Second-Leg Storylines In The UEFA Champions League
Édouard Mendy has kept 14 clean sheets in his 18 UEFA Champions League appearances so far, with only Edwin Van der Sar keeping his first 14 clean sheets in as few games in the competition. The Dutchman also went on to keep his 15th in his 19th appearance in the UCL.
Of goalkeepers to have made at least 10 appearances in the Champions League, Mendy’s clean sheet rate of 78% is by far the best, but with it being so early in his UCL career it’s hard to fairly compare him with Van der Sar, who has the next-best ratio of 51%. At this moment in time, Van der Sar has played 80 games more than Mendy (98 apps, 50 clean sheets).
Chelsea’s defence have helped boost their goalkeeper’s record since his arrival, allowing very few shots to make their way through to Mendy. Since the start of last season, Mendy has faced a shot on target every 41 minutes on average – only Manchester City’s Ederson (45 mins) has faced a shot on target less frequently over this period.
Across 2021-22 so far, Chelsea have allowed their opponents only 14 shots on target in seven games – a competition-low this season, while these have had a season-low expected goals on target total of 4.6. Over half of these shots on target (eight) and over 80% of the xGOT tally (3.7) came in the single game that Mendy didn’t appear in – a 3-3 away draw with Zenit St Petersburg in their final group stage game, which Kepa Arrizabalaga played.
There’s little doubt that Mendy is a top-class goalkeeper, but his Champions League career so far has been made a lot easier thanks to his protective Chelsea defence.
The Nations League
Liverpool and Manchester City are already through to the last eight. With a 2-0 lead going into their second leg, it seems likely that Chelsea can expect to be in the quarter-finals too. Manchester United host Atlético Madrid after a 1-1 first-leg draw in Spain with the tie delicately balanced, but there’s a very real chance we could see English clubs make up half of the quarter-final line-up.
There have only been three previous occasions of a nation having four different teams in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals within a season. All of those have involved in English clubs. The last time this occurred was in 2018-19, where Manchester City and Tottenham met in the quarter-finals and served up an all-time competition classic with a 4-4 draw and Spurs going through on away goals. 2008-09 saw Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool make it through to the quarters, with the latter two facing each other and playing out another classic tie – the Blues’ advancing 7-5 on aggregate. The season before this in 2007-08 was the first with four teams from one nation, with the same four clubs as 2008-09. This time it saw Arsenal and Liverpool meet, with Liverpool going through 5-3 after two legs.
With Atlético Madrid and Villarreal’s matches finely balanced, Real Madrid’s comeback performance against PSG spared the possibility of no Spanish team making it through to the quarter-finals since 2004-05. Meanwhile, we could see the second successive season without an Italian club in the last eight.
Of course, it’s common to see clubs from the big five European leagues in the final eight of the Champions League since the round first came in to play in 1994-95. In completed Champions League seasons, Spain (52), England (47), Germany (33), Italy (30) and France (20) make up 84% of the representatives of quarter-final teams since then, with Portugal (11) and the Netherlands (seven) adding a further 18 to that tally.
Bayern and Liverpool Duos Continue to Chase Down History
Fact: Cristiano Ronaldo is the greatest Champions League goalscorer of all time. With 140 total goals in Europe’s premier competition, he is currently 15 clear of rival Lionel Messi.
Also a fact: The Cristiano Ronaldo-Karim Benzema axis is the greatest Champions League goalscoring duo of all time.
The above chart looks at the total number of games in which both players have scored for the same team. Ronaldo and Benzema have scored in the same game for Real Madrid on 16 different occasions, the highest total number of matches of any two players in Champions League history.
It’s hardly surprising really, with the duo key contributors to Real’s dominance in Europe over the past decade. Madrid have won four of the past eight competitions, including a run of three in a row from 2015-16 to 2017-18. In each of those consecutive tournament wins, Ronaldo rightly won the plaudits for his astonishing goal tallies, but Benzema finished as Real’s second-highest scorer on each occasion. Now with Ronaldo out of the spotlight, Benzema is arguably in the best form of his career. Then again, maybe he always was.
With Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United, the pair won’t have a chance to improve their tally.
That leaves the door open for Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller to close in, and the pair were at the heart of Bayern’s 7-1 demolition of RB Salzburg last week. The game was the 15th occasion they’d scored in the same Champions League match. Müller is well known for his creative qualities, particularly when providing for Lewandowski. Since assist records began in 2004-05 in the Bundesliga, Müller has assisted more than double the number of goals for Lewandowski than any other player has for a single team-mate in the German top flight. But he is also an unheralded marksman. With 52 Champions League goals, he is now seventh on the all-time records list, moving ahead of Thierry Henry with his brace against Salzburg. With Bayern through to the last eight, the pair can continue to break more records together.
This chart is about duos, but it also serves to highlight the importance of a trio at Liverpool: Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané. The group appear on this list three separate times in different combinations and, looking at games played, have arrived there very quickly. Liverpool’s home group game to Sevilla in September 2017 – a game in which all three made their Champions League debut for the club – saw Salah and Mané score and Firmino miss a penalty. It forebode what was to come.
That 2017-18 ended in final heartbreak for Liverpool, but each of Salah, Mané and Firmino scored 10 goals in the campaign, the first time a team has ever had three players from the same team hit double figures. The English Iniesta – aka James Milner – also topped the assist charts with nine.
Such has been their contribution to the side that since that game against Sevilla, Salah, Firmino and Mané have scored 65% of all Liverpool’s UCL goals.
Haller: It’s Goals You’re Looking For
Although Robert Lewandowski’s hat-trick against RB Salzburg last week saw him overtake Sébastien Haller is the goalscoring charts, there’s no doubt that Haller has already had a phenomenal debut season in the Champions League. The Ivorian striker has scored 11 times in seven appearances for Ajax in 2021-22, netting in all of Ajax’s games. That lightning start has seen him break a slew of records. For a start, his 11 goals are the most by any player in their maiden Champions League campaign, and his tally of 10 goals in six games in the group stage was enough to earn him the record for most goals in a player’s first six UCL appearances, overtaking Erling Haaland.
One more goal this campaign would see him overtake Didier Drogba (Marseille in 2003-04, five in the Champions League & six in the UEFA Cup) for the most goals scored by an African player in a single UEFA European competition in history.
His 9.1 expected goals total has come off the back of just 22 shots in total. His 0.41 xG/shot value is the highest of anyone to take more than five in this season’s campaign. Looking at his shot locations – almost exclusive to the penalty box – tells us all we need to know about how to maximise your shooting opportunities.
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