1. Madrid’s late lapses could prove costly
Marco Reus’ 88th-minute strike for Borussia Dortmund was to signify far more than just a late draw against Real Madrid. It cost the hosts top spot in Group F and has almost-certainly handed the defending champions a more-difficult team in the next round. But the greater alarm was the sense of inevitability behind the German side’s equaliser, with Madrid simply handing over the initiative to the visitors.
Late goals have been a consistent theme in Europe this season for Los Blancos, who have now conceded late equalisers home and away to Dortmund and at Legia Warsaw.
The issue is twofold – Madrid’s inability to kill the game off, plus their difficulty in defending against sustained pressure. Tactically, Zinedine Zidane’s men look vulnerable in Europe, swashbuckling going forward but lacking decisiveness at the back. The return of Sergio Ramos should help with this, but their sitting-back policy late in games, without individual confidence, may cause them problems going forward in Europe.
2. James is no lost cause for Madrid
Colombia international James Rodriguez gave another demonstration of his suitability within Real Madrid’s pacy counterattacking style against Borussia Dortmund and should now be handed a consistent run in the team.
Injuries and a lack of confidence have disrupted his season, but with Gareth Bale out until the New Year, James is clearly the best option to step in.
His running power and ability to work in tandem with Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema give him a clear edge over Isco and Lucas Vazquez, who can both drift in and out of games.
His ability to break quickly with the ball can be essential to Madrid’s play as Ronaldo, Los Blancos’ sole ball-carrier, is often marked by two players. James is just as reliable and will offer the likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos an option to play out to.
3. Arda stars for Barca but should be sacrificed for last 16
Arda Turan took full advantage of his first European start of the campaign to remind Barcelona boss Luis Enrique of his capabilities with a clinical hat-trick. The Turk was excellent all night, roaming the Catalans’ final third and popping up in all the right areas.
He remains Barca’s best attacking option outside MSN and there is no doubting his talent, which is clear for all to see. However, his role looks set to continue as impactful. Despite his showing against the Germans, he won't dislodge La Blaugrana’s starting front three, while a deeper role also looks unlikely. In the knockout rounds, Enrique is likely to return to Plan A, deploying three retention-based midfielders that will allow MSN the freedom and possession to wreak havoc. This will see Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic back in alongside Andres Iniesta, allowing the side to be dominant in all areas of the pitch.
4. Off-night for Atleti should be no concern
Despite ending 2016 with their first European defeat of the season, Atletico Madrid shouldn’t be too troubled by their loss to Bayern Munich. The German giants still had plenty to play for at the Allianz Arena, with Diego Simeone’s team already qualified as group winners, and the balance of the game showed that.
The only concern for Simeone would likely have been the lack of Atleti’s usual verve and high pressing game as the visitors were happy to allow Bayern to set the tempo and dominate possession.
Atleti have put a lot into Europe so far this season, and the winter break should allow them the chance to recharge and reorganise ahead of 2017 as they will be a real threat when back to full power. Check out the following link for the best predictions on Los Colchoneros’ fate in the knockout stages.
5. Sevilla finally show their Champions League steel
Sevilla’s love affair with the Europa League, plus their notorious failure to progress in the Champions League, both came to an end on Wednesday night as Jorge Sampaoli’s side dug deep to secure qualification.
So often in the past, Sevilla have fallen at the final hurdle, often to inferior teams, so much so that there appeared to be a mental block for the Champions League in Andalusia.
Under Sampaoli, however, Sevilla looked more organised defensively, rather simply relying on an ability to outscore their opponents.
While Lyon were far from dominant, Sevilla were effective defensively in denying the French side any chance of progress, with Sergio Escudero particularly outstanding. Sevilla will need that collective strength when the big boys come around in the spring, but the signs look positive so far.
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