Champions League Grades: Matchday 3

A record 62 goals were scored in a fine round of matches in the Champions League. There was a lot on entertainment on offer with the usual share of talking points. Let’s assess how the 32 teams did on matchday 3.

A

Liverpool

As mentioned earlier in the week, Liverpool were playing with a fourth choice centre-back. They also had a wretched recent record in Italy. Finally, over the last two seasons Atalanta have made many of the big sides in Italy and Europe look average. Under these circumstances, even a solitary point would have been considered a success. But Liverpool’s ambition can’t be satiated with slim pickings. They tore Atalanta apart in what was close to the Reds’ best performance since football restarted. The interchanging of the front three and control in possession rendered Gianpiero Gasperini’s men hapless and what was supposed to be the toughest task in the group finished as a routine win. Jurgen Klopp’s men can seal progress with two games to spare by winning the return fixture and on this evidence it’s hard to argue that Liverpool won’t finish the business at Anfield.

Bayern Munich

For about 70 minutes, Bayern were involved in a fair tussle in Austria. Then they let their quality shine. It’s not that they scored four more goals after Salzburg brought the game back to 2–2. It was the manner in which they scored them that was ominous. Salzburg didn’t tire, but every sequence in the moves that led to Bayern’s goals was executed with precision and ruthlessness. The champions just don’t know how to let up.

Borussia Monchengladbach

The best possible way to make up for dropped points against the top dogs in the group. To take advantage of Real and Inter’s poor start, one of Gladbach or Shakhtar needed to take maximum points in their double-header. Marco Rose’s men seized their opportunity and by thrashing the Ukrainian’s 6–0 they boosted their goal difference as well. Win the return leg next, and Gladbach can qualify with just a point against Inter or Real in the last two fixtures.

Istanbul Basaksehir

A first win in their competition debut against anyone would be an occasion to celebrate. That it was Manchester United who were their first victims will be an unforgettable memory for the club and their fans. Not only did they deserve to win, but they did so comfortably, restricting the Red Devils to a single shot on target. On the evidence of their last two performances, Basaksehir may yet have a say in who progresses to the round of 16 from their group.

Chelsea

A sense of stability is increasing at Stamford Bridge. Their win over Rennes was the sort of comfortable composed performance that we didn’t see from Chelsea in last season’s competition even as they got out of a difficult group to make the last 16. Sterner tests lie ahead, but serene progress to the next rounds looks assured for the Blues.

Ajax

Once again their game management left a bit to be desired. But their win in Denmark can’t be looked at in isolation. From a position of little hope, Liverpool’s resounding win in Bergamo now means the Dutch champions are back in control of their own fate. Another aspect that can’t be overlooked was the difficulty of overcoming all the uncertainty around COVID’s impact on their squad. Winning away in such circumstances is not something to be scoffed at.

Porto

The objective for the three teams other than Manchester City in this group is to come on top of their own mini-table. In that regard the fixtures may have fallen kindly for Porto, but winning their two home games in that particular battle by a goal difference of five puts the Portuguese champions in pole position to qualify behind City.

RB Leipzig

For the first 40 minutes of their match against PSG, Leipzig looked frazzled, almost like they were still dazed from the thrashing they received at Old Trafford last week. If Angel Di Maria hadn’t missed a penalty, a repeat of last week’s result wouldn’t have been out of the question. Thankfully for Julian Nagelsmann, Christopher Nkunku scored a fantastic equalizer and his side got their bearings and went on to win a crucial three points. The best possible response to a 5–0 defeat.

Sevilla

The first half an hour was concerning as Sevilla’s season looked to be on the brink of unravelling. To his credit, Julen Lopetegui made two substitutions before the 35-minute mark to change the game. To Sevilla’s credit, to then complete a comeback win with a man down showed immense character and belief. Another win should see the Europa League winners through to the next round.

Juventus

Comfortable win on the road in the face of a spirited performance from the Hungarian champions. Alvaro Morata increasingly looks like the most sensible transfer Juve have made in recent times, and at least against certain teams Andrea Pirlo’s inventive approach is starting to take shape.

Borussia Dortmund

Made short work of what was expected to be an arduous trip to Belgium. Exactly the kind of result Dortmund needed. They are now in control of the group with two home games to come and in a great frame of mind for the weekend’s Klassiker.

Lokomotiv Moscow

The Russians didn’t have the attacking intent they showcased against Bayern last week and were it not for an inspired performance from Guilherme in goal, they could have been on the end of a heavy defeat. But they got a draw that keeps them a point above Salzburg with a home game against the Austrian champions to come. Europa League qualification is only thing that matters for Lokomotiv.

Lazio

Another hard-earned point on the road gained in adverse circumstances. Missing some of their crucial players, Lazio could have been down on their luck after conceding the first goal to Zenit, but the Biancocelesti knuckled down and got a deserved equalizer. Coupled with Brugge’s loss, Simone Inzaghi’s men are now in a great position to qualify from the group alongside Dortmund.

B

Real Madrid

In keeping with their first two games, the performance from Real was nothing to write home about. But in this group, we are already at the stage where result is king. Against a manager who has a lot to prove in this competition, Zinedine Zidane drew on his own winning history to make the right changes at the right time. This is Zidane’s forte in the Champions League and while it not may be sustainable on its own considering the other flaws at Real, in pressure situations there aren’t many better than the Frenchman at delivering.

Manchester City

It’s difficult to assess City’s performances in this group, because the reality is that Pep Guardiola’s men can get 18 points without needing to be anywhere close to their best against the opposition they face. It was a comfortable win against Olympiacos, though they somehow contrived to give the Greek champions two golden opportunities in the second half with needless risks at the back. In mitigation it wasn’t the first choice defence, but these mistakes often prove costly when it really matters for City. It really shouldn’t be a habit at this stage for the Citizens.

Dynamo Kyiv

Their best performance in the competition with 13 first team players missing due to COVID. 18-year old goalkeeper Ruslan Neshcheret was the star turn at the Camp Nou with several brilliant saves. But it wasn’t purely a back to the walls performance from the Ukrainians, who had more than a few opportunities of their own and scared the life out of Barcelona’s defence on more than a few occasions. Perhaps the two Ukrainian sides are better off playing teenagers in this competition.

Atletico Madrid

In fairness, Atletico deserved to win, but in the Champions League you have to finish your chances. The two points dropped in Moscow won’t be a concern, after all Atletico are still comfortably placed to qualify. On a more encouraging note, it’s now three consecutive games in which Diego Simeone’s men have played with a more enterprising approach, with Joao Felix increasingly dictating the side’s attacking rhythm.

C

Barcelona

Got the job done and with one foot in the next round after three wins in three. But the performance was shaky and complacent, and were it not for Marc-Andre Ter Stegen making great saves in his first appearance of the season, Barca could have been left with egg on their faces.

Midtjylland

Another encouraging performance after their stellar efforts at Anfield last week. The Danish champions made Ajax sweat and if it wasn’t for the vast gap in quality, they may have got a merited point.

D

Salzburg

The only team who suffered a “thrashing” on the matchday that didn’t deserve it. 6–2 was a harsh scoreline for Jesse Marsch’s men as the Austrian champions gave as good as they got for 70 minutes against Bayern. Small consolation when you concede six goals, but it genuinely was another encouraging performance by Salzburg.

Zenit

Visiting St. Petersburg used to be challenging, but the Russian champions put in an insipid display in a must-win game against Lazio. In most seasons Zenit take the fight for qualification down to the last matchday. That seems beyond them this time.

Ferencvaros

As expected they tried their best and took the game to Juve in their own limited way. They were out of their depth, but once again, the Hungarian champions didn’t disgrace themselves.

E

Inter

The Nerrazurri have made losing and drawing games when dominating a performance art. For the third consecutive game Antonio Conte will be left wondering about how his men didn’t get maximum points. They had the chances but missed them again. Not that Conte is blameless considering his bizarre double substitution of Ivan Perisic and Nicolo Barella when Inter were on top of Madrid and pushing for the win. Can Inter beat Real, Gladbach and Shakhtar to get out of the group? Yes, they can. Will they? That’s another question.

Manchester United

Their wins against PSG and Leipzig mean United’s defeat in Turkey is not as catastrophic as some would have you believe. But this was a loss against competition debutants and the performance was appalling. Enough has been said about the nature of the first goal conceded, but United were terrible in a creative sense, not having a single shot on goal in the second half. United were set to coast to the next round, but instead qualification won’t be sealed even if they win the return fixture at Old Trafford.

Krasnodar

It is their first time in the Champions League and many bigger teams than Krasnodar have lost in Seville. But they were two goals up, and then had a man advantage for the whole of the second half, when they still led 2–1. Losing from such a position in the Champions League is unforgivable.

Rennes

For the second straight game, Rennes were toothless. The red card for Dalbert was harsh, but the Bretton side provided no danger to Chelsea. A battle with Krasnodar for a Europa League spot awaits, and at this stage of their journey, that competition feels a better fit for Julien Stephan’s men.

Club Brugge

The worst time to get stage fright, typified by a rash performance by Simon Mignolet in goal. A genuine opportunity to progress from the group is now out of their hands, leaving the Belgian champions needing special performances away to Dortmund and Lazio to have any chance.

Olympiacos

Like last week, Olympiacos can point to missed chances, but after a while this gets tiring. The Greek champions look incapable of getting a point on their travels.

F

PSG

Yes, Neymar, Mbappe and Verratti were missing. Yes, it was Leipzig away. But that doesn’t explain PSG dominating the first 40 minutes and missing chances including a penalty. Yet again, when the French champions were asked difficult question they collapsed, typified by the needless concession of a penalty and two players getting second yellow cards that can charitably be described as stupid. Yet again, Thomas Tuchel didn’t help himself with baffling decisions, chief amongst them Marquinhos in midfield and Danilo at the back. Time is running out for PSG and their German manager.

Atalanta

Yes, Atalanta are only the 12th richest team in Serie A. Yes, Atalanta have won the admiration of neutrals by staying to true to their way of playing positive football. But this was a team that was 10 minutes away from the semifinals from last season. Staying true to your principles is important, but on certain occasions in this competition, even the best have to adapt and show different sides to their game. Losing 5–0 at home to Liverpool isn’t a disgrace in itself. However, three of the goals that Atalanta conceded were from their own attacking moves, when just one pass from the Reds released their forwards clean through on goal. That’s a level of ineptitude that can’t be forgiven on this stage. Atalanta are not out of it, after all they qualified for the last 16 after losing their first three games last season. However, they have now ceded advantage to Ajax from a strong position.

Shakhtar Donetsk

If Shakhtar’s young debutants suffered a 6–0 defeat at Madrid in their first game nobody would have complained. The fact that most of the veterans were back and they capitulated in such a manner to Gladbach is a very bad look. Thanks to that remarkable win at Real, Shakhtar are still second in the group. But it’s hard to shake off the feeling that the Ukrainian champions are only going to struggle going forward in the competition.

Marseille

Rounding up a terrible matchday for Ligue Un’s teams, Marseille suffered another defeat after another abject display. Yes, Andre Villas-Boas’ side have two home games against Porto and Olympiacos to come, but after fluffing a gift of penalty to equalize early on, Marseille looked utterly incapable of creating a chance. It’s hard to believe they are going to perform any better at the Velodrome. Considering the fact that they are four debutants in this season’s competition, it’s quite the feat for the former champions to look like the worst side in the Champions League by a considerable distance.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s