WHAT WE LEARNED: Dominant defences, sloppy City and simple Serie A

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Raheem Sterling celebrates his winner on an up and down night for City at Schalke. (AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2019

WHAT WE LEARNED: Dominant defences, sloppy City and simple Serie A

  • Defences dominated free-scoring attacks on Tuesday.
  • Juventus finding life far more tough in Europe than at home.

All the Champions League second round first-leg matches are done and dusted so what better time to look back at the latest clashes and reveal what we learned from the titanic tussles…

DEFENCE BACK IN VOGUE

Who would have predicted that Tuesday night’s two clashes would return the miserly total of zero goals? If you say yes, there is a good chance you are either lying or able to see into the future. Liverpool (minus Virgil van Djik), Bayern Munich and Barcelona are all much better going forward than trying to keep a cleansheet and goals were surely guaranteed. But in both matches — Liverpool at home to Bayern, and Barca away at Lyon — the backlines held firm and Bayern’s performance in particular illustrated a defensive discipline that has been deemed out of fashion the past few seasons. The fullbacks Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba rarely went beyond the halfway line and Mats Hummels was immense in the middle. Likewise the Reds without their defensive rock also looked resolute and solid with their makeshift backline. Over the past few years the top teams, especially in Europe, have generally thrown caution to the wind. Tuesday’s matches were a bit of a throwback, but no less entertaining or enthralling for it.

The disciplined performance of David Alaba typified Bayern's match at Liverpool. (AFP) 

JUVE FINDING SERIE A TOO EASY?

The Turin club are once again strolling toward another domestic title. They are unbeaten and a mammoth 13 points ahead of second-placed Napoli, their eighth consecutive title is all but assured. In Europe, however, it is a different story as Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid illustrated. Already this season they have lost three of their seven Champions League matches and on now face a huge task to overturn the deficit in Turin on March 12. In four full seasons at Juventus, Massimiliano Allegri has led his team to four successive league and cup doubles and two Champions League finals. But he was out-thought by Atletico counterpart Diego Simeone. Of the result the Juve boss simply said “these things happen” but added: “They are more used playing games of this type than us” a tacit admission that the Spaniards face tougher games in La Liga than Juve do while strolling to wins week after week in Italy.

Ronaldo and Juve are coasting to yet another Serie A title but it's a different story in the Champions League. (AFP) 

CITY’S INCONSISTENCY CLEAR TO SEE

Before the turn of the year Manchester City lost in the Premier League to Crystal Palace and Leicester City and followed that up in January with a shock loss at Newcastle. For the first time in 18 months, domestically at least, you could no longer assume the Abu Dhabi-owned club would turn up, strut their stuff and claim an easy victory. In Europe so far this season they have only lost once in seven matches, on the face of it no problem. But the defeat at Lyon before the new year has been followed up with Wednesday’s last-gasp 3-2 win at Schalke, again, on the face of it OK, but worrying signs are there. The German outfit may lie 14th in the Bundesliga but for long periods looked more than a match for Pep Guardiola’s side — albeit one down to 10 men from the 69th minute. City could well win the second-leg in a similar manner to their 6-0 win over Chelsea in the league, but this match as much as anything will have perfectionist Guardiola worried. It was not for nothing that he said after the win: “we are still not ready to fight for the latter stages.”

City found the going tough against a resolute Schalke. (AFP)


Paire hangs on to beat Cilic, Fognini shocked by Evans

Updated 1 min 55 sec ago

Paire hangs on to beat Cilic, Fognini shocked by Evans

DUBAI: Benoit Paire fought off four match points at the Dubai Championships on Tuesday, overhauling former US Open winner Marin Cilic 2-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7/1) to reach the second round, while fourth seed Fabio Fognini was dumped out by Brit Dan Evans.

Eighth seed Paire appeared all but finished as Croatian Cilic, leading 5-3 in the second set after taking the first, served for a straight sets win.

But Frenchman Paire broke as he clung on and then won the set in the opening match of the day played in desert conditions in which temperatures reached 29 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees fahrenheit).

“It was not easy today. I was not confident before the match. Normally when it’s one set, 5-3, I normally tank,” Paire said.

“This time I tried until the end. It was working good. I’m really happy about the win.

“I was not feeling really good on court. I was a little bit sick (the last) two, three days. But I was happy to win today and to fight until the end.”

Paire, who lost to Cilic in the second round of last month’s Australian Open, recovered from a break down in the final set and saved match points in the 12th game to take it into a tiebreaker.

He then charged to five match points before Cilic double-faulted for a 10th time to hand the win to Paire, who will play countryman Richard Gasquet next.

Italian Fognini, making his Dubai debut, was knocked out after nearly two hours and 45 minutes on Evans’ sixth match point.

The Briton claimed a 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory after an eight-minute final game which ended as a return on the Fognini baseline was called good by the Hawk-Eye system.

“It’s difficult to play Fabio, he’s such a class player,” Evans said of the world No. 11.

“I’m just happy to come through really. It felt like he was on top forever really, I was just hanging in.”

Later second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who lifted the Marseille title at the weekend, faces Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.

Other Tuesday winners included qualifiers Dennis Novak of Austria and Japan’s Yasutaka Uchiyama.

Filip Krajinovic advanced past Joao Sousa with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 comeback to next play sixth seed Andrey Rublev.

Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka, who lost the Delray Beach final in Florida on Sunday, rushed to the Gulf only to go down 7-5, 6-2 to France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the first round.