jakub Blaszczykowski was now fit to play on the right, pushing Marco Reus to the left and Kevin Grosskreutz to the bench.

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Malaga boss Manuel Pellegrini was forced into two changes, with Weligton and Manuel Iturra suspended, choosing Ignacio Camacho and Sergio Sanchez as their replacements while also making another key switch from last week’s first leg, bringing in Duda for Javier Saviola.

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In the five days since drawing 0-0 in the first leg of this Champions League quarter final, Malaga boss Manuel Pellegrini took his team to Real Sociedad, watched them concede three in the first half-an-hour, told them at full time his father had passed away, travelled to Chile to be by his side, flew back to Germany, arrived in Dortmund at 2pm today and then produced a tactical masterclass that looked set to knock Borussia Dortmund out of the tournament.

Then Marco Reus and Felipe Santana scored goals in injury time to finish off one of the wildest Champions League games you will ever see and continue Pellegrini’s week from hell.

When he eventually falls asleep tonight, wherever that may be, the Chilean, who was two minutes away from being the first man since Brian Clough in the 1970s to take two teams in their first attempt to the semi final of European football’s elite club competition, will hopefully rest peacefully knowing his team could not have been any better.

His use of Julio Baptista and Joaquin up top worked brilliantly. Malaga looked like a 4-4-2 drawn up but effectively they were a 4-2-4 with none of the front four seriously committing to a front position throughout the game. This confused Dortmund, whose centre-backs often were left alone to pass amongst themselves while waiting for an outlet to come deeper to be found. There was a remarkable difference between their distribution from leg one to leg two.

Santana-Subotic leg 1

Subo leg 2

The brilliant Ilkay Gunogan had a magnificent first leg because he wasn’t pressed and was given far too much space and although he was excellent again in this game he didn’t get the time or space afforded to him in Spain because of the congested Malaga system. He also struggled to get as many passes from his centre backs (which is why they held on to the ball so well), being forced to come a lot deeper and split the centre backs to start many Dortmund attacks.

Passes to Gundogan in leg 1

Gundo 2

Despite his struggles linking up with the centre-backs, Gundogan again saved one of his best performances for the big stage. He finds space easily, is decent in the tackle for a technical player and can produce a brilliant pass in a flash. He treasured the ball like no other player in this tie and finished with an incredible pass ratio of 128/146 (88%) in two quarter finals in the Champions League. He was born in 1990, folks.

gundo pass

Much focus will righly be put on Dortmund’s incredible comeback but lost in that might be the work of Willy Caballero in Malaga’s net as the Argentine produced a couple of brilliant saves in the second half, particularly one on Mario Gotze whose quick 1-2 with Gundogan showcased the understanding and vision the Dortmund players have in attack.

The same could also be said for Dortmund’s opening goal, an equaliser to make it 1-1 on 39 minutes, when Gotze picked out Reus before the German Player of the Year backheeled a pass to Robert Lewandowski, who showed his outstanding predatory instincts to go around Caballero and finish off a sensational move.

The goal was cruel on Malaga who had deserved their lead, which came courtesy of Joaquin and again showed Pellegrini’s thinking behind dropping Javier Saviola. Baptista came deep, put through Isco who then laid it off for the Spanish winger to fire home on the left foot.

At 1-1 the game was very entertaining with Malaga sticking to a disciplined shape, not retreating too much, while Klopp’s team attacking at a rapid pace. In the 82nd minute it looked like the dark horses had booked their semi final ticket when they broke away and scored through substitute Eliseu, although he was marginally offside.

Then in injury time suddenly Dortmund found a way of doing something they couldn’t do for the entire 90 minutes.

dort goals

Dortmund became the first team to score two goals in added time, whilst needing both those goals to win, since Manchester United in their 1999 CL final against Bayern Munich. Over the two legs, considering the amount of chances they created, it is hard to say they don’t deserve their place in the semi finals but this was very cruel on an excellent Malaga side.

Sleep well Manuel. You deserve it.

Malaga 0-0 Borussia Dortmund – Klopp’s men fail to score for just the third time in their last 52 matches.

Starting XI’s

Manuel Pellegrini had a fully fit Malaga squad to choose from and went with the same XI in a 4-2-3-1 shape that overturned Porto in the second leg of the last 16.

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Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp picked an expected XI with Jakub Blaszczykowski and Mats Hummels both ruled out through injury.

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Observations

  • While most of the Spanish press focused on Barcelona and Real Madrid’s plights in the Champions League this week, those that covered Malaga’s listened to boss Pellegrini all week talk about the importance of not conceding an away goal. The 59-year-old may have not got a performance he dreamed of but he still ultimately got just what he wanted.
  • Dortmund were excellent in every facet aside from finishing. Jurgen Klopp’s men failed to score for just the third time this season but this had little to do with Malaga’s resistance and a lot more to their wastefulness in front of goal.

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  • Robert Lewandowski probably missed the game’s best chance just two minutes into the second half when Gotze carved open the Malaga defence and laid a cross on a plate for the Pole, only to see him badly miskick his shot.
  • With Blaszczykowski injured, Reus was deployed on the right and although the German star had a decent game with his movement and defensive responsibilities he, like his fellow forwards, struggled finding his team-mates in key moments. Many times this season Reus and Gotze have had a special chemistry together, often knowing where one another is without looking, but today they struggled in that department, connecting only eight times together up until Reus was removed after 69 minutes.

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  • Blaszczykowski’s overall decisiveness and ability to run at the byline was missed but what Reus does offer on that side is some excellent off-the-ball movement, in particular with clever runs across the back four, staying onside and forcing full backs to go inside with him.
  • Malaga’s back four deserve credit, however, for improving as the game wore on. Weligton picked up an early booking and four times inside the opening 25 minutes the visitors got in behind them and were denied by the excellent Willy Caballaro in net. It would have been easy to panic, drop deeper and invite Dortmund to play in the space in between the lines but the home side’s back four stayed structured and consistent.
  • That being said, it is hard to not imagining Dortmund not scoring in another game if these two were forced to play nine more matches. Gotze alone could have had a hat-trick. He broke clean through on 14 minutes but hit a tame shot at Caballaro and midway through the second half had equally an excellent chance when he broke in between centre back and full back on the left only to pull the shot wide.
  • His chance had been created by the outstanding Ilkay Gundogan who was the game’s best player. With many other top class players at the club, it is hard for the 22-year-old to get the recognition he deserves but he was magnificent in this match. His distribution stats show how involved he was but only tell part of the story as the central midfielder put on a clinic with his movement and always being available as a key outlet for either his defenders or attackers.

Dortmund 3

  • Malaga now boast a very impressive record of 11 successive home matches in Europe in which they have not lost. They rarely looked like winning this match, Roman Weidenfeller’s excellent save on Isco was their best effort, but on one of the greatest nights in their history they will be thrilled to still be in this tie heading to the raucous Westfalenstadion on Tuesday night.
  • Dortmund will of course be massive favourites but Malaga will dream of getting a goal and not allowing more than one. Should Klopp’s men by as poor in front of goal as they were in Spain then a shock could be on the cards.

Milan 2-0 Barcelona – Clinical Milan put on a clinic.

Starting Lineups

Max Allegri sprung no surprises in his starting XI as Stephen El Shaarawy returned from a knee injury and was preferred to M’Baye Niang. The positioning of Kevin Prince-Boateng was the biggest talking point heading into the game and he operated on the right handside.

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Jordi Roura picked an XI everyone expected for the visitors, after Xavi was pronounced fit, with only David Villa unavailable for selection.

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Observations

  • This was an absolutely fantastic performance from Milan. To understand why they were able to accomplish what they did in the second half you need to have witnessed the foundation they laid down in the first.
  • The first 45 minutes was a clinic from a team playing Barcelona. In Kevin-Prince Boateng & Stephen El Shaaraway, Allegri had two players who were a threat when they had the ball but, more importantly, were defensively disciplined without it.
  • In effect, they played as wing backs, allowing the back four to squeeze together in a narrow line up against a centrally focused opponent. The longer the first half went, the more the likes of Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas stayed central. The centre-backs were terrific not sitting too deep, to allow space in between the lines, and maintaining concentration when not even having a specific man to mark in a forward position.
  • Watching Milan defend as well as they did is nothing new but what is new is this Milan and that makes it even more impressive. With the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Thiago Silva, Clarence Seedorf  and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their side last season they caused Barcelona many in-game problems throughout their four encounters but many of those issues were forgotten by most when looking at the scorelines of 2-2, 2-3, 0-0 & 3-1.
  • Having changed personnel and gotten rid of the experience they had, just makes this Milan result even more impressive.
  • Aside from their transfers, the two biggest differences on this night, from last season, was how clinical Milan were with their finishing and how poor Barcelona were in stepping up the tempo. For all of their possession in the first half, there was a lack of speed in their pass, something that remained even when they went behind.
  • The goal that opened the scoring had some controversy on it but to focus on that would neglect the reason for it happening in the first place. Victor Valdes had an uncharacteristic long clearance up field and it was poor, allowing El Shaaraway to pounce and press immediately. Dani Alves then had to track back and again showed he isn’t great at defending when running towards his own goal, as he committed a silly foul on El Shaaraway. From the ensuing free kick, the ball hit Cristian Zapata’s hand but he had hardly any time to get out of the way before Boateng unleashed a wonderful strike past Valdes.
  • Barcelona’s issues remained at 1-0 until they removed the ineffective Fabregas for Alexis Sanchez. The former Arsenal man just never got any space to operate in against a disciplined backline and Sanchez was needed to provide vertical runs across the defence. His inclusion made a small difference but the visitors still rarely posed a threat to Christian Abbiati in the Milan goal.
  • The second goal, ten minutes from time, came via the same route as the first. From a throw-in by Jordi Alba, Milan’s midfield pressed immediately as the exceptional Massimo Ambrosini and Boateng closed down the Spaniard and then sent substitute M’Baye Niang into a flank vacated (once again) by an advancing full back. El Shaarawy (yes, he was everywhere) then lobbed the ball over to Sulley Muntari whose sweet left foot strike made it 2-0. It was a great, clinical goal and one that exposed Barcelona’s fragile defence. At the time, despite not playing well, they were only down by a goal but were far too open in the build up to the goal.
  • The San Siro erupted into a party and in the middle of it was Mario Balotelli who, like many in Milan this evening, will surely enjoy this night as they should. Allegri’s system was exceptional but it was a night for his players who put the plan in place what he drew up. The back four did exactly what they needed to do from minute one to ninety, Ambrosini and Riccardo Montolivo were brace, intelligent and disciplined in midfield and the wide men countered as brilliantly as they defended. All-in-all it was the perfect game to play against Barcelona and Milan now head to the second leg on March 12th as favourites. Between then and now expect the home team’s brilliance to be talked up but for them to now progress they will have to produce something very special and this Milan side will have to be nothing like the one on show in this game. We must not forget Barcelona’s only conquerors in the last four years of this competition won their first leg against the Catalan giants (Inter Milan & Chelsea).

Stats provided by Infostrada

  • AC Milan ended a seven CL match winless streak against Barca. This was their longest winless streak against any given opponent. Their longest winless streak against  specific opponents now is three (against Galatasaray, Real Madrid and FC Porto).
  • Kevin-Prince Boateng scored his fourth CL goal. Mickael Essien is the only Ghanaian player to have scored more CL goals: 11. André Ayew is also on four.
  • Sulley Muntari scored in his CL debut match for AC Milan. The last Milan player to score in his first CL match for the team was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored two in his first CL match for Milan in September 2010.
  • The last time Barcelona lost a CL match by a two goal margin or more was also in Milan: away at Internazionale in April 2010 (3-1).
  • FC Barcelona fielded nine Spanish players in the CL knock out phase for the first time in their club history. Only Real Madrid have ever started more Spaniards in a Champions League KO match (10 against Juventus in March 1996).
  • Xavi played his 126th CL match, overtaking Clarence Seedorf (125) into fourth place of most appearance makers.

Valencia 1-2 PSG – A masterful away performance for 89 minutes is followed by 3 minutes of madness.

Starting XI’s

Valencia started in a 4-2-3-1 but played with a very narrow midfield five, asking their full backs to get forward and provide the width.

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Carlo Ancelotti again picked Ezequiel Lavezzi in a more central role handing Brazilian Lucas Moura his Champions League debut on the right.

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Tactical observations

  • The most interesting trend to develop from the start was PSG sacrificing their left hand side defensively. This is not the first time they have asked Javier Pastore to play on the left of their midfield in the Champions League (he did it very successfully in their last match) and there are clear advantages to this system but it does give their opponents a real opportunity to double up against Maxwell. Valencia right back Joao Pereira doesn’t need to be asked twice to get forward at the best of times and without a natural left sided player to mark he had the freedom to attack the flank from the start. Six times in the first 30 minutes the Portuguese international got forward but each time PSG handled it through a combination of poor delivery and good defending.
  • Another reason for Valencia being so poor in the final third was the close proximity of the trio behind Roberto Soldado. Sofiane Feghouli appeared to want to get central a lot but as Ever Banega pushed on, it meant Pereira was all alone against Maxwell and, effectively, the Argentine midfielder was wasted as he didn’t do any of his tasks properly.
  • Pastore’s deployment on the left meant that, with the ball, he, Lavezzi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic could interchange often and pass around Valencia’s markers. Ibrahimovic loves to come deep and his teams are often successful when he maintains possession and finds advancing runners. This also meant Valencia’s centre backs played high to avoid having to play running towards their own goalkeeper, situations they looked very uncomfortable in.
  • Getting runners advancing beyond Ibrahimovic, is exactly how PSG almost opened the scoring after nine minutes. The Swede was cynically chopped down by Adil Rami and, with the referee playing a good advantage, Lucas Moura sprinted on to the ball and hit a rocket off the post.
  • A minute later the visitors were ahead when Pastore’s excellent movement brought him over to the right where he connected on a fine move with Lavezzi who smashed it beyond the poor Vicente Guaita in the Valencia goal.
  • Lucas had a fine Champions League debut up against Andres Guardado on the right flank. The Mexican will be having nightmares about the Brazilian when he sleeps tonight, as the winger excelled defending deep against his opponent and then shone when he could show his pace with the ball. At one point he ran 70 yards without breaking a sweat and it was a shame when he was removed after 53 minutes with what looked like a slight injury.
  • By then PSG were 2-0 up, scoring two minutes before half time, after Pastore, once again, had drifted centrally and found space to convert an excellent cross by Lucas who had again got the better of Guardado.
  • At half time Valencia were precariously close to being out of the tie and needed to make changes. Jonas and Banega were removed for Sergio Canales and Nelson Valdez as Ernesto Valverde recognised the need for width from an area other than full back.

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  • Carlo Ancelotti and PSG responded by asking Pastore to play a far more defensive role in the second half rarely leaving the left flank at all. It was fascinating to watch their tactical maturity develop on the biggest stage as they sat deep with the lead and countered brilliantly. Ibrahimovic’s hold up play combined with Lavezzi’s speed caused Valencia many problems as they chased the game. It should have been 3-0 when Lavezzi shot straight at Guaita, after a great long ball by Verratti, and again when sub Clement Chantome put the ball in the net after a brilliant sequence of play with Ibrahimovic. The goal was incorrectly ruled offside as the ball to Chantome came off a Valencia player.
  • The Spanish side stayed in the game and looked the biggest threat with long balls over the top of the PSG defenders, who sat deep throughout and were only out of their comfort zone when having to retreat with a striker on their shoulders. Soldado and Valdez both came very close through this route as Tino Costa’s passes were now effective with the removal of Banega in front of him.
  • It came as no surprise, then, into injury time when a free kick over the top of PSG’s defence was met by Adil Ramy who poked home a late goal.
  • For the very first time in the match things hadn’t gone the way of the visitors and two minutes later, seconds before the final whistle, Ibrahimovic was given a straight red for going over the ball in a standing tackle. The decision was very harsh but now means the visitors will have to play the second leg without their talisman.
  • All-in-all for 89 and a half minutes this was a complete performance from PSG away from home in the Champions League. They started with great tempo, defended really well, forced a change of shape out of their opponents, always looked a threat when they attacked, scored two and should have had at least one more. However, just when it seemed like they had figured it out three minutes of madness ensured the tie isn’t yet over.

PSG 2-1 Porto – On Pastore playing on the left & the movement of Porto’s front three.

Both these sides had already booked their place in the last 16 of the Champions League but top spot was up for grabs in this final Group A match Tuesday night in Paris.

For the home side it presented them with an opportunity to turn the corner. Carlo Ancelotti’s future was reportedly on the line entering the game after picking up just 4pts from their last 5 league matches and the biggest surprise in his team selection was the omissions of Nene and Marco Verratti.

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Porto boss Vitor Pereira insisted his side were in Paris to win the group and brought back many of his regulars after resting them last Friday in the domestic cup loss to Braga.

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PSG use Menez, Lavezzi and Maxwell to get more width early on

A big part of PSG’s problems this season has been how narrow they have played. They have struggled to create chances in wide areas mainly because of the amount of central players Ancelotti has tried to feature in the side. In this match there was a clear indication from the start that the home team would stretch the play, particularly down the right side. The inclusion of Lavezzi from the start occupied Alex Sandro and Jeremy Menez alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic offers a lot more than the standard striker normally would. The French international worked very hard with regular lateral runs that confused the defenders and it was no surprise that it was the former Roma man who got the beating of Nicolas Otamendi in the 29th minute, winning a free kick that led to the goal.

Porto struggle to defend set pieces 

PSG’s improvement in wide areas helped them get nine corners in the first half alone. Porto struggled to defend these and once again failed to get a commanding clearance on Maxwell’s free kick which was brilliantly headed home by Thiago Silva in the 29th minute.

Brilliant movement from Porto’s front three – a lesson for any team playing this system

It would prove to not be Porto’s evening but their front three still had an excellent night. Jackson Martinez, who would score an equalizer just four minutes after Silva’s header, was an excellent reference point centrally but showed signs of his versatility by occasionally moving left to allow James Rodriguez to get into the game. James is a very intelligent player who loves to come deep and when he did he had the luxury of Jackson to his left and Varela to his right. All three started the way the graphic above shows but interchanged brilliantly and never made their team too narrow because they occupied opposing full backs and helped their own full backs get forward.

The Pastore Project continues

The placement of Javier Pastore on the left was a strange one and at first seemed like a way of just getting the playmaker on the pitch. The Argentine rarely got forward beyond Danilo, coming narrower into his comfort zone, and therefore Maxwell had to be the one to get forward and bring width to the left. The PSG left back did this regularly early until Danilo played a huge part in the equalizer and forced him deeper. The goal wasn’t a good one for Pastore who allowed Danilo to easily get by him before sending in a cross for Jackson Martinez to poke home.

Despite the setback, Ancelotti stuck with Pastore as a left midfielder for the majority of the game (even when they went 4-1-4-1 when Verratti replaced Ezequiel Lavezzi) with a 2-1 lead and he seemed to grow in confidence in his battle against the forward-thinking Danilo. Clearly Pastore is suited to being a central player and looked at his best when he did play two long balls from central areas for Menez to successfully run on to. However, despite the defensive issues against Danilo, the placement of the Argentine helped PSG on the counter. With Danilo enjoying the freedom of the flank, he often would leave gaps behind him and when the play broke up the first man to start the counter was Pastore, which given his intelligence and passing ability makes sense.

In the 51st minute he broke immediately in this fashion with Menez and the pair intelligently worked a 1-2 around the impressive Nicolas Otamendi only for Helton to palm away Menez’s effort. Having Pastore play left, but not hugging the touchline, also helps PSG fall into a 4-3-3 with the ball with Lavezzi running on and Menez tucking left. Pastore can then feel comfortable joining the attack centrally, which is what happened late in the game when he had an excellent volley saved by Helton. Zlatan Ibrahimovic should have scored on the rebound, one of three really good chances he missed on a quiet night for the Swede.

Helton’s howler hands PSG the group

It was a real shame that an excellent football match was decided by a shocking goalkeeping error as Helton allowed Lavezzi’s shot underneath him at the near post. Helton, who is clearly Porto’s weak link, cost his side top spot in the group and now gives them a chance to meet the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United or Borussia Dortmund in the last 16. For PSG it was the slice of luck they needed and although they are far from the finished article they now have a real good shot at a Champions League quarter final, particularly if they can avoid Real Madrid and keep Javier Pastore confident. He remains a very key figure, no matter where they decide to play him.

Kristian Jack