Champions League Takeaways: Haaland shines for Man City, Juventus in trouble

Manchester City's Erling Haaland, left, celebrates after scoring his side's 2nd goal during the group G Champions League soccer match between Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund. (Dave Thompson/AP)

The group stage of the 2022-23 UEFA Champions League continue on this week, with plenty of magical moments and special performances.  

Among the highlights from Matchday 2 were Sporting’s dramatic win over Tottenham via two injury-time goals, Liverpool getting back on track by beating Ajax, and Marco Asensio scoring his 50th career goal for Real Madrid.  

 Here’s what else stood out from this week’s round of matches.   

Man City’s Erling Haaland haunts former club 

Norwegian forward Erling Haaland wasn’t in a very sentimental mood on Wednesday night, showing Borussia Dortmund no mercy in scoring the decisive goal in Manchester City’s 2-1 home victory in Group G. 

Haaland bagged the winner against Dortmund in highlight-reel fashion, hitting a sensational volley with the outside of his foot in the 84th minute in his first match against his former club since joining Man City in the summer.  

It was Haaland’s 26th career goal in 21 Champions League games, which is an amazing scoring run that is even more impressive in light of the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo, the competition’s all-time top scorer with 140 goals, didn’t score at all in his first 20 Champions League appearances. 

Man City are getting full value for the $62 million transfer fee they spent to lure Haaland away from the German side. Haaland, 22, has now scored in six straight games for Man City in all competitions, and netted 13 goals in eight games overall. 

Juventus in deep trouble after second group stage loss 

Italian giants Juventus are facing a bit of a crisis after suffering a second consecutive Champions League loss, their latest defeat coming in a 2-1 setback to Benfica on Wednesday in Group H. 

The Turin-based club stormed out of the gate, pressuring the Portuguese visitors right from the opening kickoff with wave after wave of attack through the opening 20 minutes. Arkadiusz Milik’s header off a free kick played into the box by Leandro Paredes in the fourth minute hinted at an Italian rout. 

But Benfica took control for the rest of the first half, their speed on the counter and systematic pressing game unsettling Juve. Fabio Miretti’s needless foul late in the half led to a Benfica penalty, which João Mário duly converted to level the score. David Neres’ goal 10 minutes into the second half for Benfica sent the home side into full panic mode, and they were never able to recover.  

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Paris Saint-Germain and Benfica top Group G with six points each, while both Juventus and Israeli champions Maccabi Haifa have yet to collect a point. There are four games remaining in the group stage, and under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t rule out Juve from coming back to clinch a spot in the knockout round. 

But the Old Lady of Turin has been wildly inconsistent this season both in the Champions League and Serie A, and has just one win in their last seven matches in all competitions. 

Four minutes that sunk Barcelona in Munich

It was an unhappy homecoming for Robert Lewandowski on Tuesday night, as Barcelona suffered a 2-0 road loss to Bayern Munich in Group C. After netting a hat trick in last week’s match against Viktoria Plzen, Lewandowski came up short in his first match against his former team since his summer transfer move, completely misfiring even though a number of quality scoring chances presented themselves to the Polish striker. 

Bayern destroyed Barcelona 8-2 in the single-leg quarter-finals of the COVID-interrupted 2019-20 tournament, and then posted a pair of 3-0 wins when the two sides met in last season’s group stage. Tuesday’s clash was a lot closer, with both sides fighting it out in a thrilling first half that saw plenty of end-to-end action. 

At times, Bayern looked vulnerable when put under pressure but it didn’t crack, and it struck early in the second half with two goals just four minutes apart to sink the Spaniards. Lucas Hernández’s majestic header at the near post off a corner kick in the 50th minute was reminiscent of the kinds of goals that Lewandowski often scored during his eight seasons at Bayern.

With Barcelona staggered, it was Leroy Sané who delivered the knockout punch via a fabulous solo effort that saw him blow by several defenders and burst into the penalty area before scoring with an exquisite finish inside the far post. Incredibly, Bayern is now unbeaten in its last 30 Champions League group stage games with 27 wins. 

Canadian content 

Alphonso Davies didn’t find his way onto the scoresheet, but the Edmonton native put in a solid showing in Bayern Munich’s win over Barcelona.  

The Canadian speedster gave the Spanish side all kinds of problems with his probing runs down the left flank, as he put Barcelona right fullback Jules Kounde under constant pressure. Davies was a defensive stalwart for Bayern on the night, making three tackles, a pair of interceptions and one clearance. 

Davies also benefited from some good luck, as he wasn’t called for a penalty after he chopped down Barca’s Ousmane Dembélé in the first half. 

Fellow Canadian Stephen Eustáquio had a much rougher night on Tuesday in FC Porto’s 4-0 home loss to Club Brugge in Group B. Eustáquio, from Leamington, Ont., was deployed in his usual role in the heart of midfield, but he struggled to deal with the Belgian club’s aggressive pressing game. As a result, he only completed 74.5 per cent of his passes on the night. 

Canadian forward Cyle Larin was an unused substitute for Brugge, while Tajon Buchanan didn’t dress for the Belgian club due to injury. 

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. 

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