Five insights from UCL Matchday 1: Messi, Ronaldo are still the headliners

Cristiano Ronaldo sent off
Cristiano Ronaldo sent off

The 2018/19 UEFA Champions League group stage kicked off on September 18 with new kickoff times. Some teams like Tottenham started off at 6pm while other maintained the 8pm slot but as much as we love new things, the major headlines were dominated by the dynamic duo of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Messi’s eight UCL hat trick shows Barcelona the way

The Barcelona board cannot afford to think too far ahead…contemplating a Barcelona team without Lionel Messi’s influence in the coming years is somewhat very painful to imagine. But he is still around and getting things done for the Catalans. On Tuesday, the 31-year-old scored his eighth career UCL hat trick as Barcelona beat PSV 4-0.

His first of the night was a perfectly placed free kick from the edge of the box that drew sighs from the Nou Camp crowd. A run and a pass from Ivan Rakitic saw the Argentine finish first time past the goalkeeper and he scored his third and the fourth of the game three minutes from time when he finished from a clever back-heel pass from Luis Suarez. The hat trick made it 103 goals scored in the competition, behind Cristiano Ronaldo’s record 120 goals.

His manager, Ernesto Valverde surmised the performance perfectly by saying it was normal for Messi, but abnormal for any other player. “This performance by Messi is normal because we always see it. In any of us it would be abnormal, but he does extraordinary things and makes them routine.”

Ronaldo’s red card a farce

As long as referees will be dogmatic and reveal their misunderstanding of the game and the absence of VAR, we will continue to have misinterpretations like the kind of Felix Brych in the Juventus/Valencia encounter.

The referee did not see the incident that warranted the red card but depended solely on the assistance of the goal line official. Ronaldo, the record goal scorer in the UCL, was reduced to tears on the award of the red while the referee, being human tried to placate Juve with the award of two penalties – the second a very debatable award.

After the encounter, which Juventus won comfortably 2-0, Juve manager, Massimiliano Allegri said, “VAR would have avoided what happened, it would have brought the right decision. We hope the suspension will be limited.” FIFA, football’s governing body would do well not to turn football into a game of Ludo, where there will be no physical contact!

Pep has to do more to rule Europe once again

Pep Guardiola was serving a ban on Wednesday but seated high at the Etihad, the cameras showed him kicking almost every ball. Being a sincere person, after the defeat, he might have been thinking that once again, his team might not be able to get near football’s Holy Grail.

It was supposed to be a stroll but it turned into a damaging experience for interim boss, Mikel Arteta as Manchester City lost 2-1 to Olympique Lyon at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.

The last time Pep Guardiola led a team to lift the UCL trophy was with Barcelona in 2011 but with almost £600 million spent on rebuilding the City team, his team should be among the contenders on a season-to-season basis but the showing on Wednesday showed they still have a lot to do to conquer Europe.

Though, the beaten City team was devoid of their mercurial playmaker, Kevin De Bruyne and marauding defender, Benjamin Mendy, the 11 sent out against the French team should have done the job.

Liverpool will be a handful for any team

PSG were really dismal in their performance but that is not taking anything away from Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team. They performed as they were expected though Mohamed Salah is having a hard time getting into his groove.

Having let a two-goal lead slip, Klopp sent on the marginally impaired Roberto Firmino, who promptly won the match with virtually the last kick of the encounter. If they can play like they did against the French champions – whom they totally dominated then they will take some stopping.

The onus on Klopp’s teams over the years is that they are unable to maintain the energy for nine months but this Reds’ squad is a deeper one and he should be able to conserve their strength by tactical rotation throughout the season.

Referees need help

Apart from the Ronaldo red card, the referee for the City/Lyon match was caught blind on some occasions. In the second half, Ederson came charging out of his area to clear a ball and intentionally pulled Tanguy Ndombele to the ground just outside his box – a clear foul but referee Daniele Orsato from Italy waved play on when he was clearly blind to what had happened.

In the match between Manchester United and Young Boys, the penalty through which United scored their second goal was a clear mistake. The defender, Kevin Mbabu did not affect the cross by Luke Shaw with any part of his arm, as they were tucked into his body but the referee, Denis Aytekin from Germany clearly interpreted it wrongly.

The Virtual Assistant Referee was used in the World Cup and solved many riddles. UEFA has to raise their game and implement this to help the referees, who we must admit are truly human.

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