Pa Doug McIntyre
Posted by FOX Sports Soccer
The second game day of the 2022/23 season UEFA Champions League completed after 16 games played on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The world’s premier club competitions now take an 18-day break due to the international break in September, but this week’s tilts leave us with plenty to think about. Here are five things we learned.
PSG are a resilient group
It’s a miracle that Maccabi Haifa qualified for the tournament at all. However, there they were on Wednesday, leading a team of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar through Tiaron Cherry’s 24th-minute opener.
Earlier versions of Paris Saint-Germain’s all-world team could self-destruct after scoring away from home in a similarly minnowed goal. Instead of sulking or pointing fingers, PSG got back to work. Messi equalized before half-time, his 126th career Champions League goal.
PSG’s other two headliners each scored after the break en route to a comfortable 3-1 win. They needed a win to stay top of Group H after Benfica shocked Juventus – who lost 2-1 in the tie last week – in Turin (more on that below) to display a perfect start of PSG. Moreover, it suggests that the club’s apparent maturity in Messi’s second season in France is no mirage.
There is no stop Man City or Erling Holland
This is so perfectly set up for Erling Holland. The current Premier League leaders faced former club Borussia Dortmund for the first time since joining the English champions in the summer. The game was at home. The hulking Norwegian striker would be desperate to score against his old team-mate.
Maybe too desperate. Haaland was frustrated for most of the match. Those old teammates seemed to be the only ones who knew how to neutralize him. And when England midfielder Jude Bellingham put Dortmund 1-0 up early in the second half, it looked like the visitors might even have a chance of taking all three points.
Defender John Stones equalized in the 80th minute, finally giving City an equalizer and momentum. At that moment, everyone at the City of Manchester Stadium knew what was coming next. Of course, Haaland scored the winning goal acrobatic moments later.
Things that are looking for Liverpool?
Last week’s ignominious capitulation at Napoli was the Reds’ worst defeat of the Jurgen Klopp era. They have also had an agonizing seven days to think about it after the Premier League canceled its full fixture list last weekend following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Needless to say, a response at Anfield against Ajax on Tuesday was a must. The hosts got off to a good start when Mohamed Salah scored after just 14 minutes, before the visitors soon canceled out. The Reds pressed desperately in the second half but still looked far from the cohesive, free-flowing attacking force of nature they have been in recent seasons. Still deadlocked in the 89th minute, Liverpool finally broke through and centre-back Joel Matip of all people scored a late winner.
It was a deserved and much-needed win – one that could kick-start not only the rest of the Champions League for Klopp, but the Premier League season as well.
Trouble for Juventus Tottenham
Juventus could perhaps be excused for losing their crucial Champions League opener in Paris last week, almost single-handedly beaten by a defenseless Kylian Mbappe.
Wednesday was a different matter.
Playing at home to Benfica, Juventus took a 1-0 lead after just four minutes. However, the Portuguese completely dominated after that and they went to the dressing room in their place after the break thanks to Joao Mario’s penalty. To be fair, the hosts were lucky not to lose.
They were unlucky in the second half. David Neres put the visitors ahead and they never looked back. Two games into their European campaign, Juve, sitting eighth in Serie A, are already in crisis.
Things aren’t so exciting for Tottenham. However, any good spirits left from Spurs’ late win over Marseille last week evaporated in Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat by Sporting Lisbon in Lisbon. A second straight tough road trip awaits Antonio Conte’s side when competition resumes on October 4 when Tottenham take on Eintracht Frankfurt in Frankfurt.
Barcelona there are ways
The addition of star striker Robert Lewandowski over the summer transformed Barcelona into a post-Lionel Messi era at the Camp Nou. But the presence of Lewandowski and fellow new signings Marcos Alonso and Andreas Christensen was not enough on Tuesday as Barca traveled to Germany to face Bayern Munich – Lewandowski’s old team – and were outclassed in a 2-0 defeat.
The conclusion is obvious. While there’s no doubt that Barcelona have improved (Bayern defeated Barcelona twice in the group stage last season, 6-0 on aggregate), the six-time European champions are still a year or two away from becoming legitimate title contenders again.
However, after failing to get out of group play last year, they shouldn’t be. Not yet. Mere survival in a group that also includes the third continental heavyweight (Inter Milan) would be another measure of progress.
One of North America’s leading soccer journalists, Doug McIntyre has covered the United States men’s and women’s national teams at numerous FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer for ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Written by Doug McIntyre.
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