The Champions League went, largely, according to plan this week for the seeded teams. Only Chelsea failed to claim a win among the pot-one contingent as the Jose Mourinho comeback remains in the doldrums.
Compatriots Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United suffered no such ill-fortune, with David Moyes claiming his first win the competition as Arsene Wenger continues to defy the critics.
Elsewhere, it was a mixed bag for German teams; two defeats for Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund while favorite and defending champion Bayern Munich, as well as Schalke, won out.
Three of four Spanish teams were victorious. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo continued their duel for the ages with another pair of hatctricks while Atletico Madrid was impressive against Zenit.
Among the Italy contingent, Napoli won well, Milan squeaked through while Juventus disappointed away at Copenhagen.
PSG took its time in getting going against Olympiakos, but shambolic defending allowed the French champion the decisive breakthrough.
Indeed it was a mix of the sublime and ridiculous, goal-wise, in the opening match day. Excellent strikes from Yaya Toure, Vladimir Weiss, Alex Teixeira, Hulk and others were offset by defending so bad you wouldn't expect it at amateur level.
But entertainment is the name of the game and a meaty 53 strikes were rattled in. That's the story of the Champions League, week one. Here are five other things we learned from the opening round of group play:
|Klopp in danger of believing his own hype
Regular viewers of the Bundesliga will not have been surprised to see Jurgen Klopp screaming through gritted teeth at a match official after a perceived slight against Borussia Dortmund. He brought that creepy rage to the Champions League on Wednesday night at Napoli.
Dortmund was already headed into halftime in disarray. The competition's defending runner-up was outfought, Klopp outwitted, and 1-0 down with Mats Hummels injured when Roman Weidenfeller was sent off.
The traits the German side needed on the sideline were calmness, strategy and insight. But that wasn't forthcoming. Zeljko Buvac, the long-haired assistant to Klopp, was the sole man in control as, first, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang replaced the stricken Hummels, and, secondly, Weidenfeller received his marching orders.
When the club needed him most, Klopp had let Dortmund down. His haranguing of the fourth official betrayed immaturity, self-indulgence and a sense of entitlement. He behaved, in his own words, like a "monkey". But offbeat comments in the press conference will not excuse Klopp on this occasion.
Dortmund was second-best even when it was 11-v-11. Napoli easily coped with the threats of the German side, isolating Robert Lewandowski, nullifying Marco Reus and deadening the impact of Henrikh Mykhitaryan. Lewandowski and Reus only completed one pass each to one another, while the Pole and Mkhitaryan had a shot apiece on target.
Too often Dortmund was predictable, one-paced and sorely lacking Ilkay Gundogan, upon whom it now is fatally dependent. In contrast, Napoli, with its creative faculties in full effect going forward, had its measure and was worth a better margin for their win.
Klopp must remember the hard work and humility that got him and Dortmund to where it is today. Otherwise he is in danger of believing his own hype. All those incidents did was to give Klopp something to hide behind.
|Conte's European ambitions stunting Juventus
"We’ll be battling it out with Galatasaray for second place," said Antonio Conte before a ball had been kicked in the Champions League group stage. That he expects to compete with a team that lost 6-1 to Real Madrid on the opening matchday rather than with the Spaniards themselves is illustrative of Conte's expectations in this competition.
This is the same coach who, after defeat to Bayern Munich last season, predicted that no Italian side would win the Champions League for many years. For a club like Juventus, holder of two European titles and by far and away Serie A's top team, such curbing of ambition is lamentable.
What Conte has done is create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Juventus is good enough to boss a team like Copenhagen around. Instead, on Tuesday, it played a lot of reactive football and tried, unnaturally, to bombard the opposition aerially, with more than 60 long balls played in each half. Had Juve stuck to its own blueprint, then maybe it might not have found itself chasing the game and desperately scrambling for a late winner.
Juventus' lack of composure in Europe is completely at odds with its league form, and Conte's record in the tournament remains patchy with as many non-events as good performances. Juve is now playing catch up with Real Madrid, which has moved two points clear after the first round of matches.
Juventus is, indeed, now fighting it out with Galatasaray.
|Cristiano shows Bale who's boss
If Gareth Bale was in any doubt as to where the power lies at Real Madrid, then this last week will have been an eye-opener. Important as it is to remain level-headed after such a transfer move, Bale would have no other option than to be humbled as Ronaldo first signed the richest contract in the history of football and followed that up with a hat trick away at Galatasaray.
He has shown Bale who the boss is at the Bernabeu.
The treble took Ronaldo's goal total for Real Madrid to 206, and the third was in a class of its own. Bale's burgeoning goal ratio, at one in one, needs to get better and stay better, for 200 more matches before he can shake off comparisons with Ronaldo. That, simply, will not happen.
The 100 million euro deal was significant, the highest-paid sum in football, but the new contract for Ronaldo was more so. Bale made his debut at the president's behest against Villarreal last weekend despite being patently unfit. Florentino Perez wanted that distraction out of the way before this season's big signing could be celebrated in style. That was the Portugal captain, make no mistake about that.
Ronaldo, temporarily overshadowed by Bale in the run up to the end of the window, is back in vogue. He very rarely cedes the limelight as he has done over the past few weeks, and his was a performance to savor. The best player in the world; the biggest personality at the biggest club.
Gareth, you have got some catching up to do.
|Mohamed Salah - this season's Isco
It's all coming together for gifted Egyptian Mohamed Salah; a Champions League stage for his talents and a World Cup place with his nation beckons.
This will be the season that the 21-year-old Basel winger emerges as the greatest African player of his generation and is catapulted into the European limelight.
He will be this season's Isco.
Salah's speed and inventiveness were too much for Chelsea to bear, as the Swiss champion plundered a deserved away win in London. His was the equalizing goal, adding that one to the vital European strikes against Maccabi Tel Aviv and Ludogorets in the qualification and playoff rounds. Salah took it with aplomb, sweeping home a fine Basel move to silence Stamford Bridge.
His ability to drop a shoulder and go past defenders gives him a rare elusiveness, and he is a potent, consistent weapon for Murat Yakin's side. The former defender, himself, deserves the credit for setting the blueprint for sealing a win against Jose Mourinho's Chelsea, but a plan is only as good as its component players.
With Salah in the ranks and a win at Chelsea achieved, Yakin and Basel will fear no match in this season's group stage.
|Atletico Madrid - the dark horses
Imperious as the Clasico duo of Real Madrid and Barcelona are, there will be a third Spanish threat in the Champions League this season. Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid is a fortified unit with resilience and firepower in equal measure.
Atletico eased into a commanding position against Zenit and never looked like relinquishing it. The Rojiblancos won 3-1 on the night, with the pick of the goals coming from Baptistao off the bench. It was a commanding performance; aside from Hulk's terrific strike they never looked in danger. Opposition coach, Luciano Spalletti, paid tribute to Atletico's "strong spirit" in the aftermath.
Traditionally, the Vicente Calderon is a chaotic place with coaches barely lasting a season at a time. But this group with this manager is different. In the past few months Atletico has defeated Real Madrid for a trophy and matched Barcelona over two legs. There is a belief among the players that they can achieve under Simeone.
Porto, as capable as it is, does not belong in the same company as potential winners of the tournament like Barcelona or Bayern Munich. In that sense, Atleti has a great chance to go through the group stage successfully and take a place in the knockouts as top seeds.
"When you have a strong group of players, the team responds," Simeone said.
- Sports & Recreation
- Cristiano Ronaldo
- Borussia Dortmund
- Atletico Madrid
- Real Madrid
- Bayern Munich
- Jurgen Klopp
- Gareth Bale
- Antonio Conte
- Jose Mourinho