I took in the reunions for Lewandowski and Haaland in the Champions League, and wasn’t disappointed with the results (though I wouldn’t have minded seeing Spurs and Chelsea dropping points). No new teams add to my watch countdown, but enjoyable games.
Bayern Munich 2 – Barcelona 0. This was the biggest match of the second round of Champions League group stage. Whatever one thinks of Barcelona’s financial lever-pulling, it has given Xavi Hernández a talented roster to work with; and this Barcelona side gave Bayern a run for their money. In addition to the return of Robert Lewandowski, I believe it was Marcos Alonso’s and Jules Kounde’s first start for the side (though the former had made a substitute appearance the previous weekend).
I don’t have a lot of clever insights on this game, though I certainly enjoyed it. Bayern were just a bit better on set pieces (hence the first goal), and probably overall (hence the second). But in some ways, it was actually a more important statement for Barcelona, whose performance suggested they still belong among Europe’s elites.
It was interesting to see Sadio Mané playing on the left rather than though the middle. Also, Alphonso Davies was in imperious form for the first 20-30 minutes of the game. Playing at his best, he is undoubtedly the best North American player in the world.
Manchester City 2 – Borussia Dortmund 1. Unlike Lewandowski’s former side, visitor’s Dortmund were decidedly underdogs against Erling Haaland and Manchester City. But they held their own for at least an hour, playing in a flexible 4-3-3 that collapsed into a 5-4-1 when defending. Though City had more of the ball, Dortmund probably had the better of the chances. They were rewarded shortly before the hour mark, when a right corner by American Giovanni Reyna (who started on the right) was headed out by Haaland, but only to Marco Reus. The veteran rifled in a lovely top left goal to put the away side up.
Pep Guardiola made a triple change at the restart, with Julián Álvarez, Bernardo Silva, and Phil Foden coming on. The change placed Foden on the left and Kevin De Bruyne right (in place of Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez), which led to more crosses into the box. This eventually led Edin Terzić to bring in Nico Schlotterbeck as a third center back, replacing central striker, Anthony Modeste.
The equalizing goal did come from a De Bruyne assist–but instead of a cross into Haaland, it was a cut back for John Stones at the top of the box on the right for an unexpected lightning bolt. Coming at the eightieth minute, it was only City’s first shot on goal. Four minutes later the second shoe dropped, and what a shoe it was. João Cancelo whipped in a lovely left cross to the far post with the outside of his right boot. Not to be outdone, Haaland slipped behind Schlotterbeck and batted the ball in with the outside of an acrobatically raised left boot.
The game wasn’t over, as substitute Donyell Malen put an injury time shot narrowly wide. It got a bit chippy at the end, and Guardiola celebrated by getting a post-match yellow for comments to referee Daniele Orsati.
Silkeborg 2 – West Ham United 3. This was only the eighteenth European night for the Danish side, the best of which was a nil-nil draw in a 1994 qualifier for the Champions League with Dynamo Kiev. But they scored early, new transfer Kasper Kusk netting in his first game in a second spell with the club. But almost immediately, a soft penalty (both in terms of awarding it and of the defender foolishly giving the referee a decision to make) let West Ham back in.
Shortly before the half hour mark, Maxwell Cornet intercepted a poor pass and fed Gianluca Scamacca at the top of the box. His lovely top shelf finish to give West Ham the lead was probably the only moment of note for the favorites. Just minutes later, the referee would help West Ham retain that lead, denying a Niklas Helenius goal off a corner kick for either an insubstantial push by Helenius or a fabricated “foul” by Alphonse Areola on himself, running out and into Stefán Teitur Þórðarson in order to fall down.
Craig Dawson’s headed corner kick goal before halftime pretty much ended the game competitively, but a goal off a breakaway conceded by Jarrod Bowen made for a sticky final fifteen minutes. Areola had to save a solid shot with just under ten minutes remaining, and Vladimir Coufal cut out a dangerous opportunity at the end of regulation.
Somehow, despite four uninspiring games, West Ham remain undefeated atop Group B of the Europa Conference League going into away and home ties against Anderlecht, their opponents in the 1976 Cup Winners’ Cup final. If only our indifferent play could produce similar results in the league . . .
This weekend I caught some teams from the bottom of La Liga and then a mixed bag in the Premier League before finishing off with teams from the top of Serie A. With the last two group stage rounds of the Nations League starting up on Thursday, however, I’m going to put my weekend 7 notes on hold and try to get my list of the ten best games of matchdays 1-4 of the Nations League up first. The games were selected over the summer, but never got written up because of life (and the Women’s Euros). Wish me luck.