Here’s what happened on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League, in case you missed it…
READ ALL ABOUT IT
Bayern Munich 2, AEK Athens 0 || Benfica 1, Ajax 1 || Lyon 2, Hoffenheim 2 || Manchester City 6, Shakhtar Donetsk 0 || CSKA Moscow 1, AS Roma 2 || Viktoria Plzen 0, Real Madrid 5 || Valencia 3, Young Boys 1 || Juventus 1, Manchester United 2
WHAT STOOD OUT
Great escape by Man United
Down 1-0 after a magical goal by Cristiano Ronaldo in the 65th minute, Manchester United looked to be in a fair heap of trouble. The English side barely bothered the Italians for most of the night, as Juve’s air-tight defence comfortably dealt with whatever danger Man United created. The Serie A champions squandered a number of scoring opportunities – Juan Cuadrado was the worst culprit – and twice hit the woodwork, failing to put the game out of reach when they had the chance.
The bianconeri paid for their wastefulness. After conceding a foul outside its penalty area, Juventus saw its goal breached for the first time in four games in this competition – Juan Mata curled in a gorgeous free kick to draw United level in the 86th minute. Then moments later, Juventus couldn’t deal with a free kick lobbed deep into the box, and the ball eventually went off defender Alex Sandro for an own-goal.
That was it. Two plays cost Juventus the chance to clinch first place in the group and a spot in the knockout round with two games to spare. Man United emerged from Turin with a famous come-from-behind victory. It was far more than the English side deserved on the balance of play, even if they looked far sharper than they did two weeks ago in a 1-0 loss to Juventus at Old Trafford. But Jose Mourinho won’t be bothered in the least. His club managed to get out of Italy with three valuable points, lifting them up to second place in the Group H table with two games to play.
VAR can’t come soon enough
The Video Assistant Referee system will be introduced in the Champions League next season – in fact, UEFA recently held a four-day course for officials on the system in Madrid. One wonders, though, why VAR isn’t being used in the world’s biggest club competition, when it already featured in the FIFA World Cup this past summer. For crying out loud, VAR is even being used for selected fixtures in the lowly English League Cup.
Wednesday only served to underline how badly VAR is needed in the Champions League. AEK Athens defender Uros Cosic was penalized for pulling down Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, and the Polish striker scored from the spot. But Lewandowski went down far too easily, and never should have been given the penalty in the first place. Manchester City was awarded a farcical penalty kick when Raheem Sterling stubbed his toe and fell to the ground without being touched by a Shakhtar Donetsk player. Had VAR been in place, the laughable decision from referee Viktor Kassai would have been overturned. Instead, the call stood and Gabriel Jesus converted from the spot. Shameful stuff.
In the 65th minute in Turin, Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci played a long, inch-perfect ball from out of the back over the top of Manchester United’s defence and into the penalty area. Playing just off of the last defender, Cristiano Ronaldo let the ball drop over his shoulder before hitting a sweet volley that beat goalkeeper David De Gea at the near post.
Arnor Sigurdsson scored with an emphatic shot from close range in the first half, tying things up for CSKA Moscow against visitors AS Roma. It was the first Champions League goal for Sigurdsson, a 19-year-old Icelandic midfielder who only signed with CSKA this past summer.
You can’t look past Manchester United’s win over Juventus, a game that featured two fabulous goals and some very late drama.
THE GAME WITHIN THE GAME
Manchester City’s attack was simply too much for Shakhtar Donetsk to handle:
“One Champions League night, when I was aged 11, I helped take the UEFA [flag] out to the centre circle and shake it during the anthem. I dreamed I’d play here and score in this competition. Now I have.” – Valencia midfielder Carlos Soler.
SIX PACK OF STATS
• AS Roma’s Lorenzo Pellegrini is the first player to record an assist in three consecutive Champions League appearances for an Italian club since Clarence Seedorf did it with AC Milan in 2007.
• Santi Mina has scored five goals for Valencia this season in all competitions, more than teammates Michy Batshuayi (two), Rodrigo Moreno (one) and Kevin Gameiro (one) combined.
• Thibaut Courtois is the fourth player to appear for both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the Champions League (also Juan Esnáider, José Manuel Jurado and José Antonio Reyes).
• Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo ended a drought of 20 shots and 453 minutes without a goal in the Champions League on Wednesday.
• Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus is the first player to score two penalties in a Champions League game for an English club since Wayne Rooney did so for Manchester United in October 2011.
• Bayern Munich is now unbeaten in 44 Champions League home games against clubs from outside the top five European leagues, with its last defeat being a 1-0 loss against Sweden’s IFK Gothenburg in December 1997.
Stats courtesy of Opta
1) Gabriel Jesus, Manchester: Netted a hat trick as part of an awesome Man City attack that overwhelmed Shakhtar Donetsk.
2) Karim Benzema, Real Madrid: The Frenchman scored two goals and set up another as los blancos rolled to an easy victory.
3) Lorenzo Pellegrini, AS Roma: The Italian set up the opening goal, and then he scored the decisive strike to give the giallorossi an important win.