Following the opening round of UEFA Champions League fixtures we look at five things we learned from the European action.
Onana errors add to problems for Erik ten Hag
It’s been a grim start to the season for Manchester United, who have lost four of their opening six fixtures in all competitions after defeat to Bayern Munich.
Bayern might be considered one of the favourites for the Champions League this season, but the manner of this loss will concern even if late goals from Casemiro altered the optics of the scoreline. The Bundesliga champions were in control from the moment Andre Onana’s howler handed the hosts the lead.
The Cameroon international has made an unconvincing start to his career at Old Trafford and allowed a tame effort from Leroy Sane to slip under him for the opener.
1986-87 – Manchester United have lost as many as four of their opening six games of a season in all competitions for the first time since 1986-87 under Ron Atkinson – the season in which Alex Ferguson would later take charge of the club. Harbinger. pic.twitter.com/UQf6MgWYlI
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 20, 2023
Ten Hag earned credit for a first season that saw Champions League qualification and League Cup success, but the Red Devils have shown few signs of improvement this time around. United have conceded 3+ goals in three consecutive fixtures for the first time since December 1978, while no Premier League team has conceded more in all competitions (14).
Ten Hag has spent more than £375m (excluding add-ons) on 10 new players since taking charge at Manchester United and excuses that this is not his team can no longer be used. Particularly when the man in goal – signed specifically for his knowledge of the manager’s methods – has performed poorly to date. Onana must improve in the coming weeks, or the pressure on Ten Hag will rise.
Bellingham can do no wrong right now
Jude Bellingham is a special talent.
The midfielder ensured Real Madrid’s campaign got off to a winning start with a stoppage-time winner against Union Berlin, taking his tally to six goals in as many games since joining the Spanish side.
There was nothing vintage about Bellingham’s match-winner as the 20-year-old scrambled in from close to the goal-line, but it was another clutch moment from the England man who is fast becoming Real Madrid’s Get Out of Jail Free card.
Jude Bellingham has already scored three late game winners for Real Madrid.
He’s got that clutch gene 😤 pic.twitter.com/fyKXiSUdnM
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) September 21, 2023
Real Madrid is arguably world football’s most demanding environment and more experienced players than Bellingham have been swallowed up amid the pressure of an expectant Bernabeu.
So far, Bellingham has taken everything in his stride and then some, puffing out his chest and announcing his arrival as the newest Galactico in the Spanish capital. It’s been an extraordinary start for a player whose potential appears limitless.
A precious point for Newcastle
Newcastle’s return to the Champions League began at one of the competition’s most iconic venues, a clash with seven-time winners AC Milan at the San Siro. The Rossoneri are not the force of old, but reached the competition’s semi-finals last season and dominated for long periods against the Magpies.
Eddie Howe’s side have lacked the defensive solidity on which their top-four finish was built of late, but followed a clean sheet against Brentford with another in Milan after a spirited second-half kept the hosts at bay.
Nick Pope – left out of the England squad this month – sent Gareth Southgate a reminder of his class with a string of saves, for a Newcastle team who weathered a Milanese storm in the first half as the hosts racked up 15 shots on goal. Newcastle, meanwhile, failed to register a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.
2002/03 ➡️ 2023/24
— Premier League (@premierleague) September 20, 2023
Newcastle improved after the break and their determined defending ensured the Magpies escaped with a point. Having been placed in the tournament’s ‘Group of Death’ alongside Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund, a point on the road could prove crucial to hopes of reaching the next round.
St James’ Park is sure to be rocking when Kylian Mbappe and PSG arrive in the north east next.
Arsenal can contend
Arsenal are back in the Champions League after six seasons away and produced a statement performance on their return to the competition.
Mikel Arteta’s side cruised to a 4-0 win over PSV Eindhoven at the Emirates, racing into a three-goal lead before the break, before Martin Odegaard struck a superb fourth to cap an impressive evening for the Gunners.
On this evidence, Arsenal should have nothing to fear in this competition. Odegaard said post-match that the north Londoners will fight to go ‘all the way’ in the Champions League this season and the Gunners have the talent to go deep into the tournament.
Only 11 of Arsenal’s 25-man squad have previous Champions League experience and the win over PSV saw competition debuts for Declan Rice, Bukayo Saka and Leandro Trossard among others. None, however, will be overawed on this stage.
Manchester City are the clear favourites to retain their crown, but Arsenal pushed the Cityzens close in the Premier League last season and have strengthened over the summer. With several of European football’s traditional giants in transition, Arsenal appear to have as a good a chance as any of the would be contenders.
Happy Mbappe key for PSG
After the summer saga surrounding his future, Kylian Mbappe is back in the Paris Saint-Germain team and back in the goals.
Mbappe scored the opener as PSG impressed to beat Borussia Dortmund this week, the forward’s 41st Champions League goal in 62 appearances – moving him level with Sergio Aguero in the all-time list.
Mbappe’s expiring contract remains the elephant (admittedly one largely discussed) in the room for the PSG project, though his reintegration into the side provides the Parisians with the threat to make an impact.
Kylian Mbappe’s game by numbers vs. Borussia Dortmund:
86% pass accuracy
36/42 passes completed
5/8 ground duels won
4/7 dribbles completed
1 key pass
Another goal. 😮💨 pic.twitter.com/RuLqbVpTI9
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) September 19, 2023
Luis Enrique was full of praise for the Frenchman, who he considers to be the world’s finest footballer, and said Mbappe continues to be a positive influence despite the uncertainty surrounding his future.
“For me, Kylian is the best player in the world,” said the Spaniard.
“But more than his technical qualities, what has impressed me is his human quality. It’s a pleasure to have him in the dressing room, he’s a leader who always has a smile on his face.”
Read Also – Champions League Team of the Week – Matchday One