Champions League Report Card Matchday 2

Matchday 2 of the Champions League group stages is in the books, with plenty of excitement and a fair number of upsets providing many talking points. Let’s rate the protagonists.

AC Milan. Finally a home win for the seven-time champions after returning to the competition last year. Another brilliant performance by Rafael Leao, whose standing only increases with every game. Crucially Milan go top of the group before the double-header with Chelsea. (A)

Ajax. In isolation, a late defeat at Anfield is not something to be too disheartened by. However, the Dutch champions didn’t truly play their game, which seems like a missed opportunity considering the defensive issues that Liverpool are currently experiencing. (D)

Atletico Madrid. Lost the battle between the underachievers of the season so far. When you’re already underachieving, that’s simply not a great result. (F)

Barcelona. The first half in Munich signalled a return to relevance in this competition, as Xavi’s men pressed Bayern superbly, only to fluff some excellent chances to score the goal their play deserved. That they still have some defensive issues to solve was evident in the goals they conceded, but Barca go into their double-header against Inter with confidence. (C)

Bayer Leverkusen. Won the battle of the underachievers and moved into an unexpectedly advantageous position in the group. With a double-header against a terrible Porto to come, Leverkusen might just have kickstarted their season at the right time. (A)

Bayern Munich. Probably surprised by Barca’s intensity in the first half and were lucky to go in level at halftime. Their mastery of the group stages came to the fore in the second half, seeing out the sticky patch and getting their two goals at just the right time. With maximum points and a double header against Viktoria Plzen to come, Bayern have all but sealed top spot in the group of death. Oh, and Robert Lewandowski missed two glorious chances with his new side. (A)

Benfica. A sublime performance bettered only by the result. The Eagles were better than Juventus in every department form the 20th minute onwards, and could easily have embarrassed their hosts by a bigger scoreline. That’s already a six-point gap over Juve, affording Roger Schmidt’s excellent side sufficient margin in their double-header against PSG. (A)

Borussia Dortmund. On the verge of a special victory when they restricted City to no shots on target till the 80th minute, only for Alexander Meyer’s atrocious goalkeeping to allow the hosts an equalizer. That their former striker would then score the winner felt inevitable. (B)

Celtic. A point on the road is never to be scoffed at in Europe, but the Scottish champions had the chances to win this game. That they didn’t, means the pressure is on for the double-header against Leipzig. (C)

Club Brugge. An absolutely brilliant result for a side that has always played as well as it can against clubs with much greater resources. This night in Porto will never be forgotten by Brugge fans, who can now genuinely believe in progress from the group stages, after some heartbreaking near misses in recent seasons. (A)

Chelsea. Of course Graham Potter wasn’t immediately going to impart his style on the Blues. This was a performance that felt just as similar as anything Chelsea have provided in 2022. There were periods when they were clearly in the ascendancy, and then periods out of nowhere where they looked wobbly in defence. It was that defensive frailty that ultimately cost them the three points, leaving Potter’s men with a lot of room for improvement ahead of their intriguing double-header with Milan. (D)

Dinamo Zagreb. Didn’t disgrace themselves at the San Siro, with that man Mislav Orsic scoring yet again. Still second in the group and keeping things very interesting for neutrals. (C)

Eintracht Frankfurt. Can simply never be written off in Europe. Just when I thought last week’s performance was going to be an indicator of their struggles in the Champions League, they only go and win at the Velodrome.  (A)

FC Copenhagen. Played out a drab goalless affair with Sevilla, which in itself is not a bad result, but didn’t do enough to test the vulnerabilities of their visitors. (C)

FC Salzburg. They weren’t at their usual dynamic best, but hung on when Chelsea were on top and managed to change the momentum of the game after some inspired substations from Matthias Jaissle. With two points gained from games against Milan and Chelsea, Salzburg can truly set the cat amongst the pigeons if they can win both games against Dinamo Zagreb.  (B)

Inter. They weren’t necessarily brilliant at Plzen, but didn’t really need to be. As third seeds, Inter couldn’t afford to drop any silly points in the Czech Republic, a remit they fulfilled. Now for that decisive double-header against Barca. (A)

Juventus. Last week, I talked about Juventus being dangerously close to European irrelevance. It feels like we are one step closer to that reality after Benfica came to Turin and comfortably outplayed the Old Lady. In theory, a double-header against Maccabi Haifa gives Juve the chance to gain six points, but I don’t have faith that Max Allegri and his men can muster that given their current state of affairs. (F)

Liverpool. Their winner felt inevitable and to a certain extent deserved, but like their recent win against Newcastle in the Premier League, it didn’t really feel like a result borne out of their quality of play. They need to get much better, but the three points were needed and sets them up well, provided they take maximum points in the Battle of Britain. (B)

Maccabi Haifa. Easily created the best atmosphere I have seen in recent seasons of the competition and rattled their much-vaunted visitors, especially after scoring a great opening goal. Their fans couldn’t have asked for more as they sang their hearts out throughout the game. (B)

Manchester City. A creatively flat performance that delivered a win thanks to some absurd goalkeeping and then the magic of that boy Erling Haaland again. (B)

Marseille. That’s now eight consecutive losses in the competition for the only French side who have ever won it. Regardless of the performance, that’s a damaging defeat for Marseille, who came into the competition with so much hope thanks to their best ever Ligue 1 start under Igor Tudor. (E)

Napoli. Stayed poised even as Ibrox passionately backed the hosts, before intelligently taking grip of the game and getting a deserved victory thanks to some scintillating attacking play. Are now in pole position to make the round of 16 after some near misses in recent years. (A)

Paris Saint-Germain. An away win can never be taken for granted in the Champions League, but they won mainly thanks to moments of individual brilliance in a performance that was easily the worst of Christophe Galtier’s reign so far. (B)

Porto. Just abysmal. A week after outplaying Atletico in Madrid, the Portuguese champions were humiliated by Club Brugge on their home turf. Has to be one of the lowest points in their storied European history. (F)

Rangers. Their performance was much better than last week, as Ibrox looked ready to inspire on another European night. However, the gulf in quality was ultimately too difficult to bridge. (D)

RB Leipzig. Missed some excellent chances in the first half and were undone only by the brilliance of Real’s talent. Nevertheless, another encouraging performance for new boss Marco Rose, setting up a tasty double-header against Celtic. (B)

Real Madrid. Can we call this a standard Real Madrid win in the Champions League? Nowhere near their best for large swathes of the game, before sealing the three points thanks to two beautifully constructed goals. In the absence of Karim Benzema, the double-act of Vinicius of Valverde continues to bear fruit for Carlo Ancelotti. (A)

Sevilla. A nothing performance in a frankly nothing game in Copenhagen. They’re somehow still alive, only two points behind Dortmund going into their crucial double-header.  (E)

Shakhtar Donetsk. They were outplayed by Celtic and were lucky to get a point. Then again, how many clubs in recent history have had to play their home games in other cities, and now in another country altogether. Can look forward to playing two games against Real Madrid, whom they have actually beaten twice in the last two seasons. (B)

Sporting Club. A memorable win in front of their passionate fans in Lisbon, signalling the arrival of Ruben Amorim as a manager of repute on the big stage. Sporting deservedly top their tricky group with maximum points, leaving them well-placed to make it out of the group stages for the second year in a row. (A)

Tottenham. It had been coming. Spurs were treading the fine line between performances and results in recent games, but this was one occasion too far for Antonio Conte’s men. They are still too good to be eliminated from this group, but for a manager whose record isn’t the greatest in this competition, the pressure has certainly risen a few levels. (F)

Viktoria Plzen. It’s objectively hard to measure the Czech champions in this group, when the disparity between them and their opponents is so huge. But after playing some exciting football in the Camp Nou last week, this was a sadly insipid performance at home. (E)

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