Manchester City reached the knockout phase for the first time in their history while only two teams, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, have won all four of their games so far. Here are some other talking points from Matchday Four:
1. Goalkeeper of the week (and who can trust a coach’s logic?)
As any former England goalkeeper will tell you, it’s not easy being a number one. Ray Clemence has called the position "a pressure-cooker" and Paul Robinson described the criticism he took on wearing the England jersey as "a witch-hunt". This week, Joe Hart has dropped to the Manchester City bench while Juventus chose to keep faith with Gigi Buffon after he made some uncharacteristic errors. Iker Casillas, essentially Real Madrid’s reserve this season, was outstanding in Turin while Hart’s replacement Costel Pantilimon had little to do but still conceded twice as City made it to the knock-out round for the first time.
But one goalkeeper stole the show on Matchday Four: Roberto Jimenez Gago, known as Roberto, who made seven outstanding saves as Olympiacos somehow withstood Benfica's onslaught to win their Group C game 1-0. Olympiacos are now three points ahead of Benfica and a Matchday Six win over Austria Vienna should be enough for them to seal qualification.
After the game, both coaches agreed that Roberto had made the difference: “He was greater than a saint tonight, maybe only the Pope is more saintly," said Olympiacos boss Michel, who promised to invite the Spaniard to dinner at his house to celebrate.
Benfica coach Jorge Jesus was slightly less generous. “It is rare to get a game where a goalkeeper has this kind of influence. It wasn't a fair result, we could have scored lots of goals.” Roberto was the reason Benfica didn't score, and the sub-plot to his performance was that he spent one season at Benfica, in 2010-11, before spending two seasons at Real Zaragoza.
Jesus seemed to be covering his tracks somewhat when he added: "Roberto is proof that Benfica produce great players." Where do you start with a statement like that? With the fact that Jesus bombed Roberto out of the club back in summer 2011? The fact that Roberto was 24 when he joined Benfica? Or that he had spent his teenage years at the Atletico Madrid youth academy?
As an aside, Roberto's career path sums up the modern game all too well; Benfica bought him from Atletico, sold him to Zaragoza via an investment fund (Zaragoza were under a transfer embargo and he reportedly cost €8.5m (£7.1m)), then Atletico bought him back after the fund defaulted on its payments. Atletico have now loaned him out to Olympiacos, but next season, if Thibaut Courtois moves to his parent club Chelsea, could bring back Roberto as number one.
As for Jesus’s comment: sometimes coaches make a mistake, like the rest of us. But if Jesus really was claiming credit for Roberto denying Benfica a result, then the football world is madder than we originally thought.
2. Power over placement sometimes worksHulk's effort was saved in Zenit's draw with Porto. Lionel Messi, though, scored; his penalty came under pressure, given the so-called drought (three games) he was enduring.
It wasn't a surprise to see Messi blast it down the middle – often it’s the best way to score from the spot, and it was surprising that a player as powerful as Hulk chose against that strategy. Not many goalkeepers would stop one of his blasters from 12 yards. The option to shoot down the middle, or rather for goalkeepers to save down the middle, only became apparent after Johan Neeskens scuffed his spot-kick down the middle in the 1974 World Cup final, but even now, many goalkeepers never stay central on principle. Messi was able to take advantage.
3. Some coaches just work at certain clubs
4. Who said the group stages were boring?Manchester United take on Shakhtar Donetsk in what could be a qualifying play-off; in Group B, Juventus at Galatasaray could determine who progresses; Benfica might need to beat Paris Saint-Germain to get through, while Milan’s game against Ajax could be a second place decider.
5. Ajax have still got it
- Sports & Recreation
- Atletico Madrid
- Lionel Messi
- Borussia Dortmund
- Jorge Jesus
- Manchester City