Football Features

Record-breaking Ronaldo and lethal Lewandowski – 8 things you might have missed from Wednesday’s Champions League games

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 23:00, 29 September 2021

In an incredible night of Champions League football, we saw multiple moments of dynamic drama.

Here’s what you may have missed from matchday two’s action on Wednesday.

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1. Record-breaking Ronaldo is quite simply inevitable

For 94 minutes, Cristiano Ronaldo was absolutely useless against Villarreal. The Portuguese striker was making a record-breaking 178th appearance in the Champions League; more than anyone ever has. And it looked like he was going to sleepwalk his way through his big night. He just couldn’t get at Villarreal, couldn’t find his team-mates, it was just awful.

But then he got what he needed; a chance in the box. It wasn’t a great chance, but it was a look at goal from close in. Once Jesse Lingard laid that ball back to him, the old instincts took over and he buried the ball for the 136th time in the Champions League (also a record) to send Old Trafford into a frenzy. No Manchester United player has scored a goal later in a Champions League game than him (another record).

He is inevitable.

2. Solskjaer saved by his stars and subs again

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a strange manager because he often waits too long to make substitutions but then when he does make them, they’re often very good. Look at tonight: it was obvious even at half-time United needed subs to spark them to life, but he did nothing until the 75th minute. Jesse Lingard and Fred, who played huge roles in the game winner, didn’t enter the field until the 89th minute.

And yet, it worked. Like so much of Solskjaer’s time as United boss; they’ve played poorly and won anyway. Villarreal cooked United pretty much all game long and only a magnificent display from David de Gea kept the Red Devils in the game. Although even he couldn’t prevent the Yellow Submarine from taking the lead (Victor Lindelof is no Harry Maguire).

But they stayed in the game, they were only 1 down after all. And then Bruno Fernandes and Alex Telles conjured an absolute wondergoal from nothing. A beautifully lofted free-kick was met with the most thunderous of volleys from Telles and suddenly United were level. Telles later cleared a shot off the line to really complete his night.

They kept pushing, of course. And all his subs combined to tee Cristiano Ronaldo up for the winner. Cavani won the ball back, Fred sent the cross in, Jesse Lingard controlled the ball and nudged it perfectly back to Cristiano who saved the day.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is definitely not a great coach, maybe not even a good one. His Manchester United side frequently look disorganised and unprepared to deal with opponents and coast by on the individual genius of their star players.

But they keep on getting results! Whatever you think of them, this was their 17th come from behind win under Solskjaer. Villarreal should have killed them but they held on and dug out the win. They cleared have something about them, a mental resilience, a toughness. Now if they could ally that with some actual footballing quality they’d really be in business. Maybe he could get another assistant?

3. Lewandowski is back at it

After the criminal sin of failing to score against Greuther Furth, Robert Lewandowski redeemed himself in the Champions League with two goals within half an hour to get Bayern on the way to an easy home win against Dynamo Kyiv. The Polish striker has now scored 60 goals in 70 games for Bayern Munich in Europe. He is an absurdly dominant presence and as long as he is fit, you have to consider Bayern among the favourites to win the Champions League.

4. Chelsea need to reflect and react

Chelsea haven’t lost two competitive games in a row since Thomas Tuchel became manager. Yes they lost to Arsenal and Leicester back-to-back but the league game was a dead rubber. Under Tuchel they have always responded to a loss with a positive result, but not tonight.

It wasn’t for lack of trying, of course. After Federico Chiesa blasted Juve into a shock lead at the start of the second-half, Chelsea unfurled their full offensive firepower in a desperate effort to break the Italians down.

Unfortunately for them they failed to hit the target with any of the 12 chances they had in the second-half, and must now sit and contemplate where adjustments they can make next because the team just does not look the same without N’Golo Kanté and Mason Mount. It’s all well and good being defensive, but when you can’t create good looks at goal, you can’t games and then even the strongest defences will crack.

5. Lukaku fluffs his lines back in Italy

Romelu Lukaku went to Italy a great talent and came back one of the best striker’s in the world. And on his first return to Italy he, well, he looked more like the frustrated forward he was at Manchester United than the tyrant he became at Inter.

Chelsea dominated against Juventus, especially in the second-half, but Lukaku seriously fluffed his lines (as he tended to do against Juventus, to be fair). The Belgian missed a hat-trick of presentable chances that you would have bet on him converted almost on autopilot. That he didn’t even hit the target, especially on his left-foot shot, was a bit worrying from a Chelsea standpoint as they rely on his goalscoring to make them a potent attacking force.

That’s two big games in a row where Lukaku has looked much less than the lethal finisher we all know he’s become. It’s not time to panic or anything, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

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6. Eric Garcia is a great big glowing weak spot

All video game bosses have glowing red weak spots that indicate the best place to hiut them to do damage. Well Eric Garcia is that to Barcelona; wherever you find him, attack him, because that’s how you hurt the Blaugrana. Ronald Koeman’s men were actually much the better side against Benfica for the first 45 minutes but Garcia’s hideous defending against Darwin Nunez had them down 1-0. This forced Barcelona to push up and take more risks chasing the game, leading to them getting caught on the break and suckerpunched into a 3-0 hammering; and to complete the humiliation he got sent off late on for a second yellow.

Garcia is obviously talented, especially on the ball, but he is so weak as a defensive presence that you can’t risk playing him.

7. Ronald Koeman is terrible and has to go

Barcelona have played 180 minutes of Champions League football without having a single shot on target. They were abysmal against a mediocre Bayern Munich in week one, and then tonight against Benfica they were supremely dominant with Frenkie de Jong running the show in midfield. Then Koeman made a first-half sub, removing Gerard Piqué and pushing Frenkie back into defence. That move instantly sucked all the energy out of the Barcelona performance and allowed Benfica to stabilise themselves where before it looked only a matter of time before Barca equalised and even took the lead.

Then with Barcelona fading in the second-half, Koeman made a triple substitution and shifted things tactically. That absolutely shattered the defensive structure Ronald Araujo had hobbled together with De Jong, and Benfica promptly scored two goals in 10 minutes to kill the game.

Two games played, 0 goals scored, six goals conceded. As much as Barcelona are not in an ideal situation, Koeman is constantly his own worst enemy with bizarre substitutions, his complete lack of a gameplan and his despicable defeatist attitude that even his own players have to correct. He is not fit for purpose and if Barcelona want to have any chance of qualifying for the knockout rounds and avoiding the ignominy of playing in the Europa League this season then they absolutely need to fire Ronald Koeman immediately.

8. Atalanta set-up tantalising double header

Atalanta struggled mightily to break down Young Boys. The conquerors of Manchester United were again obstinate opponents, but Atalanta kept on going and eventually got the break when Pessina turned the ball home. That win gives them four points, one more than United’s three, and sets up a mouthwatering double header against Manchester United.

Atalanta will come to Old Trafford in three weeks for a taste of the raucous atmosphere that almost sucked the ball in against Villarreal, before United head to Bergamo two weeks later. Those fixtures are going to go a huge way to deciding the future of the group and who goes through and given the points totals, both of them will be absolutely must-win and must-see TV.