5 things we learned from this week’s Champions League


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There may not have been much tension and drama at Chelsea or Real Madrid this week but Manchester United more than made up for that with a nerve-jangling success at Old Trafford. Here is what caught our eye in the Champions League this week:

When will De Gea get Spain chance?

The goalkeeping performance of the round came from United’s David de Gea, who showed his increasing value with two outstanding saves just before United scored their second goal on the stroke of half-time.

It is something of a surprise that De Gea has never played for Spain, though coach Vicente del Bosque has called him up to the squad. But barring injury, he is fourth in the current pecking-order behind Iker Casillas (32), Victor Valdes (32) and Pepe Reina (31). Will all of them remain committed to La Roja after the World Cup, or will Del Bosque, who has smartly introduced younger players like Koke (22) and Thiago (22) to the squad, turn to De Gea at last?

“He’s improved so much since moving to England,” said his former team-mate Koke earlier this season. “He’s bigger and that’s a big advantage for goalkeepers against more physical players.”

De Gea has won two Under-21 European Championships with Spain – in 2011 and 2013 – and was named the top goalkeeper in both of them. I bet Roy Hodgson wishes he had a dilemma (and a fourth-choice goalkeeper) like it.

David Moyes finds Lady Luck just in time

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That’s not to say Manchester United didn't deserve the 3-0 Ryan Giggs-inspired victory over Olympiacos but that, for once, everything that could have gone Moyes’s way at Old Trafford, did. Olympiacos had chances to score but could not take them: perhaps unsurprisingly, given that their three top scorers this season, Kostas Mitroglou (sold to Fulham), Javier Saviola and Michael Olaitan (both injured) were unavailable. Offer similar chances to the likes of Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, though, and it might not be so comfortable.

United have had false dawns previously this season; in fact it has been a pattern that a good result follows a bad one, raises expectations and the hope that they are ‘over the hump’ and then is followed by another bad result. Not a great marker given their next home game is against Manchester City next Tuesday, but perhaps this was significant for another reason for United.

Firstly, they have gone further than City in Europe: never mind the draw – City had some of the hardest opponents possible, United the easiest – United will still be in the competition when we enter April, unlike their neighbours.

And secondly, Van Persie’s late knee injury – serious enough to be stretchered off but not so serious, suggested Moyes after the game, that the Dutchman would miss a serious chunk of the season – might have solved another problem for Moyes in the short-term. Given the failure of his attacking trio of RVP-Rooney-Mata to function in any way together, the only way Moyes could make it work would be to drop one of them – or for one of the players, any of them, to be injured.

That way the other two can work in tandem: Van Persie as the centre-forward, Mata as the No. 10, and Rooney as either. It sounds strange if your hat-trick hero picks up a slight knock and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s been that kind of season at United.

Hazard stepping up to the plate

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Samuel Eto’o stole the headlines with an early goal that set Chelsea on the way to a comfortable win over Galatasaray – a game which might have been Didier Drogba’s last in the competition. It was also significant because it was the first time Eden Hazard has made the difference at this stage of the competition; he helped create Eto’o’s goal by releasing Oscar for the assist, and was a constant thorn in the side of the visitors’ defence.

“Of course I want to be one of the best players in the world,” Hazard told Belgian paper Het Laatste Nieuws last month. “I’ve always known I’m a good player, but I never noticed that I was one of the best. If I work hard and concentrate on these little things, I might come closer to players like Messi and Ronaldo. I don’t know if I’m capable of achieving the same things that they did, but why not? I’m taking the challenge! I’m doing well now, but I still have a long way to go. I have to become more regular, score more and become a real killer. I’m still not perfect.”

Jose Mourinho has reminded Hazard of just that this season, and this has been Hazard’s most productive campaign of his career. As the Champions League reaches its decisive phase, this could be the moment that Hazard takes the next step up.

Is this Real Madrid Ancelotti’s best ever?

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Maybe the Madrid-based media was short of a news line given that Real Madrid went into the game against Schalke 6-1 up after the first leg. All the same, Carlo Ancelotti was generous in giving them one, by describing his current squad as “the most complete” he has ever worked with. “This squad has a little of everything: experience, youth, quality, character and personality.” I can imagine this kind of debate after Real Madrid have won a trophy but coming just before a Clasico, and in the run-up to a quarter-final draw that could pit them against Bayern Munich or two of Ancelotti’s former clubs, Chelsea or Paris Saint-Germain, it’s quite a statement.

By way of comparison, the two Milan sides with which Ancelotti started his two winning Champions League finals were:

2003 Dida, Kaladze, Costacurta, Nesta, Maldini, Gattuso, Pirlo, Rui Costa, Seedorf, Shevchenko, Inzaghi

2007 Dida, Jankulovski, Oddo, Nesta, Maldini, Gattuso, Pirlo, Ambrosini, Seedorf, Kaka, Inzaghi

And the Chelsea starting XI that won the 2010 FA Cup final: Cech, Ivanovic, Terry, Alex, Cole, Malouda, Ballack, Lampard, Anelka, Drogba, Kalou

Does Ancelotti have a point? Once El Clasico is out of the way, perhaps we will all be agreeing with him.

Beware the Klopp to United brigade

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Last season Juergen Klopp gave a typically self-deprecating interview in which he called himself the little guy from the Black Forest, and was flattered to be linked to jobs at Liverpool and Chelsea. “It was funny that my name went round… but if we looked more closely, you would realise immediately that I would not go,” he told France Football. “I am under contract in Dortmund and there is no chance that I will leave. I like English football, but I work for a big club in Europe. And I feel good. But, hey, I prefer that my name is occasionally mentioned in other clubs rather than remain an unknown.”

His name was getting more than the occasional mention in Manchester, where his success at Dortmund, allied to his coherent philosophy, made him an early favourite to succeed Moyes at Old Trafford (and he remains that in spite of United’s win). And yet the reasons why United were reported to have overlooked Jose Mourinho for the job – that he is too belligerent, too maverick, and too dangerous for ‘the brand’ – can all be applied to Klopp too (that’s why in Germany some call Mourinho ‘the German Klopp’, rather than the other way around).

Last weekend, just a few hours before Mourinho was sent off for Chelsea at Aston Villa, Klopp was shown a red card and sent to the stands during Dortmund’s home defeat to Borussia Moenchengladbach. It was Klopp’s eighth dismissal of his career – his fines now total €58,000 (£48,300) – and it came on the back of a public war of words with Bayern sporting director Matthias Sammer. “If I were him, I'd thank God that someone had the idea of hiring me every time I walk into the Bayern training ground," Klopp had said, in response to Sammer’s suggestion that Bayern’s rivals lag behind because of their attitude to training.

"Klopp’s comment that Sammer does not contribute anything to Bayern was disrespectful and shameless,” wrote Oliver Kahn in his Bild column. “Juergen is an emotional coach,” Dortmund’s Kevin Grosskreutz responded. “His style suits Dortmund. I don’t believe in trying to change people. He is how he is.”

Let’s also not forget two other factors that make the Klopp to United story not quite so feasible: that much of Dortmund’s success in the Klopp era is also down to sports director Michael Zorc, who signed the likes of Mats Hummels, Marco Reus, Ilkay Gundogan and Robert Lewandowski – while United, run as Sir Alex Ferguson’s personal fiefdom for 26 years, have no such set-up in place. Also that last October, Klopp signed a new contract running until 2018 at Dortmund, a clear message to current players not to leave the club (or future targets to join). Klopp to United? I can’t see it happening.

Ben Lyttleton - @benlyt

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