A story came to light this week that Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba were at odds over Manchester United’s formation. Mourinho denied that was the case to the press, although the information originated from a source who has historically been close to the manager.
Pogba wasn’t included against Huddersfield Town due to illness and he returned to the bench for the trip to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. However, Mourinho opted to use the 4-3-3 formation which is apparently the underlying reason behind the rumoured disagreement.
The Frenchman didn’t have to wait long to be introduced against Sevilla, with Ander Herrera pulling up in the 16th minute. He had little impact in his opening half hour, as he played alongside Scott McTominay.
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Sevilla finished the first half strongly and should have taken the lead when they had two opportunities to score. Steven N’zonzi saw his header pushed over the bar by David De Gea and then a lack of communication in United’s back four saw the Spaniard forced into action once again to deny Luis Muriel.
Both sides created few clear-cut opportunities in the second half, although Sevilla will feel the more aggrieved with the 0-0 score line. Pogba made few significant contributions, but only Nemanja Matic made more touches for his team.
Conte gets his tactics spot-on
Antonio Conte has had his fair share of criticism this season and whether the coach is still at Stamford Bridge after the summer is uncertain, but he ensured that Chelsea have a fighting chance of progressing in the Champions League. Barcelona naturally had a large amount of possession but were unable to fashion any clear opportunities until they scored late on.
Conte opted to utilise Eden Hazard in a ‘false nine’ role, whilst both Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud started from the bench. This enabled Chelsea to counter attack at speed and their clever movement was a constant threat.
Willian hit the post with a brilliant curling effort from distance with half an hour gone. The Brazilian hit the other post with Marc-Andre ter Stegen completely stranded 10 minutes later.
The Catalans had 75% of the ball in the opening 45 minutes, but they managed just two shots (which were both off target) at Thibaut Courtois. Luis Suarez did pull a save out of the Belgian shot-stopper 10 minutes after the interval.
Willian finally broke the deadlock when his low shot sneaked inside of the upright just after the hour mark. The former Shakhtar Donetsk winger had a fantastic game, as he stopped Jordi Alba from causing problems the other way.
However, Chelsea were unable to hold on as Andreas Christensen’s poor pass across his box couldn’t be gathered by Cesar Azpilicueta, with Andres Iniesta latching onto the ball in the 75th minute. Lionel Messi popped up with a sucker punch, which was his first goal in five games and his first goal in nine attempts against Chelsea.
Besiktas don’t help themselves
Besiktas took the game to the German champions in the opening exchanges, but when they went down to 10 men early on it was always going to be an uphill task. A loose pass from Atiba Hutchinson put the Turkish team under initial pressure, then Domagoj Vida took Robert Lewandowski’s legs away from him as he raced through on goal.
The centre-back was immediately given a straight red card with just over a quarter-of-an-hour played. Besiktas still kept going forward, although Mats Hummels came closest when his header was superbly kept out by goalkeeper Fabri.
Kingsley Coman’s clever footwork enabled him to get a cross into David Alaba, but the ball fell kindly to Thomas Muller who scored with a shot on the turn just before the break. Lewandowski hit the post from a free-kick almost immediately after the restart.
However, the Polish forward turned provider two minutes later when he pulled the ball back for Coman to slot home. Muller volleyed in his second of the game before Hummels shot was saved by Fabri and Lewandowski responded the quickest to tap-in Bayern’s fourth.
Lewandowski had another easy finish to make it virtually impossible for Besiktas to advance any further. It was Bayern’s 14th consecutive victory, which equals their club record.
Cengiz Under and Fred prove their credentials
Roma made no fewer than 10 permanent signings last summer, as new sporting director Monchi had his first transfer window at the club. The focus was heavily on investment in defence, which was surprising given they lost Mohamed Salah to Liverpool and club legend Francesco Totti finally retired at the age of 40.
They did bring in some attacking reinforcements though, with the loan signings of Gregoire Defrel and Patrik Schick. However, it was the £12 million purchase of young Turkish winger Cengiz Under which perhaps gave the greatest combination of expectation and mystique.
The 20-year-old didn’t arrive from one of Turkey’s big three, but from Istanbul’s latest club Basaksehir. It has been a slow start to life in Italy for Under as he has struggled with his new language and loneliness.
Roma boss Eusebio Di Francesco switched to a 4-2-3-1 system at the beginning of this month and Under has immediately responded. He has scored four goals in his last three games in Serie A, whilst he netted with five minutes to go before half-time against Shakhtar Donetsk after a clever pass from Edin Dzeko.
Shakhtar equalised in the second half when Facundo Ferreyra twisted Kostas Manolas inside out before sliding the ball past Roma goalkeeper Allison. It was the striker’s 21st goal of the season, with the attacker having spent a campaign at Newcastle in 2014/15 without making a single appearance.
The Ukrainian’s have a rich history of giving Brazilian’s opportunities with Willian and Manchester City’s Fernandinho learning their trade at the club. It was holding midfielder Fred that will now attract attention, as he hit a sublime free-kick off the underside of the crossbar and gave Allison no chance for a 2-1 win.