Champions League Notebook: Group Stage Week 2 Breakdown

Neymar
Photo by: Кирилл Венедиктов (Wikipedia Commons)

By: Rusty Gorelick

Week two of the Champions League group stage brought surprise after surprise. Lucky for soccer fans, many groups are not done separating the best teams from the worst.

Real Madrid lost to 10-man CSKA Moscow in Moscow, proving the Spanish national team is not the only team from Spain that can’t succeed in Russia. As Los Blancos’ post-Ronaldo struggles continue, his new team beat Switzerland’s BSC Young Boys, who Juventus handled by a score of 3-0 without Cristiano in the squad.

A rocky start for coach Jose Mourinho continued as Manchester United drew 0-0 with Valencia in England, while Liverpool lost 1-0 to Napoli thanks to a late Lorenzo Insigne winner.

The second week of European club action has officially passed, so here are the major takeaways from Tuesday and Wednesday’s most notable matches.

Neymar Leads PSG Over Red Star Belgrade

PSG dominated against Serbia’s best side thanks to two goals in quick succession from Neymar. The Brazilian wizard tore Red Star’s defense apart with his speed and dribbling ability and further proved why PSG is one of the most fun teams to watch in all of soccer, thanks to his silky free kick that went over the wall and into the bottom left corner in the 20th minute.

Neymar got his foot onto a Kylian Mbappe cross two minutes later to make it 2-0, eventually sealing his hat-trick and the 6-1 win with a free kick from around 25 yards out. The PSG superstar pushed his way back into the spotlight as a result of his complete domination, but many concerns surrounding him and his team still linger.

Can they defend? Can they hang with teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona? While these are the questions infiltrating the soccer world, the real questions should be ‘who cares?’.

PSG has Neymar and Mbappe and we still have four more guaranteed games of Champions League action that they will partake in. If they beat Napoli in their next match, then Group C will have a lot on the line going into the second half of the thrilling group stage.

McKennie Sees Schalke Beat Lokomotiv and America beat Russia

American hero Weston McKennie gave his team three points and his country a huge “W”  as he led the German-side Schalke to a win over Russia’s Lokomotiv Moscow. The baby-faced 20-year-old brilliantly climbed the back of a defender late in the match and headed a corner kick into the goal to win the game 1-0, bringing back memories of United States’ victory in the Space Race.

Schalke’s win over last year’s Russian champions might be the biggest win for America against Russia since the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980. McKennie has clearly cemented his legacy as one of the most important American athletes of all time. If he can harness his ultra-American manifest destiny powers into World Cup domination at Qatar 2022 and North America 2026, we might as well put him on the flag.

Unlucky Bayern Draws Against Ajax

Niko Kovac, a coach reputed to place emphasis on youth within his teams, decided to start Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery – with combined ages old enough to have been retired for a few years by now – against a talented yet inexperienced Ajax squad. Robben managed to bring us back to the old days: he provided the assist for Mats Hummels’ fourth-minute goal and forced Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana into some tough saves.

It took the Dutch club 17 minutes to answer, but right back Noussair Mazraoui tucked the ball past Manuel Neuer. The favorites lacked the killer instinct teams need in order to go far in the Champions League, possibly as a byproduct of Germany’s horrible World Cup. They have not won any of their last three matches, meaning they are in an all-out crisis by their standards. They have lost the electricity they used to play with, mostly due to the aging of Robben and Ribery and the club’s unwillingness to replace them satisfactorily.

Barcelona Beats Tottenham in a Thriller

Tottenham put up a brilliant fight on their dilapidated Wembley Stadium pitch, but Leo Messi and Barcelona proved too much for Spurs and their heralded pressing system. Barca’s No. 10 showed his greatness as he found himself in the perfect position to finish both of his goals.

Ivan Rakitic slammed in a volley from downtown for one of Barcelona’s four goals, while left back Jordi Alba assisted on three of those goals. The Spanish club’s fast attack made things difficult on Tottenham’s defense, which wasn’t helped by Hugo Lloris’ bizarre decision to run out of his goal.

I’m sure there wasn’t any particular reason for that.

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