There were top clashes, some underdogs won combined with breathtaking goals and saves that were the highlight of matchday 2 2 of the 2023-23 UEFA Champions League. The competition in the league has been so fierce this season that each matchday has at least three to four top clashes.
This also means that no matter how big a team is, they will have to back their name with performance if they are to qualify for the round of 16. After two games, we also have a more unambiguous indication of each team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Since four matchdays are still left to go in the group stages, there are still many chances for the teams with a poor start to catch up to those ahead of them. Moreover, the next two match days will see the same two teams play each other and probably decide the fate of many teams by the time it is over.
So, what did we learn from matchday 2 of the 2023-24 UEFA Champions League?
Manchester United are their own worst enemies
Over the summer, Manchester United made one crucial change to their team: replacing long-time number one David de Gea with Inter Milan’s Andre Onana. The logic for it was simple: Onana was great with the ball at his feet, a skill De Gea lacked, which would allow United to play from the back smoothly.
Ten games in tough, Onana’s ball-playing quality is in serious question. With the game’s score at 2-2, the Cameroonian played a very poor pass that gave Dries Mertens a clear chance on goals. This left Casemiro with no choice but to tackle and, in the process, earned his second yellow. And while Mauro Icardi missed the penalty, he was on hand to score the winner just minutes later.
The game also clearly indicated how the club struggles against high press from the opposition. Onana was especially brought to counter this, but he has failed to justify his price tag and ball-playing skills so far.
Real Madrid-Napoli play a thriller dominated by VAR controversy
Real Madrid travelled to Napoli for a game that many expected to be a show-stopper, and it didn’t disappoint. The two teams play an attacking brand of football, and the first goal took just 19 minutes when centre-back Leo Skiri Østigård got on the end of a Khvicha Kvaratskhelia corner after a fumble by Kepa Arrizabalaga.
However, minutes later, he would go on to punish a mistake by Napoli as Jude Bellingham turned provider for Vionicius Jr. Minutes later, though, Bellingham would call on the spirit of Deigo Maradona in a stadium named after him as he went past five Napoli players to score a stunner.
With their backs against the wall, Napoli came back fighting. However, despite having many chances, their equaliser came from a controversial VAR review that awarded them a penalty.
Real Madrid, though, as they have done so many times, came back with a brilliant striker from a distance from Federico Valverde that, in the end, was deemed as an own goal by Napoli’s keeper Alex Meret.
However, despite the win the way the two teams played, there is little hope for either Union Berlin or SC Braga to finish in the top two.
Arsenal let down by defensive errors
After winning their opening game 4-0, Arsenal suffered their first loss of the Champions League season against RC Lens. And their goalkeeper, David Raya, was at fault for Lens’s first goal with his wayward pass near his goal line.
To make matters worse, after the opening goal by Gabriel Jesus, the Gunners didn’t produce anything meaningful in attack, barring the final few minutes of the game. Kai Havertz and Leandro Trossard were the worst of the bunch. On top of that, Bukayo Saka also went off the pitch limping, with his current injury status not clear. With Arsenal welcoming league leaders Manchester City on the weekend, Mikela Arteta will be hoping for the availability of the English winger if he wants to win against Pep Guardiola’s men.
And with PSV and Sevilla also capable of beating any team, Arsenal will need to put in better performances to go into the round of 16.
Atletico Madrid fend off Dutch champions Feyenoord in a goal fest
The game between Atletico Madrid and Dutch champions Feyenoord ended with five goals but could have easily seen ten with how the two teams played. Diego Simeone’s men were seconds away from three points on matchday one before Lazio’s goalkeeper Ivan Provedel turned hero with an elite strrikeresque finish to level the game.
However, with the second game at home, the team needed a win to boost their campaign. In Feyenoord, though, they faced a formidable opponent. And Simeone might feel lucky to escape with three points as his team scored from all three of their shots that were on target.
Feyenoord went into the lead two times but couldn’t stop the duo of Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata from first equalising and then scoring what turned out to be the winner. Feyenoord, though, looks likely to take the second spot in the group and qualify for the round of 16.
Historic win for Newcastle
When referee Istvan Kovacs blew the final whistle at St. James Park, it was not only the end of a game but most likely the start of a new era. Since their new owners took charge, Newcastle United have been on the up. The club added quality players to the team, and it showed immediate results as the club finished fourth to qualify for the Champions League.
However, on their return to the biggest club tournament, they put in an underwhelming performance against AC Milan. To make things hard, their first Champions League game at home was against a PSG side led by Kylian Mbappe. Newcastle needed a good performance, but what they delivered will be added as a golden page in the club’s history.
Newcastle United came out all guns blazing from the start, executing the high press to perfection. This is what got them their first goals of the game as Marquinhos fluffed his lines by playing a poor pass, which left Alexander Isak one-on-one with Gianluigi Donarumma, who saved the initial shot but could say nothing about the rebound that fell kindly on the feet of Miguel Almiron. Despite getting the goal, the hosts kept up the pressure and soon got their second after Dan Burns got on the end of a Bruno Guimaraes cross.
It went from bad to worse for PSG, who conceded a third goal five minutes into the second half as Donarumma made a mess of Sean Longstaff’s shot from a tight angle. PSG did get a goal back but failed to add a second against a resilient Magpies defence.
And when Fabien Schar put a fourth goal in the injury time it confirmed that Newcastle United had truly arrived at the biggest stage of them all.