Grealish born for Champions League stage
Jack Grealish and the Champions League is a match made in heaven.
It seemed pretty obvious, even before he had kicked a ball in the competition. Getting the chance to play on the biggest stage in European club football was one of the main reasons Grealish gave him the switch to City from boys’ club Aston Villa for a British record fee. His performance in the victory over RB Leipzig only backed the decision.
Grealish, who played from the left in a position he has already made his own for his new club, got the ball rolling by helping Nathan Ake’s opening goal from a corner before catching the spotlight in 56 minutes.
Perhaps one of his biggest advantages against playing teams on the continent is that they might underestimate him. Tyler Adams – RB Leipzig’s midfielder – seemed more than happy to allow Grealish to dribble into the area and show him on his right foot. Not a wise decision. Grealish aimed from 18 yards and sent a flashing curling drive into the top corner. It was one of nine progressive races from City’s tent man. Home fans have a new favorite.
“When I’m in the position from the left that runs into the opposition area, I would back myself one-on-one against anyone, and this time it paid off,” a laughing Grealish said after the game.
“As soon as the match started, I actually thought to myself, ‘I’ve played in the Champions League now!’. The music and everything was so nice, and the game topped it all. I loved it.”
Not that Pep Guardiola looked too impressed with Grealish’s output. The City boss always seems to be a little extra intense on a Champions League night, and Grealish got a first-hand experience of his manager’s desire to flourish in Europe’s elite competition. The English farmer – and Riyad Mahrez – had a hard time talking in the second half when City restored their two-goal lead.
“The manager was just talking about defensive work,” Grealish said when asked about his talks with the Spaniard.
“That’s how he is, he always wants to be more defensive and offensive, he’s someone I’m going to listen to after everything he’s accomplished in the game. He’s always giving out useful information.”
Guardiola knows there is so much more to come from his £ 100 million husband. A scary thought.
Henderson stops drought at Anfield European Reunion
Few things in football can compete with the atmosphere generated under the lights at Anfield on a European night.
After 552 long, arduous days without Liverpool’s iconic home-playing host to the continent’s iconic tournament, the wait finally ended on Wednesday – and the boy lived up to the occasion.
Since Atletico Madrid traveled to Anfield days before the coronavirus pandemic took place in March 2020, Liverpool have relinquished their Premier League crown and seen their former fortress at a stadium attacked by, among others, Burnley, Brighton, Everton and Fulham.
You would have been forgiven for forgetting how influential Anfield were and still are for the Liverpool affair, but Milan would not have been in doubt after their first visit to Merseyside.
Milan made their first appearance in Europe’s elite club competition since 2014 – a staggering absence for a club whose seven titles only sit second behind Real Madrid in folklore in the Europa Cup – and yet Liverpool should have run away with the game inside the opening quarter, e.g. . was their dominance and the overwhelming atmosphere it created.
In their honor, Milan showed great determination to cancel Fikayo Tomori’s early own goal with goals from Ante Rebic and Brahim Diaz within the first two minutes after Mohamed Salah saved a penalty kick, but their determination only added to the drama it was to come.
Salah was penalized for his penalty kick with the equalizer within three minutes of restarting before the Liverpool captain had the final say.
Seven years after his debut Champions League goal, Jordan Henderson doubled his count in the competition with a strike fit to win every match as he thundered the sweetest of half volleys into the net as Liverpool’s first meeting with Milan outside a final ended with the most satisfactory opening victory.
Anfield’s power is back, and Liverpool may be too.
New CL season, same Man Utd error
There has been a buzz of excitement around Man Utd this summer. The acquisitions of Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho, plus the return of the adventure to Cristiano Ronaldo, have catapulted United into the trophy-winning sphere – experts and commentators have said.
But the last-minute defeat to Young Boys on Tuesday suddenly brought an end to that positivity – the Champions League is back with a reminder that no match is guaranteed.
Man Utd were heavy favorites on their way to Switzerland. Young Boys have already played six qualifiers just to reach the group stage and are considered the ‘weakest’ team in Group F. But with a passionate home crowd behind them – they reflect the big home pitches in Europe that Liverpool’s Cup or Dortmund’s Yellow Wall – Young Boys drew one of the greatest achievements in their history.
There were two clear lapses that contributed to the defeat. The player down was Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s red card after a clumsy challenge on Christopher Martins. Ole Gunnar Solskjær immediately brought in Diogo Dalot, but United’s defense was in disarray until half time, when it changed to a back three.
“I thought we could have done better in the first half with 11 men,” said Solskjær. “In the second half we felt in control without the ball. They did not create any great chances, but there were two unfortunate goals.”
The other was a bad foul by Jesse Lingard. The introduction of Anthony Martial to Fred saw him fall deeper into midfield and his slack pass was returned home by Jordan Pefok with the final kick of the match. It goes back to last season’s Champions League group stage, as two equally shocking defensive mistakes allowed Istanbul Basaksehir to score twice in a 2-1 defeat to United.
It seems to be the same old story in Europe for United, and Solskjær just can not quite find the right formula for the Champions League yet – Man Utd have lost seven of their 11 matches under him in the competition. In fact, 13 percent of their total defeats in the competition have come under Solskjær (7/54), despite the fact that the Norwegian is only responsible for 4.8 percent of their matches (11/231).
Then again, it will be back to the drawing board for Solskjær and United, but the manager seemed relaxed about their chances of getting to knockout stages.
“We know we have given ourselves a more difficult task than we did last year, but everyone thought we were done after two games last year,” he said. “You have to spend 10, maybe 12 points, win all your home games and maybe one away. We have lost an opportunity to get three points, but we have two home games then and we focus on those two.”
Rudiger is becoming a Rolls-Royce defender
The use of Antonio Rudiger has been one of Thomas Tuchel’s many championships since arriving at Chelsea. But with his contract this summer, Chelsea simply have to tie him up.
Frank Lampard had only just started using the defender when Tuchel arrived in January. Since then, Chelsea have recorded 23 clean sheets across all competitions, more than any other side in Europe’s five major leagues in that period. Rudiger has started 20 of these games.
He has been imperious this season and brought calm to the defense on Tuesday night as they handled the threat behind Sardar Azmoun. It will by no means be his toughest test this season, but the calm – almost nonchalance – where Rudiger managed, tackled and dominated was contagious.
It also has a knock-on effect up the field. Much of Chelsea’s risky exploration in the final third comes from the feeling that everything is safe behind them if they lose the ball. It is gaining more and more importance this season, with Chelsea now having greater success as European champions.
Clearly Rudiger plays with superior confidence; his 70-yard run from the defense almost resulted in one of the goals of Tuchel’s reign here. The fans love him, but Chelsea must do everything they can to keep him.
When he went out to talk to the media after the match, a fan shouted “sign the contract, Rudi!” Together with Romelu Lukaku, match winner here, a new contract could very well be Chelsea’s most important business this year.
Vultures will circle, and rightly so. Rudiger is becoming a Rolls-Royce defender.