Champions League Report Card – Matchday 3
We are at the halfway stage of the Champions League group stage after Matchday 3. It’s time to assess the performances of all 32 teams and see who excelled, who struggled and who needs to do better.
It could be argued that Leicester were fortunate to win against Copenhagen. Such an argument would have merit. That is missing the point though. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Copenhagen have significant Champions League experience and in the first game of this group, they dominated Porto away from home. Leicester are playing in the Champions League for the first time. That they are here is already an achievement in itself. The fact that they have won their first three games and now need only one win from three games to qualify for the last 16, is quite frankly, remarkable. The Foxes are underdogs in every sense, against almost every other opponent in this competition. Yet they have maximum points without conceding a goal. It is a feat that can be forgiven deeper analysis while being cherished and celebrated.
The scary thing about their win over Manchester City was that Barcelona were hardly at their best. Nevertheless, there is excellence to be appreciated in taking your chances ruthlessly. In Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, the Blaugrana have a front three that are the epitome of efficiency. Luis Enrique’s men are now almost guaranteed to win the group, even legislating for a possible loss at the Etihad. If the midfield and defence step up however, Enrique will be confident that with a prolific MSN leading the charge, City can be beaten away as well.
A performance of complete comfort. Arsenal were effervescent in every aspect with their front four again in blistering form. Not only did Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott score again, but Mesut Ozil scored a hat trick. Crucially, after years of suffering in the group stage, Arsene Wenger is ideally placed to come first in the group. Arsenal have a goal difference advantage of three over PSG, with the French champions still to visit the Emirates. The Gunners are looking good!
There were elements of luck in their win at Naples, but Senol Günes and his men were once again adept at making the most of their chances. Turkish teams winning matches in the Champions League has become rare in recent seasons, so an away victory in particular, is really special for Besiktas. The Turkish champions are now the only undefeated team in Group B. With two home games remaining and blessed with the poaching instincts of Vincent Aboubakar, Günes will be confident that Besiktas can take advantage of this upset to make it to the next round.
A mature away performance that belied the inexperience of Thomas Tuchel’s injury-plagued squad. Dortmund were dominant for the first hour in Lisbon, taking a two-goal lead with a performance embodying control and precision. Even more impressive however, was the resilience and calmness shown in defence after Sporting pulled a goal back with over 20 minutes left to play. With a four-point lead over their hosts with the return fixture at home, Dortmund have a comfortable cushion to qualify for the last 16 and remain in contention for first place in Group F despite Real Madrid having the easier opponent on the day.
The Italian champions were far from fluent, but an away game at Lyon was never going to be easy. In true fashion, Gianluigi Buffon put in a performance for the ages, just as an army of critics were chastising him after recent errors. Impressively, after being under the cosh for most of the match Juventus actually improved after going down to ten men, keeping the ball better and taking the game to Lyon. While some may consider it daylight robbery, was it any surprise that Juve got the winner? Champions after all, always find a way to win.
There are issues of balance without Casemiro in midfield, highlighted emphatically by Legia Warsaw cutting through the centre with ease in the move that led to their penalty. However, this was not an occasion for Casemiro and defensive midfielders in the first place. Real’s only remit in this match was to plunder goals and boost the goal difference. A 5-1 win did nicely for Zinedine Zidane in that regard.
A performance in tune with their great run to the quarterfinals last season and a much-needed to win to kickstart their campaign this time around. Benfica never looked like losing in Kiev. Win their return fixture at home and Rui Vitória’s men will control their own destiny as Napoli and Besiktas take points off each other.
A measured and controlled away win giving further fuel to the theory that Sevilla have in fact upgraded by getting Jorge Sampaoli as manager. Sevilla played entertaining football in last season’s group stages, but exited with only six points. They have already got seven at the halfway stage this time around. With home matches against Zagreb and Juve to come, the Europa League champions have a great shot at actually winning the group.
Just desserts for André Schubert’s brave approach at Parkhead. Gladbach play football in an admirable way, always taking the attack to the opposition regardless of circumstance, often coming up against teams with greater quality. Against Celtic they played with a strut that their hosts simply had no answer for. Gladbach now have the edge over Celtic for Europa League qualification, but with two home games left and Manchester City to play Barcelona once more, could Schubert and his men cause the ultimate sting in the tale by qualifying for the last 16?
Diego Simeone’s men played almost exclusively on the front foot at Rostov and probably should have won by more goals. Yet, with the crucial win against Bayern in the last matchday, all Atletico need to do is keep accumulating the points until the last rubber in Bavaria, maintaining their hold on first place in the group. Another bonus was a second successive win without Antoine Griezmann scoring.
Carlo Ancelotti had asked for more intensity from his Bayern side and they delivered. The Bavarian giants were deserved winners, but the casual defensive errors that have been prominent this season led to a sloppy concession of a goal. Thereafter, for half an hour, PSV troubled Bayern. Better teams than PSV will not provide the German champions with the same largesse. Ancelotti clearly still has some fine-tuning to do.
From a barely deserved point in Matchday 2 to undeservedly missing out on all three in Matchday 3. Monaco threw the kitchen sink at CSKA and Bernardo Silva’s late equalizer was the least they deserved. Two points gained from late equalizers could well end up making the difference for Leonardo Jardim’s men in a congested group. Monaco now have to ensure they get all three points in the return fixture at home, so as to establish some daylight ahead of the chasing pack in Group E.
Porto took a while to get going in Belgium, but once they got out of their stupor they were good value for their win against Club Brugge. It should restore some confidence for the Portuguese giants who had gone four games without a win in the Champions League group stages dating back to last season. Nuno has to ensure a comprehensive victory in the return fixture at home, before the crucial trip to Copenhagen on Matchday 5.
Another stuttering win for the French champions. They scored first against the run of play before their greater quality came to the fore in the second half against Basel. The appointment of Unai Emery was meant to signal a shift in Europe for PSG. All the evidence seen in the campaign so far would suggest that PSG are likely to fail the moment they come up against one of Europe’s big guns yet again. Emery and his men need to buck up their ideas, and buck up quickly.
On reflection, Spurs got an excellent away point at Leverkusen. After all, the German side are regulars in the Champions League, while Spurs are a young team in age as well as experience in Europe’s premier club competition. That being said, it was still a harsh lesson for Spurs’ young guns. They had their chances in the first half when the hosts looked ragged. Having failed to take advantage, Mauricio Pochettino’s men were put on the back foot right from the resumption till full time. Only the magnificence of Hugo Lloris prevented a defeat, meaning Spurs still have qualification from the group in their own hands.
As dominant a performance as one could have in losing a match. The Danish champions were extremely unlucky to leave the Midlands with no points. However, Copenhagen are still in the picture for qualification to the next round. Not many teams control games away from home, yet Copenhagen have done so in Portugal and England. If they display the same levels of performance at home, they are bound to win. The visits of Leicester and Porto will now decide their fate.
Many would rightly say that Leverkusen deserved more from their match against Tottenham. The problem is that it feels like Leverkusen always deserve more, but they simply don’t make the most of their chances. They dominated against CSKA Moscow but contrived to throw away a two-goal lead and then conceded a last-minute equalizer at Monaco to the host’s only shot on goal. Roger Schmidt’s men could conceivably already have been on nine points, in stead they are third in the group with just three. To qualify now, Leverkusen will need to win at least one of their remaining two away games in Moscow or London.
It is now three consecutive defeats across all competitions for Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli side. While the injury-enforced absence of Arkadiusz Milik is a big blow, it was no excuse for this defeat, where the Azzurri were their own worst enemies. Lorenzo Insigne’s missed penalty was one of many missed chances, while the defence was calamitous on the few occasions they were called upon. Napoli could have wrapped up qualification for the next stage if things had gone their way. In stead, everything is up in the air for an increasingly nerve-ridden side.
Visiting CSKA used to be an awkward trip for most teams in the Champions League. This season we’ve seen two atrocious performances by the home team in Moscow, with the visitors completely dominant. Remarkably, CSKA were on the verge of being the first home team to win a match in Group E. This travesty was justly denied by Bernardo Silva’s late equalizer for Monaco. Such is the tight nature of the group, that somehow CSKA are just three points behind the group leaders and still alive in the race for qualification to the last 16.
The Champions League continues to be a tough nut for Jorge Jesus. After snatching defeat from the jaws of victory at the Bernabéu, it was imperative for Sporting to get maximum points at home. The home faithful would justifiably have expected a great performance to gain hold of second place. Except for a brief period in the second half however, the crowd saw their team being easily nullified by a visiting team that exhibited a better temperament for the occasion. Now four points behind Dortmund, Sporting travel to Germany needing a win to stay alive. It’s looking like another Europa League campaign beckons for Sporting.
The Swiss champions were actually the better team for most of the first half at PSG. That they followed it up with a meek performance in the second half was extremely disappointing. A reasonable tilt at second place was possible if Basel had shown gumption. As it turns out, a Europa League place is now the summit of their ambitions.
There is no doubt that City had their chances at the Camp Nou and in many ways their first half performance was admirable. The Champions League though, is not a forgiving arena and the sheer lunacy of their mistakes merited a chastening defeat for Pep Guardiola’s men. While City would like to believe they have a chance at home, such defensive ineptness is likely to be equally punished by the aforementioned MSN even at the Etihad. Qualification out of the group is no longer straightforward.
Considering their inexperience, defeat to Juventus was no disaster. However, that fails to take into account a Bianconeri side that were there for the taking. Alexandre Lacazette fluffed his chance with a poor penalty that would have given Lyon the lead. Even then, Les Gones were provided another great opportunity when Mario Lemina was sent off. In stead the home side capitulated. Now four points behind Juve and Sevilla, Lyon could be out of contention after their visit to Turin on Matchday 4.
The Belgian champions gave as good as they got in the first half against Porto, deservedly taking the lead. To some observers their defeat at full time may seem harsh, but as other teams have discovered in this round, criminal defending is unlikely to go unpunished in this tournament. As good as Miguel Layún’s equalizer for Porto was, he was afforded full freedom of Brugge’s left flank, while the foul for Andre Silva’s injury time penalty verged on the amateur. Brugge now face a fight just to get off the mark.
A nondescript performance by the Ukrainian champions in a home game they had to win. Last season’s round of 16 appearance is now unlikely to be repeated, with Serhiy Rebrov’s men now needing a miracle just to make it to the Europa League.
The Russians never looked like scoring against Atletico and they were completely out of their depth against a European giant. Yet, unlike other teams of similar ilk, Rostov played with pride and commitment and valiantly ensured they didn’t concede more than one goal, avoiding a humiliating thrashing that so many other minnows suffered on Matchday 3.
Celtic’s most realistic goal after they were drawn in Group C would have been to qualify for the Europa League. To that end, a point against City last time out was a great result. To then follow up with a thoroughly underwhelming performance against Gladbach when they had the momentum was just inexcusable. Kolo Toure’s comedic defending contributed to the goals, but the defeat was justified in every sense as Brendan Rodgers’ men were outplayed from the first whistle to the last. It’s now hard to see Celtic getting another point in this campaign.
That PSV lost 4-1 away to Bayern is no disgrace. What was disgraceful however, was the shambolic defending evident in the first two goals. These are the Dutch champions after all and surely one expects better from them, than to concede directly from a short pass on a corner. Phillip Cocu did so well last season to take PSV to the last 16. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to build on that success as a group stage exit beckons.
Another hammering for the Polish champions. The long-awaited return to the Champions League is increasingly becoming a nightmare. One goal scored, 13 conceded and a game each still to play against Real and Dortmund. This could get even uglier.
Three games in and Zagreb remain the only team to not score in the group stages. Not to add to their misery, but it’s hard to imagine how they are going to find the net in their remaining three games. Not up to scruff.
Better teams than Ludogrets have struggled to live with Arsenal at their fluent best. However, the defending in the last 10 minutes at the Emirates when they conceded three was simply non-existent. Doesn’t paint a flattering picture for the Bulgarian champions who until now have always displayed fight and a never-say-die attitude in the Champions League.