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  • A loss to Juventus put the pressure back on Jose Mourinho, while Real Madrid and Bayern Munich secured the wins they needed to relieve some tension and Man City looked unstoppable in Tuesday's Champions League action.
By Jonathan Wilson
October 23, 2018

Cristiano Ronaldo enjoyed a winning return to Old Trafford on Tuesday, as Juventus beat Manchester United 1-0 to headline Matchday 3 of the Champions League. That turns up the pressure once again on Man United manager Jose Mourinho, but the two other coaches of elite clubs seemingly on the brink, Niko Kovac of Bayern Munich and Julen Lopetegui of Real Madrid, both enjoyed victories.

Paulo Dybala got the only goal for Juventus, which won 1-0 and leads Group H by five points after three games. United, though, remains in second after Valencia was held to a 1-1 draw at Young Boys. Michy Batshuayi gave Valencia the lead, but Guillaume Hoarau levelled 10 minutes into the second half.

Second-half goals in the space of two minutes from Javi Martinez and Robert Lewandowski gave Bayern a 2-0 win over a stubborn AEK Athens side and is level at the top of Group E with Ajax, who beat Benfica 1-0 with a last-minute goal from Noussair Mazraoui.

In Madrid, Karim Benzema headed the hosts in front after nine minutes, and Marcelo fired home a second as Real Madrid beat Viktoria Plzen 2-1, snapping the club's five-match winless streak and delivering a multi-goal performance for the first time since Sept. 19. Patrik Hrosovsky’s 79th-minute goal caused some late jitters, and the issue of Lopetegui’s future will seem much clearer after this weekend's Clasico at Barcelona. Roma tops that group on goal-difference, with Edin Dzeko scoring twice in a 3-0 win over CSKA Moscow.

Elsewhere, Manchester City confirmed its exceptional recent form by hammering Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 in Ukraine to move top of the group, while Joelinton’s injury-time goal earned Hoffenheim a draw in a wild 3-3 bout vs. Lyon.

Here are three thoughts on the day in the Champions League:

Pressure mounts on Mourinho again

A come-from-behind win over Newcastle United and a draw against Chelsea had silenced thoughts that the sack was imminent for Jose Mourinho, but the temperature is rising again after a limp 1-0 defeat to a Juventus side that dominated the first three-quarters of the game, at times to an almost embarrassing degree.

Mourinho, who had decided to walk to Old Trafford after the team bus was once again held up in traffic, picked an unchanged side for the first time in 46 games, but his group was as disjointed as ever. The defensive shakiness that has characterized United all season was in evidence again as Juventus took a 17th-minute lead. Juve’s move down the right was slick, but when Chris Smalling got to Ronaldo’s deflected cross in front of Juan Cuadrado, the loose ball fell to an unmarked Paulo Dybala, who swept in. Neither Nemanja Matic not Victor Lindelof had tracked his run, and that was a recurring feature of the first half.

With United sitting off, as it has so often this season, Juve dominated the ball to such a degree that at halftime, United had had just 29 percent possession. Rodrigo Bentancur was the dominant figure at the back of midfield, and, but for two high-class saves from David De Gea–the first on a Joao Cancelo blast, the second and even better one to deny Ronaldo–Juve would have been comfortably ahead.

Only in the final half hour, as United was forced to attack, did the momentum begin to shift, and Paul Pogba nearly pulled the hosts even, hitting the post on a low blast from distance with 15 mintues to play. But it marked the third game in a row in which the need to chase the game raised Man United's level. Juve, though, had the wherewithal to stifle the surge and stay perfect in the group.

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Some relief for Kovac, Bayern

It is crisis at the very least deferred for Niko Kovac. The Bayern coach was under intense pressure after four games in a row without a win, a run that sparked last week’s extraordinary press-conference in which directors Uli Hoeness, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Hasan Salihamidzic berated the media for having had the temerity to criticize the perennial champions.

It was patently absurd, a little disturbing in its attempt to quell dissent and, as Hoeness lambasted Juan Bernat, who was sold to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer, monstrously hypocritical. But if the aim was to distract from the specific problems within the side, it worked. As the media’s attention shifted to mocking the Bayern hierarchy, the team won 3-1 at Wolfsburg on Saturday and followed that up with a 2-0 win away to AEK Athens.

That leaves Bayern level with Ajax at the top of the group, but any sense that everything is suddenly fine should be resisted. Although the win in the end was comfortable enough, secured with second-half goals in quick succession from Javi Martinez and Robert Lewandowski, this was far from an imposing Bayern performance against an AEK side that was spirited but limited. There was a lack of wit and verve, a lack of confidence that manifested itself in too many safe passes being taken on, and perhaps most worrying of all, a fundamental lack of pace.

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A breeze for Man City

Manchester City began the season slightly slowly (by its own extraordinary standards), leading some to wonder whether Pep Guardiola’s much-discussed efforts to add an extra dimension to its passing had actually been disruptive. The last month, though, has shown the benefit of that work. Shakhtar was the first side to beat City last season–albeit in a dead rubber–but City was magnificent in Ukraine, entirely dominating while playing scintillating football.

David Silva volleyed City ahead a half hour in, Aymeric Laporte headed in a corner five minutes later and Bernardo Silva added a third some 30 seconds after coming off the bench. Defeat to Lyon on Matchday 1 has not been forgotten, but it is looking increasingly unlikely to have any relevance in regard to Man City reaching the last 16. If City and Lyon both win their next games, City will have secured its place in the knockout phase without two games remaining.

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