Granit Xhaka - Arsenal
Lucas Perez stole the headlines with his hat-trick for Arsenal against Basel last night, and the main talking point coming out of the game was how the Gunners have finally topped a Champions League group and could now face a favourable last-16 draw against such continental minnows as Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
But the real winner at St Jakob Park last night was Granit Xhaka. The Swiss international midfielder was playing for much more than three measly points; with his brother Taulant lining up for Basel, he was battling for bragging rights at the Xhaka family’s next get-together.
We’ve already heard about how, despite being the younger sibling, Granit was the Xhaka brother entrusted with the housekeys as boy – a crushing blow to the pre-pubescent Taulant’s manhood that he deserves credit for being able to overcome.
But if that wasn’t enough, Arsenal’s comfortable 4-1 victory means that Granit will be imbued with further ammunition to lord over his older brother. The two were also on opposing sides at Euro 2016 when Granit’s Switzerland overcame Taulant’s Albania. Until they next face off, the housekeys, with all their inherent symbolism, remain firmly in Granit’s pocket.
Arda Turan – Barcelona
Barcelona vs Borussia Monchengladbach may have been a dead rubber between a one side who’d already won Group C and another assured of a place in the Europa League, but try telling Arda Turan that this match didn’t matter.
The bearded Turkish international bagged a hat-trick for the Blaugrana as he mercilessly plundered the long-since beaten Borussia. For his third goal, Turan even had the audacity to head straight at Gladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer, daring the Swiss shot stopper to deny him.
With Neymar and Luis Suarez out of the side, the former Atletico Madrid man impressed with his goal-scoring prowess and even provided an assist for Lionel Messi to open the scoring.
However, it appears that the 29-year-old may not have received the internal Barça circular before the game. Messi needed to score twice to equal Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of netting 11 group stage goals in a single season and may not appreciate his thunder being so brazenly stolen. Expect Turan to be transfer listed immediately.
Brendan Rodgers – Celtic
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has his detractors. Many feel that the Northern Irishman is a parody of a manager with his constant insistence that, win, lose or pasted 7-0, his players were “outstanding” and showed “great character”.
But, in fairness to the former Liverpool and Swansea City boss, he is not without his coaching gifts – just ask him, he’ll tell you – and is actually doing a pretty solid job with the Bhoys so far this season, and will have relished the opportunity to pit his wits against Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola last night.
Celtic’s hopes of finish anywhere other than rock bottom of Group C had already been extinguished, but with a solid performance against a much-changed City line-up, the Glasgow side earned themselves a thoroughly respectable draw.
And Rodgers even had the audacity to use one of Guardiola’s own players against him, with Patrick Roberts, on loan from the Etihad, scoring a superb solo goal to give the Hoops an early lead.
The 1-1 result means that, after two meetings with the vaunted Catalan tactician this season, Rodgers is unbeaten. People laughed when he said he was his own biggest influence; they’re not laughing any more, Brendan.
Pep Guardiola – Man City
It’s not been a great week for Pep Guardiola. The former Barcelona boss suffered a 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Chelsea at the weekend, where his adventurous tactics were punished by the pragmatism of Antonio Conte’s side. And last night, with an admittedly patched up XI, the Citizens were unable to overcome Celtic at the Etihad.
These results will serve only to fuel the fire of a legion of Twitter users whose lives are apparently dedicated to screaming about how Guardiola is a “FRAUD!!!” If he’s so good, runs the logic of the mediocre minds online, why doesn’t he go and win the Champions League with Leyton Orient?
For the first time in his career, Guardiola has been forced to accept a second-place finish in the Champions League group stage. Hardly a crisis and certainly not evidence of any fraudulence, but City’s recent underwhelming run is causing many observers to question some of the former Bayern Munich manager’s decisions – namely, why leave Bayern Munich in the first place?
Paco Alcacer – Barcelona
Barcelona striker Paco Alcacer almost found himself in the winners’ column for his incredible ability to steal a living at the Camp Nou without anybody realising.
The 23-year-old Spanish international is yet to score for Barça since his €30 million summer move from Valencia. Last night, against a Borussia Monchengladbach side with nothing to play for, Alcacer was thrown into the starting XI by Luis Enrique in the hope he’d be able to capitalise on the reduced intensity to bag himself confidence boosting goal or two; it didn’t happen.
His overall performance wasn’t bad by any means, and he even picked up his first assist in a Barça shirt, but his current lack of confidence was evidenced by the fact that he only attempted one shot during his 80 minutes on the pitch. The boy desperately needs to find the net as soon as possible but, at the moment, you wouldn’t back him to be able to locate a cow’s posterior with a banjo.
Fabricio - Besiktas
Spare a thought for Besiktas goalkeeper Fabricio. The 28-year-old Spaniard was pictured in tears after his side were thrashed 6-0 away to Dynamo Kiev.
The former Deportivo la Coruna No. 1 was far from blameless – his positioning for the fourth goal was certainly suspect – but the poor guy was practically hung out to dry by a team seemingly intent on self-destruction.
The Turkish champions’ back four played as though they had their bootlaces tied together throughout. Russian defender Andreas Beck was unfortunate to concede a penalty and receive a red card from an incident where, if anything, he appeared to be the one fouled, but the rest of the drubbing was entirely of Besiktas’ own doing.