Champions League Report Card Matchday 1

The Champions League group stages got underway with several talking points as some results enhanced the stature of the favourites, while in other cases the pressure increased on teams and their managers with dire consequences. Let’s do a quick assessment on how the 32 teams did in the first Champions League report card of the season.

AC Milan. The Italian champions left Austria frustrated that they didn’t make more of their dominance. Nevertheless, a point away at the wildcard of the group marks a good start for Milan, who didn’t get off the mark till the fourth game last season. ‌(B)

Ajax. Players and managers come and go, yet this club keeps getting the results and with a remarkably similar style of play. Utter dominance. ‌(A)

Atletico Madrid. They were second best for the majority of the game, somehow contrived to concede an equalizer against ten men when they just took the lead in injury time, only to miraculously win it with the last touch of the game in the 100th minute. There’ll be other opportunities to scrutinize the performance, but the end was pure unadulterated joy not seen at the Metropolitano in a long time. ‌(A)

Barcelona. They weren’t defensively sound, but is Robert Lewandowski now going to be the cheat code for the Blaugrana that Lionel Messi used to be? Encouragingly for Xavi, not only is the Polish superstar scoring the goals that he was signed for, but his link up play with the other diminutive attackers in the team amplifies the offensive threat even further. ‌(A)

Bayer Leverkusen. They could argue that they deserved a point for their efforts, but the disparity of talent between Leverkusen and Brugge make luck a moot point. A season that promised so much is unravelling quickly. ‌(E)

Bayern Munich. So much for the questions coming into the game on the back of two league draws. In what was expected to be a banana skin, Bayern not only won, but dominated Inter at the San Siro. Hard to single out a player after a supreme team effort, but Leroy Sane was at the heart of everything good with a performance that combined terrifying speed with artistic touches to great effect. ‌(A)

Benfica. They dominated Maccabi Haifa, won easily and probably should have scored more. Ultimately though, if Benfica are to take advantage of any slips by the top two seeds in the group, six points against the Israeli champions are a must. Part one of that particular equation has been taken care of. ‌(A)

Borussia Dortmund. For a team that can sabotage itself at the most untimely moments, starting their European campaign with a regulation 3-0 win will be extremely satisfying for Edin Terzic and followers of BVB. Gio Reyna’s excellent performance hopefully signals the end of the injury problems that have plagued the young American in the last 18 months. ‌(A)

Celtic. As expected, the atmosphere was sensational, inspiring the home players to go toe to toe with the champions for about 50 minutes. Then Real took over. Which is no disgrace for Celtic, considering it was their first appearance in the group stages in four years. Second remains an open possibility, especially after events in Leipzig. ‌(C)

Club Brugge. Sold their best player to Milan this summer and still put in a performance of heart and no lack of quality. Considering their results against the likes of Dortmund, PSG and Real in the last three seasons, it shouldn’t be any surprise that Brugge can beat Leverkusen. But that would normalize the brilliance of the Belgian champions. In a group where the other three teams all have a lot more in terms of resources, Brugge appear the only team with a clear identity. That may just get them over the line into the round of 16. ‌(A)

Chelsea. The sacking of Thomas Tuchel meant the game itself became a footnote. But a team that lifted the trophy barely 16 months ago lost to one who had won two of their last 33 games in the competition. That’s kind of inexcusable. ‌(F)

Dinamo Zagreb. Considering they lost all six games in the group stages the last time they reached it, I can’t overstate how unexpected and incredible their win against Chelsea was. Yes, they had to hang on for most of the second half, but that only makes the win more special. Extra kudos to Mislav Orsic, who scored the delightful winner, making a habit of such performances against English sides in Europe. Dinamo Zagreb, ahead of Milan and Chelsea. Now that’s something to shout about, no matter how fleeting. ‌(A)

Eintracht Frankfurt. Their fans were always going to cherish their Champions League after their unexpected Europa League success. However, it soon became apparent that the gap between Europe’s primary and secondary competitions is huge, as Eintracht simply couldn’t live with Sporting in the second half. ‌(D)

FC Copenhagen. They had moments when they scared Dortmund, but were ultimately outclassed. It’s their home games against BVB and Sevilla where we can judge them more critically. ‌(D)

FC Salzburg. Compared to how they have started recent campaigns at home, Salzburg were neutralized fairly comfortably by Milan. Like Stefano Pioli though, Matthias Jaissle will take the point, considering events in Zagreb. ‌(B)

Inter. Left punch-drunk by Bayern, rounding up a sobering 10 days for the blue side of Milan. At least the defeats to Real in the group stages last year were battles that Inter were unlucky to lose. This was simply nondescript. ‌(E)

Juventus. Were only kept in the game thanks to PSG’s tendencies to wobble out of nowhere, but for the most part this was very pedestrian. An important game against Benfica now follows as Max Allegri and Juve risk becoming a European irrelevance. ‌(E)

Liverpool. Despite suffering bad defeats on their two previous visits to Napoli, the Reds seemed to be unprepared for the hosts storming out of the blocks. The lack of intensity was galling, the positional indiscipline stark and the quality in possession was terrible. I could say more but the simple fact is Liverpool were thoroughly outclassed and outfought on the day. ‌(F)

Maccabi Haifa. They never looked like scoring in Lisbon, but not much is expected of them, especially in their away games. ‌(E)

Manchester City. Another brace for Erling Haaland to mark the beginning of another cruise through the group stages. ‌(A)

Marseille. Igor Tudor will regret now having Alexis Sanchez for the x-factor that Marseille needed to supplement their organized play at Tottenham. Though they suffered their first loss of the campaign, solace can be taken from the fact that Spurs were kept at arm’s length for most of the game. ‌(C)

Napoli. A supreme performance from a team playing some of the best football in all of Europe, featuring a few technicians in prime form. That they would outplay Liverpool with the ball was expected, but most pleasing to Luciano Spalletti was the fact that the pressing off the ball was also spot on. ‌(A)

Paris Saint-Germain. For 45 minutes it was easy to see why there is room for optimism this season. Christophe Galtier’s system makes a lot of sense, even allowing for all of Neymar, Messi and Mbappe to be in the starting eleven. Speaking of Mbappe, his link up play and finishing remains a sight to behold. And then out of nowhere, against a Juve side that had no idea what they were doing, they conceded a soft goal. Those infuriating doubts then creep back. ‌(B)

Porto. Largely outplayed Atletico and could have won comfortably had they buried their chances before Mahdi Taremi’s ridiculous dive cost them a man. Had the fortitude to find an equalizer in stoppage time, only to inexcusably concede with the last touch of the game. They’ll be kicking themselves after this one. ‌(C)

Rangers. Just two weeks ago, a visit to the Netherlands brought unbridled joy. This trip was altogether different, a reality check and then some. ‌(F)

RB Leipzig. A catastrophic home defeat against a team so decimated that describing them as underdogs would be an understatement. Eight goals conceded in two games to compound a poor start, sadly meant Domenico Tedesco had to go. ‌(F)

Real Madrid. Even they were overawed by the cauldron at Celtic Park. But when even an injury to Karim Benzema can’t throw you off, one gets the sense of the quality that the champions possess. By the way, Luka Modric — ageless. Vinicius Junior — relentless. ‌(A)

Sevilla. Just last season a game at the Sanchez Pizjuan in the Champions League would be considered a daunting trip for any of the favourites. How quickly things have broken down at Sevilla. They didn’t lay a glove against City, with seven goals now conceded in two successive home games. Next up, a trip to Copenhagen, where damningly, I think they go as underdogs. ‌(F)

Shakhtar Donetsk. They’ve been victims of geopolitical factors since 2016 when they had to move out of their home ground, but the current circumstances are an altogether different kettle of fish. And yet they continue to prevail despite being exploited terribly this summer in the transfer market. Their counter attacks against Leipzig were precise and direct and their pressing on point, inspired by a standout performance from the much-hyped Mykhaylo Mudryk. If they can make Warsaw their fortress away from home, this fairytale may well go on into next year. ‌(A)

Sporting Club. Despite having to sell some of their best players to bottom half teams in the Premier League, Sporting remain a well-coached team. Ruben Amorim’s men continuously exploited Eintracht’s high line, with Marcus Edwards proving too hot to handle in a breakout performance. ‌(A)

Tottenham. It was quite challenging, as it should be when you return to the Champions League. While some may quibble about their inability to break down a stubborn defence, opponents do come with plans in this elite competition. Spurs found a way thanks to an already talismanic Richarlison, aided by the consistent excellence of Ivan Perisic. That’s how building depth actually works. ‌(A)

Viktoria Plzen. They will most likely end up being whipping boys in the group, but they are going to have fun while doing so. They got a goal at the Camp Nou and gave the Barca defence a few scares during the 90 minutes. All power to them with that carefree attitude. ‌(C)

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