Champions League: Juventus alive despite dropping points to Madrid
The importance of the fixtures on Champions League Matchday Four seemed to affect some of the bigger names who struggled to score on Tuesday. But there were still some outstanding matches, brilliant goals and, as always, a fair dose of controversy. Here are some of the stand-out storylines from another compelling round of action:
Juventus hits bottom but is still alive
Carlo Ancelotti didn't win much when he was Juventus coach from 1999 to 2001, and his record in Turin continued as Real Madrid had to come from behind before holding on to draw 2-2 with Juventus after a pulsating Champions League Group B tie.
This was a pivotal matchday for Juventus. Had results gone differently, it could have faced an early exit from the competition, needing two wins and other results to go its way. As it happened, FC Copenhagen did the Old Lady a huge favor, beating Galatasaray 1-0 to leave one point separating the bottom three teams in the group. Juventus plays FC Copenhagen at home next, then travels to Galatasaray for what might be a decisive Matchday Six tie.
Turin paper Tuttosport had evoked the memory of Juventus' 2003 Champions League semifinal win, when a Pavel Nedved goal saw off Real Madrid and earned a place in the Old Trafford final (where it lost to an AC Milan side coached by, you guessed it, Ancelotti). Juventus coach Antonio Conte, meanwhile, had demanded the home fans make its new stadium "an inferno" and, unlike many clubs who have struggled to produce an intimidating atmosphere at a new home, the Juve tifosi delivered in the first half, as did their team.
By the time Arturo Vidal broke the deadlock with a smartly-taken penalty just before halftime -- after Raphael Varane's clumsy challenge on the superb Paul Pogba -- Madrid captain Iker Casillas had kept the visitors alive with three super saves, the last of which, from a deflected header by Claudio Marchisio, seemed so certain to go in that the Italian TV commentators declared it a goal.
This was the fifth penalty that Madrid had conceded in the last three games and, despite Ancelotti dropping Alvaro Arbeloa and moving Sergio Ramos to right back, the same problems were still afflicting the Madrid defense.
Madrid responded well to going behind but was indebted to Martin Caceres for the equalizer; his back-pass was seized on by Karim Benzema, who played in Cristiano Ronaldo for his eighth goal in four group stage matches so far -- equaling the total group stage record of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Hernan Crespo and Pippo Inzaghi. Juve seemed stunned by the goal, and eight minutes later, after Xabi Alonso had thundered a shot off the crossbar, Ronaldo set up Gareth Bale for a wonderful goal.
This was Bale's third goal in as many games -- a period in which he has made four assists as well -- and you could see that, despite drifting out of the game at times on the right wing, his partnership with Ronaldo is beginning to click. If Bale thought he had it tough when he first joined the club, after a summer of uncertainty, then thrown into his debut when only 80 percent fit, and struggling with injuries thereafter, he should have a word with Zinedine Zidane. The former French midfielder, now one of Ancelotti's two assistants in Madrid, had a tricky integration process too -- so bad, in fact, that it has been said Luis Figo refused to pass to him. No such problems for Bale with Ronaldo.
But this Madrid defense has not looked secure all season and when Caceres delivered a superb cross from the left, Varane lost Fernando Llorente to head Juventus's second goal. Both teams pushed for the winner, but in the end, both were happy with the draw. Even though Juventus slip to bottom of Group B, its destiny is still in its own hands -- and while this was an entertaining game, the result of the group was in Denmark.
Is Roberto best goalkeeper of the group stage?
Olympiakos's Portuguese goalkeeper Roberto had already stopped two penalties in the first three matchdays, but he saved his best performance of the group stage for the visit of his former club Benfica to the Greek capital. After Konstantinos Manolas scored an early header for Olympiakos, there were times when Roberto's goal led a charmed life: Nemanja Matic and Luisao both headed over from close range, but as Benfica put more and more pressure on the Greek goal, Roberto was up to the challenge. He stopped Silvio's header, Gaitan from close range, everything that was thrown at him. Olympiakos's 1-0 win puts them in second place and three points clear of Benfica; a much-needed result given Paris Saint-Germain away is its next opponent.
Speaking of PSG, there was a galactico in the crowd as PSG could only draw with Anderlecht at Parc des Princes. Sitting in the stands wearing a flat cap was Leonardo di Caprio, hoping for a repeat of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's heroics from Matchday Three, when he scored four goals in a 5-0 win. Di Caprio did see Ibra score, but it was hardly galactic. The Swedish striker, captaining the team, prodded in a leveler minutes after Demy de Zeeuw had scored off a Sacha Kljestan assist in a 1-1 draw.
Third time a charm for Manchester City
On the night that former boss Roberto Mancini lost at FC Copenhagen with Galatasaray, Manchester City finally made it to the knock-out round at the third time of asking. This was nothing close to the examination of its last home European tie, when it was taught a lesson by Bayern Munich, but City carried on where it left off at the weekend, following up its 7-0 win over Norwich with a 5-2 win over CSKA Moscow.
Sergio Aguero scored twice and can, on current form (and given the recent form of Lionel Messi), for a short while at least, be called Argentina's most in-form striker -- but perhaps this is time to give more credit to his strike partner Alvaro Negredo, whose hat-trick takes his tally to nine goals in 16 games for his new club. While City will be a team to avoid in the next round, especially if, as expected they finish in second place in the group and will therefore face a group winner, even the most vociferous Mancini critic would accept that this group has been far easier than any of those Mancini was faced with.
Woodwork means more work for United
There were plenty of talking points as Manchester United took another step closer to qualifying for the next round -- its 0-0 draw at Real Sociedad was the same as Shakhtar's result at home to Bayer Leverkusen, and kept United one point ahead at the top -- but none of them were particularly positive for the English champion.
There was Marouane Fellaini's red card, for two fairly innocuous yellow card tackles; Javier Hernandez's miss from six yards out after good work from Shinji Kagawa; another dive from Ashley Young as he earned a penalty; and then the spot-kick itself, an effort from Robin van Persie that hit the post. Even so, manager David Moyes accentuated the positives. "We played really well tonight," Moyes said following the deadlock.