Kevin De Bruyne and Anthony Martial came through for the Manchester clubs while PSG, Real Madrid played to a scoreless draw amid a swirl of Cristiano Ronaldo rumors in the Champions League, writes Ben Lyttleton.
There was more late heroics for Manchester City in the Champions League, but elsewhere there was frustration in Turin and Paris as Juventus and PSG were held to stalemates by Borussia Monchengladbach and Real Madrid, respectively. Manchester United drew in Moscow, while there were home wins for Malmo, Wolfsburg, Atletico Madrid and Galatasaray.
Here is what caught our eye as the group stage reached the halfway point:
Player of the Day: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
What is with Manchester City and late goals? It scored after 94 minutes to come from behind to beat Borussia Monchengladbach on Matchday Two, and this time needed Kevin de Bruyne, shifted into a false nine after a late substitution, to score a superb goal in injury time to overcome an early deficit at home to Sevilla, who can consider itself unlucky to leave Manchester without a point.
De Bruyne was once again outstanding for his new team, and he could have been the hero minutes earlier with a smart run down the flank and a fizzing cross that just evaded Raheem Sterling.
With three goals and three assists in his first five City games in the league, the Belgian has hit the ground running and made it clear that his performances at Wolfsburg were no flash in the pan.
No longer is he the Chelsea reject that Jose Mourinho felt would not fit into his system; he has been more decisive for the Belgium national team than Eden Hazard and he picked the perfect moment for the first Champions League goal of his career.
Once again City flattered to deceive and Sevilla could and should have scored more than Yevhen Konoplyanka’s early effort; but in the past City has been accused of not winning ugly in these kind of matches. Now it has. Credit also goes to Yaya Toure for setting up both City goals with trademark runs. He moaned this week that he didn't get the recognition he deserves: so, Yaya, job well done.
Goal of the Day: Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid)
Atletico Madrid scored four goals in a 4-0 rout of Astana–and another if you include a disallowed effort from Jackson Martinez–and the pick of them was probably the first.
It came from a short-corner routine, with Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco working his way into the area and cutting the ball back for Saul to back-heel into the net from seven yards out. Ferreira-Carrasco was irrepressible on the flank, as his cross also set up Martinez for the second goal. Substitute Oliver Torres added a third, a glorious chip after Gabi’s 60-yard run on the counter, but Saul's was the one to top them all.
Eye-Opening Result of the Day: Malmo 1, Shakhtar 0
Malmo had not scored in the competition this season and looked set for last place in its group given Shakhtar Donetsk’s European experience. However, the Swedish outsider fully deserved its home victory at a passionate Malmo Stadion, and it could have been more comfortable than the 1-0 win had Andriy Pyatov not saved Nikola Djurdjic’s second-half penalty.
Pyatov also kept out efforts from Jo Berget and Djurdjic late on. Malmo was well worth the win and is now in pole position to make the Europa League as a third-placed Champions League finisher. This was a disappointing night for Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu, who marked his 100th game in this competition with a defeat he’d rather forget.
Turning Point of the Day: Martial redeems himself for United
Things had gone a little quiet with United’s 19-year-old forward after his explosive introduction to the English game, when he scored a superb goal against Liverpool and two more against Southampton to earn himself the Premier League Player of the Month award for September. That all changed in Moscow as Martial gave away a penalty that David de Gea saved–CSKA has now missed five spot-kicks this season–only to see Seydou Doumbia fire in the rebound.
United was poor in the first half, leaving former midfielder Paul Scholes moaning on BT Sport: “There’s no quality no movement, I don't know why, maybe it's the way they've been told to play, [but] it’s all safety across the pitch.”
Martial redeemed himself in the second half with a fantastic header from the penalty spot, guiding Antonio Valencia’s cross into the far corner. From that moment on, United had more momentum and pressed harder for a winner that never came.
Coach Louis van Gaal said before the game he would take a draw, as long as United beats CSKA in the return game in two weeks' time.
Qualification is still in United’s hands but performances are belying its league position. And with City the opponent this weekend, Van Gaal has some improvements to oversee.
Major Takeaway of the Day: Ronaldo's future more interesting than his present
There are so many strands to the swirl of rumor surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo’s future at Real Madrid but it was lost on no one that he drew a blank in the goalless draw at Paris Saint-Germain, who is at the front of the queue for Real Madrid’s record-breaking scorer. And what did his suitor see from him in the French capital? A frustrating performance, actually, as Kevin Trapp denied him with two headed chances, before he skewed a late effort wide of the goal. Oh, and there was a standard failed free-kick effort, bringing his recent total to two goals in his last 89 efforts (surely it must soon to be time to hand over this task to Toni Kroos or, dare we say it, Gareth Bale).
Real Madrid was missing half its team through injury, and this was a great opportunity for PSG to lay down a marker in the competition as a serious contender. Opportunity missed. Its tactics were too cautious, a complaint coach Laurent Blanc has faced in the past, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic was anonymous. Only when Javier Pastore and Lucas Moura came off the bench did PSG look menacing, but even then, visiting goalkeeper Keylor Navas had little to do.
Still, we have come a long way since Florentino Perez allegedly wanted to report PSG owner Nasser Al-Khelaifi for making an illegal approach for Ronaldo in the summer of 2011 (only Michel Platini’s appeasement stopped Perez). The two men now get on well, and both were guests at the summer wedding of Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes.
Ronaldo does not appear to be a happy figure at the moment in Madrid, and in Rafa Benitez lacks an understanding father-figure type coach that he had in Sir Alex Ferguson and Carlo Ancelotti, under whose charge he won two Ballon D’Or trophies.
According to a France Football report published Wednesday, Ancelotti’s departure from Madrid was “more than a heartbreaker” for Ronaldo.
Ibrahimovic is at the end of his lucrative contract next summer and PSG is in need of a new talisman. The worry for Madrid is that traditionally, even its most successful players have left on poor terms: Alfredo di Stefano went to Espanyol, and more recently, Raul (Schalke) and Iker Casillas (FC Porto) both left under a cloud. Ronaldo would surely rather go out on a high, and his situation is one worth following.