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If you weren't watching the Champions League match between FC Bayern and Napoli, well, I feel sorry for you -- even if you are a fan of the partenopei. Mario Gomez managed a hat-trick in less than 45 minutes, but Federico Fernandez, in his first Champions League match, scored two headed goals to give Napoli a respectable end result of 3-2. The loss did cause the Italians to slide down into third place in Group A, while Bayern Munich stay top, but the end results are far from decided.
Uber-Mario did have a fantastic match, with his first goal a quite pretty one: Bastian Schweinsteiger sent in the pass, Gomez did a quick turn to avoid a Napoli defender, sending the ball to his left foot before firing off the shot. Just five minutes later, Gomez bagged another, off a fast break from the home side. With the forward kept onside by a downright idiotic azzurri defense, he was easily able to get his shot past goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis.
The third goal came minutes before the halftime whistle. Napoli had been able to avoid both a goal from Franck Ribery and another shot from Gomez, but the backline were just too poor to keep Gomez's third from hitting the back of the net. Is there really any wonder that the partenopei support were relieved, rather than upset, when Andrea Dossena came on to replace an injured Salvatore Aronica?
Fernandez provided hope for the visitors, however, with his goal just before the break. The young defender got his head on the end of an Ezequiel Lavezzi corner to put his team back in the match. Moments later, a shot from Marek Hamsik went just wide of the post, reminding everyone that Napoli weren't giving up just yet.
After the halftime whistle, Bayern Munich supporters experienced a nasty shock, as star Schweinsteiger writhed in agony on the pitch, clutching his shoulder. He was removed in the 53rd minute, replaced by Anatoliy Tymoshchuk. The midfielder was taken to hospital, with later reports confirming a broken collarbone and an absence of 4-6 weeks.
With Schweini out, the Bavarians lost a bit of their spark, and the game became relatively chippy. Fouls flew through the air, but it was Camilo Zuniga that made the biggest mistake: just one minute after seeing yellow for a foul on Ribery, the winger went after him again, catching the back of his leg and being rewarded with a yellow card. But Napoli were down a man less than seven minutes, as Holger Badstuber picked up his second yellow for a foul on Edinson Cavani.
The second azzurri goal came a couple minutes later, resulting from yet more poor defending from Bayern on a set piece. Fernandez's second goal was nearly identical to his first, and set up a frantic final fifteen minutes of the match. Alas, no matter how many balls the visitors fired toward Manuel Neuer's goal, they couldn't pull off the dramatic comeback win they'd become so famous for last season...but they had one more last ditch-effort.
For the final, dramatic end to what turned out the be a thrilling match, De Sanctis came out of goal to assist on a corner. Unfortunately for Napoli, Bayern pounced, and Mario Gomez sent in a shot from distance. As it rolled, seemingly in slow motion, Holy Goalkeeper came tearing up the pitch, sliding in to knock the ball safely around the post. A fitting end to a compelling match.
Bayern Munich -- 10 Points
Manchester City -- 7 Points
Napoli -- 5 Points
Villarreal -- 0 Points
Next up: Napoli v Manchester City, Bayern Munich v Villarreal
Inter Milan may be suffering badly in the Serie A but three straight UEFA Champions League wins means they're sitting pretty at the top of Group B with nine points out of twelve, four points clear of both CSKA Moscow and Trabzonspor. French champions Lille were expected to put up a rather strong fight in the group before the campaign kicked off, but they've been disappointing so far and that didn't change until very late on in the San Siro.
Inter started out with a bang, hitting the crossbar through Diego Milito before Walter Samuel made it 1-0, turning in a corner in the 18th minute. The hosts would add another through Milito, who managed not to hit the bar when he nodded home a cross from the excellent Javier Zanetti, who had kept the threat of Eden Hazard quiet all evening. Lille finally got on the board when Tulio de Melo lobbed Luca Castellazzi, in for the injured Julio Cesar, but the promised comeback never materialised and Inter would secure a 2-1 win.
Manchester City struggled in the early going, but were never really threatened. After 30 minutes though, they found their form and easily cruised past Villarreal, 3-0, in their UEFA Champions League clash at El Madrigal. Yaya Toure led the way with a brace as the Citizens jumped to second place in Group A, three points behind leaders Bayern Munich and two clear of third place Napoli.
The opening half hour of the match was a bore, with both teams giving the ball away with bad touches and bad passes. That was finally cleared up when Toure gathered a pass from David Silva and when the defense slid towards Silva in anticipation of the one-two, Toure was free to shoot. He calmly put the ball towards the back post and the visitors were in front.
Just before halftime, Mario Balotelli doubled the City lead when he went down easy to earn a penalty then converted the spot kick. As Balotelli pushed the ball towards the end line and gave chase, Mateo Musacchio gave in from behind with a slight push and the City striker was only too happy to go the ground. The referee bought the fall and gave the penalty, which Balotelli finished to make it 2-0.
With the match in hand, the Citizens knocked the ball around easily for the remainder of the match. Toure made it two in the 71st minute with some cool dribbling that put him past a couple defenders before finish, but that was just for fun. The match was never really in doubt and City were on their way to a win.
The result sets the stage for a huge match in Naples on November 22 when City visits Napoli. It could be the match that decides who will be the second team from Group A to advance. Meanwhile, Villarreal's Champions League run is over as this match left them with zero points, making it impossible for them to advance.
Bayern Munich and Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger has suffered a broken collarbone in the UEFA Champions League match against Napoli and will miss 4-6 weeks.
Real Madrid wasted more chances than I can count but managed to come away from a dangerous-ish game against Lyon with a comfortable enough win anyway thanks to a brace from Cristiano Ronaldo that included his hundredth goal for the club - a penalty after he was brought down in the area by Mouhamadou Dabo chasing a loose ball. A 2-0 win was fine, of course, but Madrid should have scored more and were fairly lucky that their hosts didn't make them pay with a strong second half that saw numerous bad defensive plays from Madrid as well as Jimmy Briand nodding onto the crossbar with Iker Casillas beaten.
Hugo Lloris was the man who mostly kept Madrid at bay, the penalty and an earlier free kick goal aside. He stopped at least three one on one attempts from Andel di Maria, denied Karim Benzema when he looked certain to score and looked like an all-around Chief Madrid thwarter. Obviously, there wasn't much he could do about the penalty (although he had a hand in conceding it), but he gave his team the chance to get something out of the match. They didn't.
The result, incidentally, sees that Madrid qualify for the knockout rounds, and with twelve points out of twelve it would be a major shock if they failed to top their group. Now it's simply a battle between Ajax and Lyon for second.
Manchester United have clinched a crucial three points in the UEFA Champions League, and now sit on top of Group C on goal differential, thanks to their 2-0 defeat of Romanian champions Otelul Galati, who are yet to take a point from the competition. United had Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling, Rafael and Patrice Evra - arguably their first choice back line - all out for various reasons, but still managed to keep a clean sheet thanks to a great volume of possession and a couple of great saves by David De Gea.
Antonio Valencia scored the opener on eight minutes, assisted by a cross from Phil Jones and a flick by Michael Owen. Unfortunately, Owen was injured on the sequence and had to be replaced by Javier Hernandez.
The second goal didn't come until the 87th minute, with Wayne Rooney scoring the goal on a deflection, assisted by Park Ji-Sung. With Owen and Dimitar Berbatov playing up top, Rooney played unconventionally as a central midfield player, playing even deeper than he does when operating behind Hernandez in United's normal setup, and had a good game in the center of the park.
Benfica also won their match against FC Basel, and are behind United by one goal, tied on points. The two sides meet at Old Trafford on Matchday 5 of the competition.
Bastian Schweinsteiger was forced to leave Bayern Munich's Champions League match against Napoli with an injury in the 53rd minute. The midfielder looked to be in extreme pain and was taken directly to the hospital. According to various reports, Schweinsteiger has suffered a separated shoulder, caused by a collision with Camilo Zuniga, and will likely miss 6-12 weeks. The difference to Bayern was immediate, with the Germans having lost a definite spark in their side.
Meanwhile, the match has gone a bit feisty. Zuniga collected two yellow cards within two minutes, bringing Napoli down to ten men after a high kick on Franck Ribery. Less than ten minutes later, Holger Badstuber picked up his second yellow of the match after a foul on Edinson Cavani. With both teams down to ten men, Federico Fernandez was able to get his second goal, yet another header caused by Bayern Munich's poor set piece defending. I'm going to start calling them the Aston Villa of the Bundesliga.
Hey, remember when I said that all Vesuviani should have their whisky bottles ready for this match? Well, turned out that I'm a bit of a prophet. Or perhaps I could just tell from the Bayern Munich lineup, and the utter lack of a Napoli defense, that this match at the Allianz Arena was simply not going to go well.
Of course, fans of Bayern are ecstatic at the moment. Mario Gomez scored a hattrick before the halftime whistle, easily getting behind the Napoli defense each time. The first goal was beautiful, with the forward receiving the ball, pirouetting, and sending it in off his left foot. Just five minutes later, Gomez had a second, springing forward as the not-so-intelligent Napoli backline kept him onside.
The partenopei defense managed to keep out a hattrick for a bit, with defenders sliding in to stop Gomez, and Mogan De Sanctis pushing away a shot. But, with just a few minutes to go before the break, UberMario had his third, perhaps made easier by Salvatore Aronica's injury and Andrea Dossena's entrance onto the pitch.
Whisky made the match a bit hazy after that, but it was clear enough that Napoli had managed to get one back. Federico Fernandez put in a sharp header off an Ezequiel Lavezzi corner, exposing some poor marking on the part of Bayern. Moments later, Marek Hamsik very nearly scored a second, his shot from distance going inches wide of the post.
Manchester United will know from their draw against FC Basel that they need to add a little more cushion to their lead, but they'll be happy with their first half performance against Otelul Galati that produced a 1-0 halftime lead. United will be well on their way towards getting into a comfortable knockout stage qualification position in the UEFA Champions League if they can seal three points, and there's not any reason to believe they'll give up this lead.
Antonio Valencia scored the goal in the 8th minute, with Phil Jones providing the setup. Jones is playing as an attack-minded right back with Rafael and Chris Smalling out of the lineup, and he's been arguably the man of the match thus far. Surging forward, he put in a cross that was swung at by Michael Owen at the near post. Owen got a piece of the ball, but only slightly altered the trajectory, and not towards the goal. Valencia was waiting at the back post and provided the finish, putting his team ahead.
Owen sustained an injury on that move and was replaced by Javier Hernandez in the 11th minute. Hernandez hasn't quite asserted himself in the game yet, probably due to the fact that he didn't have any time to warm up and certainly didn't expect to enter the game in the first half.
Galati has spent most of their time defending, but produced one great chance. In the 40th minute, a shot by Ionut Neagu deflected off of Rio Ferdinand, forcing David De Gea to change directions and make an absolutely spectacular reaction save, preserving his team's lead.
United have been on the front foot all game, but haven't created much in the way of clear-cut chances beyond the goal. The central defense pairing of Ferdinand and Johnny Evans isn't exactly the most consistent and error-free pair that Alex Ferguson could pick, so his team really could use an insurance goal.
Real Madrid might be more fun to watch than Barcelona. They play beautiful football and they play it ludicrously quickly, and even a relatively competent team like Lyon can't hope to reliably stop them. The first half of this match has been almost entirely Madrid and the hosts are lucky to only be one goal back.
There seems to be absolutely nothing Lyon's back line can do to stop Madrid from breaking out. The front four, supported by the fullbacks, are always finding space between the defenders, and only Hugo Lloris is preventing the visitors absolutely racking up the goals, denying... well, pretty much everyone save Cristiano Ronaldo, who wrong-footed him with a vicious free kick. Karim Benzema? DENIED? Angel di Maria? No soup for you. Xabi Alonso from sixty yards? No problem.
Anyway, that's not to say Lyon didn't have their chances. They did, and Iker Casillas was calling into action a few times. But, yeah, Madrid are an excellent team, Lyon aren't, and right now the hosts will be thanking their lucky stars they aren't down by three. 1-0.
This is something like the 500th time Real Madrid are playing Lyon in the UEFA Champions League - they seem to come together every single year. Last time they faced off it was at the Santiago Bernabeu, a game which Real Madrid won 4-0. Don't expect that level of slaughter in France, but Madrid are the better team and should still win comfortably even with a rather weakened-looking central defence. The only real question is by how much Lyon will lose.
Substitutes: Mathiue Valverde, Bakary Kone, Gueida Fofana, Alexandre Lacazette, Ishak Belfodil, Samuel Umtite, Sidy Kone.
Substitutes: Raul Albiol, Gonzalo Higuain, Mait Altintop, Antonio Adan, Estaban Granero, Jose Callejon, Raphael Varane.
Napoli may be the only team that have taken a point from Bayern Munich thus far in the Champions League, but they haven't been doing as well as could be expected in Serie A. They're also missing Paolo Cannavaro to suspension, while Walter Gargano is out with injury.
Meanwhile, FC Bayern remain four points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, having scored 30 goals in eleven matches, 23 of those at home.
Please excuse me while I go grab my fresh bottle of whisky out of the car. Other Vesuviani, I suggest you do the same.
Bayern bench: Hans-Jörg Butt, Rafinha, Danijel Pranjic, David Alaba, Anatoily Tymoshchuk, Nils Petersen, Ivica Olic
Despite Manchester City's spectacular form in the English Premier League this season, Roberto Mancini's men have, thus far, been struggling to stay afloat in the UEFA Champions League. The Citizens were handed a tough group, with the likes of Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal, and thus far have managed to beat only the Yellow Submarine at the Etihad Stadium.
In this match at El Madrigal Mario Balotelli is available to make his first appearance in the competition for the club after missing the first three group stage matches due to suspension. The Italian is likely to be in the first XI for this match after coming off the substitutes bench this weekend. City will need to take all three points from this match if they aim to make the knockout stages of the competition.
Villarreal have yet to gain a single point in the group stages and the La Liga club find themselves 13th in the domestic table as well. The Yellow Submarine will be without a number of first team players including Nilmar, Giuseppe Rossi, Marco Ruben, Marcos Senna, Javier Camunas, Cani and Cristian Zapata. As a result, manager Juan Carlos Garrido will be forced to field a line-up that includes strikers from his B and C sides.
Villarreal vs. Manchester City kicks off at 3:45 pm ET, 7:45 pm GMT, 8:45 pm local. We'll have coverage of all of Wednesday's Champions League action in our UEFA Champions League Wednesday, Matchday 4 StoryStream. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer.
The sales of superstars David Luiz, Angel di Maria and Fabio Coentrao could have crippled Benfica. The financial clout of Portuguese clubs and the strength of the domestic league does not allow to keep players of the level of talent of those three, though Benfica are a big enough side that they were able to hold out for a king's ransom in all three cases instead of taking the first decent offer that came long. They've taken the money raised from those sales and purchased an entirely new squad, and that squad is becoming one of the best in Europe.
Benfica are undefeated in their 12 matches in both the Liga and the Champions League, with nine wins and three draws. Oscar Cardozo's finishing is back, while Nolito and Axel Witsel have proven to be spectacular signings. Fellow new arrivals Artur, Ezequiel Garay and Bruno Cesar have all been effective, while Javier Saviola and Pablo Aimar have returned to full fitness. Benfica are not only challenging Porto for the top place in Portugal, they're looking like a lock for a Champions League knockout stage place.
On Matchday 3, Benfica went to Basel and won 2-0 in Switzerland, with Cesar and Cardozo scoring the goals. Marco Streller is out for Basel with a stomach virus. Basel seems to be a team that loves the underdog role, but without Streller, they're only going to get anything out of that role if Benfica doesn't take them seriously. That seems highly unlikely, and this match is setting up perfectly for Benfica to take three points and a place in the knockout stages.
Benfica vs. FC Basel kicks off at 3:45 pm ET, 7:45 pm GMT. We'll have coverage of all of Wednesday's Champions League action in our UEFA Champions League Wednesday, Matchday 4 StoryStream. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer.
Until the last couple of weeks, CSKA Moscow had failed to live up to their expectations in the Russian Premier League and UEFA Champions League. Their performances in their last three matches, though, have been nothing short of fantastic. The forward combination of Alan Dzagoev, Vagner Love and Seydou Doumbia was stellar in their five-goal performance against Anzhi Makhachkala. That followed a three goal performance against Wednesday's opponent, Trabzonspor.
Over the weekend, they shined again in a 4-0 win over Spartak Nalchick. Vagner Love scored a goal and Seydou Doumbia scored three. Though a trip to Trabzon is going to be much tougher than playing at home or away games in Russia, they have to be favorites heading into Wednesday's encounter.
However, Trabzonspor's leading goal scorer Burak Yilmaz is both fit and back from suspension. His form last season was spectacular, and the difference in the side when he is starting up top is massive. They've added some considerable depth over the last two transfer windows at the striker position, but there is no one on the team with the finishing touch around the goal that Yilmaz has.
On Matchday 3, Trabzonspor played a conservative lineup that featured Hamit Altintop, probably a better second striker or attacking midfielder than a No. 9, as a lone striker. They will play a much more aggressive lineup at home on Matchday 4, and though CSKA are favored to get points from the match, this one should be considerably less lopsided than the match between the two sides in Moscow.
Trabzonspor vs. CSKA Moscow kicks off at 3:45 pm ET, 7:45 pm GMT and 9:45 pm local. We'll have coverage of all of Wednesday's Champions League action in our UEFA Champions League Wednesday, Matchday 4 StoryStream. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer.
On October 18, Bayern Munich and Napoli faced off in Naples with the top spot in Group A of the UEFA Champions League on the line. With Manchester City sitting behind both teams with unbelievable talent and questionable form, a loss would be crippling to either team. Both teams grabbed a point in a physical 1-1 draw, but that hardly tells the story.
Napoli were not anywhere near their best at home. Bayern Munich, though their play could reasonably be described as dirty on the night, were also the much better footballing side. They kept the ball better and created more chances as Napoli's front three struggled after scoring their opening goal. The goal was an own goal, and Napoli never actually got a shot on target.
At the Allianz Arena, a repeat performance will almost certainly not earn Napoli a point. Bayern Munich has won their last two matches in all competitions by a combined score of 10-0, as they absolutely bulldozed Ingolstadt in the German Cup and Nürnburg - not a bad side by any stretch of the imagination - in the league. Nürnburg played athletic fullback Timothy Chandler as a midfielder in an attempt to slow down Franck Ribery and their strategy was unsuccessful. Ribery scored a goal and was a creative force. Mario Gomez scored twice, taking his goal tally in all competitions over the last year and a third to 65 in 78 matches, 17 of which were substitute appearances.
If Walter Mazzarri sticks with his preferred 3-4-2-1 formation, his front three are going to have to create a high volume of goal-scoring opportunities and his central midfielders, arguably his team's weakest point, will have to have terrific games. There is an inherent disadvantage in playing a back three against one and three striker systems like Bayern's, so the performances of the individual players will have to be spectacular for Napoli to get points in Munich.
Napoli vs. Bayern Munich kicks off at 3:45 pm ET, 7:45 pm GMT and 8:45 pm local time. We'll have coverage of all of Wednesday's Champions League action in our UEFA Champions League Wednesday, Matchday 4 StoryStream. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer.
Inter Milan are struggling in Serie A, but in good shape in the Champions League. Lille's domestic and European form is exactly the opposite. Wednesday, they square off in the UEFA Champions League.
Manchester United will be without several key contributors for their UEFA Champions League match with Romanian club Otelul Galati.
The Champions League is back with Real Madrid going to Stade de Gerland to take on l'Olympique Lyonnais. Can ''Les Gones'' survive the ''Merengues'' offensive armada?
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