The return of the Champions League is always a special moment in the football season. The group stages may end up lopsided and predictable, but having so much simultaneous, quality football available is pretty special. The Premier League’s four representatives will be hopeful of going all the way, especially Man City. Pep Guardiola identified a Champions League push as a target this season, but can they live up to that?
The Citizens made the worst possible start to their campaign, losing 2-1 at home to Lyon. This should have been the most straightforward game for City in this group, but now their pool looks really interesting. With Shakhtar Donetsk and Hoffenheim drawing 2-2 elsewhere, City have been left bottom of the pile. That gives them a difficult path to the last 16, while it’s also a bad omen for the Citizens. No side has ever lost their group opener and gone on to win the competition, so City need to break new ground in their recovery.
Liverpool Record Narrowest of Thrashings
There were better times for Liverpool in the Champions League. They had the toughest clash of any English side this week, hosting French champions PSG. The Reds raced into a 2-0 lead thanks to Daniel Sturridge and James Milner. However, the Reds took their foot off the pedal to allow the French side back into the game, and Kylian Mbappe’s 83rd minute equaliser looked set to give the Ligue 1 champions an undeserved point. That was until Roberto Firmino scored in the dying minutes to give Jurgen Klopp’s men the win.
That huge win has brought a sense of expectation to this campaign, following last season’s run to the final. They should kick on and win this group, with PSG looking like a group of strangers rather than a team. Meanwhile, the Reds received a boost as Napoli drew 0-0 away to Red Star, so it was really the perfect week for Liverpool in Europe. After a perfect start in the Premier League, they kept that ball rolling with their biggest success of the campaign so far and things are looking very rosy for the Reds right now.
Tottenham took their levels of Spursy-ness to new heights in midweek, just as they were on the verge of a huge win. They led 1-0 in the San Siro against Inter Milan, thanks to a Christian Eriksen strike. Then Inter, who have made a poor Serie A start, were gifted a comeback. Lethal forward Mauro Icardi was given too much room, and he lashed home a rare goal from outside the box. Set pieces were Spurs’ undoing again, as Matias Vecino scored for the Nerazzurri to decide the game. Elsewhere, Barcelona hammered PSV 4-0, a result which included yet another hat-trick for Lionel Messi.
Are United Back in Form?
Manchester United kicked off their Champions League campaign in style, breezing past Young Boys in Switzerland. Paul Pogba scored twice in the victory, with Anthony Martial scoring the third to prove a point to Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese must be pleased with the manner of his team’s win, which has them as early group leaders. Following on from a solid weekend win, the Red Devils could be on the right path at long last. However, they do have much bigger challenges to come in this competition.
That includes both Valencia and Juventus, who met at the Mestalla on Wednesday. The Italians won through two penalties from Miralem Pjanic, but that wasn’t the big story here. A red card for Cristiano Ronaldo brought tears from the Portuguese, and a wry smile from many. However, it’s brought huge pressure on UEFA’s disciplinary body, who now have the option of extending that ban to cover his two clashes with United, something TV rights holders and the heads of the Champions League are likely to rally against. Not that money and TV men call the shots or anything!
Real Madrid were just as successful as Juventus without Ronaldo. The reigning champions saw goals from Isco, Gareth Bale and Marino gave them a 3-0 win over last season’s semi-finalists Roma. The Spaniards are looking freed up going forward without having to constantly run everything Ronaldo’s way, but we’ll only see the true impact of his departure in the latter stages.
Strong Start for Britain’s Europa League Quartet
Thursday night brought more Europa League action, including a big win for Arsenal. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice for the Gunners, two much needed goals for the out of form forward. Danny Welbeck and Mesut Ozil also scored in the victory over the Ukrainian side, which gave Europa League expert Unai Emery a win in his return to the competition. His last game in this competition saw Sevilla beat Liverpool to win the tournament for a third straight year, so Arsenal could well go all the way. They’re competing with Sporting Lisbon, who kicked off their group by beating Qarabag.
Chelsea also made a perfect start, with Willian scoring the only goal at PAOK. Their win in Greece came with a pretty strong side selected, with Maurizio Sarri making minimal changes. He’s clearly putting some stock in this competition, and the Blues will be looking to win it. This was their first Europa League game since winning the final against Benfica in 2013, but there’s a long way to go before this year’s showpiece in Baku. So far, the Blues are level with BATE Borisov at the top of their group.
There’s a new dimension to the Old Firm rivalry in Scotland this term, with the pair competing in the Europa League group stage. Celtic were the only one of the duo to win on Thursday, beating Rosenborg 1-0 with a late strike. However, it’s arguably advantage Rangers in the battle between them. Steven Gerrard’s side were able to claim a point at Villarreal, and he’s promised to go on the offensive in this competition as they try to make a big impact on their return to European football.