The magic of Messi lights up Paris
Lionel Messi had been a peripheral figure in the second half at the Parc des Princes. But, as Manchester City looked to equalize, he watched and bided his moment.
It happened in the 74th minute, when, still positioned in his own half on the right side of the pitch, Messi picked up Marco Verratti’s pass and leapt into space in front of him.
At that point, I already felt like something special was about to happen.
Achraf Hakimi’s stacked run distracted Joao Cancelo and Messi charged inside, passing Aymeric Laporte as if he wasn’t there, bouncing a one-two off the heel of Kylian Mbappe’s right boot, then firing a brilliant first shot in the top corner.
The stadium erupted and the intensity of Messi’s celebration betrayed his relief. He had started slowly in his new environment, not having scored in his first three appearances for PSG and then being injured, but now he has really arrived.
Moments like this are precisely what he was brought to PSG for, but it wasn’t a vintage performance from Messi.
There were a few eye-catching passes, including the one that freed Nuno Mendes at the break as he was under pressure in his own half in the first half, but he didn’t create a single chance in the game. He only managed one successful dribble and had no touches in City’s box.
Even under these circumstances, however, stationed to the right and closely led by one of Europe’s best defenses, Messi found a way. His goal, beautifully shot from 20 meters, came from his only shot of the evening.
It was a reminder, if it was really needed, of the genius that still allows him to settle the biggest games. It was also a reminder of how his signing elevates a team in search of their first Champions League crown. On this evidence, they will take a few hits.
The city lacks avant-garde
No need to panic Manchester City after this defeat. There are four games left in the group stage and, having beaten RB Leipzig in their first game, they are just one point behind PSG.
Pep Guardiola was keen to convey a clam sentiment in his post-match interview. “Now we are going to eat well tonight, we are going to have a glass of wine, we are going to recover and we are going to prepare for the game on Saturday,” he said.
But at the same time, he will be aware of the need for his side to get a bigger lead if they are to defeat Liverpool in Sunday’s Premier League meeting at Anfield.
At the Parc des Princes, they managed 18 shots without finding the net. Bernardo Silva was the most to blame, hitting the crossbar a few yards away as it seemed easier to score in the first half, but he wasn’t the only one lacking in composure when it counted.
The same goes for Riyad Mahrez, Kevin De Bruyne and Ruben Dias, who all missed out on good opportunities to beat Gianluigi Donnarumma.
There have been other occasions this season, of course, where they have had no trouble finishing their chances. But it was one of those performances that shows why Guardiola was so keen to sign Harry Kane from Tottenham over the summer.
Last season, City did not fail to score in any of their first 15 games of the campaign. This time, it has already happened three times out of nine. At Anfield, they will have to be sharper.
Jones shines as Liverpool beat Porto
It was no surprise that Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino were the scorers in Liverpool’s 5-1 win over Porto at the Estadio do Dragao on Tuesday. But the identity of the players who set these goals will have satisfied Jurgen Klopp.
James Milner, the oldest Liverpool player, replacing injured Trent Alexander-Arnold, delivered the measured cross which found its way to Mane at the far post for the second. That aside, it was Curtis Jones, their youngest starter, who was the star of the show.
Jones scored three of the five goals and did a lot more, with and without the ball, to underline his growing importance to this Liverpool side. He was the catalyst.
Klopp signaled his players to speed up the game as they patted him on the back with the scoreless score midway through the first half. Jones did better than that. Recognizing that the space was wide, he drifted in search of her and rushed towards the defense.
It was a quality moment and showed that the 20-year-old midfielder is ready to do more than just play it safe, tick the ball and wait for the big names to deliver. He’s got that swagger, that appetite, and that ability to shake things up himself.
Jones can always make it simple too. Yes, there was a languid forward ball and an unsuccessful attempt to pass a pass behind when he spotted Salah in space, but those moments stood out for a reason. These are the only two times in the first half where he misplaced a pass.
Forty more found a teammate in those 45 minutes, his passing accuracy being the best of all on the pitch. His total of 28 completed passes in the opposing half of the field before the break was also more than anyone. It was a performance that demanded attention.
Harvey Elliott had plenty at the start of the season, filling the spot left vacant by the exit of Gini Wijnaldum. Jones is more familiar, having already recorded more than 50 appearances for Liverpool. But on this evidence, he looks poised for a bigger role.
His work for the third goal illustrates this best. Winning the ball was great, running with it was good too, but the presence of mind to pick the right pass was even better.
The fourth owed something to a miserable goalkeeper after Jones sent the ball into the left channel more in hope than expectation, but he had done well to retain possession in a tough spot before that. He was even involved in the fifth.
It capped off what was a wonderful night for him. While Milner impresses by maintaining his level, Jones just might find a new one.
Sheriff succeeds in historic shock
On a night of great drama in the Champions League, Sheriff Tiraspol’s Moldovan side pulled off one of the biggest shocks in the history of the competition, beating Real Madrid 2-1 at the Bernabeu.
The sheriff, who comes from the unrecognized breakaway state of Transnistria and upset the odds of reaching even the group stage for the first time in its history, emerged victorious in the Spanish capital thanks to a superb strike in the 89th minute of Sébastien Thill.
They had previously taken the lead thanks to a header from Uzbek midfielder Jasurbek Yakhshiboev, with Real Madrid needing a penalty from Karim Benzema to equalize.
The Spanish giants sprinkled the sheriff’s goal, attempting 31 shots against all four visitors and having 76% possession, but they didn’t try their luck and were sensational punished.
Sheriff, who had already surprised Shakhtar Donetsk with a 2-0 victory in his Champions League opener, now sits atop Group D with six points – and a real chance of reaching the last 16.
“It’s hard to explain the game,” said Carlo Ancelotti after the fact, stunned.