A Man Utd youngster, a Liverpool duo and two much-maligned Blues enhanced their prospects of Premier League action with fine displays in the Champions League…
Of Manchester United’s much-changed starting XI, perhaps only Greenwood and the full-backs had genuine prospects of retaining their places for the trip to Norwich on Saturday evening.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka struggled to make his case; Luke Shaw was indifferent for an hour as he eased his way back into action; but Greenwood seized his opportunity with a fine goal while carrying United’s biggest threat all evening.
Ralf Rangnick seems to be keeping a very close eye on Greenwood and, in the context of Erling Haaland as a target man, the new manager has already identified his best position and what attributes he needs to work on.
“I think Mason is more of a nine-and-a-half, he can play as a striker, he can come off the wing, he can play with another striker, he is very technical, left foot, right foot…
“Sometimes he looks a bit not on an athletic level. I am not so worried about his technical level. We need to develop him physically and mentally.”
That won’t come overnight, but with Marcus Rashford struggling for form, Greenwood could get the nod at Norwich.
The summer signing offered his best performance in a Liverpool shirt to shackle Zlatan Ibrahimovic, without the benefit of either Virgil Van Dijk or Joel Matip alongside him.
Nat Phillips also enjoyed an excellent evening in the San Siro, but his performance was more for the benefit of any January suitors; Konate had to prove to Jurgen Klopp that he is ready for increased responsibility at Liverpool, which he did with an almost flawless display.
In a year, £36million could look like a bargain.
There were positives almost everywhere Klopp looked on Tuesday night having made eight changes to the side that beat Wolves on Saturday.
Tyler Morton’s was one of the more headline-grabbing displays owing to his inexperience and his time will surely come in Klopp’s midfield. But his midfield partner cannot afford to wait; Oxlade-Chamberlain has been on borrowed time and he needed a performance in Milan.
He gave one. The Ox penetrated on the ball – his shot led to Mo Salah’s leveller – and pressed as Klopp expects off it. The 28-year-old had 10 successful pressures out of 17 made.
Oxlade-Chamberlain may yet find himself squeezed out by the availability of Thiago, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, coupled with the emergence of midfielders through the ranks, but the £35million star evidently isn’t going down without a fight.
Thomas Tuchel won’t reflect on Chelsea’s trip to Russia with much positivity after the Blues surrendered top spot in the group by conceding a late leveller to Zenit.
But almost 90 minutes before, Werner had got Chelsea going with the first of two goals that sandwiched an assist for Romelu Lukaku.
No Chelsea player has scored more goals than Timo Werner since he joined the club.
Put some respect on his name pic.twitter.com/o1cT96dZ0i
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 8, 2021
Still, while Tuchel can’t fail to have been impressed, others aren’t quite so convinced. “If you compare Werner to Robin van Persie one more time, I will walk away now,” said Rafael van der Vaart working as a pundit on Dutch TV.
Saul too still has plenty of work ahead to convince anyone that he deserves a place in Chelsea’s midfield but the hint of mere competence was enough to enhance his credentials for more involvement amid Tuchel’s injury concerns.
Kepa and the stand-in stoppers
With every team having qualified and three of the four already snug in top spot, it was very much a matchday for the cup keepers…
Alisson stood in Liverpool’s sticks so it didn’t look like Klopp was taking the p*ss with his defensive changes in a game that had serious ramifications for everyone else in the group. But for the other three English sides, four back-ups were given the opportunity to dirty their mitts.
Zack Steffen was beaten twice but the USA international enhanced his standing at City with a man of the match display in Leipzig, even though he remains very much the stand-in to Ederson.
Kepa might feel he has more chance of usurping the man currently in possession of the gloves at Chelsea. Tuchel admitted Edouard Mendy was going through ‘a rough period’ having lost ‘a bit of confidence’ in recent weeks. Like Mendy at West Ham, Kepa conceded three times but it could have been much worse for Chelsea without several fine saves from the Spain international.
Kepa will get a run of games next month when Mendy joins up with Senegal for AFCON. Mendy now knows he needs to rediscover his form beforehand to avoid leaving the door open for the world’s most expensive stopper.
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