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Champions League: What we learned From the first two match-days

Key moments of UCL MD1 & MD2

Lionel Messi - Paris Saint-Germain - UEFA Champions League Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

To get away from the boredom of the international break, let’s take a look at the highs and lows of UCL’s MD-1 and MD-2.

Young Boys toy with Man United

Everyone loves an underdog story, and the opening fixture of the Champions League didn’t disappoint. All the pregame focus was on how many goals Cristiano Ronaldo was going to score and by what margin Man United was going to win. What panned out left a sour taste in United fans’ mouths as Young Boys controlled the tempo of the game from the get-go, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s opener was the only bit of joy. Although Young Boys were helped by Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s red card for his horror tackle on midfielder Christopher Martins Pereira, the Swiss club did a fantastic job to nullify United’s chances to wrap up a thrilling victory.


You 8-2 see it Barca fans!

Although it wasn’t quite 8-2 this time, the magnitude of Barcelona’s 3-0 loss to Bayern in MD-1 is reminiscent of the 2019-20 season’s beat down. The absence of Messi’s creativity in the middle was noticeable as the Blaugranes posted an xG of 0.20 against Bayern (second-lowest in MD-1) — a clear weakness going forward.

What followed in MD-2 was even more surprising. Losing to Bayern was not something to be ashamed of; the Bavarian giants are the best team in the world on their day. However, one expects a club of Barcelona’s stature to beat Benfica comfortably, and if not win, put on a decent show at the minimum. Yet Barcelona’s performance at Estádio da Luz was anything but good. Despite enjoying just 40 % possession, the Portuguese Liga table-toppers had six shots on target compared to Barcelona’s measly one, comfortably beating the Culers 3-0. After that, one thinks Ronald Koeman’s days at Barcelona are numbered.

Sheriff Tiraspol — Remember the name

Could Sheriff pull off a Leicester? The Moldovan club well and truly hit the ground running in their debut Champions League season with a solid 2-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk.

What followed in MD-2 was out of this world! Sheriff traveled to Santiago Bernabéu to face Real Madrid — the most successful club in the competition — and Tiraspol did the unthinkable, beating Los Blancos 2-1. Although Real Madrid peppered the Sheriff goal with 31 shots, the yellow-blacks displayed hearts of lions to hold on to a win that will be talked about forever in Moldovan folklore.


Besiktas’ Injury Crisis

Besiktas had 11 first-teamers out due to injuries or illness ahead of the game against the high-flying Ajax. The squad was so thin that Besiktas manager Sergen Yalçın was forced to hand a Champions League debut to 18-year-old Azerbaijani midfielder Berkay Vardar to deputize for Umut Meraş. The Besiktas bench against Ajax consisted of three UEFA youth league players, and the injury concerns are only getting worse.

First-team regular Kenan Karaman was subbed early after fracturing his finger in Besiktas’ recent Turkish Superleague win against Sivasspor. Karaman joins the long injury list of key first-teamers like Miralem Pjanic, Atiba Hutchinson, Georges-Kevin N’Koudou, and Mehmet Topal. All signs point to Sporting CP having a field day against the Black Eagles in MD-3 if the physio room doesn’t turn around injuries quickly enough.

AFC Ajax v Besiktas - Group C - UEFA Champions League Photo by Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

PSG — Unfair winners?

The PSG vs Man City game in MD-2 saw Lionel Messi light up the Parc des Princes with a dazzling goal to cap off PSG’s 2-0 win against Man City. But according to the statisticians, this win was unfair!

Let me explain: Infogol’s xG fairness rating implies how fair or unfair a scoreline is based on the quality of chances created (with 0 being the least probable and 100 being the most). So according to xG, PSG’s win against Man City was the least fair in MD-2, with a score of 34.2.

[ Based on the xG fairness rating, Sheriff can also be counted a touch lucky to hold on to a famous 2-1 win at the Bernabeu, the Moldovan club’s result against Real Madrid having second-lowest xG fairness score of 34.9. ]

To know more about xG fairness rating, check out Infogol’s article explaining it in great detail.

The Numbers game

Captaincy is one of the most important decisions to make in UCL fantasy, so using underlying numbers to figure out teams to target for captaincy could be a useful metric. Although two games is a small sample size, here are some interesting observations from MD-1 & MD-2.

In MD-1, RB Leipzig (with red card vs Man City), Besiktas (vs Borussia Dortmund), and Sporting Lisbon (vs Ajax) had the worst underlying defensive numbers as they had xG-conceded of 3.41, 3.22, and 2.89 respectively. In MD-2, FC Porto (vs Liverpool), Besiktas (vs Ajax) and Sheriff Tiraspol (vs Real Madrid) were worst defensively at 3.94, 3.55 & 3.21 xG-conceded respectively.

(Source Infogol.)

Pep Roulette Immunity!

This is more of a look ahead than a look back. Since Man City plays Club Brugge in the opening game of MD-3, UCL fantasy managers will be able to see the official Man City lineup an hour before the transfer deadline. So we can be vaccinated against “Pep roulette” for MD-3; schedule your appointment right now! If your transfer plans revolve around Man City players, hold your transfers until the official lineups are out, and maneuver your teams accordingly (but don’t miss your vaccination appointment, otherwise you’ll feel sick!).

What was your personal highlight in the first two match-days? What are you looking forward to in GW-3? Have you used a chip yet? What is your chip strategy (especially if you’re using one for GW-3)? Have questions of your own? Please let us know in the comments below!