The English sides are beginning to exhibit their new-found strength in the Champions League, as the quality of the managers that arrived 12 months ago are gradually lifting the teams to the highest level on the continent.
These back-to-back fixtures across week three and four effectively work as two-legged ties, whilst each group will take shape regarding qualification for the round of last 16.
Here are six things we learned from the third week of Europe’s premier competition.
Chelsea are missing a controlling presence
It wasn’t the first time that David Luiz has played in the holding role, although Antonio Conte will be wary if he must use him in this manner in the future against top level opposition. The Brazilian scored a brilliant curler from 25 yards to give Chelsea the lead, but his indiscipline caused his side issues.
Without N’Golo Kante and the departed Nemanja Matic, there was a distinct lack of control in Chelsea’s midfield. Roma dominated possession, but they contributed to their own problems with sloppy mistakes.
It made for an entertaining game in the 3-3 draw, with former Manchester City players Aleksandar Kolarov and Edin Dzeko scoring for the visitors. Eden Hazard was extremely clinical once again, as he rescued a point for Chelsea following two outstanding finishes from the in-form Dzeko, who has 10 goals for his club this season.
City can get even better
Fresh from the 7-2 destruction of Stoke City at the weekend, Manchester City welcomed Napoli to the Etihad stadium. They arguably provided the best 30 minutes of football seen anywhere across Europe this season, when considering the form and capability of the Serie A leaders.
Raheem Sterling opened the scoring after Kyle Walker saw his initial attempt blocked, whilst Gabriel Jesus added a second following a low cross from Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian midfielder almost made it three when he curled a fantastic effort off the crossbar and Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly had to clear the ball off his own line three minutes later.
The Italian’s appeared to be overawed, but managed to work their way back into the game and looked dangerous on the counter-attack. Pep Guardiola was visibly concerned with his team’s openness in transition and applauded his midfielders when David Silva checked back inside rather than opting for a more direct pass early in the second half.
It’s clear that City are demonstrating their exceptional attacking prowess and ball retention in defensive areas. However, there are areas where they can improve and Guardiola’s touchline gesticulations illustrate that they are far from the finished product.
Pochettino shows his tactical flexibility
Tottenham Hotspur have the second highest possession statistics in the Premier League, yet at the Bernabeu they demonstrated their ability to operate in a different manner. They certainly rode their luck at times against Real Madrid including how they took the lead through a Raphael Varane own goal, but it was Mauricio Pochettino’s set-up which should grab the attention.
His 5-3-2 formation enabled him to make use of the players he had available in the squad, whilst their backline was distinctively deeper than normal. Fernando Llorente’s capacity to hold the ball up, his threat from set-pieces and record of eight goals in games with the Spanish and European champions justified his selection alongside Harry Kane.
Harry Winks was also excellent at the base of the midfield three, a week after he made his international debut. The 21-year-old made more passes than any of his Spurs teammates, whilst he also displayed the highest pass completion rate for the away side in the 1-1 draw in Madrid.
United struggle to create chances
The cautious mentality of Manchester United at Anfield appeared to have remained, as they lacked flair and flamboyancy in Lisbon. Jose Mourinho has lamented his lack of midfield options since Maroune Fellaini was injured, but he will still have expected more creativity from the centre of the pitch.
The Portuguese coach was fortunate that goalkeeper Mile Svilar was in such a charitable mood. The 18-year-old became the youngest keeper to play in the Champions League, as he beat Iker Casillas’ record by 66 days.
Svilar failed to dominate his area and looked uncomfortable when he awkwardly saved the only shot on target in the first half from former Eagles midfielder Nemanja Matic. Marcus Rashford over hit his free-kick in the 64th minute, but Svilar carried the ball over the line when back peddling following an awful starting position.
Liverpool finally finish a side off
Liverpool beat Maribor emphatically with a 7-0 victory in Slovenia. The Reds were 3-0 up inside 19 minutes, as Roberto Firmino tapped in the first, Philippe Coutinho grabbed the second with his fourth consecutive goal in an away game and Mohamed Salah the third.
Salah added another before half-time before Firmino netted his second and the team’s fifth. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored his first goal since joining from Arsenal and Trent Alexander-Arnold completed the rout.
The quality of the opposition wasn’t great and Jurgen Klopp’s men didn’t appear to get out of second gear, but it was a vital result. It was the club’s biggest away win in Europe, although they have played better this season and not won.
Celtic face Bayern at the wrong time
There’s probably not a right time to face Bayern Munich, but the return of Jupp Heynckes to the club has given them a renewed focus. The last time the German coach took charge of the Bavarians in the Champions League was at Wembley, when they won the tournament by beating Borussia Dortmund.
Celtic were poor defensively throughout and lacked the necessary work rate to compete as they lost 3-0. Craig Gordon pushed Robert Lewandowski’s header into the path of Thomas Muller for an easy finish for the forward.
Joshua Kimmich provided an excellent header after another solid contribution from the rejuvenated Kingsley Coman and Mats Hummels added the third with another header in the second half. Bayern haven’t conceded a goal in the opening two games under Heynckes after he replaced Carlo Ancelotti a fortnight ago.