Four takeaways from Champions League: Mbappe and Haaland’s struggles, Barca’s surprise star & more

Well, that was quite the week of UEFA Champions League football.

After a rather dire round of 16, 18 goals in four quarter-final first leg games this past week reignited our excitement for Europe’s elite competition on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Here’s all our takeaways from a thrilling midweek of European football.

Antoine GriezmannAntoine Griezmann

World class / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages

‘Easier’ side of the draw? Check.

Won their first leg? Check.

Big game experience in the Champions League? Check.

World class manager? Check.

World class star player? Check.

They’re not the first team that come to mind when you think about potential 2023/24 UEFA Champions League winners, but Atletico Madrid certainly tick a lot of boxes. Wednesday night’s win, inspired by the brilliance of Antoine Griezmann, was proof they should be considered the ‘dark horses’ for this year’s competition.

Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland are widely regarded as the two best footballers in the world today.

In their clubs’ respective Champions League ties this week, the pair combined for a whopping one shot on goal. Yep, one.

Kylian and Erling, if you want to get rid of the ‘goes missing in big Champions League games’ tag, maybe do a bit more in next week’s matches, eh?

Raphinha - Brazilian Soccer Winger - Born 1996Raphinha - Brazilian Soccer Winger - Born 1996

Top class / Lionel Hahn/GettyImages

With Haaland, Mbappe, Bukayo Saka, Rodri, Harry Kane and co. all turning out for their clubs in midweek, it’s perhaps a bit of a surprise that Raphinha was undeniably the player of the quarter-final first legs.

The Brazilian’s brace against PSG showcased to the rest of Europe what Barcelona and Leeds United fans have known for a quite a long time: Raphinha is a genuinely brilliant footballer. His second goal in particular displayed his quality in the final third, racing through the heart of the PSG defence before volleying home a chipped Pedri pass. Top class.

Leroy Sane, Jakub KiwiorLeroy Sane, Jakub Kiwior

Kiwior struggled / Sportsphoto/Allstar/GettyImages

One quick look at Bayern and Arsenal’s form heading into the game on Tuesday evening would’ve told you the Gunners were, rightfully, heavy favourites to win.

So…what the hell happened?

In short: nerves.

In long: for the bulk of Arsenal’s starting XI, particularly their back five, Tuesday’s game was their first taste of last eight UEFA Champions League football and it showed. While Ben White rose to the challenge on the right of the defence, his defensive teammates really struggled – particularly Jakub Kiwior, who was subbed off at half-time having looked rather out of his depth in the opening 45 minutes.


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