Champions League Roundup: A Star Is Born for Salzburg & Ajax Hit Cruise Control

?Admit it, you missed the Champions League, didn’t you? You’re in good company if you did, even if the 2019/20 campaign’s opening offerings weren’t quite as spectacular as we hoped they may have been.

Goals were hard to come by in some places across Europe, but they most certainly weren’t in others – specifically in Austria and Netherlands. If you weren’t able to follow the action live, here’s your rundown of how matchday one unfolded across Groups E to H.


Group E

The marquee match of this group should have been Napoli taking on Liverpool at the Stadio San Paolo stadium.

Instead, all eyes swiftly turned to the game between Salzburg and Genk as a rising star of the game introduced himself on the biggest stage of them all. Erling Haland, at just 19 years old, became just the third teenager in Champions League history to net more than one goal on his competition debut.

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Keen to prove a point, he rifled home a first half hat-trick as Salzburg ran out 6-2 winners in a barnstorming game at the Red Bull Arena. Hee-Chan Hwang, Dominik Szoboszlai and Andreas Ulmer were the other goalscorers for the hosts; John Lucumi and Mbwana Aly Samatta netting for the Belgians.

?Liverpool, holders of the Champions League, meanwhile, stumbled in their opening defence of their crown – losing 2-0 against a defensively resolute Napoli side organised beautifully by Carlo Ancelotti. You can find a full report of that game ?here.


Group F

The so-called ‘group of death’, pitting ?Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Inter against one another, is widely expected to provide thrills, spills and entertainment for us all.

Unfortunately, the opening exchanges were anything but exciting – with slim pickings on the goal front providing little-to-no entertainment for us to get ourselves excited about.

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In Germany, Marco Reus had a penalty saved by international teammate Marc-Andre ter Stegen en-route to a 0-0 draw, while Inter had summer signing Nicolo Barella to thank for sparing their blushes against Slavia Praha – his injury time rescuing a 1-1 draw for Antonio Conte’s men at San Siro.

A full report on the Dortmund-Barcelona game can be found ?here, whilst you can fill your boots on Inter’s clash with Slavia ?here.


Group G

In one of the less glamorous groups of this season’s Champions League, it’s very much all to play for between Lyon, Zenit St Petersburg, Benfica and RB Leipzig.

All four will feel they have a good chance of progressing to the knockout stages, but it’s Bundesliga rising star Leipzig who will have the biggest grins on their faces after matchday one. Inspired by Timo Werner, who almost inevitably will move to Bayern Munich at some point (right?), the away side struck twice in the last 20 minutes to sneak a 2-1 win over Benfica in Portugal.

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Earlier in the day, former Manchester United forward Memphis Depay grabbed a vital point for Lyon as his penalty rescued a 1-1 draw against Zenit St Petersburg. Sardar Azmoun had given the visitors the lead before half-time, but it finished honours even at the Stade des Lumieres.


Group H

Finally some entertainment for us to get our teeth into, though sadly it comes at the expense of Frank Lampard’s ?Chelsea.

A goal down heading into the final five minutes, the Blues were gifted the opportunity to equalise against Valencia when they were awarded a penalty. Not the first time this season, a debate ensued over who would take it, and Ross Barkley – who won the battle of wits over usual taker Jorginho – contrived to clip the crossbar, spurning a wonderful chance to earn a point at Stamford Bridge.

Ross Barkley

Elsewhere, last season’s golden boys Ajax eased back into the European groove with a comfortable 3-0 win over Lille at the Amsterdam ArenA. Quincy Promes, Edson Alvarez and Nicolas Tagliafico were on target for the Dutch giants, as they put behind them the summer departures of Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt.


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Champions League: Picking a Combined XI From Teams in Group H

?Group H in the Champions League kicks off on Tuesday as Europa League champions Chelsea take on Valencia at Stamford Bridge and Ajax host LOSC Lille.

It’s a tough group for Chelsea, with an Ajax side that reached the semi finals of the competition last year expected to do well again, while neither Valencia or Lille are expected to roll over easily.

With so many exceptional players in all three teams, picking a combined XI was not easy, but here’s a look at who made the cut.


Goalkeeper & Defenders

Kepa Arrizabalaga

Kepa Arrizabalaga (GK) – ?Chelsea boast one of the youngest squads in the Premier League and impressive shot-stopper Arrizabalaga falls into that category. Joining the club in 2018 from Athletic Club for around £70m, he has adapted well to life in the English game. Despite not keeping a clean sheet this season, the 24-year-old gets the nod ahead of Valencia goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen, who made a number of errors as ?Barcelona beat Valencia 5-2 at Camp Nou this past weekend.

César Azpilicueta (RB) The Spain international has made the right back position his own since his move to Chelsea from Marseille in 2012. Clocking up 342 appearances in all competitions to date, ?Azpilicueta is one of the key figures in the squad.

José Fonte (CB) – The former Southampton centre back will have the tough task of leading the Lille backline. Now 35, the Portugal international was drafted in last summer following a brief spell at Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang. He will come up against the likes of in form Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham and 29-year-old Spain international Rodrigo.

Ezequiel Garay (CB) – The 32-year-old Argentinian has been a prolific figure alongside former Arsenal centre back Gabriel Paulista since his arrival at Valencia from Zenit St. Petersburg in 2016. A key figure under former manager Marcelino, he will command Los Che’s backline as he aims to guide his team to the last 16 of Europe’s elite competition.

José Luis Gayà (LB) – Gayà, 24, like Valencia predecessors Jordi Alba and Juan Bernat, has a natural inclination to attack and makes an impact going forward. His fast acceleration allows him to sprint down the left flank, while he can also drop back, recover his position and defend. Thanks to a strong first touch and good ball control, Gayà is able to drive in and out down the flanks without giving away possession and can also deliver dangerous crosses, especially with his left foot. 


Midfielders

Donny Van de Beek

Donny van de Beek (CM) – Best described as a modern, dynamic, box-to-box midfielder, Van de Beek has become one of Ajax’s leaders. His effectiveness lies in his flexibility, as he’s blessed with a perfect first touch and combines individual skill with stamina to devastating effect. Van de Beek is comfortable drifting out wide, instigating Ajax’s forward press, dropping deep to cover and making smart runs into the penalty area, which has enabled him to pop up with 32 goals in 140 matches, also creating a further 25. He is one to watch in this season’s competition.

N’Golo Kanté (CM) – Kanté is back playing in the deep-lying midfield role he has perfected over the years following last season’s positional debacle under Maurizio Sarri. The 28-year-old France international is one of the senior figures in the ?Chelsea ranks and Lampard hopes he will be able to feature against Valencia on matchday one following a small knock he picked up in the Premier League.

Dušan Tadi? (CAM) – Ajax paid a transfer sum of €11.4m to bring the former Southampton playmaker to the Johan Cruijff ArenA last summer. The Serbia international impressed in the 4-1 victory over Real Madrid in last season’s competition, netting in the match, and was a constant threat against Juventus too. Tadi?, 30, will be hoping for more success in this season’s competition, having seen his side fall at the semi final hurdle against Tottenham.


Forwards

Tammy Abraham

David Neres (RW) – The Brazil international helped guide Ajax to their first Champions League semi final since the 1996/97 season. Skilful, quick and agile, the Neres expresses himself much better when running into the box like he did against Real Madrid to finish off Tadi?’s outrageous assist for the second goal in Ajax’s iconic 4-1 success in Madrid last season.

Tammy Abraham (ST) – Abraham has already racked up seven goals in the Premier League this season, netting a hat-trick away to Wolves in his most recent appearance, and is now the joint top scorer in the division alongside Sergio Agüero. Valencia’s Rodrigo could have easily made it in to the XI due to his experience, but the 22-year-old has had a fine start to Premier League life and is excelling under Lampard.

Gonçalo Guedes (LW) – The 22-year-old has made a real name for himself since swapping Paris Saint-Germain for the Mestalla on a permanent deal last summer. He made his senior international debut in November 2015, at the age of 18, and played at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, also scoring the winning goal for Portugal in the 2019 UEFA Nations League final. Being instrumental in helping his side defeat Barcelona in the 2019 Copa del Rey final, the Portugal international likes to cut inside and will pose a constant attacking threat.


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Frank Lampard Insists Time Was Right for Tammy Abraham to Star for Chelsea

?Chelsea manager Frank Lampard has insisted that striker Tammy Abraham deserved a chance to impress in the senior side, regardless of their transfer ban.

The Blues were hit with a two-window ban for breaching rules relating to the signing of young players, meaning they were unable to bring in a new striker. As a result, Lampard was tasked with turning to the club’s academy and vast number of loan players for the answer.

In Abraham, he certainly found that answer. The 21-year-old has fired seven goals in five games, and he has undoubtedly been one of the major success stories of Lampard’s young reign.

Speaking after Abraham netted a stunning hat-trick in a 5-2 win over ?Wolverhampton Wanderers (via ?The Mirror), Lampard confessed that he has always believed in the young striker, insisting that the ‘time was right’ for Abraham to get the chance which he thoroughly deserved.

Lampard faced Abraham on a number of occasions last season during his time in charge of ?Derby County. On loan in the ?Championship with ?Aston Villa, the youngster fired 25 goals in 37 appearances – all whilst ?Chelsea’s senior strikers were struggling to impress.

?Alvaro Morata is gone and ?Gonzalo Higuain’s loan was not extended, so Chelsea were left with ?Olivier Giroud and ?Michy Batshuayi, who have both struggled to impress with the Blues in the ?Premier League.

Fortunately, Abraham has stepped up to the plate. Now wearing the number nine shirt at Stamford Bridge, he currently sits atop the Premier League scoring charts, and there have been plenty of calls for him to feature in Gareth Southgate’s England squad.

Lampard was asked whether he felt Abraham deserved a call-up to the Three Lions, but he stated that he did not want to step on Southgate’s toes. However, he did confess that Abraham is ‘in the bracket’ for an opportunity as a result of his impressive form.

Tammy Abraham

If Southgate wants him, he may have to act soon as Nigeria are looking to convince Abraham to commit to them. Abraham recently ?refused to rule out the possibility of representing the Super Eagles, insisting that he would wait to see which offer came first.

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The Jerry Seinfeld 2019/20 UEFA Champions League Preview

‘What’s going onnnnn?!!!’

I’ll tell you what’s going on Jerry, the UEFA Champions League is back this week, and it’s been confirmed that your sitcom – Seinfeld – is set to hit Netflix in 2021. 

And to celebrate these two great bits of news, we’ll pour out ?a little bit of the bubbly, and re-work/butcher some of the Jerry Seinfeld’s best jokes to preview each of the eight ?UEFA Champions League groups. 


Group A

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Club Brugge, Galatasaray, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid

My theory is 98% of all football played in Group A is merely killing time. 

Let’s face it, we don’t really want to watch Club Brugge or Galatasaray play football, do we? 

‘F**k no.’

That’s what I thought. 


Group B

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Bayern Munich, Red Star Belgrade/Crvena Zvezda, Olympiacos, Tottenham Hotspur

Jerry Seinfeld once said: “there’s no such thing as fun for the whole family”, and he was WRONG, because Group B really is fun for the whole family.

We have the blockbuster heavyweight clash between ?Bayern Munich and ?Tottenham Hotspur for your Dad and his tin of Carlsberg.

Crvena Zvezda for your hipster son to try and pronounce and pretend he’s heard of.

Mauricio Pochettino as eye candy for your mother.

And the wonderful city of Athens for your daughter, just back from interrailing, to cite as the ‘third nicest city’ she was in during the summer. 

Fun for the whole family. 


Group C

Pep Guardiola

Atalanta, Dinamo Zagreb, Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk

Men don’t care about what’s happening in Group C, they care about what’s happening in Group D. So, moving on…


Group D

Cristiano Ronaldo

Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus, Lokomotiv Moscow

I tell you what I like about ?Atletico Madrid, they’re hanging in there with the park the bus football, aren’t they? You know they’ve seen the Gegenpress. They’re staying with the bus. I’m impressed by that.

I tell you what I don’t like about ?Juventus, they’re chopping and changing at every opportunity, aren’t they? You know they’ve seen how continuity breeds success. But they’re staying with the reactionary decision making. I’m not impressed by that. 


Group E

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Genk, Liverpool, SSC Napoli, Red Bull Salzburg

The Gegenpress is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that football managers are still thinking for themselves. 

Jurgen Klopp is one of the only managers in world football that’s not trying to copy Pep Guardiola, and you have to respect that. 


Group F

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Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Inter, Slavia Prague

Group F is kind of like having a blender, but you don’t have the top for it. Anything can come out of it at any point in the near future…except for Slavia Prague. Obviously.


Group G

Timo Werner

Benfica, Olympique Lyonnais, RB Leipzig, Zenit St Petersburg

It’s incredible that everything that could possibly happen in Group G can be summed up in exactly two words: 

Who cares? 


Group H

Tammy Abraham

Ajax, Chelsea, LOSC Lille, Valencia

Group H is thought of by many as the most competitive, and therefore best, of all of the UEFA Champions League groups this season. So if Group H is the best group, why are you watching E instead? 


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90min’s Definitive European Player Power Rankings: Week Five

After an international break full of the kind of nothingness international football has practically patented (this is just a joke to impress you guys, I actually like international football), club football came back with a bang this week.

Which is why we at Power Rankings HQ had to respond with similar firepower (‘Daddy‘!*). Luckily we found it, with one of the greatest tv shows of this decade, hell, this century: ‘Atlanta‘. And seeing as it ain’t Robbin Season just yet, we’re hitting you with Season One of this Donald Glover-helmed modern classic. 

*This joke will become clear by number four.


15. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (New Entry)


“What? This is a great environment for you!”

This could be taken in the sarcastic vein that it is delivered in the show, as a means to show just how badly Henrikh Mkhitaryan was suited to his surroundings at Manchester United and Arsenal. 

But it could also be taken at face value where Roma is concerned, with the Armenian netting a fine goal on his Italian bow to cap off a finer-still display in the 4-2 win over Sassuolo. As you will see, Arsenal rejects scoring on their debut, just as the Gunners’ were themselves faltering in Watford, was a theme this week. As was Arsenal affiliates letting themselves down with their own hubris. See the above tweet and Mateo Guendouzi.


14. Robert Lewandowski (Re-Entry)

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“Well, why would I shoot at a human target?”

While it ultimately wasn’t to be for Bayern against a valiant/luck-riding RB Leipzig side, Robert Lewandowksi’s goalscoring heroics continued, thanks to a consummate finish inside just three minutes. 

Asked how he’s so darn accurate in front of goal, the Pole’s response is quoted above. 


13. Stefano Sensi (New Entry)

Stefano Sensi

“Can I measure your tree?”

With several feet, let alone inches, between Stefano Sensi and Udinese’s covering defender, you can image Antonio Conte and co’s surprise when the diminutive playmaker snuck ahead of him to sneak in a gloriously taken header into the net via the underside of the bar. 

Inter’s 2019 breakout star can head a ball, and he’s barely breaking 5ft.


12. Nacho Monreal (New Entry)

Nacho Monreal

“You look like a fake Ellen Degeneres. A Felon Degeneres.”

Yes, you guessed it (did you?), Nacho Monreal was the second Arsenal reject to score on his debut this weekend, and it came in one of the results of the weekend, with Real Sociedad blotting Atletico Madrid’s unblemished record with a hard-earned 2-0 victory. 

He may look like a BTEC Ellen Degeneres (at least enough for this bit to work…?), but the man can finish his dinner and, in keeping a clean sheet against Diego Simeone’s men, he proved he’s not all forward-thinking, either. 


11. Dries Mertens (Re-Entry)

Dries Mertens

“If you could use a rat as a phone, man, that’d be genius.”

Just as the above observation from Darius was met with derision, many pundits baulked at the use of Dries Mertens as a number nine all those moons ago. Look at him now. Bagging braces against Sampdoria like it’s nothing, and making Fabio Quagliarella (of all people) look blunt. 


10. Duvan Zapata (New Entry)

Genoa CFC v Atalanta BC - Serie A

“Hello, cousin. How are you today?”

Not only did Duvan Zapata nab Atalanta (eerily close to ‘Atlanta’, I hear you say!!) all three points with a 95th-minute thunderbolt against Genoa, he also won a penalty for his side by doing his cousin, Cristian, all ends up. 


9. Karim Benzema (New Entry)

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“I don’t know, man, I like Flo Rida. I mean, moms need to enjoy rap, too.”

Karim Benzema is the Flo Rida of football. Think about it.


8. Neymar (Up 3)

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“The price is on the can, though.”

With Kylian Mbappe sidelined, it was all about the return of the banner-provoking Brazilian forward Neymar this weekend. 

And, after some initial stuttering against Strasbourg, he delivered in a big, big way, with a 91st-minute bicycle kick to win it. Special stuff. I’d also like to add that PSG are the Arizona Iced Tea (the ‘can’ in question) of football and, as the slogan goes, the price is there for all to see. It’s right on the can. It is. 


7. Marco Reus (New Entry)

Jadon Sancho,Marco Reus

“You want to manage a rapper but you can’t do business high?”

You are Bayer Leverkusen. You want to beat Borussia Dortmund away from home, you have 67% of the possession, three more shots than they do, but you don’t mark Marco Reus? 

Weird.


6. Sadio Mane (Re-Entry)

Sadio Mane

“Money is an idea.”

This is unequivocally true.

Here’s another idea, just off the top of my head. Sadio Mane is world-class. Real Madrid wanted him, but wouldn’t cough up. So here’s the idea: cough up. Whether Mane wants to join the Santiago Bernabeu circus remains to be seen, but at least test some Liverpudlian resolve. The man’s worth all you got, Zizou.


5. Son Heung-min (New Entry)

Heung-Min Son

“This here’s a lightsaber – Luke Skywalker’s.”

Son Heung-min is Tottenham’s Luke Skywalker, here to return the club to the light after some dark times. 

The fact that this is uttered by a bumbling (and potentially homeless?) man who’s set up his own impromptu, and very much unofficial, parking lot should not take away from the initial point. 


4. Luis Suarez (New Entry)

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[while polishing his gun] “Man, I ain’t scared of nothing. I got Daddy right here.”

Not that Barcelona needed to be scared on Saturday against Valencia, considering their current chaos, but if any Copa del Rey Final flashbacks did occur, they knew they had the sharpshooting Luis ‘Daddy’ Suarez right there just in case.

And, though he wasn’t necessarily needed from the bench, he was used, springing straight into the action to nab a 20-minute brace. And, if you object to the use of ‘Daddy’ here, well, then, have another quote from this very exchange:

“Yo, you not gonna see this, but your assumed perversion of the word ‘Daddy’, I think that’s stemming from the fear of mortality, man. What you call your gun?”

Yeah. What do you call your ageing strikers?


3. Tammy Abraham (Re-Entry)

Tammy Abraham

Is Paperboi Atlanta’s 2Pac? They said no. But apparently John Boyega is the new Magic Johnson.”

Is Tammy Abraham Chelsea’s second coming of Didier Drogba? No. As previously established in these here rankings, Tammy Abraham is the new Magic Johnson. Move over, Boyega. 


2. Teemu Pukki (Up 3)

Teemu Pukki

“I just think we need a chance as humans to fail in order to discover what actually works, you know? People don’t think there’s a process to being happy.”

Teemu Pukki is the living embodiment of this quote, and he’s now reaping the rewards from this time-honoured policy, pulling the strings in the result of the weekend from across Europe. 

He is also now the only man to maintain his spot across the first five weeks of these rankings, which makes him a winner in his own right. So why, you ask, is he not the outright winner this week? Well, he’s not 16.


1. Ansu Fati (New Entry)

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“AIDS was invented to keep Wilt Chamberlain from beating Steve McQueen’s sex record. And by ’69 he was already number three on the all-time list. By ’71 he would’ve been that boy for sure.”

Has Ansu Fati been invented to keep Lionel Messi from beating Cristiano Ronaldo’s Champions League goalscoring record? I can’t say it with the same certainty as ya boy Darius above, but the precocity of Barca’s youngest ever goalscorer sure does beg the question. 

And that’s not the only record he’s broken, as he became the youngest ever play to record a goal and an assist in the same game in La Liga history against Valencia.

And what a goal and an assist they were, the former being an oh-so-composed first-time finish after a bursting run into the box inside just two minutes of action, the latter comprising a mazy run down the left flank, the retiring of Ezequiel Garay and an expertly placed cut-back for Frenkie de Jong just five minutes later. 

By the 15th-minute mark he was centimetres away from a brace, and moments after that he should have had a penalty. Need I remind you that this kid is 16 years old, and just two weeks ago was a mere unknown.

Now he’s spreading his arms to the Camp Nou crowd, soliciting the kind of response that – yes, I’LL SAY IT – only Messi himself can garner in modern times. Hence the €100m release clause, and hence the placing atop these prestigious rankings.

Remember the date, remember the name.


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