Five major talking points from Round 1 of the Champions League

Champions League

Injury time winners, comeback victories, controversies, sensational goals, upsets and fantastic individual performances. The first round of this season’s Champions League had all the ingredients to get the viewers off their seat.

FOX Sports Asia takes a look at the major talking points following the first group stage fixtures.

Lionel Messi is playing like a man on a mission

He scored 45 goals and assisted 18 more in all competitions in 2017/18, he also won the European Golden Boot and won the domestic double with Barcelona. However, Lionel Messi’s brilliant season was deemed not worthy enough to be even nominated in the Top 3 for the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year award and the FIFA Best Men’s Player of the Year award.

The Argentine came into the 2018/19 season on the back of a disappointing outing at the World Cup and getting snubbed for two prestigious awards must have hurt him badly.

After six games into the ongoing season, the 31-year-old has 7 goals and 3 assists to his name already.

Messi scored the first goal of this season’s Champions League with a trademark free-kick and bagged two more by the end of the game to complete his eighth Champions League hat-trick, which is also a tournament record. His hat-trick also took his tally of goals in the Champions League group stage to a record 63.

If he keeps up this form, then it will be very difficult to overlook him for the Ballon d’Or award.

Neymar and Mbappe purchase hurting PSG badly

It’s no secret that PSG craves the elusive Champions League trophy. They’ve signed numerous superstars and gone through several managers to get their hands on Europe’s most prestigious club trophy to no avail.

The Parisian club signed Neymar for a world record fee last summer and followed it up by permanently signing Kylian Mbappe this summer for £166m. Although it might look like fantastic business at first, these two transfers have left PSG in a rut.

PSG was under investigation for breaking Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules and in the summer, a verdict was delivered which cleared them of any wrongdoing but they had to raise £53m in income by the end of June. In addition, UEFA added that the club would remain under close scrutiny.

In order to keep their prized assets and to ensure that they don’t break any FFP rules, PSG had to sell several players in the summer. In addition to the retiring Thiago Motta, eleven players left the club in the summer of which six players left on a permanent deal. This left PSG with a thin squad.

Against Liverpool, PSG was without the suspended Marco Verratti, meaning, they played a three-man midfield consisting of Marquinhos, Adrien Rabiot and Angel Di Maria. Of the three, only one player is a midfielder. Marquinhos is a defender by trade and Angel Di Maria’s is at his best when he’s used as a winger. 

The makeshift midfield was overrun by Liverpool with ease and the 3-2 scoreline flattered PSG who were the second best team for most of the game.

When Liverpool subbed on Roberto Firmino for Daniel Sturridge, PSG had to bring on Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting for Edinson Cavani. This gives a perspective of how bad PSG’s squad depth is at the moment. So, it goes without saying that injuries to one or two key players will annihilate any hope PSG have of winning the Champions League.

Spurs’ progress under Pochettino maybe reaching an impasse

The North London side came into the season without making a single addition to their squad and have also been troubled by the delayed inauguration of their stadium.

They started the season with three wins in three but followed it up with three defeats in three. Spurs have lost all of their last three games by the same 2-1 scoreline and in two of those games, they took the lead. Four of the six goals they conceded in these defeats were from set-pieces which is a bigger worry as it is very unlike them.

The latest of the defeats, came against Inter in their opening game of Group B. Spurs dominated for the most part but lost after conceding in injury time. The fact that they are in a group with Barcelona, Inter Milan and PSV means that a single point may turn out to be the difference between Europa League and the knockout stage. 

Maybe, Spurs have gone as far as they can under Pochettino with their current squad. Only time will tell.

Time for VAR in the Champions League?

Dubious refereeing has marred big Champions League matches several times in recent history and none as infamous as the 1-1 draw between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge in the 2009 semi-final.

Refereeing wise, this season hasn’t gotten off to a great start either. There were questionable decisions in several games but the elephant in the room is the red card shown to Cristiano Ronaldo against Valencia.

The Portuguese was shown a straight red less than half an hour into his Champions League debut for Juventus. Ronaldo held Valencia’s Jeison Murillo’s head asking him to get up after a dive but the referee deemed it worthy of giving a red card.

In the same game, a high-boot to the face of Joao Cancelo only merited a yellow card.

The introduction of VAR is a necessity at least in the knockout stages where a single wrong decision can turn a tie on its head. It could also help bring a certain level of parity on decisions made by different referees on similar offences.

Guardiola’s Champions League woes continue

There’s no harm in stating that Manchester City got the easiest group among all the English clubs in Champions League this season and yet, they started their campaign with a 1-2 loss to Lyon at home.

The defeat was City’s fourth straight defeat in the Champions League and in the process, they became the first English club to do so in the competition’s history. Also, three of those defeats were in a home match.

Guardiola won the Champions League twice with Barcelona with the most recent triumph coming in 2011. Since then, none of the three clubs he has managed have replicated their league dominance in Europe.

Incredibly, starting from the 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in the semifinal of 2012, a team managed by Guardiola has won the away leg in a knockout fixture twice in thirteen attempts! His teams have lost seven of those games and drawn four, while the two victories have come in the first knockout stage, against Arsenal with Bayern Munich in 2014 and then against Basel with Manchester City in 2018.

The Champions League is something Manchester City covet and Guardiola’s recent record doesn’t bode well.