It’s fair to say the more ‘interesting’ fixtures on matchday six in the Champions League group stage took place on the Tuesday. However, this does not mean the Wednesday wasn’t just as entertaining. A number of the less elite sides in the competition put on a show and displayed exactly why no team is to be underestimated in Europe’s top tournament.
Given the poor season Manchester United have had so far, it’s difficult to view them as strong favourites against any opponent at the moment. Their trip to Valencia would have been no different but there’s always going to be high expectations of what is still one of the largest teams in the world, regardless of how badly they’ve played in recent times. This was ultimately a game which was difficult to predict but it was the Spanish side who came out on top winning it 2-1. United put in yet another dire performance allowing Valencia to look comfortable for the majority of the match. Not for the first time this season, the United boss, Jose Mourinho, made some worrying comments claiming he wasn’t surprised by anything about his side’s performance. Take from this what you will, but it appears as if he has lost complete confidence in his players. They are clearly underperforming but if Mourinho is no longer surprised by this, then surely he is aware that his current ideas aren’t working. He no longer expects success from what he’s doing which leaves you wondering why has nothing changed? United continue to play the same boring football earning the same disappointing results but rather than trying something different, Mourinho just accepts that a loss is now more than likely rather than just a slight possibility.
The loss United suffered is all the more disappointing when you consider the other result from their group. Prior to kick off, this group looked as if it was all but decided with Juventus two points clear at the top and playing against winless Young Boys, meaning a win for United would most likely make no difference to the standings. However, Juventus’ match played out much like United’s did. The Italian giants found themselves 2-0 down only managing to claw one back late on but ultimately failing to grab an equaliser. A win for United could, therefore, have massively boosted their hopes of progressing further in this competition. Finishing second means they will most likely be underdogs whoever they get drawn against in the next round, with Porto probably considered their easiest possible opponents. Whilst finishing top of the group could still have seen them face very tough opponents, they would have been immune from facing top English sides Liverpool and Tottenham and would have been more likely to be drawn against someone they would consider to be beatable. Well, at least more beatable than the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and PSG, just to name a few.
The shock results didn’t end there with Spanish giants Real Madrid being another to be dealt an unexpected defeat. It’s hard to bet against Madrid in any match, especially when they’re playing at home, but they have certainly been prone to the odd slip up this season. Regardless, you would expect them breeze past a travelling CSKA Moscow but this was far from what happened. Los Blancos were beaten 0-3 by the Russian side, their largest ever home defeat in Europe. Although Madrid usually do top their group, like they did this season, they have a habit of never truly hitting top gear until the knockout stages. It could be easy to suggest that they aren’t favourites to retain their European title for the fourth year running based on how they’ve played so far, but they are a side who always seem to find a way. Whilst there’s perhaps a better chance of a another team who have been performing at a higher level domestically winning the trophy this year, Real Madrid have shown they can never be overlooked.
This year’s Champions League is looking to be just as, if not more exciting than ever. With the way the groups have played out, it looks as if there will be hardly any knockout fixtures where one of the sides will be clear favourites. The group stage has already shown that anything is possible and the tension of knockout football is only likely to add to the drama. All eyes will be on the round of 16 draw, which takes place on the 17th of December.