Commentary

Winners and losers in Europe

Updated: October 20, 2011, 4:38 PM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

It was one of those weeks for English teams in the Champions League: Four games played, four won and two in dramatic fashion. Barcelona continues to ooze style, although scoring only twice at home against Czech outsider Viktoria Plzen could be considered a shock.

Here's a look back at match day three in soccer's elite club competition.

Best player: Fernando Torres, Chelsea

Torres wasn't facing Barcelona or Manchester United. But the 50-million-pound man finished superbly twice against Belgian minnow Genk in a 5-0 rout, which is sure to boost his confidence. Maybe teammate David Luiz's pregame prayer, or blessing, did the trick. Torres' first tally was a low effort to the far corner, while his second came courtesy of a wonderful header. The Spanish international was only denied a hat trick when Laszlo Koteles made a fine, instinctive save from close range.

"You saw his hunger to be on the pitch and score goals," Chelsea keeper Petr Cech told Sky. "It's just unlucky that he couldn't get a third one."

One-sided games like this one at Stamford Bridge give weight to those who suggest fewer teams should be involved in the group stage. Genk, down 4-0 at halftime, didn't register a single shot on target, giving Cech his easiest Champions League clean sheet.

Most relieved manager: Roberto Mancini, Manchester City

Under heavy pressure to pile up trophies at moneybags City, manager Mancini let it all out when Sergio Aguero netted the winner on the last kick of the game against Villarreal. The normally reserved Italian jumped into the arms of assistant David Platt, then repeatedly punched the air. You'd have thought City had just claimed the European Cup. But Mancini's emotional release at Etihad Stadium represented a more meager result, as his side is now in a better position to move on from the group of death, with four points and three matches to play.

[+] EnlargeSergio Aguero
Michael Regan/Getty ImagesSergio Aguero saved Manchester City's European season with a stoppage-time goal.

"We deserved to win this game," Mancini told reporters.

Not really. City labored for much of the 90 minutes, and after Mancini's problems with substitutions in the loss to Bayern Munich last month, fans could have been forgiven for thinking the manager wasn't making the right move when he pulled Adam Johnson out of the game for Gareth Barry in the 40th minute. It must have been a humiliating walk to the bench for Johnson, but credit Mancini: His move paid off, with Yaya Toure getting into more forward positions and the team putting more pressure on Villarreal, which resulted in an own goal in the 43rd minute.

Mancini made other substitutions that paid off when he swapped midfielder Nigel De Jong for Aguero in the 62nd minute and James Milner for Samir Nasri in the 80th. It was Milner's trickery and defense-splitting pass that ultimately led to Aguero netting the game winner.

For all the criticism Mancini has endured for his conservative substitutions, he got it right on Tuesday. And now, with both City and United collecting three points this week, it sets up Sunday's Manchester derby in the Premier League nicely.

Best point: Apoel Nicosia

Look who's leading Group G at the midway stage of the first round: Not Europa League winner Porto or last season's Champions League quarterfinalist Shakhtar Donetsk, but Apoel Nicosia. The Cypriot outfit -- a bunch of its squad come from Brazil and Portugal -- put in another strong display, earning a 1-1 draw at Porto. Apoel didn't have fond memories of competing in Portugal, thumped 16-1 by Sporting in 1963.

"We are happy to be top with five points," Ivan Jovanovic, Apoel's Serbian manager, told reporters. "It's a big thing for Apoel and Cyprus. We are not top of the group through luck, but we still know that everything can change with every match day."

Best goal: Andres Iniesta, Barcelona

Almost every goal Barcelona scores is worthy of the highlight reel. Here's another.

The understanding between Barcelona's players is phenomenal; Iniesta, back last weekend from a hamstring injury, and Lionel Messi traded one-touch passes before Iniesta deceived defender Marian Cisovsky and beat keeper Marek Cech. "When he's in good shape, he's unique, he works hard, he scores more goals than you think and he breaks down defenses, which is so important to us," Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola summed up on the club's website. "We'll try to take care of him and make sure he's OK."

Barcelona had 71 percent of the possession, and Plzen failed to muster a shot -- on or off target. Honorable mention goes to A.C. Milan's brash, tattoo-laden midfielder, Kevin-Prince Boateng, for his rocket from outside the box against BATE that crashed off the underside of the crossbar.

Best almost goal: Lionel Messi, Barcelona

Messi scored one of the most breathtaking goals of all time when he weaved past one Getafe player after another in 2007. The little Argentine almost added to his array of superlative goals versus Plzen. Messi fooled three Plzen players, then got the better of the keeper with a cheeky dink. Check it out. The lone problem was that his chip hit the post, the second time in the evening the woodwork deprived Messi.

"We've managed to make it news when Messi didn't score," Guardiola said. "Just imagine the level he's at. Hopefully, he'll play at that level for many, many years."

Best quotes: They come from two German entrants.

Bayer Leverkusen forward Andre Schurrle described his team's display against Valencia in the first 45 minutes like this, telling UEFA.com: "If we play like we did in the first half, we couldn't even win a Sunday league game." The second half brought relief, and Leverkusen rallied for a 2-1 win to stay within a point of Chelsea in Group E.

German champion Borussia Dortmund was sloppy again defensively, a change from last season, and fell at Olympiacos. "I can't understand how we've managed to lose 3-1 here," defender Mats Hummels told Dortmund's website.

Dortmund sits rock bottom in Group F with one point.

Best stat

When Bayern Munich drew 1-1 at Napoli, it marked the first time since Aug. 7 the Bavarian giant conceded a goal. Napoli didn't really score, mind you. Rather, defender Holger Badstuber put the ball into his own net. Adding to the bizarre, in-form striker Mario Gomez saw his tame penalty saved. "I have to apologize to the team for missing the penalty," Gomez told Bayern's website.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter here.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.

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