Newcastle United had to wait over 20 years to host a UEFA Champions League game, and when UCL football returned to St James’ Park, they ran amok against a shellshocked Paris Saint-Germain side. The 4-1 victory was their biggest win in the Champions League and certainly put a message out to leading contenders for the trophy.
In a match that often felt so much like Newcastle’s famous win over Barcelona back in 1997, the Premier League club took a 2-0 lead into the half-time break, just like on that day 26 years ago. That game saw Luis Enrique play for Barca, and he would have been having nightmare flashbacks of that night on the PSG bench tonight.
The French champions couldn’t handle Eddie Howe’s busy side, with Newcastle’s constant attacking threat seeing them score three times inside the opening 50 minutes – just one minute longer than it took Tino Asprilla to net his hat-trick in that 1997 win over Barcelona. Fittingly, on such a big occasion for the club, Newcastle’s second and third goals came via two homegrown Newcastle fans, Dan Burn and Sean Longstaff. Fabian Schär added an excellent fourth goal late on, to inflict PSG’s second biggest group-stage defeat in UCL history, behind only a 5-1 loss to Bayern Munich in October 1997.
Enrique’s side dominated the ball with 73% possession, but it counted for absolutely nothing, as they didn’t even attempt a single shot on target until the 77th minute.
PSG have been desperate for Champions League success ever since their Qatari owners took over in 2011. Overall, only Arsenal (179) have played more games in the competition without ever winning it than the 11-time Ligue 1 champions (139). It may be a new-look side, but based on tonight’s evidence, it’s the same old Paris Saint-Germain.
- The Group of Dearth
A Champions League group of death is supposed to leave us feeling a club or two worthy of a last 16 spot is going to be sent out of the competition early. In this season’s competition, the group of death was supposed to be Group F with Paris Saint-Germain, Newcastle United, Borussia Dortmund and 2022-23 semi-finalists Milan. Measured through the Opta Power Rankings, each of those clubs are among the top 16 in the world (PSG are ranked exactly 16) and Group F teams still lead the way with an average rating of 91.6. Next closest at the moment is actually Group D (Inter, Real Sociedad, Salzburg and Benfica) at 90.5.
Instead, through two matchdays, it feels in Group F more like there’s a void in the group than a surplus. Newcastle distinguished themselves Wednesday with a 4-1 victory over PSG, but the other three teams haven’t shown much to be afraid of.
Milan and Dortmund are still seeking their first goals in this season’s UCL after their 0-0 draw in Germany today:
The five combined shots on target in that match are the fewest since… well, PSG-Dortmund in Matchday 1. It had four. So Dortmund and Milan haven’t scored, and Dortmund and PSG have combined for nine shots on target. Or, fewer than Crvena Zvezda on their own (10). And while Newcastle flexed today, their 1.33 xG through two matches is second lowest in the competition ahead of only Celtic (1.31).
Milan would certainly consider themselves unlucky to not have come away with three points on Matchday 1 against Newcastle, but no one is going to remember that come 25 October when Matchday 3 comes around and the pressure starts to mount for these three.
To take an optimist’s view, this only means games later in the group stage figure to matter. Hopefully those involved will make those matches worth watching.
- The Predictor Says…
Now that we’re two full matchdays into the 2023-24 Champions League, let’s check in with our trusty supercomputer. Perhaps you’ll recall back at the start of September when the indifferent machine put Manchester City well out in front with a 36.1% chance of winning the competition. Not much has changed in that regard, but there have been some shakeups elsewhere, particularly so in Group A:
- Group A: Manchester United were heavy favourites to advance out of Group A ahead of Galatasaray and København. The predictor had them at 78.8% to progress. That still very well may happen, but after United’s showing yesterday kept them on zero points through two matches, their chances of progressing are down to 33.3% while Galatasaray’s have ballooned to 57.2%. Bayern Munich comfortably lead the way at 98.6%, which is second among all 32 teams. Their 90.6% chance of winning their group is also second highest.
- Group F: We wrote earlier in this post about the group of death’s collective showing so far in the competition. Because of how it’s played out so far and the level of competition across these four teams, no team in the group has more than a 73.4% chance of reaching the last 16. That’s Newcastle at the top, but their likelihood of progressing is lower than all other group leaders. Next lowest is Inter (84.7%) at the top of Group D. So it follows that last-place side Dortmund are still very much alive with a 29.5% chance to get through, which is the highest among teams at the bottom of their group.
- Group D: F isn’t the only group that’s up for grabs – in fact only three groups have a bottom team with less than a 5% chance of reaching the last 16. Every team in Group D has at least an 18.4% chance of getting though. That’s Benfica at the bottom without a point through two matches, but that can all change on Matchday 3 with Real Sociedad visiting Lisbon. Those two teams are about as close as it gets in the Power Rankings:
- The favourites are still the favourites: Manchester City won the Champions League last year, entered the season as our favourites to do it again, and remain there after two matches after Julian Álvarez’s 84th-minute goal got them back in the lead against RB Leipzig. But the supercomputer’s confidence in Pep Guardiola’s side has dipped some (33.2%) after a close call today following on from their losses to Wolves on Saturday and Newcastle last Wednesday.
Record Breaker Lamine Yamal
In handing Lamine Yamal his first ever UEFA Champions League start in tonight’s game against FC Porto, Xavi has just helped the Spanish youngster break yet another record.
This time, Yamal’s set the record as the youngest player to every start a UCL game, aged just 16 years and 83 days today. This overtakes the previous competition record set by Celestine Babayaro way back in November 1994, when he made his first start in the competition for Anderlecht versus Olympiakos while aged just three days older than Yamal’s effort (16 years, 86 days old).
Yamal already had a Champions League appearance under his belt, having come on as a substitute in Barca’s emphatic MD 1 victory at home to Antwerp, but having been aged 16 years and 68 days old on that night, he missed out on the competition record by 60 days. The all-time youngest appearance maker in the UCL is still Borussia Dortmund’s Youssoufa Moukoko, when he played against Zenit St Petersburg in December 2020.
Of course, Yamal set new Spanish national team records as both their youngest player ever and youngest goalscorer, when debuting and scoring against Georgia last month, when aged 16 years and 57 days old.
Check back on Opta Analyst in 20 years’ time when he’s broken the UEFA Champions League appearance record.
- Feyenoord Impress, Atlético Take Three Points in Group E Gem
Group E may feature no European giants, but four more matchdays nearing the quality of the group’s early match on Wednesday should have giant appeal to all of Europe. The entertainment value of the opening 45 minutes of Atlético Madrid-Feyenoord was more befitting of the last 45 minutes of a Champions League knockout-stage match than the first 45 of an early start in October. And the next 45 was no slouch either.
Feyenoord came out attacking rather than taking a conservative approach away in Madrid having started the Champions League campaign with three points against Celtic, while Atlético were on a point after a draw with Lazio. The Dutch side led for the first time after benefiting from an own goal in the seventh minute, but it was more than a bit of luck with Arne Slot’s side accounting for four of the match’s first five attempts on target. Atlético equalised five minutes later through Álvaro Morata for his 25th Champions League goal and his 26th would come later, which trails only Raul (71) and Fernando Morientes (33) among Spanish players.
Momentum went back the other way at the Metropolitano around the half-hour mark, and the Dutch side took their second lead of the match with Dávid Hancko scoring in the 34th.
But that promising spell for Feyenoord ended with Antoine Griezmann scoring on the first half’s last kick to even things up again before the second half picked up immediately where the first had left off in terms of excitement with Morata’s second goal coming on a beautiful finishing touch off a Nahuel Molina cross from the right wing. It was Atlético’s third shot on target and third goal, which is how it ended in a match Feyenoord will have wanted at least a point from whether they look at the numbers or not. Of the 12 teams to generate at least 2.3 xG in a match thus far in this season’s competition, their 2.47 xG today is the only not to result in at least a point. Ten have been wins, while PSV settled for a draw with Sevilla.
Game management was touch and go for Diego Simeone’s side through 75 minutes. Feyenoord’s best chances of the first 25 minutes of the second half came on two-long range attempts by Igor Paixão from the left. The first narrowly sailed over and the second missed at the far post after bending around Jan Oblak. But the best chance to draw even came with Yankuba Minteh in on Oblak, who managed the 72nd-minute save.
What Europe is learning about this Feyenoord side in Champions League has been on display through seven Eredivisie matches. The Rotterdam side haven’t lost in the league yet, and though two draws have them in fourth, they lead the Eredivisie with 26 goals through seven matches.
With the victory, Atlético’s chances to reach the last 16 are now up to 88.4%, while Feyenoord’s dip to 60.4. What’s apparent is Feyenoord have the attacking prowess to keep things interesting in Group E for four more matchdays, sitting on three points through two matches with arguably their most difficult fixture – away to Atlético – out of the way.
Feyenoord have also done it so far without Santiago Giménez, whom we included in our Eight Champions League Hidden Gems to Keep Your Eye On last month. The Mexican forward has now completed his two-match ban in European competition and figures to be back in two weeks against Lazio.
- Manchester United Sink Again as Galatasaray Come From Behind Twice to Win
Galatasaray came from a goal down on two occasions before eventually beating Manchester United 3-2 at Old Trafford as Erik ten Hag’s side opened a Champions League campaign with consecutive losses, the first time United have ever done so in the competition.
The game was a microcosm of United’s topsy-turvy form in recent seasons, with some highlights and a lot of questionable decision-making all over the field.
Rasmus Højlund was one of the few positives from the game from a United standpoint as he scored twice, with his first after 17 minutes making him the youngest player (20 years, 241 days) to score in his first two Champions League appearances since Erling Haaland in 2019 (19 years, 73 days).
Just six minutes later, Wilfried Zaha found the net against his former club. It was the Ivory Coast international’s first Champions League goal. It was also his fourth in his last five games against United in all competitions.
In the 67th minute, it was looking rosy again for United as Højlund took advantage of a slip by Davinson Sánchez to race clear and chipped calmly over Fernando Muslera to restore the hosts’ lead.
That’s when the chaos started.
Kerem Aktürkoglu slotted home after Galatasaray sliced through United to level things again, before Casemiro was given his marching orders for a foul on Dries Mertens inside the penalty area after André Onana passed the ball straight to the Belgian. Mauro Icardi slammed the ensuing penalty wide, though, to give United some hope.
It didn’t last as Icardi made amends to give Galatasaray all three points soon after, racing through to clip a finish over Onana.
Since the start of last season, Onana has recorded more clean sheets than any other goalkeeper in the Champions League (8), though no goalkeeper has conceded 3+ goals on more occasions than the Cameroonian in the competition during the same period (four times).
It was Galatasaray’s first win of the campaign after they drew with FC København in the opening round of fixtures. Ten Hag’s side are still searching for their first points in Group A and have conceded seven in two games, but have scored five, coming out on the wrong side of two high-scoring affairs.
This was Galatasaray’s first away win in the Champions League since a 3-2 victory against Schalke in the last 16 in March 2013, and the first time they had scored in a Champions League away match since November 2015 against Benfica, previously going seven matches in the competition on the road without scoring.
- Bellingham Shines Again as Real Madrid win in Naples
It took an unfortunate Alex Meret own goal to give Real Madrid a 3-2 win at Napoli on Tuesday. Carlo Ancelotti’s men fought hard to get the better of the Serie A champions and now sit on six points after two games in Group C, while Napoli remain on three after their Matchday 1 win over SC Braga.
The first half was mostly the Jude Bellingham show as he provided an assist for Vinícius Júnior before prodding home Real Madrid’s second, but not before Leo Østigård had given Napoli the lead. It came from a corner and some very questionable goalkeeping from Kepa Arrizabalaga as his fist completely missed the ball and allowed the Napoli man to head in.
Bellingham then activated hero mode and won the ball back high up the pitch before putting Vinícius through on goal for the Brazilian to slot home. Since the start of the 2021-22 campaign, no player has been directly involved in more Champions League goals than Vinícius (23 – 12 goals, 11 assists).
Bellingham then became the first player since Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009 to score on his first two appearances for Real Madrid in the Champions League when he slalomed through a sea of Napoli players before finishing after 34 minutes.
Piotr Zielinski scored his 50th goal for Napoli in all competitions (338 games) after VAR intervened to penalise Nacho for a handball in the penalty area. Zielinski’s spot-kick crashed in off the post to beat Kepa.
Napoli have form for conceding goals against Spanish opposition. Three of the last four times they have conceded at least a hat-trick of goals in Europe have been against Spanish sides (two against Barcelona and here against Real Madrid).
Alex Meret was unfortunate to become the first Italian goalkeeper to score an own goal in Champions League since Morgan De Sanctis back in December 2016 when Federico Valverde’s thunderbolt from range crashed off the crossbar and unwittingly hit Meret on the back to give Real the win and top spot in Group C.
- Lens See Their Way to Victory Over Arsenal
Despite a disappointing start to the season for Lens, they produced a famous win at Stade Bollaert-Delelis, beating Arsenal 2-1.
Elye Wahi scored and assisted as Franck Haise’s side came from behind to defeat the Gunners and go top of Group B, following Gabriel Jesus’ opener and Adrien Thomasson’s equaliser.
It was a bright start for Lens, though it initially counted for little as some sloppy play at the back gave possession to Bukayo Saka, who slid in Jesus and the Brazilian found the bottom corner with a first-time finish. Jesus has been involved in 16 goals in his last 16 Champions League starts, scoring 13 and assisting three. He’s also now scored in his last four group stage games in the competition.
The former Manchester City man is also the third player to score in his first two Champions League appearances for Arsenal, along with Marouane Chamakh in 2010 and Lukas Podolski in 2012.
Lens kept at it and were on terms just 11 minutes later when David Raya gave the ball away. Wahi brilliantly forced the ball into the path of Thomasson, who found the far corner of the net with a well-controlled finish.
Saka’s assist for Jesus had made him the first player to record 5+ goals and 5+ assists in all competitions this season for a team in Europe’s big five leagues, so it was quite a blow for the visitors when he limped off with what looked like a thigh injury just after the half-hour mark.
Wahi had already contributed smartly for the first Lens goal, and he scored the second in the 69th minute after terrific work from the Ligue 1 side down the right ended with Przemysław Frankowski finding Wahi with a fine low cross. Aged 20 years and 274 days, Wahi became the youngest Frenchman to score and assist in a Champions League match since Kylian Mbappé in December 2018 for Paris Saint-Germain vs Crvena Zvezda.
Lens became the first team to beat Arsenal in a European match after conceding the first goal since Eintracht Frankfurt in November 2019 in the UEFA Europa League. The Premier League side had been unbeaten in 17 such games since then (W14 D3). Mikel Arteta’s side will hope to bounce back next time out against Sevilla.
- Bayern Survive Scare to See off Danish Threat
FC København briefly dreamed of a famous win in the Champions League, but ultimately succumbed to the power of Bayern Munich, with the German side winning 2-1.
This was the team in second place in the current Opta Power Rankings playing the team in 77th. For context, Manchester City are the only side above Bayern, while København are below teams such as Nottingham Forest, Monza and Everton.