Matchday 3 of the Champions League group stage is wrapped up, providing fans with plenty to talk about and more to look forward to. After an exciting third round of games, we asked our writers Sam Marsden, Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens to answer some of our burning questions.
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What caught your attention from Matchday 3?
Marcotti: Napoli hammering Ajax 6-1 away and the other team few expected to be perfect at this stage: Club Brugge, who have yet to concede a single goal (take a bow, Simon Mignolet.) Manchester City’s Erling Haaland continuing to score isn’t really news, is it?
Laurens: What caught my eye is that we only saw two away wins this week in the Champions League, but they were incredible. First, the demonstration by Napoli at Ajax and the humiliating result. Apart from Manchester City, no team are playing better football than Luciano Spalletti’s men right now. The second one is Borussia Dortmund at Sevilla (4-1), where 19-year-old midfielder Jude Bellingham was outstanding once again with a special goal while wearing the captain’s armband. Sevilla boss Julien Lopetegui knew before kick off that he was going to be sacked and that Jorge Sampaoli would replace him, yet he still took charge of the team for what was a dreadful send-off.
Marsden: The surreal scenes in Sevilla — where Lopetegui took charge of the defeat to Dortmund despite knowing he was set to be sacked after the game — and Club Brugge, in particular their striker Ferran Jutgla. The Belgian side have nine points from nine following a 2-0 win over Atletico Madrid. Jutgla, a summer signing from Barcelona’s B team, scored one and made another, doubling his goal and assist tally in this season’s competition. Just four years ago he was playing against Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey for Sant Andreu, who play in the regionalised fifth division of Spanish football. On Tuesday, he plunged Atleti into real danger of an early Champions League exit.
Can Barcelona turn things around?
Marcotti: Of course they can. They weren’t great in the 1-0 defeat against Inter Milan and managed just two shots on goal, but they were unlucky with the officiating. And they have two of the last three group games at home. But I think they have to beat Inter at Camp Nou, because you don’t want to go into the last game not controlling your destiny, especially as — you assume — Bayern Munich will already have qualified when they host Inter.
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Laurens: Tuesday was so disappointing from Barcelona, from a result point of view and a performance too, that they can only do better at home next week. We will see a very different Barca, one that doesn’t just cross the ball with no purpose, one that gets striker Robert Lewandowski more involved. Will it be enough, especially considering all the injuries at the back? Maybe not. But at least, you expect Xavi and his players to give themselves a chance of beating Inter … which they didn’t do on Tuesday.
Marsden: Barca have shown enough in defeats to Bayern and Inter to suggest they can. They are a very different side to the one which exited the Champions League at the group stage last season. Mounting injury problems, especially in defence, could yet derail them, but I still make them favourites to get out of the group with Bayern. They key game is Wednesday’s match against Inter at Camp Nou. Win that and they will be back in the driving seat to finish second, although it could come down to a tiebreaker.
What is your favorite goal from the group stage so far?
Marcotti: Oleksandr Zubkov’s volley for Shakhtar Donetsk against Real Madrid. It was a very nicely taken strike and a very good goal. Was it the best goal of the tournament or even the night? No. But it gives me an excuse to mention Zubkov and Shakhtar. Here’s a guy who came through the ranks at Shakhtar, who is actually from Donetsk, who made his debut in a stadium that hosted games at Euro 2012 and is now a pile of rubble due to the war in Ukraine. This is a guy who left Shakhtar to play for Mariupol, which was flattened in the war. And then he moved to Ferencvaros, in Hungary, played there, settled there and when the war came and there was an exodus of players away from Shakhtar, he chose to return and play for his boyhood club. I know many have “war fatigue” — believe me, it’s far worse for Ukrainians — but the story needs to be told.
Laurens: I will pick Karim Adeyemi’s goal for Borussia Dortmund at Sevilla. Not for the goal itself, because it’s a tap in, but for the incredible involvement of Youssoufa Moukoko just before. His first-touch backward sombrero flick is just the most sublime thing you will see this week. He deserved to score (his shot was parried by Yassine Bounou on Karim Adeyemi) just for the magnificent touch that led to the goal!
Marsden: It is hard to pick one from Wednesday’s games, let alone the group stage so far. Bellingham and Lionel Messi’s efforts come to mind immediately, along with goals from Kylian Mbappe and Alejandro Grimaldo earlier in previous weeks. But I will go with the man of the moment: Haaland. The Manchester City striker’s goal against Dortmund was not the most aesthetically pleasing, but it ticked so many other boxes: a late winner in a tight game, a goal against his former side, an incredible assist from Joao Cancelo; and Haaland contorting his body into an almost impossible position for someone with a 6-foot-4 frame to allow him karate kick the ball into the back of the net.