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Champions League: Five talking points ahead of Matchday 4

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.

Must-win for out-of-form Milan

AC Milan sit bottom of a perfectly poised Group F, with the tournament’s ‘Group of Death’ having been – as expected – hard fought. Dortmund’s win over Newcastle lifted the German side off the bottom and into a qualification position last time out, a situation Milan will hope to replicate on Matchday Four. The Italians are without a win or goal in their opening three games, after two goalless draws and a 3-0 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain.

Milan face PSG in the reverse fixture at the San Siro this week, knowing anything but a win will leave their hopes of progress in real doubt. The Rossoneri started the season in strong form, but enter the clash with PSG without a win in four games in all competitions, after a 1-0 home loss to Udinese at the weekend.

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Stefano Pioli’s side remain reliant on the veteran Olivier Giroud for goals and more will be demanded from Rafael Leao, who has just two goals from 17 career appearances in the Champions League.

Gordon key as Newcastle face bruised Dortmund

Newcastle’s hopes of progress suffered a setback after a disappointing defeat to Borussia Dortmund at St James’ Park last time out, with the Magpies below their usual best in the 1-0 loss.

However, that defeat was Newcastle’s sole reverse in their last 12 fixtures in all competitions, having ended Arsenal’s unbeaten run with an impressive Premier League victory at the weekend.

Anthony Gordon was excellent for the Magpies and scored the winning goal, in what is fast becoming a breakthrough season for the 22-year-old. Gordon had a slow start after signing from Everton in January, but is now one of the first names on the team sheet and embodies the work-ethic of Eddie Howe’s side. Gordon is fiery, full-throttle and a fan favourite, willing to cover the hard yards defensively and a threat in the final third.

He has four goals and two assists from nine starts in the Premier League, but is still awaiting his first goal involvement in the Champions League. Newcastle will hope that arrives in midweek, when Gordon could start at centre-forward in the absence of Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak. The winger will hope to exploit the frailties Dortmund showed in their Der Klassiker defeat to Bayern Munich at the weekend, where Die Borussen were battered 4-0 at the Westfalenstadion.

Kane capture key for Bayern

Bayern Munich broke their transfer record in search of a centre-forward last summer, agreeing a deal to bring Harry Kane to the Bundesliga for an initial fee of €100m (£86.4m).

Kane’s pedigree was unquestioned, but his start in German football has surpassed even the greatest expectations. The 30-year-old has scored a staggering 17 goals in 14 games and is the leading scorer in Europe’s top five leagues. Kane hit a hat-trick on his Der Klassiker debut at the weekend – his third of the Bundesliga campaign – as Bayern beat Borussia Dortmund 4-0 to send a statement.

He is averaging a goal every 58 minutes in the Bundesliga this season and needs just one more goal to match the tally of last season’s Bundesliga top scorers, Niclas Füllkrug and Christopher Nkunku. It’s been a phenomenal start for Kane, who has also netted in each UCL game, and his signing has placed Bayern firmly among the favourites to be crowned European champions.

Bayern need to tighten up defensively – they’ve conceded five goals in three games so far – and the failure to sign a specialist defensive midfielder in the summer could be addressed before the knockout rounds begin, but Kane has given the German champions the ruthless cutting edge required to challenge.

Kane now has 23 goals in the Champions League. Only Wayne Rooney (30), Raheem Sterling (27) and Paul Scholes (24) have more among English players.

 

Arsenal must deal with Sevilla set-piece threat 

Sevilla travel to face Arsenal this week in search of a first win in the Champions League this season. The Spaniards have endured a difficult start to the campaign both at home and in Europe, with the Andalusians 15th in La Liga after just two wins from 12 games. Sevilla head to north London after four consecutive draws in Spain and will be huge underdogs against an Arsenal team in control of Group B.

Sevilla’s hopes will hinge on an ability to create chances from set-play situations. No side in La Liga has managed more shots (62), xG (5.14) or goals (5) from set-pieces this season, with Moroccan centre-forward Youssef En-Nesyri a real aerial threat. The 26-year-old has seven goals in 15 games for the struggling Spaniards this season, including four headers.

Arsenal, however, have the best defensive record in the Premier League when it comes to set-pieces. No side has conceded less shots (16) or goals (1) from dead-ball situations.

Feyenoord the next side cherry-picked after Champions League success?

Football’s finances dictate that overachievement never truly lasts long. In the Champions League era there have been several sides to capture the attention in Europe, upsetting the odds during memorable campaigns, before the inevitable riches of Europe’s elite come calling for their best talent.

Ajax (1995 and 2019), Dynamo Kyiv (1999), Porto (2004) and AS Monaco (2017) are just some of the clubs picked apart after success on this stage, but who could be next? Feyenoord are making a strong case after impressing in the group stage to date, with the Dutch champions top of Group E.

Despite losing influential captain Orkun Kökçü to Benfica last summer, Arne Slot’s side have shown enough to compete. Lutsharel Geertruida continues to turn the heads of leading clubs across the continent, while full-back Quilindschy Hartman leads the UCL for tackles won (9). Elsewhere, Calvin Stengs appears to be fulfilling his potential and has made more key passes (14) than any other player, ahead of Croatian pass masters Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

The jewel in the Rotterdam crown, however, is Santiago Gimenez. The Mexican forward scored twice in the win over Lazio last time out, who Feyenoord rematch on Matchday Four. Gimenez has now scored 38 goals in 58 games for Feyenoord since arriving from Cruz Azul, including 15 in all competitions already this season.

Read – Appreciating Harry Kane’s brilliant start at Bayern Munich

Read Also – Football Manager 2024: Five fallen giants to rescue

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