From Moscow to the Bosporus and down to Krasnodar, the action in the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League group stage has been exhilarating and surprising. The traditional teams have not had it all their way while the defending champions, Bayern Munich, are looking like a team that could keep their title.
So many goals…and penalties
There have been 156 goals scored in 48 matches; an average of 3.25 goals per match. What with the new hand ball rule, referees are expectedly penalizing and awarding more penalties – 22 in 48, and one can understand the glut of goals. There have already been 20 matches where four or more goals have been scored. While the pursuit of helping teams score more goals is a worthy cause, making the referees look dumb does not augur well for the spectacle the authorities are trying to create.
Brief summer taking a toll on physical endurance
Of the 156 goals scored in the 48 matches in the group stage; 32, almost 21 per cent have been scored in the last quarter of the games. A vivid example is the four goals scored by Bayern Munich against Salzburg in the last 11 minutes of their encounter. Bayern ran out 6-2 winners, and Real Madrid scored two goals in the last five minutes in their 2-2 draw away to Borussia Monchengladbach. As the season progresses and more of the elite players play more games, there is the very real possibility that many matches will be decided in the last 15 minutes.
Marseille continue their losing streak
It was a dark day for Marseille and their manager, Andre Villas-Boas, last Tuesday as the inaugural Champions League winners fell 3-0, away to Porto, to match the longest losing streak in the competition’s history, that stands at 12 and was set by Anderlecht between 2003 and 2005. At 1-0, Marseille were awarded a penalty but their talisman, Dimitri Payet, blasted wide and from that miss, there was no way back. Their next match is at home to Porto on November 24, where they can become the sole custodians of the losing record.
English teams look very strong at this initial stage
After three matches, all the English teams – Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Liverpool have all showcased their strengths. Liverpool have a perfect record and are yet to concede; Chelsea have also won two and drawn one and are yet to concede while City have won all their matches, scoring nine and conceding just one. Only United have lost, though they won away to PSG and thoroughly blitzed last season’s semi-finalists, RB Leipzig, 5-0 at Old Trafford.
Some traditional teams are struggling
Real Madrid and Inter Milan have won the Champions League 16 times between them but that pedigree is not showing this season as both teams are struggling in the first three matches as they occupy the last two places in Group B. Real were lucky in scrapping to a 3-2 win over Inter in their last match while Antonio Conte is finding it hard to get points on the board – with a draw against Borussia Monchengladbach, where they needed a last-minute equaliser, and the barren draw with Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine.