After a three-week break, the Champions League group stage returned on Tuesday night with eight games certainly bringing the excitement.
There were some big ties across the day including Atletico Madrid vs Liverpool, Ajax vs Dortmund and RB Leipzig travelling to Paris Saint-Germain. With this week being the first of a double-header in which teams face each other twice, not to mention bringing up the halfway point, there aren’t many more important times in the Champions League group stage.
So, what might you have missed?
1. The Phil Show-den in Bruges
In one of Tuesday’s early games, last season’s runners-up Manchester City were bounce back from their defeat to PSG last time out to take some form of control over Group A at the halfway point.
The first of a double-header against Club Brugge, Man City were excellent in their 5-1 victory, particularly Phil Foden. The Englishman ran the show in Belgium as we all know he can and helped open the scoring with an exquisite assist.
Foden ➡️ Cancelo
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) October 19, 2021
Man City had been knocking on the Brugge door for some time and finally got the breakthrough when Foden sent a quarterback-esque ball from the centre circle over the home defence into the path of Joao Cancelo, who controlled and finished beautifully.
Overall Foden completed 36 of his 41 passes, including 17 in the final third, and created two chances to help Man City win the midfield battle.
2. Cole Palmer enjoys dream cameo
Tuesday also brought a big moment for another Man City academy man as Cole Palmer scored his first ever Champions League goal.
Palmer made his Man City debut last year and had previously featured in the Champions League, playing eight minutes against Marseille in the group stage. But this season he has taken his involvement up a notch, scoring in the League Cup and then adding his first ever Champions League goal.
It only took a matter of moments between Palmer coming on and the 19-year-old opening his account, becoming the third teenager to score in the Champions League for Man City after Foden and Kelechi Iheanacho.
3 – Cole Palmer has become only the third teenager to score in the UEFA Champions League for Manchester City after Phil Foden and Kelechi Iheanacho. Aged 19 years and 166 days, Palmer is the 10th youngest Englishman to score in the competition. Impact. pic.twitter.com/JQiIzOwuqU
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 19, 2021
And Pep Guardiola spoke highly of the Englishman after the game, saying: “Cole has a special quality in front of the box, a talent that is difficult to find.
“When he has the ball there, most of the time it ends up in the net. It’s difficult to find that.”
“I know how it works with young players. We have to be calm and patient. His position is the second team but at the same time he trains with us and works with our principles.
“I am happy with the goal. He could have done a few actions a little bit better, but that is normal. It is experience. Step by step we give our young players an opportunity.”
3. Sebastian Coates inspires Sporting
The other early game on Tuesday saw Portuguese champions Sporting CP get their first victory of the Champions League group stage, beating Besiktas in what may be the battle for third.
But the win came from a perhaps surprising source as former Liverpool defender Sebastian Coates scored twice to get Sporting on their way to the 4-1 victory. The Uruguayan centre-back scored both of his goals from a corner and they were eerily identical, with Coates getting his head onto a ball that had been nodded on by a teammate.
The only difference between the two goals was the man heading the initial corner on, Goncalo Inacio for the first and Paulinho for the second. Coates was robbed of the hat-trick by Pablo Sarabia’s pure selfishness in taking a penalty just before half-time to make it 3-1, leaving the defender stuck on two.
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4. Mohamed Salah’s excellent run continues
Arguably the game of the night for the neutral game in Madrid as Liverpool travelled to Atletico looking to keep their perfect start alive. They got off to best possible start when, after just eight minutes, Mohamed Salah gave them the lead.
The Egyptian picked the ball up on the left side of the pitch, just outside the Atletico area and weaved his magic to unleash a shot from inside the D which beat Jan Oblak via a deflection – starting the game of hot potato.
Immediately awarded to Salah, the goal was then switched to James Milner who appeared to get the deflection on the effort. But, as the game was still being played and Naby Keita put Liverpool 2-0 up, the goal was handed back to Salah with the final touch deemed to have come from Geoffrey Kondogbia – but not enough to warrant it going down as an own goal.
Mohamed Salah has now scored in NINE consecutive games across all competitions for Liverpool.
There's no stopping him. 😍 pic.twitter.com/49v3YzJkAq
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 19, 2021
Officially Salah’s, the Egyptian has now scored in nine consecutive appearances for Liverpool across all competitions, the first player to achieve that feat in the club’s history. In 11 appearances this season, only Burnley have managed to prevent the Egyptian from finding the net, though Sean Dyche will not take any heart from that as his side still conceded three goals.
And if there were any doubts about the first goal being his, Salah scored from the penalty spot in the second half to secure all three points for his side – which was also the oldest Liverpool starting XI since September 1953.
5. Antoine Griezmann’s homecoming performance ends in Barca tribute
Although Liverpool did eventually get the win, there was a point at which they looked destined to let their 2-0 lead slip into a draw or even defeat.
Just 21 minutes after Keita had given them a 2-0 lead, Liverpool were pegged back to 2-2 as Antoine Griezmann enjoyed a homecoming at the Wanda Metropolitano. Yes, he had already played at the Wanda this season for Atleti, but this was Griezmann’s return, as the Frenchman rolled back the years to score twice in 14 minutes.
The first came via the slightest of touches on Koke’s shot following a corner, directing it into the back of the net, but the second was more emphatic. Joao Felix did wonderfully to keep hold of the ball on the right flank, evading Liverpool’s midfielders to then play in Griezmann. The Frenchman’s first touch was enough to take him away from his marker and the second saw him drill the ball under Alisson, sending the Wanda and Diego Simeone into raptures.
Griezmann was back, playing under a manager who loves him for a club that will be close to his heart. The time at Barcelona was behind him. Or so we thought.
The moment Antoine Griezmann trudged past Jurgen Klopp after receiving a straight red card just minutes into the second half.
Atletico Madrid eventually went down 3-2 to Liverpool pic.twitter.com/7wFQewtJ37
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) October 19, 2021
Griezmann didn’t have much impact on the second half and was unable to inspire Atletico further because, in the 52nd minute, he was sent off for a Big Boot on Roberto Firmino that would have made Hulk Hogan proud. Down to 10 men, Atleti were unable to hold on and their 12-match home unbeaten run across all competitions came to an end.
6. Champions League Messi secures three points in Paris
Having watched Man City win emphatically earlier in the day, the pressure would have been on PSG to return to the top of Group A. And they did so, thanks to Lionel Messi.
The Argentine hasn’t had the best of times in Paris since his move from Barcelona in the summer, yet to score in Ligue 1 (though he has played just 190 minutes). But in the Champions League it has been a completely different story.
Messi has scored three goals in the Champions League for PSG, opening his account in the win over Man City and grabbing another two against RB Leipzig to turn a defeat into a win.
In reality, Messi was quiet for large parts of the game, but his quality shone through in the end especially with his second goal. The first wasn’t too bad either as Messi and Mbappe linked up for the former to tap in after his initial shot had been tipped onto the post by Peter Gulasci, robbing Mbappe of an assist.
Mbappe (who was PSG’s best player) was involved again in the winner, fouled in the box for a penalty before handing the ball to Messi. There have been doubts over Messi’s penalty taking abilities throughout his career, but the Argentine showed no signs of nerves when he panenka’d the ball straight down the middle for his 123rd Champions League goal, making it look as easy as 123 (sorry).
7. Ajax hold the control in Group C
The titanic clash between Ajax and Borussia Dortmund was seen by many as the Group C decider: whoever comes out on top in the two matches will win the group. So it was natural to expect a close game from two teams in good form.
But that did not happen. Ajax absolutely pulled apart their German opponents in a 4-0 win, to take a commanding control of the group. Even if Dortmund were to win the return game, they’d need to do so by a scoreline of more than 4-0 to have the upper hand should things come down to head-to-head.
It was a Dortmund player that set Ajax on their way as Marco Reus put the ball into his own net after 11 minutes with Daley Blind making it 2-0 halfway through the first half.
Antony added a third but the night ultimately belonged to Sebastien Haller. After setting up Blind for his goal, the favour was returned for the Ivorian to score the fourth on the night and his sixth in the Champions League so far this season.
Haller’s goal against Dortmund was fitting as it made him just the second player in Champions League history to score six or more goals in their first three matches in the competition. The other? Erling Haaland.
Only two players in Champions League history have scored 6+ goals in their first three #UCL games:
▪️ Erling Haaland
▪️ Sébastien Haller
Haaller. 🤝 pic.twitter.com/fTuNmoTUs6
— William Hill (@WilliamHill) October 19, 2021
8. Vinicius steps up
This season has definitely (and deservedly) been all about Karim Benzema at Real Madrid and although the Frenchman scored in their 5-0 win Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday, Vinicius Jr took centre stage.
Vinicius has often come under criticism for his performances at Real Madrid, perhaps falling to live up to the high expectations some had placed on him after his move from Flamengo in 2018. But he has put that firmly behind him this season to score seven goals – his best return in a single campaign since moving to Los Blancos.
Two of those seven goals came in the 5-0 win over Shakhtar with Vinicius putting Real Madrid in firm control following Serhii Kryvtsov’s own goal. The Brazilian also set up compatriot Rodrygo for the fourth, capping off an excellent night for himself and his club.
Vinicius Junior's game by numbers vs. Shakhtar:
82.1% pass accuracy
5 duels won
4 chances created (most)
3 ball recoveries
2 tackles attempted
2 take-ons completed
Venomous Vinicius. pic.twitter.com/BzfxzCxVqw
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 19, 2021
9. Inter break perfect Sheriff
Sheriff Tiraspol have been the story of the Champions League so far this season. Placed in a group alongside Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk, no one gave Sheriff any real chance of getting a win in their six games, but they have proven everyone wrong.
Shakhtar fell first 2-0 win but the big result came at the Bernabeu as Sheriff beat Real Madrid 2-1 in the second gameweek to remain perfect and lead Group D. But that perfect run came to an end on Tuesday as Inter Milan had no time for fairytales as they were searching for their first Champions League win of the season.
Goals from Edin Dzeko, Arturo Vidal and Stefan de Vrij were enough to secure the win for Inter, though Sebastien Thill did initially equalise to keep Sheriff’s scoring run continue.