Ronaldo to make up for lost time, Greenwood eyes slice of history – Champions League in Opta numbers

By Sports Desk November 04, 2020

Matchday three of the Champions League is upon us as teams reach the halfway point of the 2020-21 group stage, and Wednesday's action sees plenty of the heavyweights hoping to take advantage of theoretically weaker opposition.

Juventus were beaten by Barcelona last time out in the competition, but this time Andrea Pirlo will be able to rely on the services of Cristiano Ronaldo, who will no doubt be licking his lips at the prospect of facing leaky Ferencvaros.

Similarly, Barca will be strong favourites as they face Dynamo Kiev, while Manchester United go to Istanbul Basaksehir and Chelsea host Rennes.

However, Paris Saint-Germain could find themselves in a particularly tricky situation if they lose at an RB Leipzig smarting from their crushing by United.

Here is some of the key data from Wednesday's matchday three match-ups.

Barcelona v Dynamo Kiev: Messi and Griezmann poles apart

Although Barcelona are perhaps no longer the force we expect them to be, there is no doubt they will be firm favourites here, with the Catalans unbeaten in their previous 22 group games, while they could win five first-phase matches in a row for the first time since October 2017.

Lionel Messi's form early on this season has led to some criticism, but few have the pedigree he has and he boasts 20 goals in his previous 24 Champions League appearances.

Contrast that with the much-maligned Antoine Griezmann, however. The Frenchman has just two goals in 10 Champions League games for Barca, one every 373 minutes – he netted once every 190 minutes on average for Atletico Madrid.

Ferencvaros v Juventus: Ronaldo licking his lips

Juve were without talismanic forward Ronaldo in their previous two group games against Dynamo and Barca, the latter of whom beat the Old Lady – therefore he will be hoping to make up for lost time against Ferencvaros, whose seven goals conceded is the worst in the competition.

In that game against Barca, Juve failed to muster a single shot on target – aside from the three goals Alvaro Morata had chalked off for offside.

A defeat for Juve in Hungary would be a huge shock, but if it does happen, it will be the first time the Bianconeri have lost successive group games since October 2014. Coach Pirlo played in the second loss back then.

Istanbul Basaksehir v Manchester United: Red Devils on course as Greenwood eyes history

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was asked in his pre-match news conference if United felt more confident travelling to Istanbul knowing they would not be facing a vociferous crowd – after all, the Red Devils have lost on each of their previous two trips to Turkey.

United have struggled domestically of late, losing most recently to Arsenal on Sunday, but Champions League wins over RB Leipzig and Paris Saint-Germain have them in fine shape in Europe – no team has ever failed to qualify after winning their first two group games, an omen they should not ignore here.

Marcus Rashford was the hero against Leipzig, but Mason Greenwood also netted to level his team-mate as the most prolific English teenager in UEFA competition with six goals. The 19-year-old will set a new record with another in Istanbul.

RB Leipzig v Paris Saint-Germain: Germans desperate to bounce back

Leipzig's 5-0 annihilation by United last time was their worst ever European defeat and the heaviest suffered by a German team since 2014 – Wednesday's match gives them the chance to bounce back against the team that beat them in the semi-finals last season.

PSG, of course, have plenty of attacking talents for Leipzig to contend with, though arguably chief among them will be Kylian Mbappe, who has been directly involved in 22 away goals in the competition (14 goals, eight assists), which is more than anyone else since his first trip back in February 2017.

But the omens are not all great for PSG. There has only been one previous instance in the Champions League where a German coach has won away to a side managed by another German tactician.

 

Other fixtures:

Chelsea v Rennes

15 - Chelsea have only suffered one defeat in their previous 15 home games in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League (0-1 v Valencia last season), winning nine and drawing the other five games in this run.

3 - Hakim Ziyech scored his first goal for Chelsea in the Champions League on MD2, while he could become just the third player to score on his first two starts for the club in the competition after Didier Drogba in 2004 and Daniel Sturridge in 2010.

Sevilla v Krasnodar

13 - Including qualifiers, Sevilla are unbeaten in their previous 13 home games across all European competitions (W11 D2), with their last such defeat coming in April 2018 against Bayern Munich (1-2 in a Champions League quarter-final).

1 - Only one Russian side has ever won away at Sevilla in European competition, with CSKA Moscow prevailing 2-1 in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League in 2009-10.

Zenit v Lazio

4 - Zenit are hoping to avoid losing four consecutive games in the European Cup/Champions League for the first time in their history.

1 - Lazio will be aiming for their first away win in the Champions League since September 2003 (2-0 v Besiktas), having failed to win on any of their previous six trips in the competition (D2 L4).

Club Brugge v Borussia Dortmund

12 - Only Robert Lewandowski (15) has scored more Champions League goals than Dortmund's Erling Haaland (12) since the start of last season, with the Norwegian striker converting 12 of his 17 shots on target in the competition so far.

1 - Brugge goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has only ended on the winning side in one of his 13 appearances in the Champions League, drawing six and losing six of his 12 games since winning on his debut in the competition for Liverpool in September 2014 (2-1 v Ludogorets).

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  • Brocchi dreaming of Milan reunion as Berlusconi's Serie A-chasing Monza try to recreate Rossoneri Brocchi dreaming of Milan reunion as Berlusconi's Serie A-chasing Monza try to recreate Rossoneri

    Silvio Berlusconi, Adriano Galliani, Cristian Brocchi, Mario Balotelli, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Gabriel Paletta.

    There is a real Milan vibe about Monza, who are nestled 15 kilometres north of the Lombardy capital, as the ambitious club stand closer than ever to achieving their goal of Serie A promotion after spending their entire existence in the lower leagues.

    Monza are owned by former Milan president and Italy prime minister Berlusconi, who returned to football in 2018 after selling his beloved Rossoneri a year earlier.

    After purchasing the club through his Fininvest company, Berlusconi turned to his trusted right-hand man Galliani – who was born in Monza – as CEO. Their partnership helped turn the Rossoneri into a superpower, with eight Serie A titles and five Champions League/European Cup crowns among the 29 pieces of silverware between 1986 and 2017.

    Monza are also coached by former Milan midfielder and boss Brocchi, while the Serie B outfit also boasts ex-Rossoneri players Balotelli, Boateng and Paletta.

    After completing their rise from Serie C to the second tier of Italian football amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2019-20, Monza are well and truly in the promotion mix – fourth and six points adrift of leaders Empoli, while they are only two points behind Cittadella, who occupy the final automatic spot through 18 games.

    Moving up to Serie A would mean a Milan reunion for many of Monza's staff and players, as well as Brocchi – who won the Scudetto and two Champions League titles among other honours at San Siro between 2001 and 2008 before spending a brief period in charge eight years later.

    "It is a dream that hopefully will come true. To have brought the Milan mentality coming from our board – always striving to build an important organisation similar to the Milan that won so much worldwide," Brocchi told Stats Perform News.

    "Board, manager and some players have worn that shirt and the dream to recreate Milan here in Monza is beautiful and emotional."

    "It is a tough season. There are many strong clubs, the ones relegated from A [in 2019-20] who have retained all the important players and those who last season had built up a squad for promotion and failed, so I think this year's Serie B is the hardest of recent times," he continued.

    Monza – back in Serie B following a 19-year absence – are no ordinary second-tier team in Italy, with all eyes on the Bagai due to Berlusconi.

    Berlusconi's presence has changed the landscape for Monza, who tried to sign Zlatan Ibrahimovic before the star striker opted to return to Milan in January last year. However, Monza have since lured Balotelli and Boateng to the club.

    "Working for Berlusconi and Galliani's club is grand because all media attention is on you. For sure everybody thinks Monza have to win every game because these two people have gone down in football history winning so much. And this is exactly our goal," Brocchi said.

    "I know very well Berlusconi and Galliani's wish is to reach Serie A and win every game. We share the same mindset because I have grown up with them since I was nine. To me it is an honour to be the manager here.

    "For sure it is beautiful and important for me to manage in a club like Monza that are very ambitious. It is not easy to take a club from Serie C to Serie A but it is emotional because you have a lot of responsibilities and adrenaline is always rushing. As I said, to face strong clubs with your own aim and manage to overcome them, would make this even better." 

    Brocchi, who oversaw just seven matches as Milan coach before being replaced by Vincenzo Montella, continued: "Monza's aim is to improve. We started from C, we are in B and we want Serie A. The difference between us and other clubs is that once in Serie A we won't have the goal of avoiding relegation at the last game, but to rank in the top 10.

    "Mr Galliani wants us to always be a strong team going for great objectives. This is what will happen should we win this league."

    Balotelli and Boateng are set to play a key role in Monza's push for promotion following their high-profile arrivals.

    Boateng has made an immediate impact, with the former Milan and Barcelona midfielder – on average – scoring a goal every 243 minutes in Serie B this season, the best average among Monza players with at least 90 minutes played.

    Only Dany Mota has fired more shots on target than Boateng (23 to 10) among Monza players this term and the talented Portuguese forward has four league goals.

    Balotelli – coming off a difficult spell at Brescia before their relegation from Serie A – scored with his first touch in Serie B on debut for Monza last month before being sidelined through injury.

    "They [Balotelli and Boateng] arrived here in Serie B thanks to the acquaintance they had with Berlusconi and Galliani and even with me as a manager, since I trained them at Milan and we had a great relationship," said Brocchi, who was handed his first senior head-coaching role at Milan after replacing Sinisa Mihajlovic almost five years ago, having previously worked with the club's youth team.

    "They settled in very well, they always train hard, they lead by example by showing the will to take me, Berlusconi, Galliani and Monza to Serie A. So far they have been important, let's hope they can give us even more in order to make this dream come true."

    The experience of Balotelli and Boateng complements an exciting core of Monza players, including Mota and Brazilian full-back Carlos Augusto, as well as talented loanees Davide Frattesi (Sassuolo), Andrea Colpani (Atalanta) and Davide Bettella (Atalanta).

    Both Balotelli and Boateng have tasted Serie A success in their careers to go with respective Premier League and LaLiga honours, with the latter part of the last Milan team to celebrate Scudetto glory in 2010-11.

    The strategy of sporting director Filippo Antonelli and Brocchi to invest in promising young talent has continued to deliver results on the pitch.

    Monza have allowed the fewest headed goals (one) in Serie B this season, while Brocchi's side have conceded 10 goals from inside the box – the least in the league, while they have scored five goals inside the opening 15 minutes of play – the joint most in 2020-21.

    "Monza are a mix of experienced players and great young talents. The right mix to achieve our goals. Players like Balotelli and Boateng can help Mota, Carlos Augusto, Frattesi, Colpani or Bettella, all under-21 players for Italy and Portugal," the 44-year-old Brocchi said.

    "You can't only field experienced players, you have to look for the right mix and this is what Antonelli and I looked for. I think experience helps youngsters and their exuberance helps the expert ones."

  • Rumour Has It: Zidane facing questions at Real Madrid, Pogba set to stay at Man Utd Rumour Has It: Zidane facing questions at Real Madrid, Pogba set to stay at Man Utd

    Zinedine Zidane's future at Real Madrid is being questioned, while Paul Pogba could be set to stay at Manchester United.

    Madrid were stunned by third-tier side Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, sparking fresh talk about Zidane's position at the helm.

    Zidane is under fire, but the Frenchman may get more time.

     

    TOP STORY – ZIDANE BEING QUESTIONED AS REAL MADRID BOSS

    Zinedine Zidane is being questioned more than ever as Real Madrid head coach, according to AS.

    The report says he will remain at the helm until the Champions League, which will resume in February, and former star forward Raul is the top candidate to replace him.

    Madrid are second in LaLiga, seven points behind Atletico Madrid, who also have a game in hand.

    ROUND-UP

    - Pogba may be happier at Manchester United. The Daily Star reports United are increasingly confident the midfielder will see out his contract, which runs until 2022, despite interest from Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.

    - Christian Eriksen looks set to leave Inter, but it remains to be seen where he ends up. The Telegraph claims Leicester City have ruled out a loan move for the midfielder due to his wage demands.

    - RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano is set to be the subject of speculation for months to come. Goal reports Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have shown interest in the defender, who is also wanted by Bayern Munich.

    - Dele Alli wants to reunite with Mauricio Pochettino at PSG. 90min says the Tottenham midfielder has asked chairman Daniel Levy not to block a potential switch this month.

    - Arsenal appear set to strengthen in January. Sport reports midfielder Martin Odegaard is very close to joining the Premier League club on loan from Real Madrid.

  • Lakers star Anthony Davis: I suck right now Lakers star Anthony Davis: I suck right now

    Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis provided a scathing assessment of his form despite another road win for the NBA champions, saying "I suck right now".

    The Lakers extended their franchise away record to eight consecutive wins on the road to start the season by topping the Milwaukee Bucks 113-106 on Thursday.

    LeBron James posted a season-high 34 points, while All-Star team-mate Davis had 18 points, nine rebounds, six assists and two blocks for the Western Conference-leading Lakers (12-4).

    Davis, though, was far from pleased with his performance after shooting just eight-of-18 from the field and missing his only three-point attempt.

    "Right now, to be hard on myself, man, I think I suck right now," Davis said post-game.

    "I'm not making shots, I'm not making free throws. But I think tonight my aggressiveness, just being a poster and getting to the paint allowed guys to get open."

    David added: "My aggressiveness tonight. That's the only way I feel like I'm gonna get out of this funk or whatever that I'm in.

    "I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a better basketball player every game, and that's what I'm gonna continue to do."

    "I trust my team-mates. AC [Alex Caruso] hit one for me. Bron hit one and Kenny [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] hit one, and they're in the right spots where I want guys when I have the ball in the post," Davis continued.

    "And just [am] able to make the read with their guys doubling or collapsing to the paint when I get there, and was able to kick it out and those guys made shots."

     

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