6 Things We Learned from Champions League Week 3
The third round of UEFA Champions League group stage fixtures are over and, having reached the halfway point of the first stage, we are beginning to get a clearer indication of how the tournament is panning out.
While, for the most part, the pre-tournament favourites are sailing through the early stages with little to worry about, there are a couple of bigger names who already have a major fight on their hands to progress.
So, after two days of enthralling continental action, let's assess what we can learn from the week's 16 Champions League encounters.
Alaba Is the Most Complete Left-Back in Europe
David Alaba was quite possibly the best-performing left-back in Europe last season and has begun the current campaign in very much the same fashion.
With two goals in the Champions League to date this season, as well as a solitary strike in the Bundesliga, it is clear that he has taken the standard role of a left-back and added a real attacking threat to the position.
There have been plenty of wing-backs in recent years, but Alaba manages to be as attacking as any of them, without exposing his side defensively.
His former midfield role means that he is excellent at joining in creatively and, to top it off, he must be one of the fittest defenders in the game. He is a truly exceptional player.
The "new" Shakhtar Needs More Time
Shakhtar were dismantled by Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday night, with the Germans showing a ruthlessness that was lacking in their opening two fixtures.
For the Ukrainian side, though, there will be major worries that their "new-look" side cannot compete with the successes of recent years.
The Miners currently lie second domestically, which will come as somewhat of a shock, but to lose 4-0 to Leverkusen shows a worrying vulnerability that will need to be addressed.
For the moment, Mircea Lucescu is struggling to bed in new players and, somewhat bizarrely, none of Fred, Wellington Nem or Bernard have been starting regularly—with Taison getting the nod.
While lesser players are being selected, it will be some time before the former UEFA Cup winners return to full strength.
PSG Are the Real Deal in Europe
Quarter-finalists in the competition last year, French champions PSG are well on their way to proving that success was far from a one-off and, this time around, it was a young Anderlecht side who suffered.
At the centre of it all was Sweden star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has been in sensational recent form, but produced his best performance yet to fire four past the Belgians in Brussels.
He was simply unplayable at times and, with Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani in support, he has plenty of backup if required.
Just how far the Parisiens can go remains to be seen, but they are unbeaten in 28 competitive games and showing no signs of surrendering that record. PSG are a team to really keep an eye on this campaign.
Juventus Are in Real Trouble
Serie A champions Juventus can consider themselves a touch unfortunate to have lost a the Bernabeu on Wednesday, but whilst they continue to hold players from corners, there will always be a risk of conceding a penalty.
More worrying for the Italians, though, was the ease with which Galatasaray strolled past FC Kobenhavn in Turkey, taking a 3-0 first-half lead before conceding once in the second half.
The Turks, then, would look odds-on to repeat their success in Denmark next time out which, if Juve fail to beat Real Madrid, could be fatal for the Italians' hopes in the competition.
A draw at home to Galatasaray was a poor result, but the failure to beat Kobenhavn in the opening matchday could be decisive to their hopes.
Manchester City Have Got to Grips with UCL Football
Winning away in Russia is never easy, but Manuel Pellegrini's Manchester City side showed excellent belief in their own abilities to come from a goal behind and secure victory.
After two years of stuttering displays in the Champions League, not even registering a single win last season, the clarity with which they set about their task was a major improvement.
On the night, Sergio Aguero was key. However, the Sky Blues were a team who knew they would win and knew how they were going to achieve the result.
The pitch was appalling and the crowd was hostile, but City showed a maturity to their performance that has not been present on past European travels.
It was bound to happen eventually, and it appears that Pellegrini is the man to have finally brought self-belief to the side in continental competition.
Jonny Evans Must Be Handed Responsibility at United
For the second consecutive match this week, Manchester United manager David Moyes opted to line up with a centre-back pairing of Jonny Evans and Phil Jones on Wednesday night and was rewarded for his bravery.
The duo were generally excellent in limiting Real Sociedad chances, and it was the 25-year-old Evans who took on a leading role in the partnership.
Evans' talent has been known for some time and, while there has been the odd mistake, he has generally been a remarkably composed performer for a defender of his age.
With the established pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic having failed to perform as hoped this campaign, Moyes is right to hand others the opportunity to impress. In Jones and Evans, he has a partnership of real potential—albeit lacking experience as a unit.
That will come with time, and Moyes should reward their positive start with an extended run together. Evans, in particular, deserves the chance to become a central figure to Moyes' new-look side.