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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

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Five things we learned: Champions League MD1

After the UEFA Champions League returned to action this Tuesday and Wednesday, there have been outstanding performances and surprise results from world football’s most prestigious club competition. 

With that in mind here’s five things we learned from matchday one of the 2021/22 Champions League group stage.

This Manchester United team have some way to go

Against Swiss Champions BSC Young Boys Manchester United looked comfortable yet flat in the first 35 minutes, taking the lead courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo who deftly converted the curling pass of Bruno Fernandes in the 13th minute. At this point, United were in cruise control, not really being threatened by the hosts but not threatening a whole lot themselves.

However, the tempo of United’s play was still very disjointed, even with Fred returning alongside Donny van de Beek, who was making his first start of the season.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s silly studs-up tackle 10 minutes before the interval caught Christopher Martins on his ankle and put United down to 10 men. Ole reacted immediately by sacrificing Jadon Sancho for Diogo Dalot and then again at half-time by bringing off Van de Beek for Raphael Varane.

The visitors held on until the 66th minute before their resistance was broken, Nicolas Ngamaleu scoring the equaliser, before Jesse Lingard, on as a substitute for Ronaldo, gift-wrapped the win for the Swiss side with a sloppy back pass.

The Red Devils have only really looked good on the opening day of the Premier League against Leeds, despite sitting top of the table and being comfortably 1-0 ahead before the red card. They need to find some tempo and rhythm to their game and cut out the needless individual errors quickly if they want to remain a challenger on multiple fronts.

Bayern Munich and Barcelona, a case study in how to and how not to run a football club

2020 Champions League winners Bayern Munich were tipped as strong contenders in last year’s competition before injuries to key players resulted in them being knocked out in the quarter-finals by PSG. Now, with their squad replenished and built upon from last year, the Bundesliga champions are looking very dangerous, as proven in their 3-0 whitewash of Barcelona at the Camp Nou.

A brace from Robert Lewandowski and a goal from Thomas Muller condemned the Spanish side to defeat, but whether that was down to Bayern being that good or Barcelona being that bad remains to be seen. Regardless, Bayern barely got out of first gear and Julian Nagelsmann’s side look every bit as strong as the winners from two years ago.

Poor financial management has left Barcelona and its squad in such a dire state that you would struggle to believe that 10 years ago Barca had one of the greatest teams to ever grace the sport of Football. Losing Lionel Messi is obviously an irrecoverable loss, but with the way they are going, Barcelona will not be back on top for a good few years.

FC Sheriff are not here to make up numbers

FC Sheriff, officially Moldova’s first-ever team to reach the Champions League thwarted any ideas that they were here to make up the numbers by sealing a 2-0 victory against Shakhtar Donetsk.

Adama Traore got the hosts off to a dream start, scoring in the 16th minute by acrobatically converting Cristiano’s whipped cross. The visitors did threaten but failed to make their pressure count as substitute Momo Yansane doubled his side’s lead, powering his header towards goal after another whipped cross from left-back Cristiano.

If Sheriff can replicate their sturdiness and resilience and be just as clinical in future games, they may well claim the scalp of one of the giants in their group, Real Madrid or Inter Milan.

Liverpool need Van Dijk to succeed this year

Liverpool have looked back to their swashbuckling best this season in the Premier League.

Trent Alexander-Arnold has rediscovered his form from two years and is once again performing like one of the best right-backs in world football. The midfield has looked strong and dynamic in the opening four games of their domestic campaign and the attack has looked refreshed and energised.

However, while Liverpool’s attacking exploits were on full display against AC Milan, they showcased their defensive fragility when Virgil van Dijk is not starting.

Joe Gomez and Joel Matip deputised for the benched Dutchman, with Klopp giving him a rest after playing in every league game so far this season. The resulting change saw Liverpool concede twice in the space of two minutes just before the break. While Liverpool was the better team on the night, they gave up 1.51 xG to Milan, which is more goals than they have conceded so far this season in the Premier League.

Liverpool (2.73) 3-2 (1.51) AC Milan

— The xG Philosophy (@xGPhilosophy) September 15, 2021

Van Dijk is clearly a world-class CB, but one thing is also certain, Liverpool will be relying on him to stay match fit to ensure they challenge for major honours this year.

Lukaku is now a complete striker

If it wasn’t already obvious, Romelu Lukaku is a pretty good striker. Quick, powerful and clinical would probably be the three words to describe him these days.

When Lukaku left Manchester United for Inter Milan, he was seen as someone who was wasteful with his chances and who could easily be left behind in a game. Now, following his two-year spell in Italy where he scored 64 goals and assisted 16 in 95 appearances, he has returned as a complete striker.

The Belgian forward is now far more composed on the ball, even if his touch does still let him down on the odd occasion. He is far more intelligent with the types of run he makes off the ball and most importantly, he is a far more confident player, which has in turn seen him become one of the best strikers in world football.

Chelsea fans will understandably be desperate for his form to continue.

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