Celtic and Roberto Mancini show Europe's talent for drama

In contrast to a prosaic Premier League, the Champions League action maintained a tradition for the enthralling and controversial

The Champions League continues to thrill, inspire, confound, frustrate and, above all, entertain. The football season would be deadly dull without it.

With the Premier League again developing along prosaic, predictable lines, this week's Champions League games have provided a timely reminder of football's ability to enthral, to numb the senses with its drama and leave spectators feeling more exhausted than the players. Even the sight of Manchester City's manager, the calculatingly cool Roberto Mancini, losing it with the referee and a television cameraman after his team had been held to a 2-2 draw by Ajax when they needed to win to preserve a realistic chance of making the knockout stage, was a bizarre postscript to an intriguing plot.

The bombshell of a result from Celtic Park on Wednesday night is still reverberating around Europe. Yes, Barcelona do lose occasionally, but to Celtic? Surely this was fantasy football.

The fillip to the Scottish game, which has just parted company with Craig Levein, the latest fall guy asked to create a winning national team from a shallow pool of modest talent, could not have been better timed. All right, only three Scottish players participated in Celtic's 2-1 victory but the win still bore echoes from the late 60s and early 70s when the Bhoys were a serious power in Europe.

A personal memory of those times is of a night at Parkhead in 1969 when Jock Stein's Celtic, who had become the first British club to win the European Cup when they beat Internazionale against the odds in the 1967 final, now met Benfica in the second round. Eusébio was still there, along with the other big names, and Celtic approached the game amid some scuttlebutt about Tommy Gemmell's future at the club.

Football does have a way of clarifying things. In the second minute Gemmell gave Celtic the lead with a thunderous drive from 35 yards. The sight of the scorer racing the length of a touchline in a celebration that sent the rumours packing while the crowd's roar echoed long into the Glasgow night air will never be forgotten.

Celtic won 3-0 and lost the return leg by the same score only to go through on the toss of a coin, such was the quaint way of settling things at that time. They went on to reach another final, where they lost to Feyenoord. This season getting out of the group stage would be an achievement worthy of almost equal consideration.

Manchester City should be so lucky. Mancini surely broke one of football management's most basic rules during the buildup to Tuesday's game against Ajax when he declared that his team were not ready to win the Champions League and that he thought it might take 10 years to get there. A manager must never give his charges an excuse for failure, a get-out when things have gone wrong. The limp way City defended the two early corners from which Ajax scored each time turned Mancini's misgivings into a self‑fulfilling prophecy.

Roberto Di Matteo, Mancini's Italian compatriot, does not necessarily have better players at Chelsea but at the moment he does have a distinctly better team, who have recovered from a modest start in this season's Champions League and on Wednesday saw off a gifted and well-organised Shakhtar Donetsk side who, like Borussia Dortmund, are proving that outstanding football is no longer the prerogative of Spain, Italy and the Premier League on its good days.

But for the eccentric goalkeeping of Andriy Pyatov Chelsea might, like Manchester City, be facing a season of Thursday nights in the Europa League. As it is they are still in contention for the knockouts because at the last Shakhtar's defenders, like City, the previous evening, had forgotten to mark opponents at corners.

Wednesday's match at the Bridge was an absorbing exhibition of imaginative attacking football and it is nice to know that for all the squillions the club have spent signing some of the world's best talents their winner was scored by 21-year-old Victor Moses, who cost a mere £10m when Di Matteo signed him before the August deadline after he had played for Wigan against Chelsea on the opening weekend.

Price-wise, Fernando Torres is worth five times more than Moses. Playing‑wise, the latter will have narrowed the gap considerably if his goal proves to be the one that kept the holders around for the knockout stage.

The Champions League is indeed the stuff of dreams.

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