As young stars shine, so does Robert Lewandowski

As young stars shine, so does Robert Lewandowski

The 2022-23 UEFA Champions League group stage kicked off this week, as 32 teams across Europe began their pursuit of club football’s most prestigious trophy.

There were plenty of talking points from match day one, including PSG’s Kylian Mbappé scoring a magical goal against Juventus, Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard recording his first Champions League goal since 2020, and Glasgow giants Celtic and Rangers suffered severe damage.

Here’s what stood out from this week’s first-round games.

Barca’s Robert Lewandowski scores against Viktoria Plzen

A pair of 20-somethings in Erling Holland and Mbappé grabbed the headlines on Tuesday after both dominated their teams’ victories. But it was 34-year-old Robert Lewandowski who ended up MVP of Matchday 1, as he scored three times against Barcelona in a 5-1 win over Czech club Viktoria Plzen in Group C on Wednesday.

In doing so, the Polish striker became the first player in Champions League history to score a hat-trick for three different teams: Barcelona, ​​Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. It was also Lewandowski’s sixth career hat-trick at the tournament, leaving him two behind all-time partners Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Viktoria Plzen didn’t know what hit them after Lewandowski scored three consecutive goals to seal victory for Spain. He gave Barca a 2-0 lead in the 34th minute with a shot from the far corner of the penalty area, and then added a second with a header from Ousmane Dembele’s cross in first-half stoppage time. . He completed his hat-trick in the 67th minute with a low shot from outside the 18-yard box.

Lewandowski’s €50 million move from Bayern Munich to Barcelona over the summer proved to be a lucrative one. BlaugranaAs he has scored eight goals in his first five games in all competitions.

Napoli beat Liverpool at home

Andrew Medici/AP

Liverpool looked battered and broken as the final whistle went on at the Estadio Diego Armando Maradona on Wednesday night. The Reds had just suffered an embarrassing 4-1 defeat to Napoli in Group A, and the loss would have been much worse if not for some waste in front of goal by the hosts.

If Liverpool thought they were going to top a group that also included Ajax and Rangers, they’re in for something else. Thoroughly out-and-out by a spirited Napoli side on the night, the Reds looked nothing like the team that reached the Champions League final last year.

Piotr Zielinski converted from the penalty spot in the fifth minute and two more impressive goals from Ander Frank Zambo Inguisa and Giovanni Simeone gave Napoli the lead at half-time. Zielinski added a fourth after the break, before Luis Diaz replied for Liverpool.

Although they didn’t score, strikers Viktor Osimian and Giorgia Kvartskhelia were outstanding as part of a relentless Napoli attack that shredded Liverpool’s back line, badly damaged by center backs Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez. .

Stephen Eustaquio of Canada is making his debut in the tournament

Bernat Armango/AP

Canadian midfielder Stefan Eustaquio got his first taste of Champions League action for FC Porto on Wednesday. Although the Portuguese club lost 2-1 to Atletico Madrid in Group B, Eustaquio distinguished himself with a strong performance in his tournament debut.

A 25-year-old Eustace, from Leamington, Ont., went the distance and played 90 minutes, leading all Porto players in touches (69), and tied for second in completed passes (47). He also boasted an impressive 82 percent completion rate.

The Canadian almost marked the occasion with a 25-yard scamper, only for Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak to make a stunning diving save. Eustáquio also contributed on the defensive end by making three tackles and three clearances, and blocked one shot.

With 24 caps to his credit, Eustaquio has become a key member of the Canadian national team since making his international debut in 2019, and he starred in the Reds’ recent World Cup qualification campaign. Playing in the Champions League is a big step for him, especially in a World Cup year. But if Wednesday is anything to go by, he can hold his own against the best in European club soccer, which bodes well for Canada when it travels to Qatar for the World Cup in November.

Also on Wednesday, Edmonton native Alphonso Davies started at fullback in Bayern Munich’s 2-0 road win over Inter Milan, while striker Ciel Lauren started in Club Brugge’s 1-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen. 0 was one of the unused substitutes in the win. Canadian winger Tajon Buchanan, who is injured, did not dress for Berg.

Erling Holland continues to tear up completely

Jose Britton/AP

Does Holland stop? That’s the question Manchester City’s next opponents must be asking themselves after the Norway international thrashed the English champions 4-0 in Spain’s Sevilla in Group G on Tuesday.

Holland’s game has always been defined by his ability to be in the right place at the right time and that was certainly the case in Spain. He was perfectly positioned to convert a cross from Kevin De Bruyne in the 21st minute, and then headed home from close range in the 67th minute.

Haaland has been on fire this year since his summer move from the Bundesliga, scoring 10 of Man City’s goals in the first six games of the Premier League campaign. His brace against Sevilla means he has 25 goals in 20 career Champions League games, and he has now scored for three different teams in the competition: Red Bull Salzburg, Borussia Dortmund and Man City.

To see the Norwegian’s best run, consider this: Cristiano Ronaldo has not scored in his first 20 Champions League games, and he is now the competition’s all-time top scorer with 140 goals.

Haaland is the first Manchester City player to score in both the Premier League and Champions League for the club. He is also the fourth player in Champions League history to score on his first appearance for three different teams, joining Fernando Morientes, Javier Saviola and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Chelsea sacked manager Thomas Tuchel after defeat in Croatia

Darko Bandik/AP

Less than 24 hours after Chelsea’s shock 1-0 road loss to Dinamo Zagreb in Group E on Tuesday, manager Thomas Tuchel was sacked, leaving his turbulent reign at the London club just Finished after 100 games.

Tuchel guided Chelsea to the Champions League title, as well as the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup crowns. But Germany has reportedly pulled out of an agreement with the club’s new American ownership group, which recently took over.

Fronted by Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Bohly, Chelsea’s ownership spent nearly $300 million in the summer transfer window, bringing in big names like Raheem Sterling, Kaleido Koulibaly and Marc Cukorella. But the club’s new arrivals have failed to impress, and the Blues are currently sixth in the Premier League table after six games.

A defeat against Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia on Tuesday appears to be the last straw. The two-time European champions dominated the match but suffered from a lack of finishing. Tuchel didn’t hold back when asked to assess his team’s performance after the game, saying: “We’re clearly not where we need to be, or where we could be.”

Also losing his job on Wednesday was Domenico Tedesco, who was sacked as RB Leipzig after a 4-1 home loss to Shakhtar Donetsk in Group F play.

John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found over here.

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