Over 39 goals were scored in the past two days as the biggest championship in Europe made its return – the UEFA Champions League. While some goals were lucky ones, others were a thing of exquisite beauty, defying the laws of nature. Some teams found it hard to open their score-sheet while others fought from a losing position to salvage a point on the night.
The biggest talking points of Matchday 1 were the matches involving PSG, Arsenal, Milan, Real Madrid and Manchester City. PSG finally got the monkey off their backs as they dispatched Dynamo Kyiv in a 4-1 rout. The most expensive transfer duo of the season – Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva – scored while Alex and Argentinian Javier Pastore completed the score-sheet. It must have been liberating for Carlo Ancelotti as his team finally displayed the kind of football they are capable of playing. Playing in front of their home crowd, they dished out a superlative performance on the night, making a grand return to the European stage after a gap of eight long years. Their Ligue 1 rival, Montpellier fought hard and bravely against an Arsenal squad but lost on the night.
Malaga were making their Champions League début and that too against Zenit, a side who in a last-day splash of cash, brought in Alex Witsel and Hulk to bolster their domestic and European aspirations. Malaga started in an attacking fashion with Isco being their star on the night. Zenit did push hard but due to their wastefulness, they started their campaign on a losing note, a fact which will not go down well with Luciano Spalletti, who weeks before made a lot of noise talking about Milan. Talking about Group C, the other match of the night featuring Milan and Anderlecht saw a goal-less draw where Milan came close but weren’t able to score on the night.
The curse of San Siro continues this season for Milan as they are yet to win a match at home. After two soul-searching losses against relegation fodder teams, Milan dished out another performance which opened more questions than answers. Allegri continued his fixation with the 4-3-1-2 formation, slotting De Jong in the defensive midfield role and Boateng as the trequartista. While their endeavour bore no fruit, the best thing on the night for Milan was the fact that they did not concede inspite of having Bonera and Antonini in the side. De Sciglio and El Shaarawy were the only bright spots for Milan on yet another forgettable night.
The best action of Matchday 1 came from Santiago Bernabeu where Real Madrid hosted English champions, Manchester City. This was possibly the best time for City to be visiting Madrid as the home side seemed to be in tatters following their disappointing start to the domestic season. The team spirit was in question, morale was down and on top of it, rumours started circulating of an apparent rift between Cristiano Ronaldo and the club authorities. The player claimed he was ‘sad’ and that led to a lot (seriously, a lot) of annoying press releases suggesting the underlying motives of Cristiano. Mourinho was so upset at the squad that after the last home game, he claimed that this was not his team!
However, all doubts were put to rest once the match started. Mourinho wanted total commitment from his players, and on the night Madrid did just that. After a goal-less first half, the game sprang into life in the second half, as Madrid twice came back to equal the score. The adrenaline was flowing now, and with Mourinho shouting from the touchline, the fans finally saw their team fight; fight not only for survival, but fight for glory – a fight for honour. As Cristiano scored the winner in the dying moments of the match, Bernabeu erupted in celebration. This time though, the smile was back on the face of the Portuguese star, and it was visible that he was indeed enjoying every bit of it. But the most defining memory of the night will be the one of Mourinho sliding on the touchline in celebration. This kind of celebration was seen for the first time in Madrid. Is this finally his year?
Next up, the reigning Champions, Chelsea took on Italian Champions, Juventus at home. A lot was at stake for both the teams. For Chelsea, it was to see how they fare on the European front after being on the receiving end of Falcao’s awesomeness in the Super Cup. For Juventus, it marked the end of a much-awaited return in the premier competition of Europe. All eyes were on Pirlo before the game as the pass-master has regained his former glory playing with Juventus since the last couple of seasons. Having tormented England in the Euros, it was now time to continue in the same vein against Chelsea. However, the fans did have one concern – that of Chelsea parking the bus and the game degenerating to a dull draw. How wrong they were!
Chelsea drew first blood through Oscar, who made his Champions League début for the Blues. Playing behind Torres in the 4-2-3-1 formation, Oscar made a definite impact on the game. Oscar, who is a complete central midfielder rather than merely an attacking one, was preferred in the centre to man-mark Pirlo, reducing the Italian’s impact on the night. He not only did the defensive work well, but also played a crucial role offensively. While his first goal was a lucky deflection, his second one was a thing of pure and untainted beauty. A nicely executed dodge later, Oscar found himself on the outside of Juventus’ penalty area. Taking not even a second to think, he lobbed the ball which curled beautifully over a diving Buffon. It was a goal which any player would’ve been proud to have in his resume and when the player in question is a Brazilian, such brilliance is expected naturally.
However, as Chelsea grew in confidence, their defence went to sleep. Vidal scored one before the half-time break, and as the teams came out in the second half, Juventus went for the kill. Chiellini was a monster at the back – stopping attacks, blocking players; in general doing everything not to concede again. While Hazard was wrongfully denied a penalty, Juventus equalized through Quagliarella. Terry, the master of so many defensive battles, was fooled into an offside trap. As Quagliarella squeezed the ball through the legs of Cech, the Juventini celebrated. Had it not been for the bar, Juventus would’ve won on the night.
Barcelona made a shuttering start to their campaign as they were on the losing side for a better part of the hour. Finally, it fell on Messi to drag Barcelona out and his brace sealed victory for the home side. The over-reliance on Messi is clearly showing and one shudders to think of the time when the little master will have an off day. Manchester United finished off the first round of games with a 1-0 victory over Galatasaray at home.