UEFA Champion’s League Fixtures for Group Stage Matchday 1 are in the books
We’re officially through one matchday of the Champions League, and even if Liverpool wasn’t involved, there was plenty of interesting action. Let’s take a look at some of the highs and lows from Tuesday and Wednesday’s contests.
For the first matches in UCL Group Stage (September 2023), here are some Things I liked:
Ivan Provedel’s Equalizer
How can you not love a goalie goal? There’s not too much to say here other than the obvious; Atletico are the unluckiest team in UCL history, and Provedel did brilliantly to score a 95th minute stoppage time equalizer to secure a massive point for Lazio. It was shades of Alisson, as he drilled in the header with striker-like expertise, but unlike the Liverpool keeper, who scored on a corner, Provedel timed his run beautifully and did it from open play after the setpiece didn’t pan out! Wrap in a solid performance in the net and that’s a true day to remember for the Italian netminder.
Harry Kane Crushing Manchester United
You can take Harry Kane out of the Premier League, but you can never take the Premier League spirit out of Harry Kane. After being rumored to be joining Manchester United time and time again, the Tottenham legend, now playing for Bayern, faced off against the Red Devils in his first UCL game with the club and drilled in a penalty goal while providing an assist as well. Some things never change, and Kane wrecking English clubs’ defenses is one, as he was a key contributor to Bayern’s win in a 4-3 thriller.
Jude Bellingham’s Clutch Gene
At just 20 years old, Bellingham has come into the World’s biggest club and established himself as the main man by scoring big goal after big goal, and his UCL debut with the squad that so often dominates the competition did not disappoint. Bellingham found a winner in the fifth minute of stoppage time to break a scoreless tie with Union Berlin, securing a well-deserved three points for Los Blancos. It may seem that Madrid keep getting lucky, but it can be argued just as easily that they were simply unlucky for 94 minutes; they held 75% of possession, won the shots battle 32 to 4, big chances 5 to 0, xG 3.8 to 0.24, and they even dominated pass accuracy with 92% completion compared to Berlin’s 68%. Much respect to the upstart German club for hanging tough, but if Real can achieve this kind of on-ball dominance paired with that classic Madrid magic, they’re going to be a tough out in this tournament.
Arsenal’s Thumping Return to the UCL
We can joke to no end about Arsene Wenger’s “top four is a trophy” philosophy, but it won’t feel like a joke at all to Arsenal fans who are rightfully ecstatic to be back in this competition after several years away. The Gunners made the most of their debut back into the competition, by firing 4 goals past PSV in an impressive win, announcing themselves as contenders on the European stage. The win featured four separate goalscorers, including Martin Ødegaard, Bukayo Saka and Leandro Trossard, all of whom both scored and assisted, a mark of the true team effort that Mikel Arteta looks for with his well-rounded squad.
There were questions about how this squad would look after the departure of Messi and Neymar, but to be quite honest, it’s not like the club achieved anything in Europe with the duo in the lineup anyways. After coming close to lifting the trophy for the first time in 2020, Les Parisiens looked lively once more in their 2023-24 competition debut with Kylian Mbappé serving as the main man. He scored a penalty, while Achraf Hakimi drilled in a nice goal from open play after a Vitinha assist, while the defense made Gianluigi Donnarumma’s job easy against an attack-heavy Dortmund side. Paris possessed the ball 68% of the time while completing 90% of their passes, and crushed the battles for both xG and big chances by marks of 2.44 to 0.66 and 3-0, respectively. In easily the competition’s toughest group, Paris got off to a flying start as the only club to secure a huge three points in the group, putting them in great position going forward.
Things I didn’t like in the UCL Group Stages Round 1 Match 1 – 2023:
AC Milan’s Finishing
This gripe is for a specific few individuals in the Rossoneri lineup; most of the players actually had great games in what was a thorough domination of Newcastle, everywhere except in front of the net as the team won the xG battle by an impressive score of 1.99 to 0.28 in the 0-0 draw. Rafael Leão was perhaps the main culprit, as he turned .17 xG into .04 xGOT, and missed a big chance, although it’s not clear whether either figure accounted for his backheel attempt just in front of the goal, which did not result in a shot at all, but rather the Portuguese speedster falling down. Olivier Giroud outperformed his xG in terms of xGOT, but missed two big chances of his own as he was a letdown in the biggest moments. These were three points Milan desperately needed, and with PSG and Dortmund, on the horizon, there’s no easy redemption available.
Napoli in Front of the Net
It’s a dismal day for Italian clubs in this competition when the only solid finishing effort came from a goalkeeper. Just like Milan and until the last second Lazio, Napoli struggled to turn chances into goals against Braga. They did win 2-1 despite not really dominating in terms of possession or xG, but the real disappointment here was three missed big chances compared to none for the opponents. If not for a Braga own goal, the defending Italian champions may not have secured all three points, as star striker Victor Osimhen was far from his usual, clinical self and left a lot of meat on the bone.
Lens and Sevilla After the 24th Minute
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised as each of these clubs have been a letdown overall this season- Sevilla are currently a spot above relegation in Spain after winning the Europa League last season, while Lens are dead last in Ligue Un a year after finishing just a point below PSG. The two teams got off to a ripping start, and when Lens equalized in the 24th minute, it looked like we had a thriller on our hands, but from that point on, the two teams missed three big chances and failed to deliver a winner. It turned out to be a pretty chippy game with 18 fouls for Lens and 16 for Sevilla, and while every point is valuable, neither side will be happy with just the one in a group that features Arsenal and PSV as well.
The flipside of the positive PSG performance is that Dortmund’s midfield, in their first match in the competition after the departure of Jude Bellingham, looked completely lost. It’s a veteran group that should not have hinged on one player, let alone a 20 year old, but Julian Brandt, Emre Can, and Marcel Sabitzer all turned in very unbecoming performances as their club were absolutely dominated by PSG. I’d list the stats but it’s just the opposite of everything from the PSG section, as nobody in black and yellow looked up to the occasion, leaving Dortmund as the only team in absolutely brutal Group F with zero points, leaving the team to fight an uphill battle going forward.
Another Lapse by City
I guess “things I didn’t like” is the wrong category for this one, as I absolutely loved to see the Cityzens go into the dressing room at halftime losing to Serbian side Red Star Belgrade, also known as Crvena Zvezda. Not to take anything away from Osman Bukari, who timed his run beautifully and finished with composure, but this was a classic lack of attention from Pep Guardiola’s squad, who avoided such moments enough to win the UCL last year, but clearly are not immune going forward. Rúben Dias, the ultimate fraud, was the culprit here, as he got caught going the wrong way and impatiently chasing the man with the ball instead of marking the striker, a fairly important task for a centre-back. When you’re as talented a squad as City, you can get away with this against Red Star, but you cannot against Bayern, Paris, or any of the Italian sides, so we’ll have to see how Pep and his men respond; will they learn the lesson, or will the win be enough to let them forget?
This is an article written by Will Schwartz
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