COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
With Matchday 3 in the books, the destinies of Europe’s finest teams - and by extension, Africa’s finest players - now hang firmly in the balance in the Uefa Champions League. There were shock results, and it is in Cyprus that perhaps the biggest occurred.
Borussia Dortmund hit a bump in the Bundesliga at the weekend, having seemed to be coasting, losing 3-2 to RasenBallsport Leipzig. If they hoped that result would lead to an inversion in fortunes from league to Europe, they were sadly mistaken.
On the night, APOEL were diligent and determined, leaving Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to render his one of his most frustrating Champions League displays as Peter Bosz’s side rescued a point.
Sixteen shots, a 72 per cent share of possession and 11 corners paints a worrying picture.
The glamour tie of the round without a doubt was to be seen in Manchester. City welcomed Napoli - only in the loosest sense of the term - before proceeding to utterly dominate the Serie A leaders in the opening half hour. In that time, they went two up, hit the woodwork, and saw a ball hacked off the line by the diligent but swamped Kalidou Koulibaly.
To their credit, Napoli came back into the game, winning two penalties: one missed, but the other converted by Amadou Diawara after a slaloming run by Faouzi Ghoulam. The Algerian looked the brightest on the night for Partenopei, and showed how well suited he is to this level.
The same can not be said for Feyenoord, however, who continue to look completely out of their depth in this competition. In any case, being here is certainly a good start for a proud team seeking to rebuild, and they did make a proper fist of their meeting with Shakhtar Donetsk at De Kuip. However, they succumbed 2-1, with the Moroccan midfield duo of Karim El Ahmadi and Sofyan Amrabat getting into the referee’s notebook.
Speaking of double-acts, Liverpool again had to do without theirs in attack as Sadio Mane remains sidelined. They, however, found Slovenian champions Maribor a tad more pliable than the immovable object that was Manchester United at the weekend. Mohamed Salah helped himself to a brace in a 7-0 rout, and Joel Matip had precious little to do at the back, a fact illustrated by the fact the hosts mustered all of five shots.
The battle of the right-backs ended in a stalemate, as Tottenham impressively garnered a point away at the home of the reigning champions, Real Madrid. Both Achraf Hakimi and Serge Aurier were solid, if unspectacular, for their respective sides, with the latter getting booked and giving away a penalty.
Over in Germany, RB Leipzig secured an important win, their first in a maiden European campaign in defeating Porto 3-2. Naby Keita was in his element, tackling and carrying the ball forward with equal zest, and managed to outshine Vincent Aboubakar, even though the latter got on the scoresheet for the Dragons. The Cameroon international is enjoying a strong season for Sergio Conceicao’s side; no surprise there, as Yacine Brahimi and Moussa Marega keep him in live ammunition.
Olympiacos rocked up in Camp Nou probably hoping to keep it tight, but saw any such designs wrecked by an unfortunate Dimitris Nikolaou own-goal. To their credit, they did not sink out of sight, eventually losing 3-1, even though Barcelona were reduced to 10 men in the first half. Togo international Alaixys Romao played in midfield, and earned a booking for his trouble.
Malian youngster Almamy Toure continues to make encouraging steps in his development, but there was little cheer for Monaco, who lost a second straight home game, this time to group leaders Besiktas. Balde Keita’s assist for the irrepressible Radamel Falcao set things rolling, but that’s as good as things got for the hosts. Cenk Tosun scored a brace to win it for the Turkish champions.
Qarabag had much to be proud of, recording an upset by holding Atletico Madrid to a draw in Azerbaijan.
It was not pretty, by any stretch: South African forward Dino Ndlovu somewhat harshly received a second yellow for perceived simulation, but Diego Simeone’s men were unable to profit, even after chucking Ghana goal machine Thomas Partey into the mix for the final thirty minutes.
Finally, to Belgium. Anderlecht will not be the last side to concede four to a freewheeling Paris Saint-Germain side, whose front three all got on the scoresheet (again). Kara Mbodji found it impossible to keep up, and Henry Onyekuru, playing in an unfamiliar left wing-back role, struggled too.
The Nigeria international was however the brightest spark for Anderlecht going forward, and breezed past Dani Alves on a couple of occasions, forcing a save from Kevin Trapp before hitting the woodwork. Sofiane Hanni, to the detriment of the home side, was a lot less prominent in forward positions.