The supposed favorites generally struggled to kick off the second matchday in the Champions League group stage.

By Jonathan Wilson
October 02, 2018

David Silva scored a late winner as Manchester City overcame the concession of a first-minute goal to win 2-1 at Hoffenheim, but the big sides generally struggled on the Tuesday of the second round of matches in the Champions League group stage.

A shorthanded Real Madrid lost at CSKA Moscow, while Manchester United and Bayern Munich were both held to draws at home.

Nikola Vlasic scored the only goal in the second minute to sink the three-time defending champion Real Madrid, while Bayern extended its run without a win to three games in all competitions in drawing Ajax 1-1. Mats Hummels had given Bayern an early lead, but Noussair Mazraoui pulled the visitors level after 27 minutes, and with Bayern looking oddly sluggish, Ajax had the better of the game.

Man United, meanwhile, was insipid and incoherent in a grim goalless draw at home against Valencia. In the other game in that group, Paulo Dybala scored a hat trick as Juventus, without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, swept Young Boys aside with a 3-0 win to retain the top spot and stay perfect on the season across all competitions.

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Lyon, having won at Man City two weeks ago, came from 2-0 down at home to draw 2-2 against Shakhtar in a game played behind closed doors, with the French side remaining atop the group the two games, a point clear of City.

In Real Madrid’s group, a hat trick from Edin Dzeko gave Roma its first win in this season’s Champions League as last season’s semifinalist won 5-0 at home to Viktoria Plzen, which is still without a point. Rising 19-year-old star Justin Kluivert, Patrick Kluivert’s son, scored Roma's fourth for the first Champions League goal of his career.

AEK, back in the Champions League for the first time in 11 years, suffered its second straight defeat, coming from 2-0 down to draw level with 10-man Benfica, only to concede a late winner to Alfa Semedo. Ajax and Bayern share the lead in that group, with the Dutch side having the edge due to goal difference.

Here's a closer look at the main developments of the day in the Champions League:

Real Madrid stunned in Moscow

At what point does this become a crisis? All the doubts that surfaced after defeat to Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup are back for Real Madrid after it followed up two league games in which it dropped five points with a Champions League defeat away to CSKA Moscow. Julen Lopetegui, having been sacked as Spain manager on the eve of the World Cup for accepting the Real Madrid job, may find it was a fool’s bargain. For the first time in 11 years, Real Madrid has gone scoreless in three straight matches.

Vlasic, on loan from Everton, pounced on a Toni Kroos error to put CSKA ahead after two minutes, and, while it should be acknowledged that Madrid hit the woodwork three times through Karim Benzema, Casemiro and Mariano, this not a performance with the verve that would be expected of the three-time European champions against a seemingly inferior side–even with Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Isco and Gareth Bale unavailable.

Madrid has had a tendency in recent years of stumbling through the group stage before coming good in the knockout rounds, and it may be that that pattern repeats, but that will not ease the early pressure on Lopetegui.

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Tepid Manchester United held by Valencia

The evening didn't begin well, as Manchester United’s team bus was delayed in traffic, leading kickoff at Old Trafford to be delayed by five minutes. Despite a show of unity before the first kick from United with an on-pitch huddle, that journey quickly came to seem like a metaphor. There was more conspicuous effort and energy than there had been in Saturday’s limp defeat to West Ham, but there was very little in the way of cohesion. Again and again players hesitated in decent positions, and again and again basic passes went astray. It was all very disjointed, lacking in fluency or apparent direction.

Valencia, which only won its first game of the season on Saturday, seemed not quite able to believe what it was playing against, and with a more positive approach it might have put United under real pressure. As it was, Marcelinho’s side offered limited threat going forward, with Goncalo Guedes having one of those nights in which he repeatedly got into good positions only to make the wrong decision.

A draw will not push Jose Mourinho any close to the Old Trafford exit, but equally there was no easing of the pressure.

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Man City bounces back but doubts remain

It took an 87th-minute goal, but Manchester City righted a Champions League campaign that was threatening to spin out of control with a 2-1 victory at Hoffenheim. Although this was a game that City dominated to the extent of having 15 shots to Hoffenheim’s five, it also suggested an alarming weaknesses that will have to be rectified if it is to win the Champions League for the first time in its history.

After losing its first game in the group at home to Lyon, City was, unusually in the group stage, under pressure. That was only increased when Ishak Belfodil put the home side ahead in the first minute. But City came back and leveled seven minutes later, with David Silva sliding in Leroy Sane, who cut the ball back for Sergio Aguero to score. At that, it seemed only a matter of time before City scored again as chance after chance was squandered, and Slovenian referee Damir Skomina mysteriously failed to give an obvious penalty as Sane was tripped by goalkeeper Oliver Baumann as he skipped past him.

In the end,  Silva, a constant probing presence through midfield, did find a winner, nicking the ball off a dawdling Stefan Posch and slamming it past Baumann. It was a deserved win for City, but its profligacy will raise some concerns. Even more troubling was the way Hoffenheim repeatedly exploited the space behind the fullbacks and to the outside of the two central defenders. As Louis van Gaal pointed out last season, getting the balance of the fullbacks right has been a persistent issue for Guardiola and one he does not yet seem to have resolved.

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