By Paul Wilkes
Pogba isn’t the only midfielder that Manchester United have been missing
The performance of Paul Pogba against Newcastle United illustrated exactly what Manchester United have lacked in his absence, as he improved the tempo and precision in their play. However, he hasn’t been the only midfielder to return in recent weeks, with Marouane Fellaini making his first start against Basel since his own injury.
The Belgian scored three times in September and was vital to Jose Mourinho’s style and tactics. He made another impressive contribution in Switzerland and came closest to scoring for the away side.
United dominated the opening 45 minutes, but were unable to make it count. Basel shocked Mourinho’s men with a late goal from Michael Lang, which means they still have a job to do on the final matchday due to their complacency.
Are there two Liverpools?
Liverpool couldn’t have asked for a better start, when Roberto Firmino scored inside 88 seconds. The Brazilian tapped in at the far post after Gini Wijnaldum headed it on from a Philippe Coutinho corner.
The Reds were ruthless in the first 45 minutes, but Sevilla did have their opportunities with Nolito turning Joe Gomez only for Loris Karius to tip the ball onto the post. Wissam Ben Yedder pulled another attempt wide straight afterwards.
Sadio Mane struck almost immediately with a brilliant diving header, with the Reds uncharacteristically scoring from another set-piece. Then, Firmino grabbed his second of the match with half-an-hour gone, when Mane’s shot was parried by Sergio Rico into the striker’s path.
Sevilla had never lost a European game at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuán by more than two goals, which partly explains their capacity to make a comeback. However, the rest of it was Liverpool’s ability to make life difficult for themselves.
The free-flowing attacking movement and clinical finishing was replaced by the very charitable in defence version at the interval. Ben Yedder gave Eduardo Berizzo’s side hope when he beat Alberto Moreno to the header for his first goal and then was tripped by the left-back to earn a penalty for his second.
The French striker converted from the spot at the second attempt, with referee Dr. Felix Brych ordering a retake for encroachment. Moreno has had an excellent start to the season, but he appears to let his emotions get the better of him against his former club.
In stoppage time, Guido Pizarro gave Sevilla a point when Liverpool failed to clear. The home game with Spartak Moscow is now pivotal to their progression with Jurgen Klopp hoping that it’s his unrelenting variant of his team that turns up.
Tottenham banish derby blues
It was a surprising Tottenham performance under Mauricio Pochettino in their defeat to Arsenal at the weekend. The Argentine fielded an extremely strong team at the Signal Iduna Park, despite already qualifying for the knockout rounds.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave Borussia Dortmund the lead on his return to the side, with the striker missing the defeat to Stuttgart on Friday after arriving late for training. A clever flick from Andriy Yarmolenko allowed the Gabon forward to run behind the Spurs’ defensive line and beat Hugo Lloris.
Harry Kane equalised early into the second half and then Son Heung-Min scored the winner, which was his eighth goal in 10 games against Dortmund including his time with Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen.
Dortmund have won only one of their last nine matches in all competitions and that was against third division side Magdeburg. Die Schwarzgelben face Schalke in the 91st Revierderby on Saturday, with the pressure beginning to mount on coach Peter Bosz.
Sterling’s listening to Guardiola’s lessons
Pep Guardiola made several changes to his team against Feyenoord, with Yaya Toure, Eliaquim Mangala, Ilkay Gundogan and Danilo all starting. They lacked some of their usual fluidity, but that was to be expected given their personnel adjustments and the fact they are already through from their group.
Former Liverpool goalkeeper Brad Jones also made a string of saves for Giovanni Van Bronckhorst’s men. They almost got their first point in the Champions League this term, but Raheem Sterling scored his fourth goal in as many matches with only two minutes remaining.
There’s a clip on social media of Guardiola in training explaining to the winger about his body positioning when looking to receive the ball. Sterling appears to have taken his coaches instructions literally and he provided a great finish after an interchange with Gundogan.
Chelsea show attacking fluency without a No.9
With Alvaro Morata on the bench for Chelsea against Qarabag and Michy Batshuayi injured, Antonio Conte opted for the attacking trident of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian. Hazard mainly operated centrally, but the three could interchange on the counter.
Chelsea’s task was certainly helped by the generous decision to send off Rasad Sadiqov after only 20 minutes, with Hazard dispatching the spot kick comfortably. They may have been playing against 10 men, but the move for Willian’s goal was excellent.
Morata’s impact this season has been immense and Diego Costa before him was a huge reason why they were able to win the Premier League. However, when the trio are on their game it does give Conte a worthwhile alternative.
Morata replaced Hazard in the 65th minute, so Cesc Fabregas took the penalty that was rewarded for yet another shirt pull. Willian secured the victory and the advancement out of the group with a fantastic strike to make it 4-0.
PSG are just too powerful
Brendan Rodgers said he didn’t want to “wrap his players in tactical cotton wool” prior to the visit to the Parc des Princes, as he alluded to the idea that he didn’t Celtic to purely defend. The early goal from Moussa Dembele may have changed the mentality of his team, when the striker finished from a corner following a training ground routine.
However, Paris Saint-Germain responded in emphatic fashion, with four goals in the 1st half. Neymar scored twice before providing an assist for Edinson Cavani, whilst Kylian Mbappe ensured an uphill task for the Scottish champions.
They added another three in the second period to give them an astonishing 7-1 victory. PSG have now overtaken Borussia Dortmund’s record of most goals in the group stage by three goals, which was only set last season and they still have another game to play.