Talking points in the Champions League: Barcelona vs. Inter Milan thriller, Mohamed Salah's record-breaking hat-trick, and more
Matchday four of the Champions League group stage provided plenty of goals, drama, and action for fans. We asked our writers James Olley, Rob Dawson, and Alex Kirkland to respond to some of our most pressing inquiries.
What piqued your interest on Matchday 4?
Dawson: The Premier League is putting its foot down. After four matchdays, three English teams — Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, and Chelsea — lead their respective groups, with another, Liverpool, on track to qualify. While Spain and Italy are concerned about some of their teams, particularly Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus, England should have four representatives in the knockout rounds. Two of the last four Champions League finals have been all-English affairs, in 2019 and 2021, and you wouldn't bet against the same happening in Istanbul in June. Over the last decade, Spanish teams have dominated the Champions League, but now it's the Premier League's turn.
Olley: On Tuesday, Maccabi Haifa won their first Champions League group stage game in 20 years. And against Juventus, no less, who now face a massive task to reach the round of 16 after a disastrous 2-0 defeat in Israel. To avoid a Champions League exit at this stage for the first time since 2013, they must defeat Paris Saint-Germain and Benfica. The club continues to support head coach Massimiliano Allegri, but he can't afford many more mediocre performances like this, even if Juventus avoids firing coaches in the middle of the season.
Kirkland: Shakhtar Donetsk were seconds away from a famous win over reigning champions Real Madrid on Tuesday, only to be denied by a 95th-minute Antonio Rudiger equalizer, resulting in a 1-1 draw. Shakhtar, which has been exiled from Donetsk since 2014, is already facing unprecedented logistical challenges by playing this season's Champions League home games in Warsaw, Poland, and their preparations have been overshadowed by Monday's missile strikes across Ukraine. This was an outstanding performance in such difficult circumstances. Madrid are now guaranteed a place in the round of 16; Shakhtar, who are a point behind RB Leipzig, are still in contention.
Which players from the group stage would you pick for a five-a-side team?
Olley: Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer hasn't allowed a single goal in the Champions League this season, including victories over Inter Milan and Barcelona at home. The term "defender" does not do Joao Cancelo justice; he has more assists (four) than clean sheets (three) in Group G so far. Jude Bellingham's development continues apace, with four goals and one assist in four Borussia Dortmund games. Napoli have dominated Group A, with winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia drawing a lot of attention. Erling Haaland up front because, well, Erling Haaland.
Kirkland: Thibaut Courtois of Real Madrid kept a clean sheet in both of his group stage appearances, and he still has some bonus points from his masterclass in last year's final. Reece James has been outstanding for Chelsea, and they will be hoping that the injury he suffered against Milan on Tuesday is not serious. It's a clean sweep for Bellingham, who put in one of the season's best individual performances in Dortmund's 4-1 win over Sevilla. Let's include Napoli's rising star Giacomo Raspadori for his four goals, and pair him with Robert Lewandowski, Barcelona's lone bright spot.
Dawson: Manchester City have only conceded one goal so far in the group stage, and if Ederson is playing five-a-side, he's also good enough to play in midfield. Manuel Akanji has settled in quickly at City after joining from Borussia Dortmund late in the summer window, and it's difficult to overlook his former Bundesliga teammate, Bellingham, in midfield. Leroy Sane, who scored four goals for Bayern Munich in a group that also included Barcelona and Inter Milan, deserves a spot, and Haaland just edges out Kylian Mbappe up front.
Which was more impressive, Barcelona vs. Inter Milan or Salah's 6-minute hat-trick?
Olley: Given that Mohamed Salah's hat-trick came with the game already won and at a time when Rangers were making substitutions, the Barcelona-Inter game finale is more remarkable. Bayern's dominance in Group C made Wednesday's game at Camp Nou a high-stakes affair between two European heavyweights, and Barcelona now faces the prospect of dropping down to the Europa League, with Inter needing only a win over Viktoria Plzen to qualify. Robert Lewandowski was signed to make the difference on nights like this, but Barcelona's defensive vulnerability meant his brace was only enough to save a point twice in an enthralling 3-3 draw; his first owed a lot to luck thanks to a large deflection, but his second was a powerful header worthy of his status at this stage. Unfortunately for Barcelona, it may all be for naught.
Dawson: It was a fantastic finish in Barcelona's 3-3 draw with Inter Milan at Camp Nou, but it's not every day that a player scores a six-minute hat-trick. Liverpool had already defeated Rangers, but Salah's three goals in as many minutes — the fastest-ever Champions League hat trick — is still a remarkable achievement. Salah has struggled to find the net this season, and Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that the 7-1 win at Ibrox kick-starts a run of goals for his star player. Salah hasn't scored in the Premier League since August, but a goal against Manchester City on Sunday would be a good way to put an end to that streak.
Kirkland: Barcelona 3-3 Inter in a group stage match that felt like the second leg of a knockout tie. No game on matchday four can expect to be as important. There were moments of genuine quality, such as Ousmane Dembele's opener, which was the result of a lovely Barcelona move, and others of shambolic ineptitude, such as Gerard Pique's (lack of) defending for Nico Barella's equalizer. It was great fun, unless you're a Barcelona fan, who was left facing the prospect of another financially disastrous group stage elimination.