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UEFA Champions League

State of Play in the 2023/24 UEFA Champions League

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Jude Bellingham of Real Madrid in UCL

Matchday three of the 2023/24 Champions League group stages at the end of October, marking the halfway point of that particular phase of the competition. So far there have been a bucket load of talking points. Usual contenders are rising to the fore, while some former heavyweights are running in the mud somewhat. But as the group stages start to reach their boiling point, we decided to take stock, providing you with all you need to know about the story of each group so far. 

Group A

Prior to the tournament getting underway, Bayern Munich was the second favorite for glory behind champions Manchester City. Then they added Harry Kane to their already star-studded squad, and the England captain has taken the Bavarians to another level. As such, they currently sit at the top of Group A with three wins from three, and one victory in their final three games will see them qualify for the knockout stages as group winners. 

The real story in the group however lies with the runner-up spot. Second place in the group is currently occupied by Turkish champions Galatasaray. They rocked up to Old Trafford and upset Manchester United, with a late Mauro Icardi goal good enough to win a 3-2 thriller. That has them sitting pretty at the moment, and with the Red Devils still to visit Istanbul, they may very well progress to the knockout rounds at United’s expense.

Group B

Arsenal announced their return as major players in European football as they pushed Manchester City all the way in last season’s Premier League title race. The signings of Declan Rice and Kai Havertz have only strengthened them, and they currently sit at the top of Group B and are firm favorites to top the group. They did however lose away at Lens on match day two, and that result has given the French side hopes of reaching the last 16. 

They are currently in second place, three points ahead of PSV Eindhoven and Europa League specialists Sevilla. Would anyone be surprised to see the Spanish side finish in third and drop into Europe’s secondary competition once more?

Group C 

When the group stage draw was made back in August, Group C was one of the more predictable groups. Real Madrid and Napoli were expected to finish first and second, while Braga and Union Berlin would be left to battle it out for the Europa League spot. And as of right now, those predictions were on point. 

The record 14-time champions look set to top the group following a Jude Bellingham-inspired victory in Naples. Braga meanwhile should secure third place following a come-from-behind victory in Berlin on matchday one.

Group D

If Group C was predictable then Group D was anything but. However, it is Spanish side Real Sociedad that have taken the group by storm, They currently top the standings with seven points, ahead of last year’s beaten finalists Inter Milan on goal difference. The Spaniards have to travel to the San Siro on the final matchday, and that matchup may well decide the group winners. 

Currently, Benfica and RB Salzburg are lagging behind. The latter are currently in third place with three points, points they picked up with a 2-0 victory in Lisbon on matchday one. If they avoid defeat to the Portuguese side on the final matchday then they should secure third place.

Group E

One group that is currently wide open is Group E. It is topped by Dutch champions Feyenoord, who are a point clear of two-time finalists Atletico Madrid. Lazio are a point further back while Celtic are bottom of the group with just one point. The Scottish side are without a victory in the competition in five years and that unwanted drought looks set to extend. Atleti are the only one of the leading three sides to have two home game remaining, so don’t be surprised to see them top the group.

Group F

This year’s resident Group of Death is Group F. It is currently topped by Paris Saint-Germain, despite their humbling 4-1 defeat away at Newcastle on matchday two. The Geordies are second on four points, level with Borussia Dortmund, who recently defeated them at St. James’ Park. AC Milan reached the semifinals last season however, they are currently propping up the others. All is still to play for here, as you’d expect from the group of death, and don’t be surprised to see more twists in the tale before the group stage is over. 

Group G

Manchester City is the favorite to retain the trophy they won so impressively in Istanbul back in June, and they were widely expected to run away with this group. That is exactly what they have done thus far, winning all three of their games convincingly. RB Leipzig look set to follow them to the knockout stages with two wins from three thus far. Young Boys and Red Star Belgrade will be aiming to secure Europa League football in the new year. 

Group H

Finally, we have Group H, which is currently topped by Barcelona. The Blaugrana have exited the competition at the group stage in each of the last two seasons however they look set to break that streak this term with three wins from three so far. FC Porto are currently second with two wins from their three games, while Shakhtar Donetsk and Belgian Champions Antwerp are battling it out for third.

A lifelong Liverpool supporter with a passion for storytelling and an unhealthy obsession with Anime, NFTs, and Web3. When not cheering on the Reds or diving into the latest crypto trends, I'm busy crafting engaging content that'll keep you up-to-date on all things sports.

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UEFA Champions League

UEFA Champions League 2023/24: Semi-Final 2nd Leg Recap

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Toni Kroos Playing for Real Madrid

And then there were two! The final of the 2023/24 UEFA Champions League is set and it will be for the first Borussia Dortmund vs Real Madrid. In this write-up, we’ll look at how the 2nd leg of the semi-final fixtures unfolded and preview what promises to be an exciting final.

PSG vs Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund clinched their spot in the Champions League final with a solid 1-0 victory over Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday, sealing a 2-0 aggregate win. Mats Hummels’ second-half header secured the win for Dortmund, marking their return to the final for the first time since 2013.

The match saw PSG dominating early on, with Mbappé leading their attacking charge. However, Dortmund remained composed and created chances on the counter. A brilliant save from Gianluigi Donnarumma denied Dortmund’s Karim Adeyemi, keeping the score level at halftime.

After the break, Dortmund capitalized on a corner as Hummels’ header extended their lead. PSG intensified their efforts, hitting the woodwork twice through Mbappé and Vitinha. Despite late pressure from PSG, Dortmund’s defensive solidity saw them through, deserving their spot in the final.

Also despite PSG hitting the woodwork four times, including Kylian Mbappé’s close attempts, they were unable to score the crucial goal.

Dortmund’s coach, Edin Terzic, praised his team’s performance, highlighting their defensive resilience. Meanwhile, PSG captain Marquinhos acknowledged their lack of efficiency but found positives in their overall Champions League journey under a new coach and project.

Standout Players

PSG

  • Vitinha – 7.5/10
    PSG’s standout performer, constantly driving his team forward. Unlucky not to score with a late strike that hit the woodwork. Deserved better than to end up on the losing side.
  • Ousmane Dembele – 7/10
    Posed a threat with his runs at the Dortmund defense, although luck wasn’t on his side. Escaped an early booking but was eventually cautioned in the second half.
  • Nuno Mendes – 7/10
    Showed his defensive prowess by winning his duels, notably against Sancho. A solid presence in PSG’s backline, while also contributing to attacks effectively.

Borussia Dortmund

  • Mats Hummels – 8.5/10
    The stalwart in Dortmund’s lineup, Hummels showcased his experience with a stellar performance, contributing a crucial goal. Consistently displays class and was tactically astute, as seen in his smart foul on Dembele just outside the area.
  • Julian Ryerson – 7/10
    Showed promise with an early shot, although it went into the side netting. Handled Mbappe’s threat effectively and made important clearances throughout the match.
  • Ian Maatsen – 7.5/10 
    Demonstrated versatility by advancing from full-back with both elegance and threat. Alongside his attacking prowess, Maatsen also proved solid defensively, completing his journey from Chelsea reserve to the Champions League final.

Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich

Real Madrid dominated for much of the match and had a golden opportunity in the first half, with Manuel Neuer making a crucial save to deny Rodrygo after Vinicius Junior’s shot hit the post. Neuer continued to shine in the second half, thwarting Vinicius Jr. on another occasion.

However, Bayern Munich capitalized on the counterattack, with Davies seizing the moment to score his first Champions League goal in the 68th minute. Bayern seemed in control after Davies’ 68th-minute put them ahead.

Despite appearing to be on the brink of defeat, Real Madrid, known for their resilience in this tournament, found a lifeline. Substitute Joselu capitalized on a mistake from Neuer to equalize in the 88th minute before securing victory with a close-range finish in stoppage time, leaving German fans heartbroken.

Joselu emerged as the hero in a thrilling comeback, netting another goal in the dying moments to secure a 2-1 victory over Bayern Munich. This turnaround propelled Real to a 4-3 aggregate win, booking their spot in the Champions League final for the sixth time in a decade.

Standout Players

Real Madrid

  • Vinicius Jr 9/10
    Started strong and posed a constant threat. Could have secured a hat-trick if not for Neuer’s exceptional saves. Gave Kimmich a tough time throughout the match.
  • Toni Kroos 8/10
    Controlled the midfield with precision passing. Continues to shine this season with his exceptional performance.
  • Ferland Mendy 8/10
    Kept Sane in check and provided consistent support to Vinicius throughout the game. Demonstrated exemplary full-back skills.

Bayern Munich

  • Aleksandar Pavlovic – 8/10
    Impressively composed for his age, Pavlovic showcased excellent distribution and defensive skills. Despite his solid performance, he found himself on the losing side.
  • Manuel Neuer – 7.5/10
    Made a remarkable save against Rodrygo, demonstrating his exceptional goalkeeping abilities. However, his rare mistake marred an otherwise outstanding performance for Bayern.
  • Harry Kane – 7/10
    Although not at his best as a center-forward, Kane contributed with an assist for Davies’ goal. Despite his efforts, he concludes his first season at Bayern without securing a trophy.

Read More: UCL 2023/24: Semi-Final 1st Leg Recap

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UEFA Champions League

UEFA Champions League 2023/24: Semi-Final 1st Leg Recap

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Bayern Munich Striker Harry Kane

It’s safe to say that the 1st Leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final clashes lived up to expectations. While Bayern held 15-time winners Real Madrid to a 2-2 draw at home, Dortmund sprung a surprise and came away as 1-0 winners over PSG at home. In this write-up, we’ll look at both these games in detail with player ratings and 2nd leg predictions.

Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid

In a clash marking their record eighth encounter at this stage, Bayern surged early, with Leroy Sané and Harry Kane posing threats. 

Thomas Tuchel’s side started brightly in this Champions League semi-final first leg. However, they were left stunned when their opponents scored with their first shot of the game after 24 minutes. Kim’s lapse in concentration allowed Vinicius Jr to break free and slot the ball past a motionless Manuel Neuer.

Kroos nearly doubled the lead in the 51st minute, only to be denied by Neuer’s acrobatics. However, Bayern responded swiftly, with Sané’s solo effort restoring parity, before Kane’s penalty, awarded after Jamal Musiala was fouled, put the hosts in front, giving Bayern a 2-1 advantage with his 43rd goal of the season. Unfortunately for the hosts, they couldn’t hold on to the lead, as Kim’s clumsy challenge on Vinicius led to a late penalty, which the Brazilian converted to level the score with seven minutes remaining.

Two glaring mistakes by Kim Min-jae cost Bayern Munich a well-deserved win against Real Madrid on Tuesday. The defender’s errors led to both goals conceded by the Bavarians in the 2-2 draw at the Allianz Arena.

Standout Players

Bayern Munich

  • Erick Dier – 7/10
    Demonstrated his usual command in organizing Bayern’s defense, effectively limiting Real’s offensive opportunities. Contributed to the team’s solid build-up play with minimal errors. However, missed a significant chance to extend the lead with a header straight into Lunin’s hands.
  • Konrad Laimer – 9/10
    A relentless force in midfield, Laimer showcased exceptional stamina and dominance in battles for possession, frequently emerging victorious. His relentless work rate was instrumental in Bayern’s control of the midfield.
  • Harry Kane – 8/10
    Made significant contributions to Bayern’s build-up play with his diligent efforts and came through when needed, converting a crucial penalty. Displayed versatility and reliability throughout the match.
  • Jamal Musiala – 8/10
    Emerged as one of Bayern’s primary threats, Musiala earned the penalty that led to the team’s second goal. Showed promise with his dribbling skills but could have been more clinical in front of goal.

Real Madrid

  • Vinicius Junior – 8/10
    Demonstrated composure with both his goals, showcasing resilience in navigating through tight defensive battles to create scoring opportunities. Showed patience and reaped the rewards of his persistence.
  • Toni Kroos – 7/10
    Executed a sublime pass to unlock Bayern’s defense for the opening goal. Faced difficulties coping with the increased tempo of the second half but still exhibited moments of quality on the ball.
  • Aurelien Tchouameni – 7/10
    Adapted well to the game’s dynamics following Bayern’s early dominance, maintaining vigilance against Kane’s deep playmaking role.
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Borussia Dortmund vs PSG

In a tightly contested first-leg encounter, Paris Saint-Germain suffered a 1-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League semi-final, with Kylian Mbappe subdued while facing an inspired performance from the opposition’s wide forward.

Jadon Sancho, showcasing his finest form since returning to Dortmund on loan in January, dazzled on the wing, overshadowing Mbappe and leaving the Parisians to lament missed opportunities. PSG now faces the daunting task of overturning the aggregate deficit if they aim to maintain their aspirations of clinching a maiden European Cup before their leading goal scorer departs this summer.

The breakthrough came for Dortmund after 35 minutes when Niklas Fullkrug breached the Parisian defense, collecting a lofted pass and slotting the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma.

PSG rallied after the interval, launching a barrage of attacks on Gregor Kobel’s goal early in the second half. Mbappe and Achraf Hakimi both struck the inside of the post, while Fabian Ruiz missed a glaring opportunity by nodding wide. Ousmane Dembele also squandered chances from close range.

Dortmund had their share of opportunities, with Julian Brandt and Fullkrug failing to capitalize on scoring chances. Throughout the match, Sancho’s stellar performance served as Dortmund’s catalyst. However, neither side managed to add to the scoreline, setting the stage for an enticing second leg with PSG facing an uphill battle.

Standout Players

Borussia Dortmund

  • Jadon Sancho: 9/10
    Displayed a level of confidence and flair unseen by Manchester United fans, orchestrating numerous chances with effortless precision.
  • Niclas Fullkrug: 9/10 
    Clinical in converting his first-half opportunity but marred by a glaring miss later on. Nonetheless, remained a constant menace to PSG’s defense throughout the match.
  • Nico Schlotterbeck: 8/10 
    Instrumental in Dortmund’s lead with an exceptional long pass, showcasing defensive solidity alongside his offensive contributions.
  • Ian Maatsen: 8/10 
    Asserted himself effectively in the attacking third, disrupting Hakimi’s forward surges and containing his threat for the majority of the game.

PSG

  • Warren Zaire-Emery – 7/10
    Showed great energy in midfield, covering a lot of ground while facilitating play for the team.
  • Kylian Mbappe – 6/10
    Came close to scoring with a shot that struck the post and provided a promising opportunity for Kolo Muani. However, his overall impact on the game was subdued.
  • Vitinha – 6/10
    Directed play effectively, showcasing both short and long passing abilities. However, struggled with defensive tracking at times.

Read More: Arsenal maintain EPL 2023/24 Title Hopes

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UEFA Champions League

PSG in the Champions League: Farewell Mbappe, but can they still win?

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Kylian Mbappe for PSG 2024

Kylian Mbappe was in fine form on March 5 when PSG took on Real Sociedad in its round of 16 Champions League clash. The 25-year-old striker scored two brilliant goals to lead PSG to victory. The Parisian club has now advanced to the quarterfinals.

In the 15th minute, Mbappe made a lightning-quick run down the right side of the field and received the ball in the box near the goal lines. He looked up and saw no teammates in the box, so he decided to put his dribbling skills to use, which he learned playing in the cages dotted around Bondy, the tough Parisian commune he grew up in. 

After masterfully cutting the ball back on the inside, Mbappe then feinted, which even tricked the cameraman. This gave him more than enough space to unleash a hellacious strike with his right foot that sailed right past the keeper, landing in the bottom left-hand corner of the net.

In the 55th minute, PSG showed its counter-attacking abilities. Vitinha received the ball on half way, after a nice touch with his chest, the Portuguese player looked up and saw Mbappe open. He didn’t hesitate and immediately played a perfectly waiting-through ball to the rampaging French Striker.

Mbappe made the perfect run and ended up receiving the ball just outside the box with no one in front of him. The 25-year-old took two perfect touches to leave him one-on-one with the keeper. He placed the ball on his right foot and opened his hips. Everyone, including the keeper, thought the French striker would fire the ball to the right. However, at the last minute, he hooked the ball. The keeper was caught flat-footed and was forced to watch the ball beat him on the near post.

Mbappe was in a league of his own out there, cementing himself as the number-one footballer in the world. With a performance like that, Real Madrid won’t be feeling any buyer’s remorse. Real Madrid recently announced that the French forward will be moving to Spain at the end of the season.

Mbappe’s Last Shot to Win the Champions League for PSG

This is the last time PSG fans will see Mbappe representing their club at the Champions League. The French striker is officially going to Real Madrid and is reportedly going to receive a $120+ million signing fee and be at the Spanish club until 2029. 

Despite Mbappe being in fine form and guiding PSG to the quaterfinals, the Parisian club is still a long shot to lift the title. Sportsbooks have PSG as a 12/1 underdog, while defending champions Man City are the clear favorites, paying 13/8. Other top contenders include Real Madrid at 9/2 and Arsenal and Bayern Munich, both paying 6/1.

Without Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, and Neymar Júnior, PSG isn’t the same team that made it to the final of the Champions League back in 2020. However, with the world’s best striker who seemingly can produce goals out of nothing, it’s way too early to discount PSG.

Can PSG overcome the odds?

PSG were shaky during the group stages, losing two games and drawing two games. It only qualified for the knockout stages based on goal difference. PSG has appeared to peak at the right time. In its first game against Real Sociedad, PSG comfortably won 2-0, with Mbappe scoring the first goal of the match. 

Thanks to another two goals from Mbappe in the second match, PSG ended up with a 4-1 aggregate. PSG will have to lift its game to another level if it plans to topple the likes of Man City, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid.

Mbappe isn’t the only goal-scorer in fine form. Erling Haaland is having another strong season for Man City, who are the clear favorites. We wouldn’t be surprised if Man City meet Real Madrid in the Champions League final, with Haaland scoring the game-winner.

For PSG fans’ sake, it’d be great to see Mbappe lead his hometown club to a Champions League final and ultimately lift the trophy. PSG has never won the Champions League final, but that could all change if Mbappe gets enough touches. We’ll have to see if his talent alone is enough to carry the team to victory!

Read More: How Paris is Becoming One of the Great Cities for Football Talent

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