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Uefa Champions League: Messi and Ronaldo serve up magic and mania

Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United celebrates after scoring during the Uefa Champions League Group F soccer match between Manchester United and Villarreal CF in Manchester, Britain, on 29 September 2021. (Photo: EPA / Peter Powell)

There were some shock results in the second match week of Uefa Champions League, but little surprise as both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi scored to help their clubs to victory.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Defending Uefa Champions League champions Chelsea will have to offer up displays that are vastly improved to the one they put on against Italian giants Juventus if they wish to find themselves in the deeper stages of Europe’s premier club competition.

Thomas Tuchel’s multimillion-pound side could only muster a single shot on target, despite having well over 70% of ball possession. The Italians also produced a solitary shot on target, but made it count.

The loss, which was the second in just as many games for the Blues, highlighted that, despite all the riches of talent the team possesses, they’ve been a bit flat recently. This is a puzzle Chelsea’s head coach will have to solve for the team to return to the type of form shown early on in the Premier League.

“We started not sharp enough. We struggled to create our own rhythm and intensity because they were so deep and passive. We were lacking runs. We were so good in training yesterday and not good enough, not free enough today. I don’t know why,” Tuchel said, assessing his side’s performance.

“We were a bit slow and tired, mentally slow, decision-making. That’s why it’s a strange one to analyse. 

“We had a day off and two very good training sessions… We were absolutely sharp, looked very fresh and very hungry, and ready for a bounce back.”

The Blues are on three points after their first two games, and next face Swedish side Malmo in just over two weeks. 

There, they will be keen to bounce and keep up the pace with Juve in Group H, who are in control of the mini league with six points from their two games.

Ronaldo and Messi mania

The unpredictable and inconsistent Manchester United stole it at the death against Spanish side Villarreal in their Group F encounter, with Cristiano Ronaldo netting a stoppage-time winner.

On the night he set the new record for the most appearances in the competition, the 36-year-old Portuguese forward delivered the killer blow to save his manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær from another disappointing result and the inevitable inquests.

“When you’ve got Cristiano on the pitch, you’ve always got a chance,” the Norwegian said. “Seriously, he’s so good in front of goal. It’s a massive result for the team and for the spirit of the team.”

Goalkeeper David de Gea also played a crucial role in United’s success, making a number of key saves to keep the Yellow Submarine at bay.

The result was crucial for United, who started off their Champions League campaign with a shock loss to Young Boys, before following it up with another two losses in three games in all competitions.

Elsewhere, Ronaldo’s long-time rival, Lionel Messi, registered a typically sumptuous left-footed strike in game week two, helping Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) ease to a comfortable 2-0 victory over last season’s losing finalists, Manchester City.

It was the Argentine maestro’s first goal for the French club since signing with them a few months ago.

Despite Messi’s heroics, City’s manager Pep Guardiola picked out PSG’s midfield magician Marco Verrati for special praise after the game. “When he’s under pressure, he has the calm to give one extra touch and create extra passes behind our midfielders,” Guardiola said of the Italian midfielder. 

“I know his character, his personality and I’m happy he’s back from injury. Exceptional player. He’s not a player for long-distance passes but you can count on him to make a build-up.”

Lionel Messi of PSG during the Uefa Champions League Group A match between Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City at Parc des Princes on 28 September 2021 in Paris, France. (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA / Getty Images)

Lethal Lewandowski

Bayern Munich, the team that was earmarked early on as favourites to win the competition, demonstrated just why many have bestowed them with that honour in typically ruthless style.

The Bavarians swatted aside Dynamo Kyiv 5-0 in their Group E game to secure their ninth consecutive win in all competitions.

Striker Robert Lewandowski scored a brace to take his tally 24 goals in his last 18 Champions League appearances and bolster his credentials for the Ballon d’Or award at the end of November.

The Pole was joined on the scoresheet by Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting as Bayern fired a second warning shot after their drubbing of Barcelona a fortnight ago.

Best of the rest

Moldovan minnows Sheriff Tiraspol shocked 13-time Champions League winners Real Madrid away from home after slaying the Spanish giants 2-1 at the Bernabeu.

Real’s rivals Barcelona’s troubles were compounded after they suffered a second successive 3-0 loss in the competition, falling to Benfica in Lisbon.

There were no such shocks when Liverpool humbled Portuguese side Porto 5-1, with their front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino all finding the back of the net in the rout. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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