Rashford tops Champions League Winners and Losers

Date published: Thursday 29th October 2020 12:48

Champions League Winners

Marcus Rashford

Child welfare vigilante by day, world-class footballer by night. At midday on Wednesday, Marcus Rashford was doing his customary societal reform schtick, retweeting the generosity of local businesses providing free lunches for children and reiterating his desire to be a voice for those that have none. By 9.15 he was coming off the bench at Old Trafford with a key Champions League clash in the balance; shortly after 9.30 he had scored a quite wonderful hat-trick – his first for Manchester United – to seal a significant victory that puts his club in charge of their group.

Rather than clouding his thoughts in a way that negatively affects his football, his work off the pitch is – if anything – leading to greater results on it. There was a wonderful freedom and can-do, no-nonsense attitude to his cameo on Wednesday. He raced through to calmly slot his first before simply leathering his second and third past Peter Galacsi in goal for RB Leipzig.

It’s almost as though footballers can still be very, very good at football without their profession being their sole purpose and focus in life. Who would have thought?

There was still time in the evening for a tongue-in-cheek tweet in which he asked for the definition of virtue signalling in response to the typical ne’er-do-wells who cannot cope with the notion of good people doing good things. You signal those virtues Marcus – scream them in our faces; we bloody love it.


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Rashford is only the second United player to score a hat-trick as a substitute. The first was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, against Nottingham Forest in 1999. The United manager masterminded a brilliant European performance.

Claims that he is the greatest tactician in Europe are premature, but the way in which he predicted and reacted to the ebbs and flows of the game was very impressive: absorbing pressure effectively having taken the lead; making the right substitutions at the right times; using Leipzig’s strength in overloading one wing to take advantage down the other.

The result was a near-perfect display that saw United’s wealth of attacking talent run riot in a last 20 minutes targeted as the perfect time for such expression by their manager, who knew exactly what he was doing.

For more in-depth analysis, Matt Stead’s piece is excellent.



Another clean sheet, and the goals did come. Krasnodar are no great shakes and a 4-0 win for Chelsea is far from the biggest story in the Champions League this week. But to praise Solskjaer for a tactical masterclass and brush Frank Lampard aside for what was also an impressively planned and controlled victory would be remiss. He too made canny substitutions to put the game to bed and successfully managed what could have been a tough away game after a five-hour flight, with home fans in the stadium to boot.

Chelsea do still look a little disjointed. But separate the facets of the game and they all look sound. Edouard Mendy looks calm and assured, makes saves and is a bloody big b*****d, which is definitely helping. The defence, even without Thiago Silva on Wednesday, looked solid, defending in numbers that somehow seemed to be lacking a few weeks ago. Jorginho – a penalty miss aside that we’ll come to later – is somewhere near the peak of his powers right now at the base of midfield, reading the game far better defensively than he has done. And the forwards, individually if not collectively, are doing some nice things. Hakim Ziyech in particular – who scored his first Chelsea goal – looked comfortable in the competition in which he made his name for Ajax.

And with Ziyech now fit and Christian Pulisic now back to inject his typical energy and directness into proceedings, along with Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi – who looks as though he’s enjoying his football again – the competition for places that was always going to drive up performance levels is now there for Lampard. They are well placed to kick on in Europe as well as the Premier League.


Trent Alexander-Arnold

He was as good as his Liverpool team-mates were bad; they were very, very bad. The statistical slump is over.



Brought in by Ajax in the summer as a replacement for Ziyech, Antony already has four goals and two assists in the Eredivisie. And he’s capable of absolute filth…


Moise Kean

The typical reaction to Graeme Souness’ less than substantiated claims that “maybe his off-the-field activities are not the best” when Moise Keane arrived at Everton was to hope he banged in goal after goal at Goodison Park, between evenings drinking chamomile tea and watching Downton Abbey.

Instead he scored just two Premier League goals, and despite his club’s attempts to promote and enhance stories of his altruism and his appearance in a video with agent Mino Raiola imploring people to “respect the rules” and “be close to each other while staying at a distance” during the pandemic, his hosting of a ‘quarantine clean’ gathering at his apartment totally undermined those efforts.

It was an idiotic act that turned many cheerleaders to antagonists. But I, for one, am pleased to see Kean doing well. Like Mason Greenwood, Phil Foden and many other bubble-breakers, he’s young and allowed to make a mistake, assuming he learns from it.

His brace away to Istanbul Basaksehir took his season tally to four; there will be many more to come.


Manchester City

Their domestic form has been a bit off, but Europe has offered a serene sanctuary thus far for Manchester City. Dave Tickner has more.


Benjamin Pavard

The master of the cushioned volley assist. He got in time and again down the right for Bayern Munich – who will take some stopping again this season – laying on similar chances with similar effortless side-foot volleyed grace.


Shakhtar Donetsk

Group B is upside down. Shakhtar are top, Borussia Monchengladbach sit second, Inter Milan are third with Real Madrid bringing up the rear. The Ukrainian side followed their stunning 3-2 victory in the Bernabeu with a hard-fought 0-0 draw at home to Inter Milan.

Positive results from the upcoming double-header against Monchengladbach, while Real and Inter take points off each other, and Shakhtar could do the unthinkable and emerge from a ridiculous group.


Champions League Losers

Jurgen Klopp

He won’t care about the performance. Klopp – better than anyone – understands the diminished level of his team when he doesn’t play Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino or Mo Salah: it’s why he so rarely goes Fab Three-less. Liverpool got the victory while giving the trio a much-needed rest. Job done.

Fabinho’s injury makes him a loser. “It’s exactly the last thing we needed,” Klopp said post-match, after his makeshift centre-back limped off in the first half against FC Midtjylland. The area in which Liverpool’s squad is the thinnest is where injury has hit the hardest. Isn’t that always the way?

The claims of negligence through having just three senior centre-backs were allayed by the supreme way in which Fabinho had slotted in in Virgil van Dijk’s absence. And it would be unfair to revisit those same assertions. Should any side lose their best two centre-backs (even though one of Liverpool’s is actually a midfielder) they would be in a world of trouble.

Rhys Williams came off the bench and looked assured enough, but Klopp was “anxious” about bringing him on and admitted the limelight that is now shining on the 19-year-old ahead of their meeting with West Ham on Saturday could be a “problem”. If only the media would stop writing stories about him. What does he expect us to do?

There is now a huge weight of responsibility on Joe Gomez’ shoulders. Fabinho is expected to be out for the next three games at least: West Ham at home; Atalanta away; Manchester City away. Three massive games for Gomez; the three biggest of his career to date.

Whether Klopp goes with Williams or moves Jordan Henderson into the backline, Gomez will be the senior defender; expected to lead, dominate and play first fiddle after being comfortable as second for so long.


Real Madrid

They would have been the top loser had it not been for two very late goals from Karim Benzema and Casemiro to salvage a point away to Monchengladbach. A lesser European force, or the same team in different circumstances, may even have been included as a winner for showing grit and determination to come from behind. But this is Real Madrid and they’re bottom of Group B.


Andrea Pirlo

It’s not been a great start for The Professor as Juventus boss. They’ve won just two of their opening five Serie A games, Cristiano Ronaldo’s got the ‘rona and they just lost at home to Barcelona.

A loss to Barca in normal times wouldn’t be cause for concern. But currently, amid upheaval and discontent at the Nou Camp with the Catalans in the bottom half of La Liga, it’s not a result that can be dismissed with the stock it’s Barcelona shrug.

Alvaro Morata had the ball in the net three times; all three were chalked off. He continues to live offside.


Julian Nagelsmann

He began the night with the look of a teenager thrilled his mum had used Jacamo rather than M&S to source his prom suit. He ended it with the look of that same adolescent – three Kopparberg mixed fruits deep – sitting alone watching his date cop off with his best mate.

An understandably tetchy response in the wake of a humbling, but slightly odd given his willingness to speak openly about his wardrobe beforehand and the slight irony with which he opts for jazziness.

“I have a special one for Wednesday as well,” Nagelsmann said in the days leading up to the match. “The trousers will not be that special but the rest is kind of special. Not as special as the suit against PSG but it is ok. It is a bit British style. A friend of mine sent me messages about it and pictures from Instagram. It’s not a problem. I only laugh about it. I wear these things I like and at the end I try to do my best with my work.”

It seems it’s no longer a laughing matter after a humiliating defeat. Even so, he remains a brilliant coach and there’s little shame in losing to United, Rashford and Solskjaer when they’re so well aligned.


Dayot Upamecano

Forgot his tap shoes for his United audition.



Gave up a two-goal lead away to Atalanta when victory would have put them in the driving seat to qualify along with Liverpool.


The Jorginho hop

“Jorginho has had an incredibly successful rate of scoring penalties in his career, particularly at Chelsea,” said Lampard, following Jorginho’s second miss of the season against Krasnodar. “I’ve got no problem at all with his style of taking them, because of the success he’s had.”

The “style” he talks of is the little hop before he strikes the ball. Jeez it’s irritating. Even more so when he then smashes the ball against the post as he did on Wednesday. Why make the margins so fine if the plan is to send the keeper the wrong way?

The benefit of the hop is – or rather was – two-fold. Firstly the hesitation meant that goalkeepers moved before the ball was struck came too early, allowing the taker to roll the ball into the opposite side of the net. That can’t happen now: goalkeepers aren’t moving early as the rules keeping them on their lines are far more stringently enforced.

Therefore the hop penalty is only really worth it if the other benefit is used more frequently: the non-hop penalty. Jorginho has before caught the keeper off guard by not skipping and simply running up and slotting home, making a static stopper look foolish. If he’s to remain Chelsea’s penalty-taker – he may not after Timo Werner smashed his home – the element of surprise needs to become just a tad less surprising.


Will Ford is on Twitter

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