1. The importance of winning ugly
The manner of the equalizer conceded against Ludogorets will haunt Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, if his side fail to get out of the UEFA Champions League group stages. Despite recovering from Simon Mingolet’s early blunder, the Reds dropped two points in Bulgaria and failed to kick-start their season.
Elsewhere in Europe, the likes of Zenit St. Petersburg, Monaco and Real Madrid displayed an ability to ‘win ugly’ that is sorely lacking in this Liverpool side. None of these sides were necessarily at their best but managed to secure 1-0 wins in midweek, while Rodgers’ side floundered and ultimately, collapsed.
A fighting performance was ordered by the Welsh manager but his players switched off at the death and conceded a crushing late goal. Destiny might still be in their hands in Group B but the chance to inject life into a stuttering campaign was missed, despite goals from Jordan Henderson and the rejuvenated Rickie Lambert.
Where to from here for Liverpool? They host Swiss side Basel in their final group stage match needing a win to progress to the knockout stages.
2. Aguero as good as Messi and Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have been grabbing headlines throughout this Champions League season for their record-breaking feats in front of goal. It is widely accepted that they are the two best players in world football at the moment, and have been for some time.
Sergio Aguero, meanwhile, continues to shine in a struggling team. Manchester City have turned in abject displays on the continent this season, betraying a lack of true quality within their roster. But Aguero has carried them both domestically and in Europe, and his hat-trick in the 3-2 win against Bayern Munich will go down in City folklore.
Aguero scored a penalty and produced two superb finishes to complete a stunning turn-around for the hosts. Manuel Pellegrini’s side looked to be crashing out at the group stages before Aguero took it upon himself to produce two goals out of virtually nothing.
Make no mistake, a Champions League hat-trick is a wonderful achievement for any striker, and Aguero’s achievements are being completed in a difficult environment. He may not boast Ronaldo or Messi’s statistics, but on his day he is every bit as good.
3. Atletico continue to kick on
After coming agonizingly close to lifting the Champions League last season, Atletico Madrid are doing brilliantly to pick themselves up after that heartbreaking defeat to Real Madrid in the final.
Madrid’s other club don’t have the budget or pulling power of Spain’s ‘big two’ but manager Diego Simeone has instilled a spirit that cannot be quantified in wages of transfer fees.
Mario Mandzukic scored an impressive hat-trick as the La Liga outfit thumped Olympiacos 4-0. The Greeks had previously beaten their opponents 3-2 in Piraeus, as well as giving Juventus a fright in Italy during the last round of UCL matches.
Atletico were unfazed however and secured their place in the knockout stages with a minimum of fuss. There was a ruthlessness and efficiency about Simeone’s men that bodes well for the rest of the campaign. The likes of Koke and Arda Turan form the backbone of a team that draws strength from unity and they will be a forced to be reckoned with in the Last 16 of the competition.