PSG keeps Ancelotti afloat while Arsenal loses grip of Group B
Paris Saint-Germain beat Porto 2-1 to win its group, but Carlo Ancelotti isn't safe
Manchester City became the first English club to not win a group-stage match
Arsenal lost its halftime lead and settled for a precarious second place in its group
There may be three Round of 16 places up for grabs with Matchday Six still to play, but Tuesday night's action featured eight teams whose places in the next round were secure. Despite that, there were still plenty of talking points coming out of the matches, not least concerning more problems for English teams, and another side whose coach is under pressure:
1. Carlo Ancelotti may have bought himself some time. Paris Saint-Germain's under-pressure coach should buy Helton a Christmas case of wine after his howler gifted Paris Saint-Germain a 2-1 win -- although the Porto goalkeeper might just drop it. The Brazilian looked a liability throughout this compelling match, the result of which sees PSG atop Group A in its debut Champions League campaign.
On Monday, the French press suggested Ancelotti might not survive the week in charge, but this result must make any imminent dismissal highly unlikely. "The owners in Doha are determined to end the Leonardo-Ancelotti cycle by summer 2013," warned L'Equipe on Tuesday.
PSG had started the game well and took the lead when Thiago Silva powered in Maxwell's excellent free kick in the 29th minute. Ancelotti's decision to leave out Nene, PSG's best player last season, for Javier Pastore, looked justified early on, but it was the Argentine who allowed Danilo time and space to cross for Jackson Martinez to equalize in the 33rd.
PSG was on top in the second half, and Ezequiel Lavezzi put the host ahead when his shot somehow squirmed under Helton and in at his near post in the 61st. Porto still had chances to level up Salvatore Sirgu saved smartly from Martinez, Lucho Gonzalez fired over, while an unmarked Nicolas Otamendi headed wide in the last minute -- but this win could prove to be a turning point in PSG's season.
That doesn't mean Ancelotti's problems have all disappeared: dressing-room leaks dominated the buildup, with the chief issue seemingly a split between the French speakers and the Italian speakers. When Ancelotti picked only one Frenchman, Blaise Matuidi, for the Matchday Five win in Dynamo Kiev, it was seen as his clear preference for the foreign signings. "If I want to play, I think I'll have to take Italian lessons," moaned one player. When Salvatore Sirigu, the only Italian who also speaks French, told the press there had been a player meeting in Kiev before the game, it was the first the French players had heard of it.
A general sense of dressing-room unease, claimed Le Parisien, is because the players have still not sorted out what bonuses they are due this season. The owners have dropped the normal system of extra payments after individual victories and will only pay out in the case of winning a trophy. This has upset the players, who are also unhappy that the squad representatives sent to negotiate with Leonardo -- "captain" Christope Jallet, Mathieu Bodmer and Zoumana Camara -- have failed to find a solution. "This case is a disruption in the dressing-room," wrote Le Parisien.
Such is the bunched-up nature of Ligue 1, where six points separate the top seven teams, that PSG could win its next three games and everything will be fine again. For the moment, PSG's crisis is over, but you can't escape the feeling that Ancelotti is on borrowed time.
2. City needs to learn from Dortmund example. Manchester City became the first English team to fail to win a single game in a Champions League group stage, and with just three points, the lowest point total ever from a Premier League team. For all coach Roberto Mancini's complaints about lack of experience, and a tough draw, he need only look at where Dortmund was 12 months ago. The German champion, like City, was playing in its first Champions League campaign, and finished at the bottom of its group with four points: two late goals conceded to Marseille on Matchday Six did not affect its position, but dumped Olympiacos into the Europa League. One year on, Dortmund has taken four points from head-to-heads against Real Madrid and City, topped Group D and looks like a dangerous contender this season.
City, on the other hand, has gone backwards. Tuesday's 1-0 defeat to beat an under-strength opponent left them at the bottom of Group D and not even in the Europa League. While that may please Mancini, who spoke pre-match of the problems Thursday night games can have on league form, it will not impress his bosses in Abu Dhabi, nor will it help City's UEFA co-efficient. This is significant as it means the team will be in a low-seeded pot and could land another tough draw in next season's competition. I can't help thinking it will also have a major impact on Mancini's future at City when his performance is assessed at the end of the season.
3. Arsenal fans are getting ready for Barcelona. Twice in the last three seasons, Arsenal has been drawn to face Barcelona in the round of 16, and twice it has lost. The more superstitious Gunners fans are expecting a similar draw on Dec. 20, after Arsenal ended up second in Group B after a 2-1 loss to Greek champion Olympiacos. In truth, Arsenal missed an opportunity to avoid even the possibility of drawing Barcelona, given that Schalke failed to beat Montpellier, drawing 1-1. That result opened the door, but Arsenal's unfamiliar-looking side (albeit one that started with nine international players) let slip a 1-0 halftime lead.
While this continued Arsenal's rotten run of form, coach Arsene Wenger can point to the team he selected -- not so much a young one, but an older reserve one, featuring as it did Sebastien Squilacci (32), Tomas Rosicky (32), Marouane Chamakh (28), described on Twitter by @arseblog as "looking like a startled seabird washed up on the beach in the wake of the Exxon Valdez disaster" as reasons to not be too upset.
Wenger claimed the first goal, scored by Giannis Maniatis, "should not have stood" as it came from a disputed corner. But after that, there only looked like one winner, which came from Kostas Mitroglu's impressive curling shot. A win would have relieved some of the pressure on Wenger, and now, like everyone else, he just has to wait for that draw in a fortnight.
"We needed that second goal tonight, but overall it was a very encouraging game," Wenger said. "Now we have to wait for the draw, but ideally we would want to have finished first in the group."
4. Dinamo Zagreb avoids unwanted history. FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini were in Zagreb to commemorate the Croatian FA's centenary, but both men decided to give Dinamo Zagreb's match against Dynamo Kiev the swerve. It proved a wise decision: it was so snowy that the game was delayed for 16 minutes in the first half so new lines could be painted on the pitch. They even played with an orange ball.
Kiev took the lead through Andriy Yarmolenko's first-half chip, and it looked like Zagreb was heading for a 12th consecutive group-stage loss, an unwanted record that it would tie with Anderlecht. This season, Dinamo had not even scored in the competition -- until injury time of tonight's game, that is, when Ivan Krstanovic scored a dramatic penalty which sparked off some major goal celebrations. Dinamo had dominated the second half, and deserved its moment of glory: maybe Blatter and Platini missed out after all.
5. Matchday Six throws up new names. With some teams already through (or out), this round of matches inevitably provides the chance for coaches to rest first-teamers and give opportunities to rarely used players, whose challenge is to give the boss a selection headache in the future.
So Tuesday we saw first Champions League starts for Viktor Fischer (Ajax), Jernade Meade (Arsenal), Scott Sinclair (Manchester City) and Oliver Kirch and Moritz Leitner (Dortmund), and a substitute appearance from Jose Rodriguez, who at 17 years and 354 days becomes Real Madrid's youngest ever player in the competition. Their next chance may not come later this season, but in future years.
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