Champions League Grades – Matchday 1

Matchday 1 of the Champions League group stages is in the books and as usual there was a lot of drama, mixed with high quality of play and brilliant performances. Let’s assess how the 32 teams did, ranging from the excellent Bayern to the pedestrian PSG.

A

Bayern Munich

The champions were close to perfection in their thrashing of Atletico. If the 8–2 dismantling of Barcelona in August was a display based on exploiting chaos, this was an expression of controlled excellence. Missing a few key wide players, Hansi Flick changed the home side’s system and the players didn’t miss a beat. The midfield trio of Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Corentin Tolisso dominated their Atletico counterparts, while Kingsley Coman did his usual thing out wide and capped his performance with two brilliant goals. In outclassing their visitors, Bayern showed they are a level or two above those who have recent pedigree in this competition. An ominous message has been sent to all the pretenders at this early stage.

Shakhtar Donetsk

At a time when stratification is the dominant topic of discussion in football, Shakhtar’s win at Real was a timely reminder about why we all love the sport in the first place. A draw would have been a miracle considering the Pitmen were without eight first-team regulars due to COVID. That they won, and won by outplaying a side of storied champions by handing debuts to teenagers, is at the risk of exaggeration, legendary.

Manchester United

A rare night, where planning in the dugout allies with execution on the pitch. Faced with a significant injury crisis, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer devised a system that protected his young defence and nullified PSG’s strengths without many concerns. United did have to contend with individual moments of brilliance from PSG’s famed attacking trio, but at no stage did it look like the visitors were overwhelmed. Bringing on Pogba in the second half as PSG were beginning to dominate enabled the Red Devils to gain more control, a relative masterstroke. A collective triumph highlighted by an exceptional display in the heart of defence from young Axel Tuanzebe. Win against Leipzig at home and United could be through to the last 16 before the reverse fixture with PSG.

Lazio

Making their first appearance in the competition for 13 years, Lazio came roaring out of the blocks and overwhelmed Dortmund in the first half an hour. It’s no exaggeration to say that this was the Biancoceleste’s best performance since football restarted. A much needed tonic for the blue half of Rome and a result that could kickstart their season.

Liverpool

Needs must. When your first game is away to one of the most technical sides in the competition, dominance is likely to be elusive. The important fact is that Liverpool made the phases where they were dominant count. Another excellent performance by Fabinho at centre-back capped a resilient defensive display from the Reds, which restored pride and belief after a turbulent couple of weeks for Jurgen Klopp’s men. Win against Midtjylland next time out and Liverpool go into the double-header against Atalanta with one foot in the next round.

Club Brugge

An away win as the fourth seeds in the group in the first match is a great way to start. The fact that they won it in the last minute of injury time makes it better. Brugge host Lazio in the next game and if they get a result, it is conceivable that we may have an interesting group on our hands.

Atalanta

Continuing where they left off with the added benefit of a year’s experience in the Champions League. Gasperini’s men drive forward in a relentless manner and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they scored four in a match a few other times in this season’s competition. A delightful team to watch.

Juventus

The no frills win that Andrea Pirlo’s Juve needed. In truth, Dynamo Kiev were no match for the Italian champions, but the performance had plenty to encourage the new man in the dugout. The creativity and link play between Chiesa, Ramsey and Morata in particular looked dynamic and promising.

RB Leipzig

As third seeds it’s imperative to take maximum points when the top two play against each other. Leipzig achieved that with minimum fuss while scoring two excellent team goals. Get something from Old Trafford next and Nagelsmann’s men could be poised to make an impact on this competition again.

Olympiacos

A late winner after missing several chances provided the perfect tonic for the Greek champions. Olympiacos have squandered home advantage in previous campaigns which makes the three points gained against Marseille significant. They lead the race to be second in the group behind City.

Krasnodar

In truth the Russian side were lucky to get the draw after Rennes outplayed them. But it was their debut in the Champions League group stages, and to get an away point is to their immense credit.

B

Barcelona

A nervous start for the Blaugrana meant Ferencvaros had their fair share of chances at the Nou Camp. The defence continues to look vulnerable in certain phases of play and Gerard Pique’s red card means he will be a crucial absence at Juve. That being said, they were positives for Ronald Koeman. Ansu Fati continues to be brilliant, Pjanic and De Jong looked sublime at times in midfield, while Coutinho and Dembele showed enough to suggest that they can make an impact this season.

Rennes

A fantastic performance by the French team on their Champions League debut wasn’t rewarded with a win because they squandered a few great chances, including two in stoppage time. With Chelsea and Sevilla drawing, Rennes could have had a head start in the group.

Chelsea

Their inexperience and lack of team cohesion showed against opponents who have been fine-tuned in their system for over a year. A home draw isn’t the end of the world in a deceptive group and Frank Lampard will take solace in his team delivering one of their better defensive displays this season, spearheaded by an authoritative performance from Edouard Mendy in goal.

Sevilla

A good away point to start the campaign for Lopategui’s men. Sevilla look comfortable on this stage, though one can’t help but feel they could have won at Stamford Bridge if they had a natural goalscorer.

Lokomotiv Moscow

Outplayed for large swathes of their game but left Salzburg with a point that could be crucial in the battle for a place in the Europa League.

Borussia Monchengladbach

On the back foot for a majority of the game at the San Siro, Marco Rose’s men survived to get a draw. In a group that is ripe with possibility, Gladbach have staked a claim with an important away point.

C

Inter Milan

The performance was excellent, despite key absences in the squad. It’s a pity the finishing was subpar. The problem is in defence this season and Inter risk throwing away progression by failing to be ruthless at home. For the second season in a row, they have started by dropping two points at home against the fourth seed.

Manchester City

On the surface, City had a good comeback win. But in the first half Pep Guardiola’s men showed the vulnerabilities that tend to cost them in the knockout stages. One wonders if City would benefit from a group of death. The only reason they weren’t made to pay for their mistakes in this game, was the individual quality of their opponents. That might be a recurring theme in this group.

RB Salzburg

For Salzburg to have any semblance of putting pressure on Atletico, they needed to get maximum points against Lokomotiv, which they won’t after a home draw with the Russian side. Jesse Marsch’s men played inventive attacking football, but missed a lot of chances. Those missed chances might relegate them to the Europa League.

Ferencvaros

Though they lost 5–1, the Hungarian champions didn’t looked overawed at the Nou Camp and scared Barca’s defence a few times. A creditworthy showing after more than two decades out of the competition.

Ajax

A decent performance from the Dutch champions but the gulf in class allied with poor finishing on the night meant Ajax collected nothing against Liverpool. The pressure is on for next week’s visit to Atalanta, which feels decisive at this early stage.

Zenit

The Russian champions weren’t bad, but the nature of the last minute defeat at home is going to be difficult to deal with. Zenit are the nearly men of the group stages, and this loss makes passage to the round of 16 unlikely yet again.

D

Borussia Dortmund

By no means a terminal defeat for Dortmund. They have based their strategy of qualifying for the last 16 on banking points at home. The problem is that this loss was predictable and Dortmund did nothing to suggest there was any thought put into doing anything different.

Porto

Porto could have led going into halftime with the chances they had. While the quality of their squad bares no comparison to City, Porto used to be adept at exploiting opportunities when the big clubs had off days. It’s a sad indictment that they have reduced themselves to complaining about referees.

E

Atletico Madrid

To be fair to Atletico, the brilliance of Bayern was the story in this game. That being said, when your USP is being dogged and difficult to break down, it’s not a great look when your defence is carved open by incisive play from the opposition. Do this team have a plan B of any sort?

Midtjylland

Exposed in ruthless fashion for their naivety by Atalanta in their competition debut. Midtjylland did create a few good moments of their own and on balance may have deserved to score one goal, but they have the look of lambs to the slaughter in this group.

F

PSG

Starts with their manager who picked a midfield based on excessive caution. It meant an increased creative onus on the attacking trio of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria which was unsustainable. That in turn compounded problems for a hotchpotch of a backline to the extent that they looked vulnerable every time United countered. To top it off, the players got riled in the second half as the intensity ramped up to a level that they don’t have to contend with in their domestic league. A bad night for the finalists when a lot was expected of them.

Real Madrid

An embarrassing first half against a team featuring many teenage debutants. The truth is Real should have lost by a bigger margin as was the case when they lost to Cadiz four days prior to this debacle. A winning mentality can help you at the business end of a campaign, but there are serious football problems within this squad that make it difficult to see Real in the later stages of the competition.

Marseille

Lots of attacking talent on the pitch but no coordination or sense of system. Marseille were on the verge of getting a lucky and crucial away point, but justice was served with Olympiacos’ late winner.

Istanbul Basaksehir

Of all the debuts, the most underwhelming as they didn’t lay a glove on Leipzig. A disastrous season is unfolding for the first time Turkish champions.

Dynamo Kyiv

Failed to make Juventus uncomfortable despite having a decent home crowd in attendance. They may face a serious fight for the Europa League place with a hungrier Ferencvaros on this evidence.

Looking Ahead: Champions League Matchday 1

The beginning of the group stage of the Champions League is special and this season brings out a unique set of emotions. The absence of fans this year feels surreal because while technique and quality may be the most crucial part of the theatre, European nights are not the same without the special atmosphere created by crowds. On the flip side, while these opening rounds can at times feel long and drawn out, in this iteration, we get six consecutive weeks of Europe’s best taking on each other. This should lead to a level of unpredictability. After all, even the best in the business struggle with playing games every three or four days on a continuous basis. With that being said, let’s have a look at a few interesting fixtures on Matchday 1.

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Manchester United

The biggest match of the opening day in the trickiest group to call. This matchup brings to mind the famous (infamous depending on your persuasion) round of 16 match in 2019, when PSG had the mother of all bottle-jobs in losing 3–1 at home to a last minute penalty after beating United in convincing fashion at Old Trafford. In the immediate aftermath Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was made permanent manager of United. It could be argued the after-effects of that result linger to this day for both teams.

Solskjaer and his counterpart Thomas Tuchel both have their fair share of doubters, challenged on a consistent basis by elements within their clubs in addition to many in the football media. The Norwegian did get plaudits for returning the Red Devils to Europe’s premier competition, although the benchmarks for that particular feat were low in comparison to previous seasons. Tuchel on the other hand, retains an element of doubt despite taking PSG to the final of this competition last year, where they lost to a brilliant Bayern in a marginal final. That is the benchmark, albeit an unfair one for any PSG manager.

PSG enter the game as favourites considering their recent pedigree, but it is a pedigree that needs validation. United may consider this a free hit, though any points dropped could end up being decisive with last season’s semi-finalists Leipzig being the third seed in the group.

There is a school of thought that suggests United’s strength on the counter could expose vulnerabilities in PSG’s defence. While there is merit in this argument, a United defence without Harry Maguire and Eric Bailly is susceptible in the extreme to PSG’s attacking trident of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria. Neymar in particular will want to make a mark after missing both legs when the sides met in 2019. Another element that may turn out to be crucial is who amongst former teammates Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic does a good job in screening their defence. It all adds the to the potpourri of what should be an unpredictable occasion.

Chelsea vs. Sevilla

A team that dominated this summer’s transfer market with a brute show of strength against a team that is consistent and shrewd with its transfer strategy. While the relative resources of the two clubs would suggest a battle between have’s and have-nots, in terms of European pedigree this is as close to a clash of equals as one can get. To prove the fact, these two are the most recent Europa League champions. One gets the sense that at this point in their respective journeys, neither club are ready to win the biggest prize. For Sevilla, it won’t be something that troubles them. For Chelsea on the other hand, expectations are different, despite their recent experiences in the competition being underwhelming.

A summer splurge on exciting talent hasn’t compensated for Chelsea’s defensive vulnerabilities under Frank Lampard. Thiago Silva did lead PSG to the final last year and will be relied upon to guide Chelsea’s erratic backline in a competition that isn’t forgiving to defensive mistakes. Ben Chilwell is an upgrade at left-back but will be making his European debut, while Kai Havertz hasn’t played in the Champions League either. The one new addition who has made an impact on this stage is Hakim Ziyech, who delighted us with his skill and trickery at Ajax for the last two years. We may get to see the Moroccan make his debut for Chelsea in this game.

Sevilla come into this game having suffered their first league defeat since football restarted. Fatigue is bound to be a factor for Julen Lopategui’s men. The Andalusian side have had recent success on their travels to England, and in general against English opposition. There is however, a lack of obvious goal threat and the absence of Ever Banega’s ingenuity is being felt in Sevilla’s midfield this season. Lopategui will look to Ivan Rakitic to provide the leadership and inspiration at Stamford Bridge. The defence is likely to face a long night without Jules Kounde, who tested positive for COVID.

On the one side, a team who can score but can’t defend. On the other, a side that is meticulous in its organization, but can’t score. Something has to give.

Lazio vs. Borussia Dortmund

Simone Inzaghi and Lazio have waited a long time for this. There have been many close shaves with Champions League qualification, lots of heartbreak, but now they are here. What the Biancoceleste hadn’t bargained for was COVID. It could be argued that no other team in Europe’s top five leagues has had their rhythm disrupted by the pandemic to the extent that Lazio have.

Lazio’s squad was not built for a game every three days and that was what led to them dropping off from a title race they looked well-placed in and those same ailments have affected their start to the new season. Inzaghi and his men are struggling to regain a sense of momentum. They come into this clash on the back of a 3–0 defeat at Sampdoria.

However, there is hope for the home side. It is a home tie and that counts for something in Europe. Dortmund aren’t great travellers on the continent themselves and they have an injury crisis in defence. Yes, their vibrant young attacking side are a delight to watch, but they can be exposed for their naivety in transition. Ciro Immobile will be motivated to make a point against his former team, where he failed to make an impact.

Immobile, Haaland, Sancho, Luis Alberto, Reyna, Milinkovic-Savic and a few others. This one looks like it will have goals in it.

Ajax vs. Liverpool

There is a lot of context around this tie. First, the storied history of the clubs. Between the two sides, they have won this competition in its various guises 10 times. This is a clash of European aristocrats.

The other facet that unites them is a commitment to attacking football. While Liverpool could lay claim to be the most dominant team of the Champions League in the last three years, Ajax could make an argument for being the most adventurous. The Reds have introduced more control to their game, while the Dutch champions continue to play with inherent risk, despite losing vital squad members every summer.

The final context is the one that Liverpool find themselves in. Yes, for the big clubs, a season is divided on two fronts. And yet the events of the weekend weigh on the Reds as they start their European campaign. Though it is a different competition, immediate assessments will be made on how the defence copes without Virgil Van Dijk. Who the starting centre-backs will be is anyone’s guess.

What is guaranteed, is a stern examination from another iteration of a vibrant young attack for the hosts. Dusan Tadic remains one of the few survivors from the brilliant forward line that won over neutrals in 2019. The Serb remains a devilish threat for defenders, but the man who has got Ajax fans excited this season is 20-year old Ghanian forward Mohammed Kudus. Kudus aside, there are two other African marksmen who have thrilled in recent seasons. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are expected to give Ajax’s defenders a torrid time in the Amsterdam Arena. Another potential cracker.

Bayern Munich vs. Atletico Madrid

Unless this writer is underestimating Salzburg, the truth is that this game doesn’t have the jeopardy it deserves. It would take a significant level of underperformance from either of these teams to not make it out of the group. That being said, it is Bayern vs Atletico!

The most intriguing aspect in this match is how Hansi Flick and Diego Simeone integrate a few new players into their team’s dynamic. There is a chance Douglas Costa makes his second debut for Bayern while Luis Suarez is likely to make his first Champions League start for Atletico. Suarez has a good record against Bayern in this competition. Whether he gets chances with the same frequency in Simeone’s defensive plans away from home is up for debate. On the other hand Flick will appreciate his team getting a test that challenges their creativity and attacking verve. Will we see Bayern going up another gear or will Atletico stifle the champions?

Inter Milan vs. Borussia Monchengladbach

It may not be the group of death that Inter have been eliminated from in the last two seasons but the Nerazzurri can’t afford to drop any points in their first fixture. One could argue that Inter were a tad unfortunate in both of their last two Champions League campaigns, but what is undeniable is that between the two seasons they won a solitary home game out of three. That has to be avoided this time if they are to progress to the round of 16. Inter have the clear edge in firepower, but they had that same advantage against Milan on the weekend and lost.

Gladbach are tricky customers and their forward line of Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea are bound to pose a threat to an Inter defence that has started the season in terrible form. The visitors themselves have underwhelmed on the domestic front and it’s difficult to see how this squad can manage two campaigns. Marco Rose will want to make a mark in this competition, in light of his successor at Salzburg, Jesse Marsch, winning plaudits for his work last season. I can see this game being cagey in comparison to the others.

Inter 4 Milan 2 Player Ratings

There are games of two halves and then there was this Milan derby! How do you possibly rate players when most of them had almost diametrically opposite halves? I give it my best effort below.

Inter Milan

Daniele Padelli 4

The veteran backup standing in for the veteran regular wasn’t convincing at all, betraying some nerves trying to needlessly punch balls away from the box in Milan’s dominant first half. It was no surprise to see him static and positionally poor in the concession of both goals.

Stefan De Vrij 8

Tempted to give him a seven on the merits of his brilliant go-ahead header alone. It may go unnoticed because of the second half comeback, but were it not for De Vrij making several important blocks in the first half, Inter could have gone in four or five down at the interval.

Milan Skriniar 6

Not the finest game by the Slovakian, but like the rest of his teammates improved in the second half and calmly cleared danger when Milan looked like they were gathering a head of steam even after Inter had equalized.

Diego Godin 4

The veteran hard man had a torrid time in the first half, being dragged all over the place by the movement of Ante Rebic, Theo Hernandez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Hakan Calhanoglu. That the decisive phase of play in both Milan goals came on his side was no surprise. Back to the bench Godin goes for the big game against Lazio.

Antonio Candreva 6

Ran down blind alleys in the first half, but as one of the key exponents of Conte’s intensity-first approach, his desire and energy were crucial in Inter gaining momentum in the second 45.

Ashley Young 5

Completely out of his depth in the first half, but his experience came to the fore later on as he frustrated Milan’s attacks on the flanks with some dogged defending.

Marcelo Brozovic 8

Started the fightback out of nothing with a wonderfully controlled strike for Inter’s first goal. Pushed Inter forward from then on with his vertical passing and incessant drive. His efforts in the defensive third in the first half shouldn’t go unnoticed either, with one block in particular depriving Milan of a certain goal.

Nicolo Barella 5

We’ve come to expect better from the precocious young Italian. Barella seemed to have lost all sense of position when Milan were dominant, and was probably the only Inter player who didn’t noticeably improve in the second half, even running right into Donnaruma when he had a chance to seal the game.

Matias Vecino 7

The Uruguayan is one of those players you struggle to see making a discernible impact on the state of play. However, that belies how stealthily Vecino takes crucial positions in both boxes. Its no surprise that he had two blocked shots defensively, and two at the other end, including Inter’s equalizer. That’s Vecino for you.

Romelu Lukaku 9

Scoring Inter’s fourth goal was simply the cherry to top off a superb performance. Even as Inter were being completely outplayed, Lukaku did his best to drag the hosts forward, even managing to create a few chances to release the pressure. His quality outside the box continues to be underrated, despite almost always managing to beat his markers and linking well with other attackers. A display to further cement his place as a bonafide modern day Inter legend.

Alexis Sanchez 7

Tried his best in the first half despite Inter’s midfield doing nothing for him. Showed fantastic movement and guile in setting up Vecino’s equalizer and looked to be on the same wavelength as Lukaku when Inter pushed forward. A tad unfortunate to be substituted after Inter took the lead.

Substitutes

Christian Eriksen 7

Immediately made Inter calmer in possession, thus ensuring the Nerazzuri defended well with the ball. Almost scored a stunner that would have been the free kick of the season. Eriksen can certainly add another dimension to Inter’s play and it’s on Conte to be brave enough to act on the Dane’s skillset.

Victor Moses 6

Maybe Conte knew what he was doing with these ex Premier League signings after all. The Nigerian provided extra security to the defence when he came on and assisted Lukaku with a delightful cross that reminded one of Moses at his best under Conte in Chelsea’s 2017 title winning campaign.

Cristiano Birgahi N/A

Ate up the seconds at the end.

AC Milan

Gianluigi Donnarumma 5

It might come across as harsh considering Inter scored two beauties and one wonderfully crafted team move. But Donnarumma was dragged hopelessly out of position by Sanchez’s run for Inter’s equalizer. The goalkeeper of the Italian national team should never be out of the goal frame when his defenders are still in the box.

Andrea Conti 4

Maybe injuries have taken a big toll on Conti, but he isn’t the same flourishing right back that he was at Atalanta. Completely out of his depth in the second half, and didn’t contribute further up the pitch even when Milan were the dominant side in the first 45.

Simon Kjaer 4

Kjaer was signed in January to bring some leadership alongside Romagnoli, but like the rest of the side, fell to pieces in the second half.

Alessio Romagnoli 5

Made some crucial interceptions to try and stop the floodgates as Inter got a hold in the game, but couldn’t do much to stem the tide. A chastening experience for a player who has given his all for Milan in these tough years.

Theo Hernandez 6

Yes, the Frenchman leaves gaps at the back, but what he provides going forward offsets that. Milan’s highest scorer this season was at his bamboozling best in the first half, and even as the game slipped away he almost created an equalizer at the end when Ibra headed his cross against the post.

Samu Castillejo 6

The first half was the best I have seen the Spaniard perform in a Milan shirt. Had Ashley Young on a sixpence and linked beautifully with Calhanoglu to create overloads on the right flank. Rendered helpless in the second half.

Ismael Bennacer 7

Orchestrated play beautifully from a deep position at the base of midfield in the first half. Even at 2-2, the Algerian was the only Milan player who attempted to assert control and slow down the temp of the game, but his efforts were in vain.

Franck Kessie 6

The Ivorian made some excellent runs into dangerous spaces throughout the game. However, the final ball was always lacking and instead of taking up a deeper position as the game changed, Kessie tried too hard to push forward with ill-advised forays further up the pitch.

Hakan Calhanoglu 7

Simply brilliant in the first half. The freedom of a roving role suits Calhanoglu to the tee, and was desperately unfortunate not to score early in the game. Like the rest of his team, couldn’t extend his influence once Inter got back in the game.

Ante Rebic 6

From being on the verge of a January exit, the Croatian has finally developed an understanding with the rest of the Rossoneri forward line. Dovetailed well with Zlatan and Hakan, while his interplay with Hernandez on the left flank made Godin and Candreva helpless.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic 7

One of Milan’s favourite sons was certainly up for the occasion. Zlatan clearly wanted to make his mark on a big game and did so with a goal and an assist. His goal threat in the box remains undiminished, however there were a fair share of promising moves broken down when Ibra took deeper positions trying to link up play. Should Pioli have taken him off to try and change things?

Substitutes

Rafael Leao 5

Why was he not brought on earlier than the 79th minute? The Portuguese youngster’s ability to glide with the ball could have brought another dimension and much needed relief further up the pitch.

Lucas Paqueta 5

And again? Answers on a postcard please Mr. Pioli.

Giacomo Bonaventura 5

Guess what? Again! Why were these three substitutions made in the 79th, 80th, and 83rd minute? Between the three substitutes, they had one shot and two key passes in ten minutes. Enough said.

Bayern 0 Leipzig 0 Player Ratings

The Bundesliga’s top of the table clash lived up to the billing with a tense high quality affair. In recent seasons, Bayern have used their home games against the closest challengers to dish out a lesson, so it was nice to see Leipzig actually come with a plan to negate the champions and make this a contest. Here are my ratings for all the players involved.

Bayern Munich

Manuel Neuer 5

While he wasn’t called into action when it came to shot-stopping, he made a series of terrible decisions in the first ten minutes of the second half for which Bayern should have been punished but for Leipzig’s profligacy.

Benjamin Pavard 6

Delivered some dangerous balls when found on the overlap in the early stages of the game but struggled to get the better of Angelino as the game wore on.

David Alaba 8

An excellent display by the Austrian, confirming his status as one of the most tactically astute players in the modern game. Rarely troubled in one-on-one duels and comfortably cleared and intercepted balls when needed. Made the key block on Timo Werner after Neuer was ludicrously caught outside the box.

Jerome Boateng 6

Slowly but surely returning to the form that made him one of the best centre-backs in the world. Expertly cleared all of Leipzig’s crosses in the first half, but the pace of the game began to tell on him in the second half and was correctly substituted as Christopher Nkunku started to get the better of him.

Alphonso Davies 7

A phenomenal track back to steal the ball off Werner in an early counter set the tone for the Canadian’s game in which his pace caused the visitors all sorts of problems. Leipzig barely got any joy down Davies’ flank, and it was a bit of a mystery as to why Bayern didn’t try to find Davies on the overlap as much as Pavard.

Joshua Kimmich 6

Expected better from his set piece delivery when Bayern were all over Leipzig in the first half. Didn’t do much when in possession either, but redeemed his game with a brilliant header to deny the visitors in injury time.

Thiago 7

Synonym for metronome, the Spanish maestro looked like he would dictate the entire game with his pass-and-move rhythm. While his influence reduced as Leipzig got better, his passes remained the best outlet for Bayern to create chances in the second half.

Thomas Muller 6

As usual took up intelligent positions in the final third, but despite his best efforts it was a day when he wasn’t going to get any change from Leipzig’s three centre-backs.

Leon Goretzka 5

Like Muller, didn’t really perform to the standards he has set in the last month and was comfortably shackled. Could have scored the winner with ten minutes to go, but denied by excellent goalkeeping.

Serge Gnabry 4

A complete non-entity in this game, and while its only one game, for a match of this magnitude, Ivan Perisic was missed on Bayern’s left flank.

Robert Lewandowski 6

Starved of service and expertly marshalled by Messrs Upamecano, Halstenberg and Klostermann, Bayern’s stalwart still came closest to breaking the deadlock in the first half and then set up Goretzka’s big chance to seal the game with his imagination and vision.

Substitutes

Philippe Coutinho 5

Came on for the ineffective Gnabry, but wasn’t able to do much and failed to provide the expected x-factor to unlock an organized defence.

Lucas Hernandez 7

A significant return from injury for Bayern. The French World Cup winner came on for Boateng and he immediately nullified Nkunku’s threat with excellent positioning and game reading.

Kingsley Coman 6

Though only on for ten minutes, Coman created enough danger in a short space of time thanks to his natural dribbling and ability to stretch the game on the flanks. Another timely return from injury for Bayern.

RB Leipzig

Peter Gulacsi 8

A good save early in the game to stop a Thiago curler, but his outstanding save to deny Goretzka at the end gave Leipzig a point that yet may prove to be defining this season.

Dayot Upamecano 9

A towering performance from the 21-year old Frenchman whose aura continues to grow. The numbers tell part of the story. Two tackles, four interceptions, eight clearances and three blocked shots. But how do we quantify the composure, presence of mind and bravery? To top it all off, he brought the ball out of defence superbly and sprayed some raking balls to set up Leipzig’s counter attacks. A performance that elevates careers.

Marcel Halstenberg 8

Shifted to left-sided centre back from his usual position as left back, Halstenberg barely put a foot wrong and his discipline was crucial in the visitors executing Julian Nagelsmann’s altered tactical plan. Contributed with six clearances and six interceptions, most of them to withstand Bayern’s dominance in the first half.

Lukas Klostermann 8

Was afforded no protection against Davies’ surging runs on the left thanks to a static Tyler Adams, but to his credit dealt with the threat brilliantly, making seven tackles to negate Bayern’s threat on his flank.

Tyler Adams 5

Made to look like a passenger against Davies’ pace and trickery; Nagelsmann is unlikely to repeat the experiment of playing the American at wing back. Improved in the second half in more central positions.

Marcel Sabitzer 6

A disciplined defensive performance by the Austrian, which resulted in the curbing of his attacking instincts. The one time he made a run into the box, he shanked a sitter that would have given Leipzig the lead within a minute of the restart.

Konrad Laimer 8

Leipzig’s other Austrian midfielder put in one of his best performances of the season. It was the very definition of all action. Five tackles, three interceptions, some excellent diagonals to bypass Bayern’s midfield; all the while mixing calmness on the ball with the steely resolve of not letting anyone past him.

Angelino 7

League debuts don’t come much tougher than Bayern away, but after a very uncomfortable first thirty minutes, the former City man was rarely beaten, showing a resolute side to his game that we hadn’t seen before.

Dani Olmo 5

A first start away at Bayern where Nagelsmann prioritized defensive solidity for once, meant this wasn’t the kind of game where the Spanish creator could have much of an influence.

Christopher Nkunku 7

A handful for Bayern’s defence with his movement across the final third. The perfect outlet for Leipzig on the counter. Must still be wondering how his assist didn’t deliver the game winning goal for his side.

Timo Werner 4

For the third consecutive game, Werner’s frustration got the better of him. Not able to get any change from Alaba or Davies, Werner tried to interchange positions across the frontline without much success. Could have given Leipzig the lead after Neuer’s brain fade but was too rushed. Should definitely have given Leipzig the lead after Nkunku’s excellent square ball, but missed. Failed to make an impact on a big game again.

Substitutes

Patrick Schick 4

Came on for Olmo, but in 22 minutes all I can remember is one touch leading to a corner and not much else as Leipzig shut up shop.

Ademola Lookman 5

A rare outing for the Englishman. Actually found himself in good positions in the final third and could have made a decisive late contribution but for Kimmich expertly diverting his cross.

Yussuf Poulsen N/A

Came on to eat a few seconds right at the end.

Mourinho and Klopp meet along divergent paths

Was this really a Champions League final just seven months ago? In truth, it didn’t even feel like a replay of the final when the two sides met at Anfield at the end of October. More than anything else, it illustrated all was not well with Mauricio Pochettino, the dying embers of his reign characterized by tactical blunders not seen by the Argentinean in previous visits to Merseyside. And now another confused Spurs manager takes on Jurgen Klopp’s rampant Liverpool.

Mourinho vs Klopp was meant to be one of the apex managerial battles in England. Or at least that’s what everyone thought in the seminal summer of 2016 when Mourinho, Conte, Klopp and Guardiola joined Wenger and Pochettino to dine at the top table of managers in the Premier League. Three and a half seasons on from then, it is pertinent to ask — does Mourinho welcome Klopp as an equal?

Klopp’s irresistible inspirational qualities have only become stronger but he hasn’t rested on those laurels. There is a greater understanding of tactics augmented by an increasing variety to the way Liverpool play nowadays. Importantly, we see a transformation in Liverpool because Klopp knows how to connect with his players. The implementation of new ideas on the pitch have come about as a manifestation of excellent communication off it. Klopp continues to learn, looking for any and every marginal gain.

Exactly who is it that Mourinho now connects with? On taking the Spurs job, the famous anecdote about Mourinho was asking Dele Alli if it was in fact his brother who was putting on the Spurs shirt. Perhaps a case could be made for the Spurs dressing room to now ask their boss if there is an imposter managing them.

Mourinho’s greatest strength was his ability to organize a defence and make them watertight. We’ve seen none of that so far at Spurs. He loved working with experienced campaigners and reinvigorating them. Yes, Toby Alderweireld has finally signed a contract extension but has he shown anything under Mourinho to actually deserve it? Why has there been no upturn in the form of Jan Vertonghen or Eric Dier? For all intents and purposes, Christian Eriksen is not a Mourinho prototype. However, Jose used to rightfully delight in his ability to motivate playmakers and make them integral parts of his success. Think Mesut Ozil and Cesc Fabregas. Yet if anything, Eriksen seems even more distant from the cause than under Pochettino.

It also appears quite evident that Mourinho is trying his best to portray a new identity, both, on and off the pitch. Ostensibly playing with four attackers should result in a side that creates chances and thrills fans. However, his midfield two has been such a disaster, that the lack of fluency has completely nullified the threat of the quartet higher up the pitch. A Mourinho at his best would surely have reverted to a midfield three by now. Troubleshooting was his thing. To compound his woes, he has now lost both Harry Kane and Moussa Sissoko till April.

All this is not to say that Mourinho can’t throw a spanner in the works for Liverpool. Even when he was getting Manchester United to play uninspiring football, he somehow managed to rouse himself to his Machiavellian best to frustrate Klopp. (For what it’s worth, Klopp himself hasn’t got rid of the knack of overthinking such games, almost like teams without an identity confuse his teams into playing their worst football.) Coincidentally, Mourinho’s only defeat to Klopp was  his last game in charge of the Red Devils. There is also something about Liverpool that stirs the passion in Mourinho — a sort of acceptance that for all the nouveau riche, the Reds still have an aura about them that transcends, a sense of glory that the Portuguese probably admires and envies in equal measure. One need only go back to that fateful day in 2014, when his injury ravaged Chelsea side featuring Tomas Kalas at centre-back and Demba Ba upfront, stopped Liverpool from winning their first ever Premier League title, extending their wait that goes on till this day.

In truth, there’s a diminished sense of importance to this game. Yes, Spurs are still in the hunt for fourth. But Tottenham look the farthest thing away from a Champions League side right now. Mourinho has nothing to lose. If Spurs suffer a defeat, he can point to the injuries and say he lost to the best side in the land. If Spurs win, it won’t really affect Klopp or Liverpool’s seemingly inevitable march to the title. This is in a way, a credit to Liverpool and their excellent first half, but in another, a sad picture of how one of the league’s most exciting sides in recent times has hit a wall so quickly. That being said, the curious mind (and the media, lest we forget) can’t help but wonder if Mourinho and Klopp can after all, bring something to make this a memorable occasion.