Soccer journalist Andrew Noland gives the rundown on this week in the Champions League.
Hoffenheim 1 Manchester City 2
You could tell this was going to be a wild game from literally the first minute, as Hoffenheim struck first with a shot from Ishak Belfodil. Only six minutes later, Sergio Aguero fired back with a bumbling assist from Leroy Sane. After that, both teams had close calls, and Hoffenheim arguably looked like the better side until the 87th minute, when City’s David Silva finally broke the draw.
I wasn’t sure if Pep Guardiola was serious when he said that his team’s concentration would remain fixed on retaining their domestic title rather than lifting the Champions League trophy, but it’s about to become his only option if his team continues to play this horribly. I understand that they lack the magic out of the midfield that seems to radiate from De Bruyne, but their ludicrous spending doesn’t seem to be justified while watching this supposed quality out of the Citizens. Pep took my advice (taking all the credit) and started Sane, but City needs to see more out of their immeasurable talent if they want to go further.
Manchester United 0 Valencia 0
You might be wondering why I chose to highlight this game, and I’ll answer by sharing an epiphany I had while watching this horrorfest: it turns out that in order to score, Team A needs to have possession on Team’s B side of the pitch to put the ball into the opposing net. I am confident that neither team came to this realization for the excruciatingly long 90 minutes of play, and despite several close calls from Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba, Manchester United persisted in their efforts to get manager Jose Mourinho fired in the most humiliating fashion imaginable.
It’s great television (except when Manchester United is playing the sport they’re paid to play), but I can guarantee the Reds’ fans are less amused by the drama enveloping Old Trafford. If this is what Manchester United looked like at home, they should fear the return leg to Spain, and before that, a trip to Turin to face off against a surging Juventus.
CSKA Moscow 1 Real Madrid 0
You’re reading that score correctly. Apparently the Russians weren’t quite done humiliating the Spanish, and Nikola Vlasic in the second minute caught Los Blancos goalkeeper Keylor Navas napping. Spending the rest of the game in full park-the-bus mode, the Russians held on, despite looks from Marco Asensio, Mariano Diaz and Karim Benzema, to take all the points from Real Madrid.
Although suffering two losses back-to-back, bandwagon Real Madrid fans do not need to worry. The group is still a cakewalk for Lopetegui’s team, and the manager rested his best players like Luca Modric and Gareth Bale due to an intense stretch of games. Real Madrid should still cruise to the knockout stage, but losing to the considerably less talented Russian side will still agitate fans in Madrid. It might be time for Lopetegui to consider adding Vinicius Jr. to the team sheet.
Bayern Munich 1 Ajax 1
By the fourth minute, after a beautiful header from Mats Hummels, Bayern looked ready to assert their dominance over the youth development focused Ajax. However, nearly 20 minutes later, Ajax forward Mazraoui took an easy pass to shoot right past Neuer. The Bavarian team should have had several easy goals from James Rodriguez and Thiago, and Ajax had two great chances from Van der Beek and Lasse Schöne, but Manuel Neuer is still the greatest goalkeeper in the world.
Ajax should feel fantastic for playing the German juggernaut to a draw away from Amsterdam, and if they continue to sail through the rest of the relatively easy group, the return clash in their home stadium will likely determine the top two seeds walking into the knockout stage.
On the other hand, Bayern and new coach Kovač have no excuses: this group should be a walk in the park, but Der FCB seems to want to struggle continentally as well as domestically. Die Roten need to overcome recent media drama and locker room tensions to pull themselves together. If they have any chance to uphold their reputation as giants to be feared both domestically and in this competition, they need to accept the truth: Toni Kroos is gone and Robert Lewandowski will be too in a year’s time. Until then, they need to discover their identity and prove they’re more than a big fish in a small pond.
Tottenham 2 Barcelona 4
Coutinho started off the proceedings with a great shot past Lloris in the second minute, and Rakitić’s ludicrous volley in the 28th minute made the game look sealed for the Catalan side. However, Tottenham striker Harry Kane had a magnificent solo strike in the 52nd minute and things looked better for the Hotspurs. However, Messi finally finished, after multiple close calls, in the 56th minute and Barca never looked back. Lallana made it look close with a curved shot in the top left of the goal, but another shot by Messi in the dying seconds solidified the narrative of the game: Barcelona is king of this group.
Tottenham needs to start panicking. The match never really looked close, and the London squad’s midfield looked pathetic compared to Barca’s. The Spurs appear to be in a slump, and Pochettino might need to be looking over his shoulder with his refusal to adapt his tactics and procure new talent over the summer.
Barcelona have returned to their unstoppable form, but Valverde’s side need to figure out a starting lineup and a plan for the knockout stage. Whether Ousmane Dembele has a place in Camp Nou remains up in the air, and Messi’s frustrations are clearly exhibited on the field. They need to address these before winter comes.
Napoli 1 Liverpool 0
Despite the scoreline, this game was a blast to watch. Napoli and Liverpool should have scored several times, but goalkeepers David Ospina and Alisson Becker made spectacular saves throughout the game. However, Lorenzo Insigne finally put it home from an easy cross, and Liverpool lost all the points in Italy.
Napoli under Ancelotti look like any other team under Ancelotti: the Blues will start strong, but they’ll inevitably collapse in cataclysmic fashion. They still won’t finish above Paris San Germain and the English team they narrowly bested at home.
Reds’ fans should not fear; they just went through a six-game gauntlet spanning two weeks in which they played Tottenham, Paris San Germain, Chelsea, Chelsea again, Napoli and Manchester City. They’re exhausted and it showed out on the field. Nonetheless, Salah has looked terrible, and if Liverpool stand any shot of topping the group and progressing deeper, they need to find a reliable scorer again.
Juventus 3-0 Young Boys
AEK Athens 2-3 Benfica
Lyon 2-2 Shakhtar Donetsk
Roma 5-0 Viktoria Plzen
Paris San Germain 6-1 Red Star Belgrade
Lokomotiv Moscow 0-1 FC Schalke
Borussia Dortmund 3-0 AS Monaco
Atletico Madrid 3-1 Club Brugge
PSV 1-2 Inter Milan
Porto 1-0 Galatasaray