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The Calm Before: Messi & PSG, City v. Leipzig, and the other major storylines of MD2 in the UEFA Champions League

Featuring an Argentine in new clothes, an old rivalry renewed, and a country making its debut

Paris Saint-Germain Training Session Photo by Aurelien Meunier - PSG/PSG via Getty Images

Tuesday’s slate of UEFA Champions League games were entertaining and surprising for many. The night started with a tense 1-1 draw between Sevilla and Salzburg as well as a late winner from American Jordan Siebatcheu Pefok to take BSC Young Boys over Manchester United. The later slate of games saw two 3-0 finishes with Bayern Munich topping Barcelona and Juventus dispatching of Malmo. All the while, Villareal and Atalanta played to a high octane 2-2 draw, with an 83’ Robin Gosens goal being the point saver for La Dea. All told we saw four draws, 16 goals and four red cards. We’re in for a fun one.


Paris Saint-Germain Training Session Photo by Aurelien Meunier - PSG/PSG via Getty Images

Lionel Messi set to debut in the UCL for Paris Saint-Germain


Soccer - UEFA Champions League Final - AC Milan vs. Liverpool FC Photo by liewig christian/Corbis via Getty Images

Liverpool play AC Milan in UCL for the first time since 2007 final

The last two times these teams have met were the biggest games of the season for club football. In 2005, it was the miracle of Istanbul that saw Liverpool score three goals in seven minutes to tie a game that went to penalties. The Reds walked out with their fifth trophy that evening. Revenge for AC Milan came just two years later in Athens who lifted the cup thanks to two goals from Filippo Inzaghi. Since that night, the two clubs have played each other in one off ICC matches — one in Charlotte in 2014 and one in Santa Clara, CA in 2016. Both of those matches resulted in 2-0 Liverpool wins, but you can’t make the argument that the sides were incentivized to try. While there won’t be as much pressure in these next two games as there was in their last two it’s still great to see both sides playing each other again.


RB Leipzig v Borussia Dortmund - DFB Cup Final 2021 Photo by Mika Volkmann/Getty Images

Two Bundesliga teams get their UCL seasons underway

If there has ever been a time to pity RB Leipzig, it may be now. Not only do they draw the worst group possible, they have the pain of traveling to the Etihad to play Manchester City in their first game. Considering the other teams in Group A are Paris Saint-Germain and Club Brugge, to say it would be hard for them to make it out of the group would be an understatement. With a roughshod backline and an attacking group that can’t seem to get started it’s hard to see them taking any points from this one.

Borussia Dortmund have an easier group ahead — one they have a good chance of winning. While we’ll talk about Sporting Lisbon and Ajax later, their first game away to Besiktas may pose a challenge from the crowd perspective. When it comes to play on the pitch, the teams are in similar positions. Dortmund have nine points and sit in third in the Bundesliga while the ten points Besiktas have are good to be first in the Turkish SuperLig. The bulk of BVB’s scoring so far has fallen at the feet and head of Erling Haaland — who leads the team in goals (5) and assists (3). Besiktas doesn’t have as prolific a scorer — or nearly as many goals — but their backline is strong and their attacking core of Michy Batshuayi and Cyle Larin could pose problems for Dortmund.


via FootyHeadlines

Three Little Birds have to find another doorstep to sit on

So there’s a connection between Dutch club Ajax and the Bob Marley song “Three Little Birds”. After hearing it in 2008 at a preseason match in Cardiff where the fans belted it out, the song became somewhat of a club anthem. Marley was passionate about football and the club itself has created a connection with the Marley family — making it a happy partnership. To celebrate this, the club’s away kit this season was decked out in Rastafari colors on the sleeves and in the Adidas stripes. But, most importantly, on the back side of the collar were three birds perched atop three St. Andrews Crosses — the most prominent feature on the coat of arms and flag of the city of Amsterdam (shown below from the 2019 UCL semifinals).

FBL-EUR-C1-AJAX-TOTTENHAM-FANS Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

While this may be an identifying symbol of the city, for some reason according to UEFA, it doesn’t comply with their regulations. These state that the back collar “may only contain team identification” and that it “must be free of any manufacturer identifications or sponsor advertising.” More specifically to Ajax, UEFA released a statement:

“The three birds being a tribute to Bob Marley’s song do not represent a team identification of Ajax as set out in Article 13 of the Equipment Regulations. Therefore, the display of the birds together with the crosses was not approved for UEFA competitions.”

So this means that team symbols like the trident of the devil in Manchester United’s crest, or nicknames like Les Blues, or slogans like “Mia San Mia” can all be put on the back collar because they directly identify with the club. Bayern Munich’s away kit features the Münchner Kindl on the collar and was accepted by UEFA as it was taken from the coat of arms. This doesn’t add up as the three St. Andrews Crosses have been on the back of Ajax shirts in the past.

In the end, it’s those three little birds that UEFA have problems with. Ajax, after being notified of this stance decided not to...Stir it Up...with the governing body and just removed the symbol from the shirt all together. It’s not like we’ll see an...Exodus...of angry Ajax fans marching to UEFA headquarters, and if they want to see any change they’ll have to...Get Up, Stand Up...or else they’ll be...Waiting In Vain. Instead they’ll be...Jamming...in the away end of the Estádio José Alvalade when Ajax takes on Sporting Lisbon.

If you thought all those puns were bad, realize that I could have — and maybe should have — tried an I Shot the Sheriff reference considering our next story.


Soccer - UEFA Europa League - Group K - Tottenham Hotspur v Sheriff Tiraspol - White Hart Lane Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

There’s a new Sheriff in town: Moldova plays in the UCL for the first time

I was never aware of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic a.k.a. Transnistria. According to a quick Wikipedia search, Transnistria is an unrecognized breakaway state on the border between Moldova and Ukraine. Internationally, no UN recognized country sees Transnistria as a state and most people living there hold Moldavian citizenship.

Why do I bring up Transnistria? Because in Transnistria there is one company that dominates the trade there known as Sheriff. Yes, in case you were wondering, their corporate symbol is a sheriff’s badge like from the 1800s in the American west. In 1998, Sheriff bought a football team in the Transnistrian capitol Tiraspol — which is also Moldova’s second largest city.

And that is how we arrive here: FC Sheriff Tiraspol is playing in the UEFA Champions League for the first time and is the first team from Moldova to compete in the continent’s largest competition. It took a lot for them to get here — needing to go through four rounds of qualifications to make the group stages.

Their first qualifying round saw them trounce Albanian side Teuta 5-0 over two legs. The second round brought similar results with a 4-1 aggregate win over Armenian side FC Alashkert. Following that they had to face Serbian champions Red Star. The first game in Belgrade finished in a 1-1 draw. The return leg in Tiraspol saw one goal scored in stoppage time of the first half. That was all that was needed for them to advance to the final qualification round where they faced another Balkan powerhouse in Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb. At home in the first leg, Sheriff grabbed three goals without letting any in. They kept the game at a 0-0 draw in Zagreb to advance to the Group Stages.

For being from a country not known for producing footballers (Moldova hasn’t appeared in a major tournament), Sheriff have quite an international squad. Only four Moldavians are on the roster and a few others from traditionally Slavic countries. The majority of players come from either Africa (two Malians, a Malawian, an Ivorian, a Guinean and a Ghanaian) or the Americas (three Brazilians, two Colombians, a Peruvian, and a Trinidadian). Of the 13 goals scored in their qualification campaign, all but two were scored by someone from Africa or the Americas. Their top scorer in that stage — with four — was Malian Adama Traore. Fun fact, according to a brief Wikipedia search, there are five active footballers named Adama Traore. Who would’ve known?


Here are today’s slate of games (all times Eastern U.S.)

12:45

  • Beşiktaş JK v. Borussia Dortmund (Beşiktaş Park [Vodafone Park] - Besiktas, Istanbul, TUR)
  • Sheriff Tiraspol v. Shakhtar Donetsk (Bolshaya Sportivnaya Arena - Tiraspol, Transnistria [Moldova])

15:00

  • Atletico Madrid v. FC Porto (Estadio Metropolitano [Wanda Metropolitano] - Madrid, ESP)
  • Club Brugge v. Paris Saint-Germain (Janbreydelstadion - Brugge, West Flanders, BEL)
  • Internazionale Milan v. Real Madrid CF (San Siro - Milan, ITA)
  • Liverpool v. AC Milan (Anfield - Liverpool, Merseyside, UK)
  • Manchester City v. RB Leipzig (City of Manchester Stadium [Etihad Stadium] - Manchester, UK)
  • Sporting CP v. Ajax (Estádio José Alvalade - Lisbon, POR)