Friday, April 03, 2020
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It’s Europe’s elite club tournament - widely acknowledged as the World’s best - but is there any other competition in which mid-season fixtures are of so little consequence? It’s understandable, with all the money ploughed into it, that the powers that be want to milk it for all it’s worth (let’s be thankful for the end of the double group-stage), but it hardly makes for compelling viewing. 

 

There was one point of interest on Tuesday night as pre-tournament favourites and last year’s beaten finalists, Chelsea, conspired to make a meal of an easy group. After a strong start to the season, the Blues again look one-dimensional against FC CLuj and so followed a typical display with lots of huff and puff, but little blowing of the house down.  After taking the lead just before half-time, through Solomon Kalou, Scolari’s men were pegged back in the 55th minute by Yssouf Kone. It took the introduction of Didier Drogba to break the deadlock as his sharp touch and finish from Joe Cole’s chipped through ball belied the few games he’s played this season.

 

If Chelsea are to live up to their billing as favourites for every competition they enter this season, they must hope the big Ivorian can stay fit, stop throwing stuff at people, build some kind of working relationship with Nic Anelka and stop angling for a move away from the club. We can only wait and see...  

 

Elsewhere, with Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United already through all they had to play for was top spot in their respective groups.  Liverpool came from behind to beat PSV 3-1 and finish top, whilst Manchester United - with many players rested - couldn’t beat Aalborg at Old Trafford. Ultimately, though, a 2-2 draw was enough to send them through as group winners thanks to Celtic’s 2-0 win over Villarreal at Parkhead. 

 

Arsene Wenger’s decision to rest players didn’t pan out as he'd planned as the Gunners were comprehensively beaten by FC Porto.  Wenger made seven changes to the side that beat Wigan at the weekend with Fabregas, Clichy, Adebayor, Van Persie and Bacary Sagna all not making the trip to Portugal. There was a place in the side for the maligned Emanuel Eboue, but being complicit in ensuring the club’s second place finish is unlikely to endear him any further to the faithful. 

 

Bayern finished top after beating Lyon 3-2 at Stade de Gerland, whilst Inter completed a disappointing group stage in second after a 2-1 defeat to Werder Bremen in Germany – a result that saw Panathanaikos top the group.  

 

It’s been a slog but now, thankfully, the group stage is over. There were no major casualties and our very own ‘Big 4,’ barring Chelsea, qualified at a canter. So now the ‘most exciting club competition in the world’ goes on a 3-month sabbatical. We'll have to wait until the end of February for some genuine excitement.    

 

 

Arsenal will face either Panathanaikos, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus or Roma. 

 

 

Chelsea will face either Panathanaikos, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus or Porto.  

 

 

Liverpool will face either Inter, Real Madrid, Sporting Lisbon, Lyon, Villarreal. 

 

 

Manchester United will face either Inter, Real Madrid, Sporting Lisbon, Lyon or Athletico Madrid.   

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