Winners and Losers from UEFA Champions League, Matchday 1

Nick AkermanFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 8, 2022

Winners and Losers from UEFA Champions League, Matchday 1

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    Kylian Mbappe (Philippe Signe/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

    Big wins. Ridiculous goals. Managerial sackings. The Champions League is well and truly back.

    Matchday 1 served up a tremendous dose of #narrative, some of which may prove to be season-defining for the clubs involved.

    Read on if you're a fan of drama…

Losers: Defences Trying to Deal with Erling Haaland

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    Fran Santiago/Getty Images

    Erling Haaland has now scored 4,798 goals with just 86 touches for Manchester City. At least that is what it feels like. The terrifying striker netted a brace in his new club’s 4-0 win over Sevilla, taking him to an incredible 12 goals in seven appearances across all competitions this campaign.

    What we're seeing here is maximum efficiency. Haaland may only touch the ball a limited amount of times per game, as highlighted by OptaJoe, but he is always working the defence. His movement and turn of speed stop centre-backs from committing to challenges they would usually step forward to make.

    Phil Foden's goal against Sevilla was a great example of this. Haaland's burst forward took two defenders with him, both of whom decided against putting extra pressure on Foden. The Englishman twisted and turned before firing an accurate shot into the corner of the net. Granted, good strikers need to be impacting play without the ball, but right now Haaland’s presence alone is stopping quality teams in their tracks.

    Time to invent a new number to keep up with those goalscoring records.

Winner: Kylian Mbappé's Highlight Reel

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    Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

    Much like Haaland, there are moments where you just wonder if Kylian Mbappé can be stopped.

    His pace for the opener in Paris Saint-Germain's 2-1 win over Juventus took five players out of the game. Juve's backline was turned to stone by Neymar's lobbed assist and shattered into pieces by Mbappé's volleyed finish.

    While PSG did their best to let Juve back into the game, Mbappé's second goal summed up an attack that is looking as sharp as any on the continent right now. The one-touch passing, the first-time finish, it's extremely difficult to stop.

    Two more lethal goals for the Frenchman, who, after signing a historic new contract back in May, will be desperate to finally lead the Ligue 1 side to their first Champions League trophy.

Loser: Thomas Tuchel

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    Jurij Kodrun/Getty Images

    Chelsea shocked the footballing world Wednesday morning by announcing the departure of Champions League, Super Cup and Club World Cup-winning manager Thomas Tuchel.

    This came after the Blues outspent everyone in a transfer window that hasn't even been shut a week. It came just days after Tuchel landed the striker he wanted in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a player who was excited to work with his former Borussia Dortmund colleague again.

    That reunion lasted 59 minutes. Auba was hauled off after barely having a sniff in Chelsea's 1-0 loss to Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday night. The Blues stung the woodwork on multiple occasions and were kept at bay by the superb Dominik Livakovic, but it's hard to suggest they were unlucky.

    A leaky defence and inability to score is in many ways the defining image of the latter part of Tuchel's reign.

    The controversial win over West Ham on the weekend, confirmed via a questionable VAR decision, couldn't buy enough time for Tuchel to get his players believing again. He had a ton to deal with in his final few months at Stamford Bridge, from club sanctions that led to player and fan unrest, to trying to reinvent the team under the eye of new owner Todd Boehly. It all proved too much.

    Whether it's Graham Potter, Zinedine Zidane, Mauricio Pochettino or anybody else who replaces him, Chelsea’s goal now must be about going back to basics: get the forwards firing and stop letting opponents walk over the defence.

Winner: Shakhtar Donetsk

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    Mykhaylo Mudryk (Cathrin Mueller/Getty Images)

    Tuchel wasn't the only manager to get the boot after this week's action. RB Leipzig sacked Domenico Tedesco after Shakhtar Donetsk thrashed the Bundesliga side 4-1 with a stunning performance at the Red Bull Arena.

    The Ukrainian Premier League only resumed in August following Russia's invasion in February. Shakhtar lost important players in that time, highlighted by David Neres' arrival in January and exit in June.

    They were excellent against Leipzig. New signing Marian Shved put on a cold display of finishing, notching a brace to stun the fans in Germany. Mykhaylo Mudryk also stepped up, scoring one and assisting two, adding to his reputation that has already seen him linked with a big-money move to the Premier League.

    Shakhtar have put themselves in a great position to advance from Group F. Although matches against Real Madrid are unlikely to yield points, they will fancy taking six from Celtic, who wilted in their 3-0 defeat to Los Blancos. They will also be confident of beating Leipzig once more.

Loser: Liverpool's Defence

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    Virgil van Dijk (Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

    An away trip to Napoli is not what you want when you're struggling. Liverpool are stumbling in the Premier League, with just two wins from six games, and look a world away from the side that challenged for the quadruple last year.

    Jürgen Klopp's men just couldn't handle Napoli. The 4-1 defeat underlined issues that continue to show up this campaign: poor defending, a bluntness in front of goal and the inability to get Mohamed Salah into the game.

    Perhaps most tellingly, the fear factor is starting to disappear. Napoli toyed with Liverpool and really should have won with a greater margin after missing a penalty and handful of good chances.

    Recent signing Khivcha Kvaratskhelia, likely an unknown to many until Wednesday night, had Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez playing in slow motion. Victor Osimhen was sharper than Gomez and Virgil van Dijk, forcing the centre-backs into constant mistakes. Liverpool never got a grip, and the entire defensive unit lacked intensity or a willingness to fight.

    Alexander-Arnold's lack of effort on the third goal really could have resulted in his substitution at half-time. Easily beaten by Kvaratskhelia on the flank, the English full-back just gave up. No sprint back to help his team-mates. He slowed down and walked as the net bulged again.

    Sure, Liverpool are dealing with consistent injury problems, with Thiago Alcantara, Joel Matip and Diogo Jota having missed time. The midfield has been forced to rely too much on the 36-year-old James Milner. But the fans expect better. Losing games is one thing, but getting destroyed because of zero fight is another.

Winner: the Lewandowski-Dembélé Combination

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    Robert Lewandowski and Ousmane Dembélé (ADRIA PUIG/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

    Robert Lewandowski's hat-trick on his first Champions League appearance for Barcelona barely seemed like a surprise.

    The prolific striker has eight goals in five matches for the Blaugrana and predictably starred in the 5-1 destruction of Viktoria Plzen. He's now grabbed hat-tricks for three different clubs in the competition. Who would have expected anything else?

    Ousmane Dembélé didn't want to be outdone, though. The French winger, so often hampered by injury during his Camp Nou career, put in a stunning performance against the Czech visitors. His directness and willingness to work hard thrust Barça forward and created opportunities that wouldn't have opened up otherwise.

    Dembélé's superb display was summed up by two assists but particularly the first one, for Lewandowski. He won a sliding tackle when he had no right to do so and played a pinpoint cross to the striker, who just isn't going to miss from close range. Barça's immediate on-pitch future looks very exciting indeed.

Winners: Lovers of 'Griezmann Time'

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    Antoine Griezmann (Berengui/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

    A word on Antoine Griezmann to conclude.

    Rumour has it the French forward can play only limited minutes while on loan from Barça because of a contract clause that would otherwise force Atlético to pay £35 million to their La Liga rivals. He has not played more than 29 minutes of normal time in any match this season.

    He does, however, have three goals, including a 101st-minute winner in a 2-1 defeat of Porto that rounded off this week's matches.

    This game certainly saved its drama for the final moments. Porto's Mehdi Taremi was sent off in the 82nd minute before Mario Hermoso gave Atleti the lead in the first minute of injury time. Porto struck back in the 96th, and then Griezmann sent his fans and sprinting manager Diego Simeone wild.

    "Griezmann time" is becoming one of the most interesting, and memeable, stories in football. This ongoing super-sub narrative is gaining momentum and makes him one of Atletico's most impactful weapons regardless of the limited minutes.

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