What was your favorite matchday four moment?
Dawson: The Premier League is beginning to show its teeth. Four matchdays later, three English teams, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester City, are at the top of their respective groups. Another, Liverpool, is well on its way to qualifying. Spain and Italy are sweating on some teams, such as Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, but England should have four players in the knockout rounds. The last two Champions League finals, in 2019 and 2021, were all-English affairs. You wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing happens in Istanbul in June. The Champions League has been dominated by Spanish teams for the past decade, but it is now the turn of Premier League.
Olley: Maccabi Haifa won Tuesday’s Champions League group stage game. This was their first in 20 years. It was against Juventus, the Italian giants, which now faces a daunting task to reach round 16. This comes after a devastating 2-0 loss in Israel. To avoid a Champions League exit, they must beat Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain. Although Massimiliano Allegri continues to be supported by the club, he cannot afford more insipid performances.
Kirkland: Shakhtar Donetsk was just seconds away from a historic win over Real Madrid on Tuesday. However, an Antonio Rudiger equaliser in the 95th minute saw the match finish 1-1. Shakhtar, who has been exiled from Donetsk in 2014, already faces unprecedented logistical challenges. They will be playing the Champions League home games this season in Warsaw. Monday’s missile attacks across Ukraine further hampered their preparations. This was an exceptional performance in such difficult circumstances. Madrid is now guaranteed a place in round 16; Shakhtar is still in with a chance.
Based on the group stage which five-a-side players would you pick?
Olley: Manuel Neuer, goalkeeper for the Champions League, has not conceded one goal so far this season. This includes a win over Inter Milan and a victory at home over Barcelona. Joao Cancelo is a defender, but that description doesn’t do him justice. He has four assists and three clean sheets in Group G. Jude Bellingham continues to develop at an impressive pace with four goals from Borussia Dortmund matches and one assist. Napoli are on fire in Group A, with winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia drawing a lot of attention. Erling Haaland, because it’s Erling Hailand.
O’Hanlon: Ranking all Champions League teams this season (E+).
Kirkland: Thibaut Courtois, Real Madrid’s Thibaut, kept a clean slate in both of his group-stage appearances and has some bonus points from last year’s masterclass. Reece James’s performance has been outstanding for Chelsea. They will be praying that the injury he sustained against Milan on Tuesday is not serious. Bellingham is the clear winner, with one of the best individual performances in the season’s history in Dortmund’s 4-1 victory at Sevilla. We’ll include Napoli’s rising star Giacomo Raspadori in his four goals and team him up with Robert Lewandowski who has been the only positive for Barcelona.
Dawson: Manchester City has only conceded one goal so far in the group stage. Ederson, who is currently playing five-aside, should be able to play in midfield if he chooses. Manuel Akanji, in defense, has settled quickly at City after his departure from Borussia Dortmund late in the summer. Bellingham, in midfield, is hard to overlook. Leroy Sane deserves to be mentioned after scoring four goals in Bayern Munich’s group that also includes Inter Milan and Barcelona. On the front, Haaland is just ahead of Kylian Mbappe.
Barcelona vs. Inter Milan, or Salah’s 6-minute hat trick: Which was more impressive?
Olley: The conclusion of Barcelona vs. Inter was more impressive considering that Mohamed Salah’s winning hat-trick occurred with the game already won, and when Rangers were making substitutions. Bayern’s dominance in Group C made Wednesday night’s game at Camp Nou a high stakes affair for two European heavyweights. Barcelona now faces the possibility of being dropped to the Europa League. Inter will only need to defeat Viktoria Plzen the next time out to qualify. Robert Lewandowski was supposed to be the difference on nights such as this, but Barcelona’s defensive weakness meant that his brace could only save two points in an exciting 3-3 draw. The first was due to luck with a large deflection, but the second was a strong header worthy of his status here on the stage. It may all go wrong for Barcelona.
Dawson: The 3-3 draw at Camp Nou between Inter Milan and Barcelona was an amazing finish. But it’s not everyday that you see a player score six minutes of a hat-trick. Although Liverpool had already defeated Rangers, Salah’s feat of scoring three goals in a record time — the fastest ever Champions League hat trick — was still remarkable. Salah has struggled to score goals this season. Jurgen Klopp hopes the 7-1 win at Ibrox will kick-start a string of goals for his main man. Salah hasn’t scored in the Premier League since August. Sunday against Manchester City would be an opportunity to stop that streak.
Kirkland: Barca 3-3 Inter. This was the group stage match that felt like the second leg in a knockout tie. This is a matchday four game that can be expected to feel so consequential. There were moments of great quality, Ousmane Dembele’s opening was the result of a beautiful Barca move. But there were also moments of ineptitude like Gerard Pique’s (lack thereof) defense for Nico Barella’s equaliser. The match was great fun, even if you aren’t a Barca fan. They were now facing financial disaster in the group stage elimination.