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

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Erling Haaland played just four games but still finished as top scorer in the group stage, where Lionel Messi failed to score in open play.
FotMob - 3 months ago

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.