There's an expression in cricket which is used to describe batsmen or bowlers who score runs or take wickets at prodigious rates against weaker teams yet never seem to succeed against so-called bigger teams. It's a phrase that could be used this week to describe the failings of all four English clubs who took part in the Champions League matchday 3 games.
Manchester United against Braga was another example of how United's lack of defensive cover, lack of willingness to spend on a quality defender or sheer bloody mindedness could end up costing them the trophy they crave so much. Yes they won but so they should against that quality of opposition, the problem is that should they progress to the knockout stage it's hard to imagine the likes of Real Madrid or Barcelona allowing them to score three goals to make up for their defensive frailties.
Chelsea losing against Shakhtar Donetsk wasn't that much of a surprise given that Chelsea seem to be in a transitional season, gently easing Terry, Cole and Lampard out of the picture and changing the pragmatic style that has brought them show much success for a more attacking style. Shakhtar have been putting together their current squad for the best part of seven years and they have one of the best home records in European football, big things are expected of the club and the real test will be in a fortnight at Stamford Bridge.
Arsenal are in a similar position to Chelsea, although in the Gunners case it's not so much a case of replacing older players as replacing those who have gone to Manchester City or Barcelona - the exception being RVP. Against Norwich City last Saturday Arsenal looked tired, possibly a result of the fact that a club record 27 players were on international duty for the previous ten days, last night against Schalke they looked out of sorts. Much was made of the three summer signings: Giroud, Carzola and Podolski before the start of the season with the comments that none of them had succeeded at one of the 'bigger clubs', that doesn't matter if they can fit in with the team ideal and they have certainly looked the part in the Premier League so far this season, the question now is can they back those players up with more than just Gervinho, even Aaron Ramsey looks tired. With Arsenal going to Olympiakos for the final group match they must get something from the games against Schalke away and Montpelier at home to prevent that final trip to Greece being a 'must-win' scenario.
The biggest disappointment of the week though must be Manchester City losing 1-3 in such adject fashion to Ajax in Amsterdam. Ajax are a mixture of youth, experience and players who have played for and failed at bigger clubs, the whole team cost less to buy than City pay Yaya Toure in a year. They may well be in a 'group of death' with the champions from three other countries but they, City, have a squad full of internationals and players with Champions League experience (and winners) who should be good enough to get through. The truth that City must now confront is that whilst they have the players they don't, in Roberto Mancini, have a coach who has managed to crack the subtleties of European football. Twice last night he changed the defensive formation without actually having the personnel to adapt to it and changing it twice smacks of desperation. City have now been out thought as well as outplayed in each of their three games in this seasons Champions League. Last year they were knocked out having finished on ten points behind Bayern Munich and Napoli, this year they can only get ten points if they win their three remaining games and that includes Dortmund away and Real Madrid at home. You get the feeling that they will need to go to the Signal Iduna Park on 4th December having beaten Real and Ajax and hoping that Dortmund dropped all three points against the Dutch.
The big debate of the week of course was were Celtic good or was it the worst performance ever by a British club in Europe? That might sound a daft argument given that Celtic don't get the chance to play against anybody half decent from week to week in the SPL but there's no doubt that the plan was containment and not to suffer the sort of embarrassing results that other clubs from 'better' leagues have suffered in the Nou Camp. Any team that surrenders 88% of the possession and has 1 shot on target compared with 26 for the opposition but only concedes two goals - one of the them a contender for goal of the season and the other in the last minute - should probably feel that it was a job well done, however there is a feeling that it was an opportunity lost. Playing against a team which had three midfield players deputising for three of its back four should have seen Celtic try and play further up the field, instead they tried the Chelsea approach from last season and sat back and sat back possibly in the hope that Barcelona would eventually pass themselves to sleep.
This Saturday Arsenal will play QPR, Manchester City will play Swansea and Celtic will play Kilmarnock, all three home sides should win and the disappointments of this week will be forgotten. On Sunday Chelsea play Man.United, the two top sides in England, and the recent poor displays at both European and International level will be forgotten about as once more the self proclaimed 'best league in the world' takes centre stage.