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Champions League: Three Winners, Three Losers

Following a night of European football, Jon Mackenzie looks at three winners and three losers from the Champions League.


The Champions League offers many players the most prestigious stage on which they can showcase their talent to the world. This goes one of two ways: for some players, it can be prove to be their introduction to the top table of world football; for others, it can show them up, effectively ending any pretentions they had for global success.

RealSport looks back over the fixtures from last night, picking out three winners and three losers,

Winners

  1. 1 English Clubs


    In recent years, the performance of English teams in Europe has been a shadow of its former glorious self. Gone were the days when three of the four semifinalists in the Champions League were all Premier League clubs and the decade that saw English clubs consistently reaching the finals is now a distant memory.

    This season feels different. Manchester City have taken their blistering form into Group F, taking 9 points from 9 and looking all but qualified. Tottenham, despite looking to have found themselves in a 'group of death' have hit the halfway point of the group stages sitting at the top, managing to beat a rampant Borussia Dortmund at Wembley before holding out for a draw in the Bernabeu. Even Liverpool, whose struggles this season have been well documented, managed to put their troubles behind them and seven goals past Maribor.

    With Chelsea already turning around a deficit against Atletico Madrid to run out 2-1 winners, could this be the season that sees a new age of English football ushered in on the European stage?

  2. 2 Underdogs


    With the hyper-capitalisation that has slowly enveloped elite football in recent decades, the eventual winner of the Champions League has become something of a foregone conclusion with only a few teams able to challenge for club football's most coveted prize. The flipside of this growing inequality is that there are some teams in the competition who have almost no chance of progressing in the competition.

    Last night, however, was a reminder of the fact that football is enjoyed by millions of people around the world because of its capacity for upsets. Cypriot champions Apoel Nicosia went into Tuesday's fixture against Borussia Dortmund as the clear underdogs but, after a defensive mix-up from the German side, ended up running the Bundesliga leaders all the way to a 1-1 draw. 

    Elsewhere, Spartak Moscow didn't simply pull off an upset against Europa League specialists Sevilla, they embarrassed them: putting five goals past them in a 5-1 drubbing. And, whilst Besiktas are hardly minnows, their 2-1 win away at last season's quarterfinalists Monaco was hardly on the cards.

    If the competition continues to throw up so many unexpected results, then the premature calls that money is ruining the competition may prove to be entirely unfounded.

  3. 3 James Milner


    One of the forgotten men of Premier League football, James Milner spent much of last season covering for Jurgen Klopp at left back. Already 8 games in to the current Premier League season, Milner has only made 2 league starts for his club, although he has come on as a substitute 4 times.

    Last night, the Yorkshireman was fielded in a central midfield position, covering for the rested Jordan Henderson. Despite his recent renaissance as a left-sided defender, this represented a return to a more familiar position for Milner and he took the opportunity with both hands. Controlling the midfield area alongside Emre Can and Gini Wijnaldum, Milner was rewarded with an assist for his troubles.

    The capacity, then, to play in whatever position the manager requires of him with little game time goes something towards explaining why James Milner is so well regarded by many.


Losers


  1. 1 Peter Bosz


    There are some managers for whom system is everything. Take, for example, Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool who will never blame his method in post-match interviews but always 'application' of his system. Dortmund manager Peter Bosz is no different and made similar excuses for his team at the end of their remarkable 1-1 draw with Apoel in Cyprus.

    This season, Bosz has set up Dortmund with a high defensive line, a decision he may have gone on to regret when he came up against Tottenham at Wembley. The lesson not learned, the Dutchman persisted with this tactic against the Cypriot minnows and once again he was punished for it. 

    Of course, it was not merely his tactics which led to BVB's struggles: the players looked lethargic and disinterested. With the knock-out stages now all but impossible, Dortmund will turn their focus on the league. But with their first defeat coming last weekend to a revived RB Leipzig, Peter Bosz may be forced to rethink his approach.

  2. 2 Napoli


    There are few more exciting teams in Europe than Napoli at present. Running away with the Serie A at the moment, Gli Azzurri have a perfect win record of 8 in 8 as things stand. However, there are rumours that manager Maurizio Sarri is prioritising the Scudetto over the Champions League in a bid to take the title back to Naples for the first time since 1990.

    On last night's showing, there was no evidence that Napoli were hanging back in Europe. However, despite fielding a strong side, Napoli failed to take their chances against a similarly rampant Manchester City. Although the scoreline suggests that Napoli ran City close, a missed penalty from the usually-impeccable Dries Mertens meant that the result of the tie could have been entirely different.

    If the Light Blues fail to capitalise in similar pressure matches in their domestic league, then the title may yet be prized from their grip by their challengers.

  3. 3 Serge Aurier


    If Serge Aurier didn't stir up enough trouble with his arrival at Tottenham, he has certainly continued in the same vein. The Frenchman, who has had run-ins with the police and courted trouble after making homophobic remarks about Laurent Blanc, has had an equally torrid time on the field. Getting two yellow cards in quick succession in the London derby match against West Ham, Aurier risked his team losing from a winning position.

    Defensively, some of his challenges have been suspect as well. Yesterday, for example, the full back threw himself into a tackle against Toni Kroos, who had already lost control of the ball, giving away the penalty that Cristiano Ronaldo duly stroked home.

    With Spurs attempting to overturn their bad form in Europe, Mauricio Pochettino will be nervous that his young defender might lack the temperament, especially in the big games.

    

    

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Jon Mackenzie

Jon Mackenzie is the Football Editor at RealSport.

Regularly appearing on talkSPORT radio, his work has also featured in The Economist, The Blizzard, The Square Ball and on the Futbolgrad Network. He also founded A Team of John O'Sheas podcast and hosts it every week.

Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Mackenzie

 

Champions League: Three Winners, Three Losers

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