The final day of the Champions League group stage saw Manchester City produce probably the best Champions league performance in its history to book its place in the last 16 for only the second time. Barcelona outlasted PSG for first in their group behind goals from Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, and Schalke 04 also secured its place in the knockout phase on a night when John Obi Mikel broke a long-standing personal drought.
Here’s what caught our eye:
Player of the Day: Lasse Schoene, Ajax
It might not have ben a game with anything riding on it beyond a place in the Europa League, but Ajax’s 4-0 win over APOEL was a fine showcase for the talents of Ajax’s 28-year-old Danish forward Lasse Schoene.
First his cut-back to Arkadiusz Milik led to the penalty from which he gave Ajax the lead; then, shortly after halftime, he launched a counterattack that he ended up finishing off after a weak clearance to put Ajax 2-0 up.
The slightly surprising thing is that he has developed so late; it’s only in 2012 that he moved on from NEC, but Schoene’s recent form has been top-class.
Goal of the Day: Neymar, Barcelona
The tendency with any goal is to look for the defensive error, to see what could have been done to stop the strike. Perhaps Paris Saint-Germain could have closed down the space on Neymar, but once he found a little to run into three minutes before halftime, there was very little that could be done to stop him.
The Brazil star accelerated through about 10 yards, working the ball onto his right foot, and then, from 25 yards, sent a controlled by powerful shot arching past Salvatore Sirigu in the PSG goal to make it 2-1. Barcelona wound up winning 3-1, finishing first in the group and forcing PSG into the pot of second-place finishers for Monday's knockout-stage draw.
Turning-Point Moment of the Day: Samir Nasri scores for Man City
Separating teams level on points by their head-to-head record throws up such anomalies, particularly in conjunction with the away goals rule, that it surely undermines the integrity of the regulation. At 0-0 in Rome, Roma was going through, but as soon as Manchester City took the lead, the home side needed two goals in order to advance.
City had weathered an early storm to have the better of the later part of the second half, but the game seemed to have tipped back Roma’s way when, on the hour, a little run by James Milner opened space for Samir Nasri. He took full advantage, unleashing a ferocious shot that pinged in off the inside of the post. Suddenly City was in control of the game and its knockout fate.
Surprise of the Day: Mikel scores in Europe
It can be easy in the modern monetized world of football to feel a sense of ennui, so when something staggering happens, it ought to be celebrated.
John Obi Mikel had never scored in 58 European games for Chelsea. His last goal for the club came on January 5 in the FA Cup against Derby. He scored in September last year against Fulham in the Premier League. Before that he hadn’t scored for his club since two goals in the FA Cup in 2006-07.
Mikel simply doesn’t score – a standing joke that has Chelsea fans yelling “Shooooot!” every time he gets the ball within about 40 yards of goal. His goal against Sporting was from nearer than 40 yards, as he bundled in Cesc Fabregas’ free kick at the back post after it had been flicked on by Gary Cahill. His broad grin and look of slight embarrassment said everything.
Major Takeaway of the Day Perhaps Man City can succeed without Aguero
For all but 95 minutes of this Champions League campaign it had looked like Manchester City was facing a disappointing exit. Two goals in five minutes from Aguero against Bayern Munich on Matchday Five opened the possibility of progress, but that seemed unlikely when it went to Rome without Aguero, Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure and with David Silva only on the bench.
But Manuel Pellegrini's City played with discipline, and, having taken the lead, defended intelligently before sealing progress with four minutes remaining. Stevan Jovetic held the ball up before playing in Nasri, who teed up Pablo Zabaleta to squeeze the ball into the corner.
Three years ago, City went out in the group stage with 10 points; this time it’s through with eight, but that’s a quirk it will happily live with.
Late Twist of the Day: Schalke goes through
It wasn’t that late, but it was a twist. For Schalke to supplant Sporting and make it through to the last 16 it needed to beat Maribor and hope Chelsea beat the Portuguese side. Chelsea raced out to a 2-0 lead and eventually won 3-1, but it wasn’t until the 62nd minute in Schalke's match that young forward Max Meyer pounced on a poor clearance to score what turned out to be Schalke’s winner in Slovenia.
Bayern Munich 3, CSKA Moscow 0
AS Roma 0, Manchester City 2
(Bayern Munich, Manchester City go through; Roma enters Europa League knockout stage)
Barcelona 3, Paris Saint-Germain 1
Ajax 4, APOEL 0
(Barcelona, PSG go through; Ajax enters Europa League knockout stage)
Chelsea 3, Sporting CP 1
Maribor 0, Schalke 1
(Chelsea, Schalke go through; Sporting CP enters Europa League knockout stage)
Porto 1, Shakhtar Donetsk 1
Athletic Bilbao 2, BATE Borisov 0
(Porto, Shakhtar go through; Athletic Bilbao enters Europa League knockout stage)
FIRST-PLACE FINISHERS IN KNOCKOUT DRAW
Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Monaco, Porto
SECOND-PLACE FINISHERS IN KNOCKOUT DRAW
Juventus, Basel, Bayer Leverkusen, Arsenal, Manchester City, PSG, Schalke, Shakhtar Donetsk