Wednesday November 26th, 2014

The fifth week of Champions League action saw Atlético Madrid and Arsenal make sure of their places in the last 16, while there was a hat trick for Mario Mandzukic, a surprising win for Monaco away to Bayer Leverkusen and a vital away victory for Juventus at Malmo. Here’s what caught our eye this week.

Player of the Day: Mario Mandzukic (Atlético Madrid)

In a world of false nines, there is something reassuringly old-fashioned about Mario Mandzukic. Although he has played on the flank, he is a center forward who relishes a physical battle and, like his predecessor at Atlético, Diego Costa, is adept at fashioning chances for himself in the box through intelligent use of his body. A close range tap-in and two headers brought a hat-trick -- the first by an Atlético player in the Champions League -- as the Spanish champion made sure of its place in the last 16 with a 4-0 win over Olympiakos.

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Goal of the Day: Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)

Arsenal started the second half of its game against Borussia Dortmund in the ascendant, Alexis Sanchez drawing a reaction save out of Roman Weidenfeller low to his left and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hitting the bar. Then Santi Cazorla found Sanchez in space, 25 yards out to the left of center. He worked the ball onto his right foot, cut inside, and sent a low shot curving round the goalkeeper’s dive and into the bottom corner: a stunning goal. That made it 2-0, which is how the game finished as Arsenal booked its place in the knockout phase, while retaining a slim chance of taking top spot in the group.

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Turning Point of the Day: Monaco’s goal

Monaco was under the cosh away to Bayer Leverkusen. It had only four shots to Leverkusen’s 19 and mustered just 37% of the possession, but it did get the only goal of the game, Lucas Ocampos arriving late to volley in a right-wing cross from close range. That meant Leverkusen didn’t seal its qualification this week, although it still tops the group, with Monaco, which has eight points despite scoring just two goals, a point behind in second and Zenit St Petersburg a point further back in third. Monaco host Zenit in two weeks.

Surprise of the Day: Yaya Sanogo

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Is it unfair to pick out Sanogo? There was grumbling before kick-off at his inclusion at center forward: Danny Welbeck was injured, Olivier Giroud hasn’t been registered, Lukas Podolski and Joel Campbell are out of favor. Asking why a player who hadn’t scored a senior competitive goal for one year, six months, and two days should be preferred seemed reasonable. But inside two minutes Sanogo had struck, juggling a throw-in, laying the ball off to Santi Cazorla, then running on to poke a finish through the legs of Roman Wiedenfeller.

Major Takeaway of the Day: Juventus should be safe

After losing on matchdays two and three to Atlético and Olympiakos, Juve looked in serious trouble, but a hard-fought and slightly fortuitous win over Olympiakos at home on matchday four kept its hopes of qualification alive. A 2-0 win away to Malmo, capped by a lovely breakaway goal from Carlos Tevez leaves it three points clear of Olympiakos, which means a draw at home to Atlético will be enough to take it through.

Late Twist of the Day: Ludogorets’ equalizer vs. Liverpool

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Pressure builds on Wenger, Rodgers after tough losses in Premier League

In a sense conceding a late equalizer doesn’t change the equation for Liverpool: it still has to beat Basel at Anfield in two weeks to make it through to the last 16. But letting another lead slip in the final five minutes – six times Liverpool has led by a single goal after 85 minutes this season; it hasn’t won any of those games – is a major blow, as is leaking a 13th goal from a set play this season. There’s no sense of progress, just of mistakes being repeated. Wanderson’s corner was good, but Svetoslav Dyakov was allowed to guide it across goal far too easily, before Georgi Terziev headed in. Although Brendan Rodgers praised his side’s character, it has won only one of its last nine games, and that against Swansea in the Capital One Cup. It seemed absurd when Rodgers spoke of being under pressure after Sunday’s defeat at Crystal Palace, but something needs to improve soon.

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