Tuesday December 8th, 2015

The headlines are obvious in Manchester. Manchester United crashed out of the Champions League, beaten by Wolfsburg 3-2, as PSV Eindhoven progressed in second place in Group B, while Manchester City pipped Juventus to take the top spot in Group D. That, though, gives little idea of the drama of the final 15 minutes, during which time three goals in Eindhoven and two in Wolfsburg saw a ticket to the last 16 slip in and out of United’s hands.

City, meanwhile, came from behind through two Raheem Sterling goals and one from Wilfried Bony to beat Borussia Monchengladbach, which failed to qualify for the Europa League as Sevilla beat Juventus to take third in the group. The result spelled the end of Fabian Johnson's stay in European competition, but not before the U.S. international set up two goals in Gladbach's loss at the Etihad.

Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid clinched the top spot in Group C with a 2-1 victory at Benfica, which came second in Group C, as Galatasaray booked its place in the Europa League with a draw against Astana.

There was also a record 8-0 win over Malmo for Real Madrid, which was already guaranteed top spot in Group A above Paris Saint-Germain, but got four goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and three more from Karim Benzema in the rout. PSG had also already confirmed its passage to the last 16 but beat Shakhtar 2-0, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lucas Moura each scored and assisted on goals. With just three points, Shakhtar took Group A's Europa League qualifying slot in on a head-to-head tiebreaker over Malmo.

Champions League results (Groups A-D)

Group Winner Group Runner-up Europa League berth Out of Europe
Real Madrid Paris Saint-Germain Shakhtar Donetsk Malmo
Wolfsburg PSV Eindhoven Manchester United CSKA Moscow
Atletico Madrid Benfica Galatasaray Astana
Manchester City Juventus Sevilla Monchengladbach

Here is what stood out from the day's action:

Player of the day: Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

Planet Futbol
Watch: Ronaldo scores four goals in 20 Champions League minutes

Even if it was only against Malmo, it would be churlish to ignore Cristiano Ronaldo’s claims after he scored four, including the third fastest Champions League hat trick ever. In the same breath, it was only against Malmo (it’s telling of his scoring patterns this season that his 11 goals in the group stage–more than 23 of the teams involved–have all come against Malmo and Shakhtar, and none against Paris Saint-Germain).

With the eight-goal win, Real Madrid matched the record set by Liverpool against Besiktas in 2007. Remarkably, for a manager with a reputation for cautiousness, Rafa Benitez was in charge of both winning sides.

Goal of the day: Wolfsburg's second

Wolfsburg’s second goal against Manchester United was stunning, a move of extraordinary ambition and stunning execution. It was Vierinha who ended up knocking the ball over the line, but this was a team goal, full of smart movement and cleverly conceived passes.

Andre Schurrle took down a high diagonal on the left, then, as Guillermo Varela slipped, hit a cross-field ball to Julian Draxler on the Wolfsburg right. He drifted through two challenges, played a one-two with Max Kruse and, with just David De Gea to beat, rolled the ball square for Vierinho to tap in. In 15 minutes, Wolfsburg had gone from being 1-0 down to 2-1 up.

Eye-opening result of the day: Sevilla 1, Juventus 0

Planet Futbol
Around Europe: EPL giants fall; Gary Neville's challenge at Valencia

Few, even at Manchester City, which needed a Sevilla victory, gave the Spanish side much hope at home against Juventus. But with 25 minutes to go, Fernando Llorente rose at the near post to guide a corner beyond Gianluigi Buffon at the far post. It was a characteristic goal from the giant center forward, and perhaps a point made after his departure from Turin in the summer. It also secured Sevilla’s place in the Europa League at Monchengladbach's expense.

Sevilla will have the rare opportunity to win a third straight Europa League title, after securing a place in this season's Champions League by lifting last season's second-choice trophy.

Late twist of the day: Group B goes back and forth

There were twists aplenty in both Groups B and D, but the late drama in Eindhoven stole the show. With Wolfsburg beating United, PSV needed to win at home against CSKA Moscow to progress. That seemed a distant prospect when Sergei Ignashevich banged in a controversial 76th-minute penalty, but Luuk De Jong leveled two minutes later, stabbing in from close range after a half-cleared free kick was returned to the box.

A snapshot from the edge of the box from Davy Propper wrapped up the win with four minutes to go and sent the Dutch side through.

Major takeaway of the day: United, just not good enough

The image of the day was the picture of Louis van Gaal, against a backdrop of ghostly grey, sitting with his head in his hands. Twice he saw his United team concede within three minutes of scoring. Winning in Wolfsburg, which had been unbeaten in 29 home games before Saturday’s defeat to Borussia Dortmund, was always likely to be difficult, but the opportunity was there for United.

Planet Futbol
Flawed EPL favorites leading to congested table, fascinating title race

After all the criticism Van Gaal has received for the pedestrian nature of United’s football football this season, this was a far more cavalier performance. The problem is one of balance. United can play with the handbrake on, control and struggle to score; take the handbrake off and it appears it is apparently hugely vulnerable. Getting that balance right will be key to the rest of the season, including the Europa League campaign.

But seeing the side United had on the field at the end, with Varela, Nick Powell, Cameron Borthwick-Johnson, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial, all young and all inexperienced, was bizarre, particularly given how much money United has spent over the past 18 months. Was that Van Gaal being contrary, or did it expose flaws in United’s recruitment and development over the past few years?

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