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Manchester United went crashing out of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, but it was only surprising because of Alex Ferguson's track record. The Red Devils have shown signs of mediocrity all season.
Manchester's finest paid the price for an inability to move with the times as the Champions League Group Stages become a more competitive place.
A combination of Real Madrid's B side and the officiating saw a spirited Ajax side downed 3-0 and improbably exit the UEFA Champions League at the group stages. Coming into the match, the home side were three points clear - and seven goals clear - of Lyon, who needed to make up an improbable number in goal differential to advance. It looked very much as though this game was irrelevant.
It wasn't. Within minutes of kickoff, Kaka had threaded a lovely through pass to Jose Callejon, who made no mistake in dispatching his shot past Kenneth Vermeer to make it 1-0. Despite going down, Ajax played well in the first half and carved out a number of opportunities including two goals which were bizarrely disallowed for offside. Gonzalo Higuain made it 2-0 shortly before halftime, but the hosts by no means deserved to be trailing.
It was a similar story in the second half, with Ajax playing well and simply unable to score. Meanwhile, Lyon were racking up a silly-looking win over Dinamo Zagreb, eventually dispatching their opponents 7-1 to more than make up the goal difference required to knock Ajax out. The Eredivisie side, apparently secure in their knowledge that everything was going to be fine, did little of note in the latter stages of the game, and it was all too easy for Callejon to get a second in stoppage time, consigning Ajax to the Europa League and capping off a crazy Champions League day.
Napoli are victorious in Spain tonight, securing a 2-0 victory over Villarreal to see them through to the Champions League knockout round. Gokhan Inler sent in a stunner to put the Italians up in the 65th minute, while Marek Hamsik secured the win with a tap-in 11 minutes later. The partenopei take second place in Group A, joining Bayern Munich in the next round. Manchester City drop down to the Europa League, despite their 2-0 victory over Bayern, and Villarreal end with no points, the first time a Spanish club in the competition has done so.
The first half of the match was frustrating, as it appeared that the Yellow Submarine were more intent on emulating a big yellow bus rather than their amphibious namesake. The home side looked determined to fetch at least a point from their final match, defending in numbers, although Napoli weren't exactly giving them a lot to deal with. The visitors looked like deer caught in the headlights, overwhelmed at the idea that they absolutely needed a win to go through to the next round, especially after City went up in the first half.
But whatever manager Walter Mazzarri said to them at halftime must have worked, because Napoli took to the pitch in the second half looking revitalized. Unfortunately for the partenopei, their manager wasn't long for the world, or at least, the match, with Mazzarri being sent off less than ten minutes after the restart. That only seemed to fire up the visitors, however, with Inler scoring soon after. Despite the fact that the Swiss had been one of the worst players on the pitch, he managed an incredible strike from just outside the area, sending it over Diego Lopez and into the back of the net.
Just one wasn't enough for Napoli, however -- it rarely is. Just minutes after the Inler goal, Ezequiel Lavezzi very nearly scored a second, forcing Diego Lopez to wrap himself around the post and push the ball away. The azzurri pressure continued, eventually forcing a mistake from the goalkeeper. The ball bounced around the area, Diego Lopez lunged to his right, but it was too late as Hamsik toed the ball in to give Napoli their second.
Bring on January, Napoli. In order to progress further in the Champions League, this squad is going to need some reinforcing. But first, let Naples celebrate. They've been waiting too long for this.
Manchester City brushed aside Bayern Munich's reserve side at the Etihad Stadium, beating the Germans 2-0 without breaking a sweat, but ultimately they failed to advance to the knockout rounds of the Champions League thanks to results elsewhere going against them. The Bavarians had already qualified as group leaders and were therefore in no mood to risk injury to their key players, and City demolished them from almost the very beginning.
After a tentative start which saw the visitors granted far more possession than their play warranted, the Premier League leaders took over. A David Silva free kick was disallowed for Joleon Lescott's shove on Hans-Jorg Butt before the diminutive Spaniard scored for real, pulling a swerving left-footed strike out of nothing to give the hosts a 1-0 lead and put them on track for a vital win.
Halftime came and went with no goals from Spain - a Napoli win against Villarreal would have made the match in Manchester irrelevant - and City doubled their tally shortly after the break following a cool finish from the impressive Yaya Toure. Then news came in and spread around the crowd: Gokhan Inler had broken the deadlock at El Madrigal. Head went down, the crowd went silent, and the game no longer seemed to matter to anyone.
It certainly didn't matter to Bayern, who were happy to sit around doing approximately nothing while City's players desperately tried to summon some motivation from somewhere, hoping for a miracle from Villarreal. They didn't get it. Napoli won, and suddenly the result (it finished 2-0 to City) was completely meaningless.
So, it was a fine performance by Roberto Mancini's men against a weak side, but a pretty terrible day regardless. Manchester City finish third in Champions League Group A, and drop to the Europa League. Now City have to pick themselves up off the ground and prepare for Chelsea next Monday. A win at Stamford Bridge would do a lot to restore their spirits, one would think.
Both Lille and Trabzonspor entered Stadium Lille Metropole on Wednesday knowing that all they needed was three points and they were through to the knockout stages of the Champions League no matter what happened in Group B's other match between Inter Milan and CSKA Moscow. So naturally, the two teams battled and fought for 90 minutes knowing that their tournament lives were on the line only to finish in a scoreless draw, eliminating both sides from the competition.
Playing at home, Lille carried the play to Trabzonspor, but they showed little patience in the final third. They had a go at goal whenever they could see the frame so while they attempted a staggered 22 shots to the visitor's five, only four of those shots were on goal. So Lille had the better of the play with 66% of the possession, but what does it really matter if you can't hit the frame? And that's what they had to take a 0-0 draw that ended their chance at European glory, or at least relevance.
The draw left Trabzonspor on seven points, one behind second place CSKA, who beat Inter to nip into the final advancement spot. Lille finished one point behind Trabzonspor.
Entering the final matchday of the UEFA Champions League group stage, Olympique Lyonnais needed a miracle to go through. Ajax Amsterdam led them by three points and had a plus-three goal differential. Lyon's goal differential was minus-four. Though Real Madrid seemed likely to beat Ajax and Lyon were a good bet to beat Dinamo Zagreb, very few expected them to make up the difference.
Not only did they make it up, they did it with a couple of goals to spare. While Ajax fell 3-0 to Madrid, Lyon put up an incredible 7-1 thrashing on Dinamo to go through with eight points and a goal differential two goals better than Ajax. Bafetimbi Gomis was the man of the match, scoring four goals for OL.
The first half was an up and down one for Lyon. Dinamo's Jerko Leko was shown a red card in the 28th minute, giving them what seemed at that time like a small glimmer of hope. In the 40th minute, they appeared completely dead when Croatian wonderkid Mateo Kovacic scored for ten-men Dinamo. Gomis got a goal back just before the halftime whistle, but Lyon still needed a miracle.
No one knows what Remi Garde said to his team at halftime, but it clearly worked. They scored three times in the first seven minutes, with Maxime Gonalons scoring in the 47th minute before Gomis completed his hat trick with two more goals. At that point, they were up by three goals while Ajax trailed by two. They still needed things to go their way by two more goals, either allowed by Ajax or scored by them.
Lisandro Lopez scored in the 64th and Gomis completed the miracle comeback in the 70th minute, putting Lyon up 6-1 and giving them the goals they needed to go through. For good measure, Jimmy Briand added a seventh in the 75th minute, while Jose Maria Callejon added a third for Madrid in the 90th minute to ensure Lyon's progression into the knockout stages.
Manchester United is out of the UEFA Champions League, thanks to a fantastic performance by FC Basel at home in Switzerland. There was plenty of late drama, with United pushing hard for an equalizer, but Basel held on to record a massive 2-1 victory to get themselves into the knockout stages of the competition.
It took just eight minutes for Basel to take the lead through Marco Streller. Xherdan Shaqiri, almost certainly the man of the match, made the chance with a cross into the box. David De Gea deflected the ball away with a kick, but it fell right to Streller, who hit a fantastic volley into the back of the net.
United looked slow and lacking in ambition for a few minutes afterwards, but really picked up the pace in the 30th minute. For the final 15 minutes of the first half, it appeared that an equalizer was inevitable, but it never came. Wayne Rooney missed four different shooting opportunities, while Nani's tricks down the wing never resulted in any real clear-cut goal scoring chances. Just before the halftime whistle blew, Nemanja Vidic went down with an injury and Johnny Evans came on.
The Red Devils came out guns blazing in the second half, with Rooney missing another golden opportunity in the 49th minute. Basel almost gave up the equalizer in disastrous fashion in the 60th minute, when Markus Steinhöfer powered a clearance off his own crossbar. Basel regularly had 10 of their 11 players in the penalty area in the second half, occasionally breaking out to counter-attack.
Their second goal came on the counter in the 84th minute, and it was once again Shaqiri who provided the setup. From the right wing, he cut onto his favored left foot and hit an in-swinging cross towards the six-yard area. Marco Streller appeared to get a slight touch on the ball with his head, but it was Alexander Frei who provided the finish with a header at the back post to make it 2-0.
It felt like Basel had it sealed up at that point, but United got one back in bizarre fashion. After substitute Federico Macheda smacked the crossbar, Phil Jones put a goal just over the line on a follow-up header in the 89th minute, with Yann Sommer just barely failing to stop the ball from crossing the line.
The referee gave three minutes of stoppage time in which United pushed everyone forward, but they were unable to find the equalizer that they needed to qualify for the knockout stages. The final whistle blew with the scoreboard reading 2-1 to Basel, and the Red Devils will be going to the Europa League. Basel have become the first team from Switzerland to qualify for the UEFA Champions League knockout stages and will join Benfica in qualifying from Group C.
Well it's great news for Manchester City so far, who are beating Bayern Munich's reserve side 1-0 and look - for now - set to advance to the knockout rounds at the expense of Napoli, who are drawing against Villarreal. City have been by far the better side at the Etihad Stadium, with already-through Bayern fielding just two of the same players who started against the Premier League leaders at the Allianz Arena, and could be looking at an even more comfortable lead right now.
Sergio Aguero had an early headed miss that he should have done better with before David Silva ripped a beautiful long-range effort past Hans-Jorg Butt, conjuring a vital lead out of nothing. A goalline clearance by Jerome Boateng after a neat effort by Aguero stopped the scoreline getting worse for Bayern, but they don't look anything like capable of mounting a reply. Can City really pull off a miracle here?
Despite the fact that Villarreal have nothing to play for -- save, of course, making sure they're not the first Spanish side to crash out of the Champions League without a point -- they've decided to park a big yellow bus in front of the Napoli goal, ensuring that keeper Diego Lopez has had almost nothing to do. The visitors, for their part, look utterly terrified, exactly like a team that knows they must win tonight's match if they want to progress to the knockout stages of the tournament.
At halftime, the partenopei are certain to learn that Manchester City have taken the lead against the Bayern Munich babies, meaning that, should the scores stay as they are through 45 minutes, City will go through and Napoli will drop to the Europa League. Will Walter Mazzarri's pep talk be enough to light a fire -- or perhaps calm the nerves -- of the Napoli players? Will the Yellow Submarine crack, letting through a goal? We shall see.
FC Basel lead Manchester United by a score of 1-0 at halftime, meaning that the Red Devils are on the verge of crashing out of the UEFA Champions League. If this result holds, they'll be heading down to the Europa League with a third place finish in the group. The goal was hardly against the run of play and it would be unfair to say it was anything but deserved. United's defending has been shaky and they've been slow going forward.
Marco Streller was the goal scorer, netting a stellar volley from 10 yards out in the 8th minute. With United's central defenders completely out of order, Xherdan Shaqiri put a cross into the box that was kicked away by David De Gea. Unfortunately for him, he kicked the ball right to Streller, who finished with a calm and collected striker to give his team the lead.
United picked up the pace in the final 15 minutes of the half and seriously searched for an equalizer, with Nani and Wayne Rooney running through multiple defenders on their own on a few occasions. Rooney also had some shooting opportunities, but failed to convert on three separate occasions. The equalizer felt inevitable from the 30th minute on, but Basel did enough to go into halftime with a lead.
Just before the end of the half, United defender Nemanja Vidic was forced off with an injury. It was some sort of leg injury, and it was bad enough that he was not able to leave the pitch under his own power. He was replaced by Johnny Evans.
Shaqiri has been the man of the match thus far, and it seems incredible watching this match that Basel managed to draw United without him. Not only did he provide the cross that set up the goal, but he's been the only Basel player able to keep possession. They've been booting the ball out of the back desperately at times, and they only reason they don't give the ball back instantly is Shaqiri's ability to keep the ball.
Manchester United went one goal down early against FC Basel in their crucial UEFA Champions League match, and they're going to have to come back without their best central defender. Nemanja Vidic was carried off the pitch via a stretcher in the 43rd minute and instantly replaced by Johnny Evans.
The injury was caused in an innocent collision with striker and goal-scorer Marco Streller, who fell awkwardly on Vidic's leg after an aerial challenge. It was obvious almost instantly that Vidic would not be able to continue and that he would require assistance to get off the pitch. It wasn't clear exactly what Vidic's lower body injury was or the severity of the injury, but it was serious enough that he was not able to leave the pitch under his own power.
Manchester United were expected to win their UEFA Champions League group with relative ease, but have gotten themselves into a situation where they need a result away to FC Basel on the final day to qualify. Only Benfica is already through, with these two sides fighting for the final place. Basel needs a win to go through, while United only needs a draw.
Substitutes: Scott Chipperfield, Massimo Colomba, Radoslav Kovac, Valentin Stocker, Jacques Zoua, Kwang Ryong Pak, Genseric Kusunga.
Kickoff is at 2:45 pm ET, 7:45 pm GMT and 8:45 pm local time. You can catch the game on FOX Soccer Channel in the USA.
Napoli have all to play for in this match, and their lineup reflects that -- the absolute best starters for the partenopei prepare to take the field shortly in their final Champions League Group A match. A win, and they're through to the knockout round. A loss or draw for Manchester City, and Napoli are through as well....but Bayern Munich are fielding the kids at the Etihad, so in reality, this is a must-win match for Napoli.
Villarreal have nothing but pride to play for. The vesuviani faithful are hoping that's not enough.
Napoli Starting XI: Morgan De Sanctis; Salvatore Aronica, Paolo Cannavaro, Hugo Campagnaro; Christian Maggio, Walter Gargano, Gokhan Inler, Camile Zuniga; Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi; Edinson Cavani
Manchester City need a win to have any hope of advancing from UEFA Champions League Group A and therefore field a strong lineup. Bayern Munich do not. The Bundesliga leaders are already through as group winners and therefore can afford to faff around a little bit, with coach Jupp Heynckes apparently trying to answer that age-old question 'can I field a starting eleven that my bench could beat?' Happily for City, it looks like Heynckes might have managed it.
Manchester City lineup (4-2-3-1): Joe Hart; Gael Clichy, Joleon Lescott, Vincent Kompany, Stefan Savic; Gareth Barry, Yaya Toure; Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero, David Silva; Edin Dzeko.
Substitutes: Costel Pantilimon, Pablo Zabaleta, Kolo Toure, James Milner, Adam Johnson, Nigel de Jong, Mario Balotelli.
Bayern Munich lineup (4-4-2): Hans-Jorg Butt, Diego Contento, Holger Badstuber, Jerome Boateng, Rafinha; Luiz Gustavo, Antoliy Tymoshchuk, Danijel Pranjic, David Alaba; Nils Petersen, Ivica Olic.
Substitutes: Manuel Neuer, Daniel van Buyten, Philipp Lahm, Franck Ribery, Takashi Usami, Thomas Muller, Mario Gomez.
United's new solidity shows Ferguson's influence - but his own short-sightedness has also hindered them this season.
Bayern Munich may want to field as strong a team as possible against Manchester City in order to knock their potentially-dangerous opponents out at the first hurdle, but that team won't be quite as strong as Jupp Heynckes would like - both Toni Kroos and Arjen Robben have been sent back to Germany after catching the flu, leaving the Bundesliga leaders significantly weakened ahead of Wednesday's UEFA Champions League clash.
That won't both Bayern too much, since they're already assured of a first-place finish with 13 points from their opening five games, but it will give Roberto Mancini and City some hope that a result against the Bundesliga side is far from impossible. The Bavarians are also missing dynamic midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, and on paper City should be favourites to get the win at home. That might all be for naught depending on what Napoli do at Villarreal, but this is much better news for City than having to face some of Germany's top talents.
Roberto Mancini has bemoaned City's lack of experience. He is wrong and right; either way they need a win.
Manchester City need a win against Bayern Munich as well as a little help from Villarreal against Napoli to escape UEFA Champions League Group A.
Forget what happens in the Manchester City - Bayern Munich match: Napoli need to concentrate on taking all three points from Villarreal in their last Champions League fixture. If they play as they did against Lecce on Saturday, the partenopei will be unstoppable.
Manchester United must get a draw or win away to FC Basel to secure a spot in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League.
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