Champions League hits and misses: Problems mount for Man Utd

If it’s not one thing for Man Utd, it’s another

Over the past few games, Manchester United’s midfield had been the focus of discussion. Why wasn’t Donny van de Beek being used? How can Paul Pogba be shoe-horned into the team? Will the diamond work? Promptly followed by: why doesn’t the diamond work?

But on Wednesday night, United’s defensive frailties were all too obvious again, and their lack of creativity in the final third against a low block highlighted them once more.

The opener, scored by Demba Ba, was schoolboy stuff. It’s a goal you almost exclusively see deep into second-half stoppage time when a team is chasing the game, not in the 13th minute of a goalless Champions League group game.

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The second, while less bizarre, was equally worrying, with United losing the ball and caught high up the pitch. Basaksehir, sitting deep themselves, were queueing up to score. These were positional errors you don’t expect to see at any level.

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And in attack, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford consistently ran into cul-de-sacs trying to find space in-behind a defence happy to sit back, a problem Solskjaer has experienced against stubborn sides throughout his time at Old Trafford.

Despite the focus being on the defence and attack, even the midfield can’t escape criticism. Tempo was difficult to gain with both Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic in the XI, while Bruno Fernandes had his worst game in a United shirt.

Simply, United were beaten in every area of the pitch. Just eight days on from the 5-0 win over RB Leipzig, this was a night to forget as this side once again flip-flop between the wonderful and the woeful.
Gerard Brand

Man Utd fixtures

Sat Nov 7: Everton (a)

Tues Nov 24: Istanbul Basaksehir (h)

Sat Nov 28: Southampton (a)

Wed Dec 2: PSG (h)

Sat Dec 5: West Ham (a)

Tues Dec 8: RB Leipzig (a)

Sat Dec 12: Man City (h)

Ruthless Reds find renewed edge in Jota

Atalanta were supposed to provide a test. Jurgen Klopp had never won in Italy. But from the moment the match kicked off it was clear that Liverpool had far too much for the Serie A side. With the front three – the new front three – in this mood, they would have had too much for many sides. Diogo Jota, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah looked terrifying.

It is true that Atalanta played into their hands in this 5-0 thrashing. Every corner for the home side appeared an opportunity to counter-attack. There had been some suggestions that Liverpool were not firing as they might this season but things can change quickly. Salah already has nine goals this season. Mane has five but after this hat-trick Jota has taken his tally to six.

  • Atalanta 0-5 Liverpool – Report and ratings
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What a revelation the new arrival from Wolves has been. Roberto Firmino’s unseen work is much admired by Klopp but no doubt the Liverpool manager likes less subtle reminders of quality too and the Portuguese has hammered home the message that he is ready to make a big impact. Exuding confidence and class, this is an edge that Liverpool’s attack needed.

It is not just that Firmino’s form has dipped. It is that previous incarnations of this marvellous Liverpool side lacked only one thing – the ability to really change games from the bench. Even when Divock Origi was delivering in big matches, few felt that this could continue for long. Now, Klopp has depth and perhaps Manchester City’s final advantage is lost.

Whether Jota deserves to find himself among the substitutes any time soon is another matter. Perhaps there will be more Champions League outings for him after this hat-trick. Liverpool’s place in the knockout stages is now all but assured. But it is the big game against Manchester City that lies ahead now. And Jota has made a compelling case for inclusion.
Adam Bate

Liverpool fixtures

Sat Nov 8: Man City (a)

Sat Nov 21: Leicester (h)

Wed Nov 25: Atalanta (h)

Sat Nov 28: Brighton (a)

Tues Dec 1: Ajax (h)

Sat Dec 5: Wolves (h)

Wed Dec 9: FC Midtjylland (a)

Sat Dec 12: Fulham (a)

Torres offers City intriguing striking option

Ferran Torres continues to play his part in answering Pep Guardiola’s recent shortage of striking options. With Sergio Aguero still out with a hamstring injury and Gabriel Jesus declared only fit enough to take his place among Manchester City’s list of substitutes, it was once again enshrined on the Spaniard to take up the central role as a drifting, false number nine.

Signed from Valencia for a little over £20m in the summer to play predominantly as a right winger, the 20-year-old again showed his versatility and composure in front of goal to give City the lead during Tuesday’s 3-0 win over the Greek champions Olympiakos.

  • Manchester City 3-0 Olympiakos – Report and ratings
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In taking Kevin de Bruyne’s pass and tucking his shot underneath Jose Sa, Torres became the third-youngest player in Champions League history to score in four consecutive appearances, behind Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland. It capped a fine first-half display full of darting runs and endeavour.

Having scored just six times for Valencia last season, Torres already has five to his name from 13 appearances for club and country this term. City’s xG of 1.32 goals per game is significantly down on their xG of 2.48 in 2019/20 but Torres has quickly adapted to provide his manager with a lively option ahead of Liverpool’s visit this Sunday, live on Sky Sports.

While Jesus showed he is ready to re-enter the fold with a fine goal of his own to end Olympiakos’ second-half revival, Guardiola will not hesitate to deploy his countryman through the middle as a solution, not only should the need arise.
Ben Grounds

Man City fixtures

Sat Nov 8: Liverpool (h)

Sat Nov 21: Tottenham (a)

Wed Nov 25: Olympiakos (a)

Sat Nov 28: Burnley (h)

Tues Dec 1: Porto (a)

Sat Dec 5: Fulham (h)

Wed Dec 9: Marseille (a)

Sat Dec 12: Man Utd (a)

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