There are some compelling headlines coming out of this round of the group stages. However, there just don’t seem to be enough to warrant articles for each day. So, we’re going to combine match days 5 and 6 into this one article. Let us know in the comments if you’d prefer this for UEFA Champions League matchdays going forward or if you like the individual days better.
Neymar to miss rematch of 2020 UCL semifinal
For as few times as RB Leipzig have played in the Champions League, they’ve had the misfortune of playing one of the best financed clubs in Europe in the form of Paris Saint-Germain. In fact, they’ve played them each season since the 2019-20 season thanks to some really interesting group and knockout stage draws.
This is actually the second season in a row that Leipzig have drawn PSG in the group stage. Last year, they managed to finish in the top half of Group H tied with Les Parisiens on points. However, they finished with a much worse goal difference and ended up losing to Liverpool in the Round of 16. One was left to wonder what if they hadn’t imploded against Manchester United? Or what if they hadn’t given up a penalty to Neymar in their 1-0 loss to PSG? Then maybe Leipzig would be the ones demolishing Barcelona in the Round of 16.
But let’s go back to Neymar. According to a report on Monday evening, the Brazilian star will be out for this game with an abductor injury he picked up during international duty. He missed his club’s 2-1 win over Angers, but there was some hope he’d return in time for this matchup. However, PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino has said he plans to rest Neymar.
“The priority is the player’s health,” Pochettino said. “He has a little problem which we hope he will have recovered from in a few days.”
In addition to this match, they have Le Clasique at the weekend against Olympique Marseille — which they hope Neymar will be more than ready for.
The “We’re Linked With Ricardo Pepi” Derby
The style of number on the back of the jersey in the image above (and the fact that it shows Jakub Błaszczykowski) should be an indicator of how long it has been since these two teams have met.
Only one group has two teams with a full six points after their first two games. That would be Group C and those teams would be Ajax and Borussia Dortmund. The two teams have only met four times over two seasons in European competition with the series tied at two games a piece. Interestingly enough, in each of those seasons, the same team won two games. Even more interesting is that the team who won those two games went on to lose in the Champions League final.
Ajax was a more complete team in the 1995/1996 season. You could make the argument that it was the finest Dutch club side in all of existence. They had just come off of winning it all the season before in Louis van Gaal’s fourth season of being a manager. They were poised to repeat in the 95/96 season. Even after losing Frank Rijkaard to retirement and Clarence Seedorf to Sampdoria, the team was one to be feared. Just look at the names dotting this roster: Edwin van der Sar in goal with a backline manned by people like Danny Blind and Frank de Boer. The midfield was manned by Edgar Davids, Ronald de Boer, and Marc Overmars. Topping it all off was an attack featuring Patrick Kluivert and Jari Litmanen. It was truly a force to be reckoned with. In the quarterfinals of the UCL that year, Borussia Dortmund tried to reckon with them. Try as they might, the team consisting of Matthias Sammer, Andreas Möller, and Steffen Freund could not get a result — losing 3-0 on aggregate. Ajax beat Panathinaikos in the semifinals and made it to the final in Rome against Juventus — where they lost 4-2 on penalties.
They wouldn’t meet again until the group stages of the 2012/2013 season. It would be inaccurate to describe that Jürgen Klopp team as on par with the 95/96 Ajax squad so I won’t try. That said, it was a good side. It featured Roman Weidenfeller in goal — a backline patrolled by Neven Subotić and Mats Hummels — a midfield with the likes of Mario Götze, İlkay Gündoğan, Nuri Şahin and the aforementioned Błaszczykowski — and an attacking core of Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski. By this time, Ajax’s time as a threatening force in European football was waning if not non-existent. It had a number of players who would go on to do great things at other clubs like Toby Alderwiereld, Christian Eriksen, Jasper Cillessen, Daley Blind, and Davy Klaassen. That UCL group that season was fantastic. Imagine if today Ajax, Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid, and Manchester City were all lumped into one group. Ajax — for all their effort — came in third with their only results being a win and a draw against City. As for their performance against Dortmund, things could have been better. They opened their campaign losing to BVB 1-0 thanks to a Lewandowski goal in the 87’. Following that, a 4-1 romping thanks to a Lewandowski brace and contributions from Reus and Götze came to truly destroy any hope Ajax had of making the knockout stages. Dortmund would go on to win the group over Real Madrid — who they’d meet and beat in the semifinals going on to lose to Bayern Munich at Wembley just four weeks later.
While they will be competing on the pitch, they will also be competing in the transfer market. Last night, it was confirmed that American striker Ricardo Pepi submitted a transfer request from his current club FC Dallas. While it has been rumored that he’s agreed to personal terms with VfL Wolfsburg, CBS Sports writer Roger Gonzalez revealed a link to both Ajax and Borussia Dortmund.
Sources tell CBS Sports that Ajax and Borussia Dortmund have both expressed interest in Ricardo Pepi.— Roger Gonzalez (@RGonzalezCBS) October 19, 2021
Whether or not these clubs — or rumored suitors in the Premier League — will draw Pepi’s eye is yet to be seen. However, with the track records both Ajax and Dortmund have for developing talent, they’ll have as good an argument as any.
Salzburg seek to stay atop Group G
Back in our very first edition of The Calm Before, we spoke about Karim Adeyemi and how he might push FC Salzburg toward glory. I think it’s fair to say he’s done well so far. In their last game, Adeyemi’s prowess at the penalty spot came through twice as Salzburg won 2-1 over Lille. That result has put them top of what has amounted to be a pretty disappointing group. Going into it, this may have been hard to predict considering how relatively level the teams seem to be. None are really the best in their home countries — that is, except for Salzburg. They hold a comfortable eight point lead atop the Ö. Bundesliga just eleven games into the season. They’re also now atop their group in the UCL. Wolfsburg seem to not have any bite in them this year, Sevilla have seemed at times to be half a step behind the competition, and Lille clearly seem to be a one-season wonder. Salzburg have the chance to assert themselves at the top in a game against Wolfsburg and considering their quality of young talent, it’d be hard to bet against them.
Can Barcelona pick up their first points of this UCL campaign?
What’s there to be said about Barcelona that hasn’t already been said about Berlin Brandenburg Airport? It’s a project that’s horribly managed, riddled with financial issues, and even when it’s open for business, it doesn’t even work right.
Barcelona have lost 3-0 in the Champions League twice now. Once to Bayern Munich — and one could argue that game should have ended more along the lines of 5-0 or 6-0 — and once against Benfica. Barcelona did not look like a good team in either of them. It’s honestly sad to see them playing this way. In Spain, they have performed okay — not great. They only have a loss to Atletico Madrid as a blight on their record and the even beat current league leaders Real Sociedad in their first match of the season. But compound that with three draws to teams that Barcelona in this day and age shouldn’t have trouble beating (Athletic Bilbao, Cadiz, and Granada) and they currently sit in 7th in La Liga. Granted, there’s only a difference of two points between 2nd and 7th. Plus, they’re only five points behind Sociedad in first place. So, all hope can’t be lost, right?
Well it can. Under Ronald Koeman, this Barcelona side has been playing some miserable football. When they win, they’ve won by two or three goals. When they’ve drawn or lost, the team looks confused and lethargic. Memphis Depay, Gavi, and Pedri seem to be the only bright sides to this team so far. The team usually deploys three in the back and two strikers. Up front, they have options like Depay, Luuk de Jong, Sergio Agüero, and Martin Braithwaite. Depay has done well so far, bagging a team leading four goals in ten games. Braithwaite did well in his first three games — bagging two goals — before going down with an injury. Luuk de Jong has somehow managed his way onto the field for six games and over 300 minutes of action. He only has one goal to his name. Agüero has played only three minutes of game time all season. Three.
Of course, none of this success has been in the Champions League. There, the team’s convoluted 3-1-4-2/3-4-1-2 has been picked apart by attacks and stifled by defenses. One has to wonder how much longer Barcelona plans to keep this racket up. We thought it would all end on the last day of September. Rumors surfaced that Koeman was to be sacked. That ended 48 hours later when Barcelona president Joan Laporta said the Dutchman was staying. Following the aforementioned loss to Atletico Madrid, Laporta said, “He deserves the benefit of the doubt. After speaking with him I see that he has confidence in the team, especially when the team gets some key players back from injury.”
Confidence or not, the facts are that going into the international break, Barcelona had a record of 1-2-3 in their last six games. All of this has led to a team who is one of just three teams in this competition — along with Malmö and Sporting CP — to have zero points and a goal difference of -5 or worse. They hope to change that against Dynamo Kiev this week.
This isn’t Barcelona — or at least it hasn’t been the Barcelona of the past. That much is clear, as day in and day out, a struggling 34-year old Girard Pique and a 33-year-old Sergio Busquets remain the last relics of a bygone era of success. The question is not if Barcelona will get better at some point. The question is how much longer can Laporta and the rest of the Barcelona board stand the stench of losing before deciding to take active measures against it.
Here are the kickoff times for this round’s matches (all times Eastern U.S.):
Tuesday, October 19th
- Beşiktaş JK v. Sporting CP (Beşiktaş Park - Beşiktaş, Istanbul, TUR)
- Club Brugge KV v. Manchester City FC (Jan Breydelstadion - Sint Andries, Bruges, West Flanders, BEL)
- AFC Ajax v. Borussia Dortmund (Johan Cruyff Arena - Amsterdam, NLD)
- Atletico Madrid v. Liverpool FC (Estadio Metropolitano - Madrid, ESP)
- FC Porto v. AC Milan (Estádio do Dragão - Porto, PRT)
- Internazionale Milan v. Sheriff Tiraspol (Stadio Giuseppe Meazza [San Siro] - Milan, Lombardy, ITA)
- Paris Saint-Germain FC v. RB Leipzig (Parc des Princes - Paris, FRA)
- FC Shakhtar Donetsk v. Real Madrid (Olympic National Sports Complex - Kiev, UKR)
Wednesday, October 20th
- FC Barcelona v. Dynamo Kiev (Camp Nou - Barcelona, Catalonia, ESP)
- FC Salzburg v. VfL Wolfsburg (Stadion Salzburg - Wals-Siezenheim, AUT)
- SL Benfica v. FC Bayern München (Estádio da Luz - Lisbon, PRT)
- Chelsea FC v. Malmö FF (Stamford Bridge - Fulham, London, GBR)
- LOSC Lille v. Sevilla FC (Stade Pierre-Mauroy - Villeneuve d’Ascq, Nord, FRA)
- Manchester United FC v. Atalanta BC(Old Trafford - Manchester, GBR)
- BSC Young Boys v. Villarreal CF (Stadion Wankdorf - Bern, CHE)
- FC Zenit Saint Petersburg v. Juventus FC (Krestovsky Stadium - St. Petersburg, RUS)