Ahead of the latest round of Champions League group stage action, we preview the midweek fixtures and discuss some of the competition’s major talking points.
Hojlund faces former side
Rasmus Hojlund’s rise has been a rapid one in recent seasons. Since making his senior debut for FC Copenhagen in October 2020, the forward has moved clubs three times, passing through Austrian and Italian football before a £72m move to Manchester United last summer.
It’s been an extraordinary ascent for the 20-year-old, who with seven goals in 10 caps for Denmark has emerged as his nation’s brightest talent. Hojlund has made a solid start to his career at Manchester United, but is awaiting his first Premier League goal after six league games.
It’s been a different story in Europe however, where Hojlund has hit three goals in two games to sit joint-top of the Champions League’s goal chart. Hojlund faces off against FC Copenhagen on Tuesday evening, the club where he progressed from the academy ranks. He made just 19 appearances in all competitions before departing for Sturm Graz, but the Danish Superliga champions will be proud of his development since leaving the club.
Rasmus Hojlund has scored in both of his #UCL appearances for Man Utd, with three goals! 🤩
If he finds the net tomorrow, he’ll be the first player to score in his first three games for the Red Devils in Europe since John Connelly in 1965… 👀 pic.twitter.com/mbOxWWYR45
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) October 23, 2023
Erik ten Hag this week discussed his confidence in Hojlund finding his feet in the Premier League. This week’s clash provides a chance for the forward to show both his current, and old, employers how far he’s come.
Free-scoring Newcastle can take leap towards knockout stages
Newcastle announced their arrival back into the Champions League last time out, after thrashing Paris Saint-Germain 4-1 at St James’ Park. After battling to a goalless draw in their opener, Newcastle are top of the tournament’s ‘Group of Death’ ahead of the visit of Borussia Dortmund.
Eddie Howe’s side will head into the clash in fine form, with the Magpies eight unbeaten in all competitions. Newcastle have been in free-scoring form in the Premier League this season and lead the division for goals, while topping the metrics for expected goals (19.9), shot conversion rate (18.9%), and shots on target from inside the penalty area (46).
Newcastle have only lost ONCE in their last 29 home games in Europe 💪
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) October 23, 2023
Newcastle have also had more different goalscorers (11) than any other side, with their ability to share the goals around a habit Howe will hope continues. In comparison, Dortmund are without a win or goal after two games in the group. However, the Germans remain unbeaten in the Bundesliga this season and head to England having won five consecutive league games.
Strap in for another must-watch fixture at St James’.
Donnarumma vs Maignan, how it all could have been so different
Paris Saint-Germain take on AC Milan this week, a clash that will see two of Europe’s best goalkeepers go head-to-head. Had things been different, this is a game in which Gianluigi Donnarumma and Mike Maignan could have been lining up in opposite colours.
Donnarumma was the homegrown hero who broke Milan hearts. Having become the second-youngest goalkeeper to start a match in Italian football after debuting aged 16, he went on to make 251 appearances for the Rossoneri. However, hopes he would fortify the side for a decade were short-lived, as Donnarumma departed for PSG on a free transfer in 2021.
+3 and clean sheet! 💪🏽❤️💙 pic.twitter.com/xTCq51LZBb
— GIANLUIGI DONNARUMMA (@donnarumma) October 21, 2023
Milan made good work of replacing the Italian’s huge presence, agreeing a deal to sign Mike Maignan from Lille. Maignan was named as Serie A’s Best Goalkeeper in 2021/22 as Milan won a drought-breaking title and has become France’s number one since the retirement of Hugo Lloris.
The 28-year-old had began his career in Paris, but forms part of a group of talented players – alongside the likes of Christopher Nkunku and Moussa Diaby – who departed PSG in a bid to kickstart their career. Now established as one of the world’s best, he is yet to concede a goal in this season’s Champions League group stage.
Doku drive adds to City threat
Pep Guardiola was gushing in his praise of Jeremy Doku this weekend, after the Belgian impressed in Manchester City’s 2-1 win over Brighton. The summer signing set up City’s first goal of the game with a moment of quality and often ensured the Etihad crowd were on the edge of their seats.
“I am really pleased for his impact since he came into us,” Guardiola said.
“He is an exceptional winger. Jeremy is so smart in defensive areas and after, he has the quality. He got to the byline and got us the first goal and there were many actions. It’s the start of many years for him in this house.”
— Manchester City (@ManCity) October 22, 2023
Doku arrived with a reputation as one of Europe’s best dribblers and it’s one he has enhanced over the season’s opening weeks. At the weekend, Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi mercifully substituted the 37-year-old James Milner who struggled (admittedly out of position) against the Belgian flying machine.
No player in the Premier League carried the ball further than Doku last weekend, who has added a new dimension to City’s attacking threat. In Guardiola’s bid to evolve City’s treble-winning team, he’s injected electric pace in the form of the dynamic Doku. He’s already becoming a crowd favourite.
Ramsdale to return for Arsenal?
Aaron Ramsdale will be available for selection for Arsenal against Sevilla this week, having missed the draw at Chelsea last weekend as his partner gave birth to a baby boy.
The England international would likely have started on the bench at Stamford Bridge, having been consigned to the bench as David Raya has assumed the first-choice status between Arsenal’s ‘two number ones’.
However, Raya’s place is now under threat after a series of unconvincing showings. After failing to inspire confidence during clashes with Manchester City and Lens, the Spaniard was caught out by Mykhailo Mudryk’s cross-shot for Chelsea’s second goal.
Aaron Ramsdale says his battle with David Raya for Arsenal’s no.1 spot is “strange” 😕 pic.twitter.com/crzHOpeby3
— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) October 19, 2023
Europe could offer Ramsdale an avenue back into the side, having – somewhat harshly – been ousted by the summer arrival. It will be up to 25-year-old to take that chance, should Mikel Arteta give him the nod to face Sevilla on Tuesday evening.