Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Champions League takeaways: Milan have life, Barcelona struggle and Christian Pulisic gets injured

Champions League Matchday 4 has started with a bang as Manchester City and RB Leipzig became the first teams to qualify for the round of 16 leaving 14 spots up for grabs. Barcelona had the inside track for one of them but after a shock loss to Shakhtar Donetsk, Group H could see anyone advance. Well, anyone but Royal Antwerp at least as the Belgian side were eliminated from contending for the last 16 alongside Crvena zvezda and Young Boys. Milan also picked an important time to secure their first win in Champions League with a 2-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain. 

Tuesday’s scores

  • Borussia Dortmund 2, Newcastle United 0
  • Shakhtar Donetsk 1, Barcelona 0
  • AC Milan 2, Paris Saint-Germain 1
  • Manchester City 3, Young Boys 0
  • Porto 2, Antwerp 0
  • Crvena zvezda 1, RB Leipzig 2
  • Lazio 1, Feyenoord 0
  • Atletico Madrid 6, Celtic 0

Let’s take a look a some takeaways from the day

Barcelona’s struggles continue

Despite defeating Real Sociedad with a stoppage-time winner during the weekend, it was a match that raised concern instead of inspiring confidence in what Barcelona would do and they followed things up by showing an anemic attack in another away trip to Shakhtar Donetsk. Xavi’s men could’ve advanced from their group on matchday 4 but now not only can they not afford to rotate in upcoming matches verus Porto and Royal Antwerp but there is also a world where Barcelona falls to Europa League again which would be a complete disaster.

Xavi needed Frenkie de Jong back as this is a team that looks well off the pace of the other Champions League contenders. Defensively things have been mostly fine but when a team can’t get shots on target, scoring will be easier said than done.

The group of death has become a group of carnage

With Milan getting their first victory in group stage play in a victory over PSG and Dortmund doing the double over Newcastle United to go top of Group F, only three points separate first place from fourth place as whichever team gets knocked out of European competition will feel hard done. Surprisingly, Dortmund have only allowed two goals in their four matches played as domestic struggles haven’t carried over to European play but form has been quite confusing. Newcastle has been one of the best Premier League sides but can’t buy a European goal, PSG’s defense can’t hang with Europe’s elite and Milan were shooting but not converting chances until Raphael Leao took over. It’s a group that will go down to the last second but when even PSG aren’t the automatic number one, who knows who will come out on top?

Cash is the unlikely star

The scenes in Signal Iduna Park and San Siro were something else as cash rained from the sky but for very different reasons. Facing Newcastle United, Dortmund had a planned protest to throw fake bills and gold bars on the pitch against Newcastle. After a stunt like that, a team has to win and Dortmund did just that although Newcastle United having significant injuries did help.

In Milan, the match marked the return of keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma who left the club for a free transfer to join PSG for a massive payday. He got it but he also got rained on by both shots and fake money bearing his face with “dollarumma” written on them, showing the mark that the Milan man leaving left which certainly had an impact on a match that PSG were second best in.

Pulisic watch

Staying in Milan, United States men’s national team star Christian Pulisic left the match with what has currently been diagnosed as a cramp during stoppage time. While that would be refreshing, it’s quite early and it’s in the same area that Pulisic also picked up a recent hamstring injury. As the USMNT will play Trinidad & Tobago with a place in the Copa America on the line, both Milan and Gregg Berhalter will be holding their breath over his fitness.

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