Champions League: Bellingham rescues Real Madrid, Man United’s misery continues

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A day after the new Champions League campaign kicked off, the back half of the 32-team field wrapped up the first round of the group stage, with eight matches in all on Wednesday. 

Here are five quick takeaways from Wednesday’s action:

Arsenal rolls in Champions League return 

Death. Taxes. Arsenal competing against Europe’s top club competition. Until 2017, the Gunners playing in the Champions League was almost as certain the first two. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t. But now, Arsenal is back after a five-year absence, and Mikel Arteta’s team celebrated that return in style Wednesday with a resounding 4-0 win over Dutch league leaders PSV Eindhoven at Emirates Stadium in London. 

The hosts never looked back after Bukayo Saka opened the scoring less than eight minutes into the contest.

Leandro Trossard, Gabriel Jesus and Martin Odegaard also found the net in the rout — a performance that suggests the Gunners can not just survive a group that also contains Sevilla and Lens, but that they’re capable of making a deep run when the knockout stage begins next year. 

Real Madrid’s Jude Bellingham does it again 

As the clock ticked past 90 minutes in Spain’s capital, it looked like the most successful club in European history would open its latest Champions League title quest with a dispiriting scoreless draw against tournament debutant Union Berlin. 

But just like he has all season, Jude Bellingham put Real Madrid on his back. In the fourth minute of stoppage time, the 20-year-old burgeoning superstar scored his sixth goal in six competitive games since joining Los Blancos in July from Bundesliga power Borussia Dortmund for $100 million-plus. 

Bellingham has been a revelation for Real so far. He can’t score in every match, obviously. But he’s also the biggest reason to believe that when the trophy is presented after next June’s final at Wembley Stadium in Bellingham’s native England, Madrid will be there to accept the hardware for the 15th time.  

Manchester United’s misery continues in Munich 

The Red Devils were in a bad place already in the Premier League, with under-fire coach Erik ten Hag’s team having lost three of its first five games. Rebounding against mighty Bayern Munich in Germany to open their 2023-24 Champions League slate was always going to be a tall order for Man United on current form. 

That’s how it played out in the club’s wild 4-3 win. Bayern took a first-half lead on a dreadful mistake by new United goalkeeper Andre Onana, who allowed what should’ve been a routine save on a shot by Leroy Sané to slip past him and into the net. Serge Gnabry then doubled the advantage for the hosts before the visitors had time to process what happened. 

Rasmus Højlund pulled one back — his first goal for ten Hag’s team. But England national team captain Harry Kane — a long-time transfer target of the Red Devils’s board — restored the two-goal margin when he scored a third from the penalty spot in the second half.

Things got weird after that as the teams traded three more goals in seven minutes, five of those in second half stoppage time. But it still goes down as yet another loss for United, which has now conceded an astonishing 14 goals in its last five games. 

Napoli prevails, Inter Milan held 

After Napoli won the Italian title last season for the first time since Diego Maradona was the club’s main draw, their sights are set on European glory. 

So far, so good, as Napoli will return from Portugal with three valuable points in tow following a 2-1 victory over Braga. While the visitors led for much of the match, they also got a little lucky, as Braga defender Sikou Niakate inadvertently sent the winning goal — which came in the 88th minute — into his own net just four minutes after the hosts had equalized.

Meantime, Inter Milan clawed back from a goal down to snare a share of the spoils in Spain versus Real Sociedad. Argentine striker Lautaro Martínez bagged the leveler with less than four minutes of regular time remaining.

A rough two days for the Americans 

Like Christian Pulisic at AC Milan, Union Berlin’s Brenden Aaronson began the domestic season as a starter for his club. But like Pulisic a day earlier, Aaronson was forced to settle for a role off the bench Wednesday in his team’s Champions League curtain-raiser. That’s not great from a U.S. men’s national team perspective, though it was nice to see young star Yunus Musah make his tourney debut with the Rossoneri on Tuesday. 

Besides Aaronson, three more USMNT regulars were in action on Wednesday — all for the same team for the first time ever. Sadly, it was a long day at the office for PSV defender Sergiño Dest, who saw international teammates Ricardo Pepi and Malik Tillman enter as subs in the second half. 

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports who has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at FIFA World Cups on five continents. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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