Haaland's hammer, Juve's assist king and Messi the creator - Champions League group stage data dive

By Sports Desk December 10, 2020

Manchester United, Inter and Ajax were the big Champions League casualties as the group stage wrapped up - but who have been the stars of the show so far?

Unsurprisingly, Erling Haaland featured prominently, scoring half of Borussia Dortmund's goals as they topped Group F.

But what should we make of Lionel Messi, whose three goals all came from the penalty spot for Barcelona? And were Inter incredibly unlucky to bow out?

Using Opta data, we took a closer look at how Europe's elite performed.

Haaland's hammer blows

The Norwegian's left foot is about the deadliest weapon in world football at the moment and it comes as no surprise to see him topping the scoring charts with six goals in four games.

That put him alongside Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar, United's Marcus Rashford and Juventus striker Alvaro Morata, all of whom played more games and minutes than the Dortmund marksman.

Five of Haaland's goals came from his trusty left boot, and it continued his rich vein of form in Europe after he hit eight goals in six group games for Salzburg last season and two for Dortmund in the knockouts. The 20-year-old's Champions League goals this season have come at one every 57.5 minutes, and among players to have scored more than twice that minutes-per-goal mark was second only to Chelsea's Olivier Giroud (five goals, one every 28.4 minutes).

Yet when it came to overall goal involvements in this term's group stage, it was another Bundesliga star who led the way in Europe, with Alassane Plea of Borussia Monchengladbach tallying eight - five goals and three assists.

Germany had a productive group stage as Dortmund, Gladbach, RB Leipzig and holders Bayern Munich all reached the last 16 - the first time four teams from the Bundesliga have advanced since the 2014-15 season (Bayer Leverkusen, Dortmund, Schalke, Bayern).

Haaland would have been disappointed to see Salzburg bow out, however, with the Austrian side becoming just the second team to score 16 or more goals in the first group stage yet be eliminated, after Chelsea in the 2012-13 campaign.

Messi's mixed bag

For the first time since registering his first Champions League goal in 2005-06, Messi failed to score from open play in the group stage.

From highs of eight open-play goals in the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons, his number crashed to zero this time even though Barcelona qualified with ease for the knockout stage.

The 33-year-old Argentinian stuck away a group-stage high of three penalties - a total matched by Chelsea's Timo Werner and Lazio striker Ciro Immobile - to ensure it was not a complete goal famine.

Going goalless was not for the want of trying - Messi had seven shots on target in this week's 3-0 defeat to Juventus, which is more than any other player has had in a Champions League game without scoring since at least 2003-04.

He also created more chances across the six games than any other player, with Messi's total of 16 putting him one ahead of Ajax's Dusan Tadic and United's Bruno Fernandes, both of whom only have Europa League football to enjoy in the new year.

Of those chances, however, only two gave Messi assists. Leading the way on that score was Juventus' Juan Cuadrado, who set up five goals.

Barcelona created more chances than any other team (84), followed by Real Madrid (77), Sevilla and Bayern (both 73). Eventual champions Bayern had 106 chances in the group stage last year, as they set the high standard they maintained all the way through the competition.

Barcelona also had the most opportunities defined by Opta as 'big chances' over this season's six rounds of games, with 26. They converted 46.15 per cent of those openings, which ranked them eighth among teams to have at least 15 – United led the way by scoring from 68.75 per cent of their 16 such opportunities.

Were Inter framed?

Inter could not get the winner against Shakhtar Donetsk this week that would have carried them through to the last 16, with Lautaro Martinez hitting the bar early on, extending his run of bad luck.

The Argentine striker hit the goal frame four times in the group stage, more than any other player and the most by anyone across an entire Champions League season since Robert Lewandowski struck the woodwork five times for Bayern during 2016-17.

Martinez only scored once as Inter bowed out, unlike Lewandowski who put away eight goals in nine games during that campaign.

Inter hit the woodwork seven times in total over their six games, the joint-highest number along with Real Madrid.

Related items

  • Nets trio Durant, Harden and Irving expected to face Bulls Nets trio Durant, Harden and Irving expected to face Bulls

    Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving are set to play together against the Chicago Bulls, according to Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash.

    The Nets built a 'Big Three' in 2020-21 after Harden arrived from the Houston Rockets in a blockbuster trade in January, but the trio have only played seven games together this season.

    Injuries have hampered the star-studded Nets, with former MVP Harden only returning from a hamstring strain on Wednesday following an 18-game absence.

    Not since February have Durant, Harden and Irving shared the court together but that is expected to change on Saturday.

    "If everything stays the same," Nash told reporters following Friday's practice, with Brooklyn (46-24) preparing for the final two regular-season games of the season ahead of the playoffs. "Those three will play tomorrow."

    Durant, Harden and Irving won five of the seven games they played together between January 20 and February 13.

    The Nets – looking to lock up the second seed in the Eastern Conference in pursuit of a maiden NBA championship – have outscored their opponents by 39 points in the trio's 186 minutes together.

    "I just expect them to play hard, play together, and experience some moments together on the floor," said Nash. "It's been few and far between.

    "I don't necessarily have any expectations other than it gives us an opportunity to jell and play together and feel what it's like to be out there again."

    Durant is averaging 27.5 points – his highest number since 2015-16 – 7.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game this season, while he boasts career highs in field-goal percentage (54.2) and three-point percentage (45.9).

    Harden is averaging 25.1 points, 10.9 assists and a career-high 8.0 rebounds, while Irving has been averaging 27.2 points, 6.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 2020-21.

    Nets team-mate Jeff Green added: "I'm just happy they are on the floor. We're getting to finally try to create a rhythm with all guys healthy. We'll see what happens from there.

    "We have a long week to prepare for whomever we play. For those guys, it will be good. For us, it will be good to get a look and see where we are at when everybody is healthy."

  • Packers want Aaron Rodgers back 'in the worst way' – LaFleur Packers want Aaron Rodgers back 'in the worst way' – LaFleur

    The Green Bay Packers continue to make it clear they want star Aaron Rodgers to remain as their quarterback, despite reports the reigning NFL MVP is unhappy. 

    Rumours have swirled around Rodgers since reports on the first day of the NFL Draft claimed the QB wanted out of Green Bay after 16 seasons with the Packers.

    Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has already said the team would not trade Rodgers and president and chief executive Mark Murphy reiterated Green Bay's commitment to Rodgers.

    Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur echoed those sentiments as the Packers opened their rookie mini-camp on Friday.

    "I've got nothing new to update, and we still obviously feel the same way," LaFleur said of Rodgers' future.

    "We want him back in the worst way. I know he knows that, and we'll continue to work at it each and every day."

    Last season, Rodgers amassed 48 touchdowns, five interceptions and a completion rate of 70.7 per cent for the Packers – who lost to eventual Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game.

    Rodgers' quarterback rating of 121.5 puts him second on the all-time list among qualifiers, behind only his 2011 campaign (122.5).

    In total, Rodgers completed 372 of 526 attempts for 4,299 yards as the Packers topped the NFC North with a 13-3 record to clinch home-field advantage and the top seed in the NFC playoffs for the first time since 2011.

    Rodgers is level with Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown with three MVP honours – only Peyton Manning (five) has more in NFL history.

    The Packers begin organised team activities on May 24 and Rodgers is not expected to be present, pending a resolution in the meantime. 

    That leaves LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to work with the quarterbacks on hand: Rodgers' heir apparent Jordan Love and new signing Blake Bortles. 

    Bortles, who signed with the team on Thursday, previously worked with Hackett on the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2015-18. 

    "This is a guy that's started a lot of games and had a lot of success -- shoot, he led his team to the AFC Championship Game [in 2017], and they were close to knocking off the Patriots in New England," LaFleur said.

    "He's got a lot of experience, and that's something you can never take for granted."

    Love was the Packers' first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft but did not play last season. 

    LaFleur deflected a question about whether he would use the off-season to prepare Love for a starting role in case Rodgers does not return, saying he expects every player on the team to have that mind-set.

    The Packers will open their season at the New Orleans Saints on September 12.

  • Guardiola lauds 'exceptional' Torres after first Man City hat-trick Guardiola lauds 'exceptional' Torres after first Man City hat-trick

    Pep Guardiola hailed Ferran Torres' goalscoring instinct after the youngster plundered his first Manchester City hat-trick in the champions' 4-3 win at Newcastle United.

    Torres, who joined from LaLiga side Valencia ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, put City 2-1 up with a sumptuous flicked finish after Joao Cancelo cancelled out Emil Krafth's opener.

    A penalty from Joelinton and a Joe Willock goal – scored after the on-loan Arsenal man's spot-kick had been saved – put the Magpies ahead, but Torres scored twice in two minutes to seal an English record 12th straight away win for City.

    Torres' Friday evening treble took him to 13 goals for the campaign, with team-mate Phil Foden (14 goals) the only player aged 21 or under to have scored more for a Premier League club across all competitions this term.

    The St James' Park hat-trick hero also became the youngest ever player to score a treble for a team managed by Guardiola, at 21 years and 75 days.

    Guardiola was full of praise for the Spain international, who he believes has all the attributes to be a successful central striker.

    "It's his first season in England and his numbers are exceptional," the City boss told Sky Sports. "He came as a winger, but he has had to think about being a striker. When Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus were out, he was there.

    "He didn't have minutes, but when he played he had a sense of goal. I'm really pleased.

    "He can be [a number nine]. We will use him, we used him and he was brilliant. His rhythm, especially defensively, has improved a lot.

    "The movement he makes as a striker. The [third] goal hits the bar and he knew where it would go. Strikers know intuitively where it will arrive. He has this talent, the first goal is fantastic."

    Asked if the emergence of Torres as a central striking option could mean City do not dip into the transfer market to replace the departing Aguero, Guardiola said: "I don't know what's going to happen. Maybe we buy a striker, maybe not.

    "We have a guy, he's young. A good transfer. I can use him on the left, right, or as a striker.

    "The season is too long, we can't play with just 11 players. The best striker we can buy can't play all the minutes."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.