PSG keeps Ancelotti afloat while Arsenal loses grip of Group B
There may be three Round of 16 places up for grabs with Matchday Six still to play, but Tuesday night's action featured eight teams whose places in the next round were secure. Despite that, there were still plenty of talking points coming out of the matches, not least concerning more problems for English teams, and another side whose coach is under pressure:
On Monday, the French press suggested Ancelotti might not survive the week in charge, but this result must make any imminent dismissal highly unlikely. "The owners in Doha are determined to end the Leonardo-Ancelotti cycle by summer 2013," warned
PSG had started the game well and took the lead when Thiago Silva powered in Maxwell's excellent free kick in the 29th minute. Ancelotti's decision to leave out Nene, PSG's best player last season, for Javier Pastore, looked justified early on, but it was the Argentine who allowed Danilo time and space to cross for Jackson Martinez to equalize in the 33rd.
PSG was on top in the second half, and Ezequiel Lavezzi put the host ahead when his shot somehow squirmed under Helton and in at his near post in the 61st. Porto still had chances to level up Salvatore Sirgu saved smartly from Martinez, Lucho Gonzalez fired over, while an unmarked Nicolas Otamendi headed wide in the last minute -- but this win could prove to be a turning point in PSG's season.
That doesn't mean Ancelotti's problems have all disappeared: dressing-room leaks dominated the buildup, with the chief issue seemingly a split between the French speakers and the Italian speakers. When Ancelotti picked only one Frenchman, Blaise Matuidi, for the Matchday Five win in Dynamo Kiev, it was seen as his clear preference for the foreign signings. "If I want to play, I think I'll have to take Italian lessons," moaned one player. When Salvatore Sirigu, the only Italian who also speaks French, told the press there had been a player meeting in Kiev before the game, it was the first the French players had heard of it.
A general sense of dressing-room unease, claimed
Such is the bunched-up nature of Ligue 1, where six points separate the top seven teams, that PSG could win its next three games and everything will be fine again. For the moment, PSG's crisis is over, but you can't escape the feeling that Ancelotti is on borrowed time.
City, on the other hand, has gone backwards. Tuesday's 1-0 defeat to beat an under-strength opponent left them at the bottom of Group D and not even in the Europa League. While that may please Mancini, who spoke pre-match of the problems Thursday night games can have on league form, it will not impress his bosses in Abu Dhabi, nor will it help City's UEFA co-efficient. This is significant as it means the team will be in a low-seeded pot and could land another tough draw in next season's competition. I can't help thinking it will also have a major impact on Mancini's future at City when his performance is assessed at the end of the season.
While this continued Arsenal's rotten run of form, coach Arsene Wenger can point to the team he selected -- not so much a young one, but an older reserve one, featuring as it did Sebastien Squilacci (32), Tomas Rosicky (32), Marouane Chamakh (28), described on Twitter by
Wenger claimed the first goal, scored by Giannis Maniatis, "should not have stood" as it came from a disputed corner. But after that, there only looked like one winner, which came from Kostas Mitroglu's impressive curling shot. A win would have relieved some of the pressure on Wenger, and now, like everyone else, he just has to wait for that draw in a fortnight.
"We needed that second goal tonight, but overall it was a very encouraging game," Wenger said. "Now we have to wait for the draw, but ideally we would want to have finished first in the group."
Kiev took the lead through Andriy Yarmolenko's first-half chip, and it looked like Zagreb was heading for a 12th consecutive group-stage loss, an unwanted record that it would tie with Anderlecht. This season, Dinamo had not even scored in the competition -- until injury time of tonight's game, that is, when Ivan Krstanovic scored a dramatic penalty which sparked off some major goal celebrations. Dinamo had dominated the second half, and deserved its moment of glory: maybe Blatter and Platini missed out after all.
So Tuesday we saw first Champions League starts for Viktor Fischer (Ajax), Jernade Meade (Arsenal), Scott Sinclair (Manchester City) and Oliver Kirch and Moritz Leitner (Dortmund), and a substitute appearance from Jose Rodriguez, who at 17 years and 354 days becomes Real Madrid's youngest ever player in the competition. Their next chance may not come later this season, but in future years.