Players from Man U, Juventus and PSG square up. graphic by Conner Maggio

Champions League roundup matchday 3

The Champions are halfway through the group stage, and soccer expert Chris Lierly delivers a recap on the highest level of European competition.

Manchester United 0 Juventus 1
Juventus proved victorious in Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford, as Paulo Dybala’s 17’ goal sealed the win. After that initial strike, however, the rest of the game was devoid of scoring despite Ronaldo’s best efforts. José Mourinho’s repeated strategy of parking the bus, which has won him many a 1-0 match in the Premier League, failed to work against the Italian squad’s solid defense.

At the beginning of the season, United looked like they were drawn into a group where they might finish in a comfortable second. Valencia and Juventus changed that in two matches. Both won in Manchester, and now, Mourinho will need to win at both places to seal the Red Devil’s advancement. Failing to do so would likely spell the end of his time as United manager. With a dismal record in the Premier League, the club’s supporters would be distraught if their club failed to make it to the knockout stage of the Champions League. However, if such a failure led to the sacking of Mourinho, than most fans would see the firing as the silver lining to a disastrous season.

Hoffenheim 3 Lyon 3
By far the most thrilling game this matchday, Lyon and Hoffenheim were only lacking in one thing: defense. Each keeper saw three goals fly by him, starting with Bertrand Traore’s 26’ opener. Andrej Kramaric’s brace gave Hoffenheim the lead before Tanguy Ndombele and Memphis Depay shifted things back to Lyon, making the game 3-2. Finally, Joelinton’s stunner in stoppage time sealed the nailbiter of a game.

Since the game was held in Hoffenheim, the draw favors Lyon on away goals, but Julian Nagelsmann’s squad also have reason to leave the pitch in good spirits. Both teams have a chance at second place in the group and Lyon are only one point behind the group leader, Manchester City. This performance also goes to show that both squads have the quality to finish near the top of their respective domestic leagues.

PSV 2 Tottenham 2
Most matches get a full blurb written about them by either being a showdown between two powerhouses of European football (see United vs. Juve) or by being a thrilling game played between two equally talented teams (see Hoffenheim vs. Lyon). The third way is when an absolutely dominant team walks into a game rattled and unprepared. That was the case with Tottenham, whose draw with PSV got them a point where they should have gained three. This match saw World Cup hero Chucky Lozano and Luuk de Jong score for PSV while Harry Kane and Lucas Moura made sure the Spurs did not let the Dutch squad walk away with all the points.

Early in the season, it looked like Tottenham had a chance to dominate in both Europe and in England, but if this proves anything, it’s that Pochettino’s men are not at top form. Poor defending from Toby Alderweireld gave up the first goal, while World Cup winning captain Hugo Lloris received a red card after he dove at an attacking player outside of the box. Spurs currently sit at third in their group and will not make the knockout stage if they cannot win against Inter Milan or Barcelona, the group leaders.

Paris Saint Germain 2 Napoli 2
In another thriller from Group C, PSG and Napoli ended up drawing at the Parc-des-Princes. The usual heroes of Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens scored Napoli’s double. Thomas Menuir’s cross found its way into the back of the net after a deflection off of Mario Rui and Angel Di Maria scored a curler for the ages. That curler came in a match where Neymar, though quality as usual, received criticism for playing selfishly.

Group C, which also feature Liverpool and Red Star Belgrade, is shaping up to be the group of death this season. All three teams boast elite attacks, and every game between these three has been close. Red Star, the punching bag of the group, will no doubt finish last, but who joins them will likely be a mystery until the final matchday. Liverpool sits at the top with six points, Napoli at second with five and PSG are at third with four, so any loss will shift this group around and greatly impact later rounds of the tournament.

Borussia Dortmund 4 Atlético Madrid 0
BVB proved their dominance in a game that many anticipated leading up to matchday three. The Dortmund attack looked unstoppable as Axel Witsel and Jadon Sancho each scored, while Raphaël Guerreiro secured a brace. Though American sensation Christian Pulisic did not score, his starting role is a good sign as he recovers from an early season injury. The silver lining to all of this is the shadow that Bayern Munich cast over all good spells for BVB. With the Bavarian giants struggling, it is very likely that they will make a bid for one of the stars of this Dortmund team.

Atlético Madrid looked concerning at the least in this one. It’s possible the squad has their mind on a La Liga race, where they currently sit at fifth. However, they started Antoine Griezmann, Diego Costa, Diego Godin and co. so they obviously lined up like they care about the Champions League. Rumors swirled earlier in the season that Godin’s edge was beginning to fade, and though it would be unfair to place all of the blame on one player, the center back usually leads a more cohesive defensive unit than this.

Barcelona 2 Inter Milan 0
In a game where Lionel Messi watched from the sideline, Barcelona played as beautiful football as ever. Rafinha, who was subbed in for the legend, scored the opener and Jordi Alba slotted in the second goal with seven minutes remaining. Messi has developed a system at Barcelona that doesn’t necessarily need his presence when playing teams of Milan’s quality. This may also have something to do with Barça’s overloaded front third. With a comfortable spot at the top of their group and La Liga, it is possible that Barcelona will walk away with three pieces of hardware when the season is said and done.

Inter Milan, who also had a key injury, did not fare as well as their Catalonian opponents. Mauro Icardi’s heroics have saved Inter more than once this season, but they were nowhere to be seen in this match. This is likely due to the aforementioned injury sidelining defensive midfielder Radja Nainggolan. Barcelona are by nature a possession heavy team and without the Belgian mid to win the ball back, Inter were smothered by an always moving Barcelona squad.

AEK Athens 0-2 Bayern Munich
Young Boys 1-1 Valencia
Ajax 1-0 Benfica
Real Madrid 2-1 Viktoria Plzeň
Roma 3-0 CSKA Moscow
Shakhtar Donetsk 0-3 Manchester City
Club Brugge 1-1 AS Monaco
Lokomotiv Moscow 1-3 Porto
Galatasaray 0-0 FC Schalke
Liverpool 4-0 Red Star Belgrade

Post Author: Chris Lierly