Champions League Report Card Matchday 3

Matchday 3 of the Champions League group stages is behind us and as usual we are left with some compelling storylines. Napoli had the standout performance, while Salzburg and Brugge proved there is still place for meritocracy in an increasingly stratified game. On the other hand, Sevilla and Leverkusen put in abject displays, bringing about the end of their manager’s reigns. Time to rate all 32 teams.

Ajax. Starting with their run to the semis in 2019, Ajax have lost a surprising amount of home games, often losing when outplaying their opponents. This however was a completely different case, a catastrophic defeat where they were cut open in a way that bordered on the naive. The promise of the first night against Rangers has now dissipated, making it extremely unlikely that the Eredivisie champions will go through to the knockout stages. (F)

Atletico Madrid. Is it a surprise when Atletico lose in this competition anymore? Incapable of taking the game to many opponents, it seems the only way Simeone’s side can be relevant on the biggest stage is by executing backs to the wall upsets. That they were outplayed by a side that can only dream of the resources they have is the ultimate indictment. They are alive in this competition only thanks to having some other underperforming sides for company in this group. (F)

Barcelona. Trying to deflect blame onto the referee will do Xavi no favours. Yes, they ultimately lost to a long-distance goal, but worryingly this was an example of a game where Robert Lewandowski was off the boil, but Barca had few alternative attacking solutions, other than Ousmane Dembele, who was brilliant throughout. A mounting injury crisis coupled with an extremely tough list of upcoming fixtures means the pressure is on Xavi, starting with the crucial return leg against Inter next week. (D)

Bayer Leverkusen. They never recovered from Patrick Schick’s missed penalty on the stroke of half time and duly got beaten in the second half. Over to Xabi Alonso next week. (F)

Bayern Munich. Seemingly have their mojo back. Viktoria Plzen were never going to pose a challenge, but Bayern still played with the right amount of swagger, epitomized by another influential performance from Jamal Musiala. That’s 31 group stage games unbeaten. No matter the gap between Bayern and their opponents, that’s still an impressive achievement. (A)

Benfica. Took the game to PSG from the first whistle and made Gianluigi Donnaruma earn his keep in the first half. PSG’s quality on the ball ultimately took over, which meant they had to defend more in the second half, which they did quite well, in part down to their man between the sticks, Odysseas Vlachodimos. They remain unbeaten in all competitions this season and still have a two-game swing over Juventus. (A)

Borussia Dortmund. It could be argued that they were too open at times, but against an opponent who was even more disorganized than them, Dortmund’s all out attack worked a treat. With BVB we know a slip is always around the corner, but if they can score thrilling goals with captain Bellingham leading the team forward and linking with Adeyemi and Moukoko, then we might as well enjoy the spectacle. (A)

Celtic. They had Leipzig rattled for about 10 minutes after their equalizer and Joe Hart’s error to give the lead back came at the worst possible time. In truth the gap in quality was evident for most of the game as the hosts always had another gear in them. Hope remains in Celtic Park being an imposing cauldron for Leipzig and Shakhtar, but I can’t shake the feeling that getting out of the group stage now looks like an uphill task. (E)

Club Brugge. Led by the outstanding Ferran Jugtla, Brugge deservedly beat a bigger team for the third consecutive game, leaving them on the verge of qualifying for the knockouts for the first time in their history. This is a team that knows how to play its strengths, finally getting their just rewards after recent campaigns where they have made life difficult for the continent’s giants but with little gain. A true Champions League success story. (A)

Chelsea. Reminiscent of last season when they pulverized Juventus. Milan weren’t able to lay a glove on them, as Chelsea put in their most dominant performance of the season. Graham Potter will be buoyed by the performances of Reece James and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in particular, as well as the defence which kept out Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud without too much fuss. It’s now on the Blues to use this win as a launchpad for their season. (A)

Dinamo Zagreb. Made Salzburg nervous on more than one occasion and remain alive in a tight group with two home games to come. (C)

Eintracht Frankfurt. Another excellent atmosphere on a European night, but they didn’t really trouble Spurs. Nevertheless, it was a more mature performance than their first home game when they were easily picked up apart on the counter by Sporting. Still very much alive in the competition. (B)

FC Copenhagen. Excellent opponents for a friendly in the middle of the season. (F)

FC Salzburg. Salzburg have played much better and got less recently in this competition, but their fans won’t care. Winning ugly in a tight group carries extra weight. They sit above Chelsea and Milan at the halfway stage. Matthias Jaissle’s men would happily have taken that when the draw was made. (A)

Inter. Finally a win in a big game for Simone Inzaghi. That they won against Barca after a morale-sapping loss to Roma on the weekend speaks to the character of the squad and also to Inzaghi’s ability to get buy-in from his players. Inter have played better and lost in this competition, and for once they’ll be glad to transfer the burden of pressure over to Barca. (A)

Juventus. What looked like a straightforward win became extremely nervy at the end, but ultimately the win was all that mattered, keeping them just about in touch of the group leaders. Angel Di Maria was in inspired form with his three assists being key for Juve. Win in Haifa next week, and the European campaign will be back on track. (A)

Liverpool. A long overdue change in formation brought a much-needed victory. Were it not for Allen McGregor’s heroics, Liverpool could have won more comfortably. With Ajax tanking badly, the Reds are now in a position to qualify serenely provided there are no hiccups in the return fixture at Ibrox next week. (A)

Maccabi Haifa. Did themselves proud against opponents they had no right to compete against. Tjaronn Chery’s assist for their goal was as good as anything Angel Di Maria served, while Omer Atzili’s cameo had Juve’s defence tied in knots. That’s three creditable performances in a row from the Israeli champions. (B)

Manchester City. Another brace for their golden boy amidst a nice runabout for most of the squad. (A)

Marseille. The 15-minute delay to kickoff seemed to throw them off-kilter, none more so than Igor Tudor, whose angst seemed to carry over to his players as they conceded within a minute and looked like they were going to collapse. Then came Antonio Adan’s generosity and Marseille grabbed the gifts with both hands. Out of nowhere, opportunity beckons in a very tight group. (A)

Milan. Left with a mountain climb due to some key injuries and never looked like they were in the contest at Stamford Bridge. Worryingly for Milan, with Theo Hernandez and Mike Maignan missing I am not sure they can overcome Chelsea at San Siro. Progress to the round of 16 is far from guaranteed. (E)

Napoli. A team in tremendous form delivered one of the great away performances in Europe. Outplaying Ajax in their own backyard is no mean feat. Luciano Spalletti has this Napoli side playing in perfect harmony, using the technical brilliance of his players to create football that is delightfully easy on the eye. After three games they have a goal difference of +11, some feat when many considered their group too close to call. (A)

Paris Saint-Germain. The usual tropes may be bandied about how PSG should be beating Benfica, but the Portuguese giants have made an unbeaten start to the season because they are playing some brilliant football. The French champions had to dig in during the first half, as any side usually needs to away in Europe, and they then took control of the game in the second half with Lionel Messi and Vitinha in particular having outstanding games. A high-quality draw leaves no losers. (A)

Porto. Led by an inspired Mehdi Taremi, they got their first win of the competition just in time to enter the crawl to second between them, Atletico and Leverkusen. (A)

Rangers. Were it not for the ageless Allen McGregor, it could have been another chastening night. As it happened, Rangers left Anfield with a modicum of respect, but surely we should expect to see a performance of more bravery in the return fixture at Ibrox next week. (D)

RB Leipzig. They had to win, which meant Marco Rose went with a cavalier approach, playing all of Andre Silva, Christopher Nkunku, Timo Werner and Dominik Szoboszlai. It was gung-ho and thrilling to watch, and while it may be exposed against better opponents, Leipzig don’t really need to fear Celtic or Shakhtar playing with this approach. (A)

Real Madrid. The final scoreline was not reflective of their dominance. They were always going to coast through this group, but that doesn’t mean the quality of football should be taken for granted. The interplay between Rodrgyo, Benzema, Vinicius and Valverde was a delight to watch. (A)

Sevilla. Even at their best Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla side could never be considered thrilling, but they would always be compact and difficult to break down. Exactly the kind of opponent Borussia Dortmund always struggle with. And then they concede four at home to Dortmund. An unfortunate way for Lopetegui’s tenure to end. (F)

Shakhtar Donetsk. They were outplayed at the Bernabeu, but despite Real being rampant they stayed alive right till the end, which is no mean feat considering the disparity between the champions and them. (C)

Sporting Club. It looked so promising in the first 10 minutes before Antonio Adan had one of the worst periods of goalkeeping I can remember at this level. If his howler to let Alexis Sanchez equalize wasn’t bad enough, he killed the game for his team after recklessly coming out of his box and handling to get sent off in the 23rd minute. The only consolation for Sporting is that they remain top in a very tight group. (E)

Tottenham. They did create more than Eintracht but not to the extent that it could be categorized as a dominant display from Antonio Conte’s men. An away point is always valuable, but a group that should have been easily won is now likely to go down to the wire, though Spurs have the advantage of two home games to come. (C)

Viktoria Plzen. Completely out of their depth against Bayern. Sadly, all it took was about half an hour to render the game a damage limitation exercise for the Czech champions. (F)

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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