The 2022-23 UEFA Champions League resumed this week as the tournament reached the halfway point of the group stage.
Among the highlights from Matchday 3 were FC Barcelona going a third straight road match without a goal, Bayern Munich extending its unbeaten run in the group stage to 31 games, and Lionel Messi scoring against his 40th different opponent to set a new competition record.
Here’s what else stood out from this week’s round of matches.
Sevilla, Bayer Leverkusen fire their coaches after losses
Former Liverpool and Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso was named Bayer Leverkusen's new coach, replacing Gerardo Seoane after he was dismissed by the Bundesliga club on Wednesday.
Leverkusen decided to part ways with the Swiss coach in the aftermath of Tuesday's 2-0 loss away to FC Porto in Group B. Despite guiding the side to a third-place finish in the German league last season, Seoane hasn’t managed to wield the same magic during the current campaign. Bayer was eliminated by third-division outfit SV Elversberg in the first round of the German Cup and sits second-last in the Bundesliga standings after eight games.
At least the German outfit waited a day to release Seoane from his duties. Julen Lopetegui wasn’t quite so lucky, as Sevilla announced it had fired the former Spanish national team coach just minutes after its 4-1 home loss to Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.
The loss leaves Sevila tied with FC Copenhagen for last place in Group G with one point each. Sevilla is 17th in Spanish league standings with a meagre five points from seven games, and is just one point above the relegation zone.
Lopetegui clearly knew that his time was up after the final whistle blew, as he bid farewell to the fans inside Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan as they applauded and sang his name. Sevilla won a UEFA Europa League and posted three consecutive top-four finishes in La Liga during Lopetegui’s three-plus years in charge.
Erling Haaland can’t stop scoring for Man City
Opposing teams must absolutely cringe when they see Manchester City coming up on the schedule, as they know they are going to have to contend with Erling Haaland.
The red-hot Norwegian striker continued his torrid scoring run by bagging a brace as Man City thrashed Danish outfit FC Copenhagen 5-0 on Wednesday in Group G. Haaland, 22, has 19 goals in 11 games for City this season since making a $62 million transfer move from Borussia Dortmund over the summer.
Haaland was the very picture of efficiency against the Danes, with his two goals coming on just four shots on target and 11 total touches of the ball before being subbed out at halftime.
Incredibly, Haaland now has 28 career goals in 22 Champions League games. To put that in context. Cristiano Ronaldo, the competition’s all-time top scorer with 140 goals, didn’t score at all in his first 20 Champions League appearances. Or, to put it another way, Haaland has passed Luis Suarez (27 goals) on the all-time Champions League list by playing in 51 fewer games!
Canadian contest: Successful debut for Tajon Buchanan
A nagging quad injury has sidelined Canadian winger Tajon Buchanan for most of the Belgian league season – he only made his first appearance for Club Brugge late last month.
But Buchanan showed no signs of rust when making his Champions League debut on Tuesday, playing a starring role in Brugge’s 2-0 win over visitors Atletico Madrid in Group B. Buchanan looked lively in taking on Atletico’s defenders one-on-one, and effectively linked up with his attacking teammates by routinely getting into dangerous positions. His pace and quickness off the dribble allowed him to routinely unbalance the Spanish visitors, as he completed 89 per cent of his passes and registered one shot before being subbed out after 79 minutes.
Elsewhere, Canadian fullback Alphonso Davies started and played 45 minutes in Bayern Munich’s 5-0 home win over FC Viktoria Plzeň on Tuesday in Group C. It was a sublime pass from Davies in transition to help set up Serge Gnabry’s goal that gave Bayern a 2-0 lead after only 13 minutes. With his 24th Champions League game under his belt, Davies surpassed Atiba Hutchinson to become the Canadian men’s team’s all-time appearance leader in the competition.
Also on Tuesday, Canadian midfielder Stephen Eustáquio put in a solid defence shift, playing the full 90 minutes in FC Porto’s 2-0 victory at home over Bayer Leverkusen.
Napoli destroys Ajax to remain a perfect 3-0
It’s not Premier League giants Liverpool FC that tops the Group A table but rather Napoli, who continued their perfect run through the group stage with a swashbuckling 6-1 win over Ajax in Amsterdam on Tuesday. It was the legendary Dutch club’s heaviest loss since suffering a 5-1 setback against Bayern Munich in 1980.
The Italians aren’t the only team to record three wins to begin this year’s competition, but they are the ones who have been the most impressive in doing so, scoring a tournament-leading 13 goals, while only conceding twice.
Forward Giacomo Raspadori, 22, has proven to be a revelation for Napoli since joining them via loan from fellow Serie A side Sassuolo. Last month, he scored his first Champions League goal in a 3-0 win against Rangers, and added to his tally by bagging a brace vs. Ajax this week.
Most critics pegged Liverpool to win this group when the draw was made in September, but Napoli, who are also undefeated in Serie A and top the table, has perfectly balanced a dynamic attack with a well-oiled defence that has assisted them in effectively grinding out results in Europe, including an impressive 4-1 home win over Liverpool in September and its destruction job of Ajax in The Netherlands.
John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found here.