Arsenal and Bukayo Saka shone in a 6-0 thrashing of Lens; a dubious penalty denies Newcastle after impressive performance in Paris; Jeremy Doku and Julian Alvarez underline their importance to Pep Guardiola; Celtic once again come up short in the Champions League
Thursday 30 November 2023 13:30, UK
In an alternate universe Manchester United are heading into their final Champions League group game with qualification assured. That is a world in which Andre Onana is not their goalkeeper.
His mistakes - not for the first time in the competition - cost United victory against Galatasaray.
The blunder for Bayern Munich's opener and the stray pass at Old Trafford which led to Casemiro's sending off against Galatasaray could've been forgotten after he appeared to turn a corner.
But Onana's failure to deal with two straightforward free-kicks on Wednesday night ensure the spotlight is firmly back on him.
It's important to note his vital stoppage-time penalty save against FC Copenhagen and the quality he brings in possession for balance. It's not been all bad for Onana at Old Trafford, but his lack of reliability is adding a sense of uncertainty to an already fragile side.
It is clear that Onana is better than his performances are showing. You only need to look back to last season's Champions League run with Inter to see that. These mistakes do seem to be a running theme though.
Man Utd are relying on other results on the final day after FC Copenhagen drew 0-0 at Bayern Munich.
They need to win their final Group A game at home to Bayern and hope the result in the other game ends in a draw.
Since 2018/19, he has made more errors leading to goals (7) than any other goalkeeper in the Champions League - comitting four more than anyone else.
Erik ten Hag refused to blame the man he signed over the summer, insisting he is responsible for his side's latest capitulation, although the Dutchman must surely be considering the former Ajax goalkeeper's position now.
When Onana is away for the Africa Cup of Nations with Cameroon, it will hand a chance to deputy Altay Bayindir, signed from Fenerbahce in the summer. If he brings calm in between the sticks, it could give Ten Hag a big decision to make.
The Champions League round of 16 draw takes place on Monday December 18.
The round of 16 is played over the course of four weeks:
First legs: February 13/14/20/21, 2024 Second legs: March 5/6/12/13, 2024
Manchester United have won six of their last eight in the Premier League and are just six points off top spot. In the Champions League they've won just one of five matches and are bottom of Group A, in need of something special on the final matchday to make the knockouts.
Erik ten Hag's side may get away with underwhelming performances on occasion in England but they are seeing their errors punished in Europe.
If you go back through their run of six wins in eight Premier League games, the opponents they have faced are opponents they would be expected to beat. Burnley, Brentford, Sheffield United, Fulham, Luton, Everton. The fact they lost to Crystal Palace during that run is more significant than the streak.
Five of those six wins were also by one goal. The fine margins have fallen in United's favour in the league but that hasn't been the case in Group A, where Galatasaray were the latest to benefit from United's mistakes. It's startling that United have scored three times in Munich, Copenhagen and Istanbul and taken one point from those games.
Ultimately, when United have had to go up a level this season they've been found out. That's ominous, given they face Newcastle, Chelsea, Liverpool and Aston Villa in the Premier League in December. Those fixtures could prove whether progress is being made, as Ten Hag suggests, or whether United's Premier League form is papering over the cracks.
Clinical, ruthless, scintillating - just three of many words to describe Arsenal's performance against Lens. It was a joy to watch the Gunners in full flow and it looked like everything they had been practising on the training pitch finally came to fruition.
In the first half especially, Arsenal looked dangerous every time they went forward and scored in a variety of ways - solo goals, patient build-up, counter-attacks, a late penalty. There were also six different scorers, adding further variety to the attacking play.
There was too, of course, a clean sheet. Gabriel celebrated a late clearance like it was a hat-trick, showing just how vital it was to stay tight at the back. While Lens were not the biggest test Arsenal will face this season, the 2-1 defeat in October will still have been fresh in the mind.
And perhaps that's indicative of how much Arsenal continue to improve. The trip to France that day was lacklustre and error-strewn. Wednesday's performance was the exact opposite and job done with a game to spare in terms of knockout qualification.
After the game, Arteta kept a clear focus on the weekend's match against Wolves, but a 6-0 win in Europe is quite some statement, and one that will have other teams looking over their shoulders when the last-16 draw is made.
The Champions League is quickly becoming Bukayo Saka's own. He now has the most goal involvements in this season's competition (7), ahead of the likes of Harry Kane, Robert Lewandowski and, well, everyone.
That includes four assists and three goals - tallies he added to against Lens. Saka is the third player on record (2003-04 onwards) to both score and assist in three consecutive home games in the competition and the first English player to assist three or more goals in a single Champions League season for Arsenal.
In the game itself, he had the highest xG of any of the starting XI (0.6), created the second most chances (2), as well as contributing with the joint-highest number of tackles (4) and most won (3).
It all comes on the fifth anniversary of his Arsenal debut, also coming in Europe, and a timely reminder of the remarkable rise of one of the continent's most talented youngsters.
Paris Saint-Germain scored with their 30th shot of the game and a number of those were clear opportunities so Newcastle could well have been punished earlier than they were. But it was the manner of the equaliser, a gift from the officials, that will so grate.
Kylian Mbappe did not breach the Newcastle back line with a bit of brilliance. He was handed the ball and able to convert from the penalty spot not because of a Newcastle error either. Just a desperately cruel penalty call that required a VAR review to make it happen.
The decision to award a spot-kick for the ball striking Tino Livramento's arm after bouncing off his chest would have been inexplicable regardless - nothing was unnatural about his body shape. It is called running. But it was even stranger given earlier events.
There had already been a VAR check when the ball hit the arm of Lewis Miley having bounced off another body part. On that occasion, the referee was not asked to view the monitor. It was no penalty either but the reaction time for Livramento was even less.
"It is a disgusting decision," said Tim Sherwood, watching the game for Sky Sports. "It is ridiculous. It is impossible." Eddie Howe appeared bereft afterwards. So close and denied not by the genius of Mbappe but by a genuinely bizarre decision.
Phil Foden said he'd never seen Man City play as bad as they did in the first half against RB Leipzig. There will certainly be some alarm bells ringing for Pep Guardiola after back-to-back Premier League draws despite the comeback.
There was an uncharacteristic sloppiness at the back for City with Ruben Dias and Manuel Akanji making schoolboy errors for Lois Openda's two first-half goals. The problems weren't limited to individual mistakes either.
Guardiola said his side played with an anxiousness before the break. They lost control of the game with Jack Grealish and Rodri, two of City's key orchestrators, off the pace. Everyone was guilty of playing badly in the first half.
Perhaps the talk of a treble hangover has some legs. But it is important to note that there was a drastic change with the introduction of two fresh faces after the break.
Jeremy Doku and Julian Alvarez, who masterminded City's comeback off the bench at Leipzig in the reverse fixture, pulled off their party trick again. Tuesday night's turnaround underlined their growing importance.
Doku changed the rhythm, according to Guardiola, while Alvarez's introduction to the pockets unlocked space for Foden, who had struggled until that point. Those two produced the decisive blows.
Alvarez has deputised so well for Kevin De Bruyne it has been possible at times to forget his absence. Doku, meanwhile, has changed the way City play the game. He is surely ahead of Grealish in the pecking order now. They are becoming indispensable.
Celtic are once again left to reflect on a disappointing Champions League campaign. One that was plagued by red cards and more hard luck stories.
Three players were sent off during their Group E matches and they suffered a heartbreaking stoppage-time defeat to Lazio in their home tie back in October.
It is six years since the Hoops beat Anderlecht and they are now the first British club to go 15 consecutive games without a win in the Champions League/European Cup.
Their home run is worse and they will look to halt a decade of disappointment at Parkhead when they host Feyenoord in their final group match next month.
This season's campaign is over, but they are likely to return to Europe's elite competition next season. The question is, how do they find a way to be more competitive?