There will be those who will remind others that their club’s European adventure this season commenced as early as July, in the qualifying rounds. Good for them. However, the big guns in this season’s Champions League and Europa League kicked off for real this week and they did not disappoint.
On Tuesday night, Manchester City travelled to the Bernabeu where they faced Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid in the most eagerly awaited tie of the week. Some European newspapers headlined that the Champions League opener was a final in itself – such was the magnitude of the occasion. Domestically, Real had been subjected to a considerable amount of criticism, since Barcelona had won all of their four league games whilst the La Liga champions had stuttered and spluttered in their fixtures resulting in an eight point gulf between themselves and the Catalans at this early stage of the season. Typically, Mourinho deflected the censure of Real’s poor start to their title defence away from his players and onto himself. He also spoke adamantly that City would soon enough become the Kings of Europe, “With the direction the club is going, sooner or later they will win the big cup.”
An exciting clash was won courtesy of a Ronaldo ‘floater’, if you pay attention to Vincent Kompany’s post mortem of the 90th minute winner. Cue Mourinho to accelerate out of the coaching hot seat and slide onto his knees – whilst in a full suit. Roberto Mancini on other hand was left bemused after City let a 2-1 lead slip with only four minutes remaining – “It is difficult not because we lost – we can lose against a side like Real Madrid – but because with four minutes to go it was 2-1. This is strange. I think we need to improve this situation.” He also threw in a Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd moment by declaring, “I am the judge, not Joe Hart” following the goalkeeper’s understandable regret that City failed to hold onto a lead.
Across Spain, Lionel Messi, the Champions League top scorer for the last four seasons, started this season’s campaign with a brace as Barca also overcame a 2-1 deficit to record a 3-2 win over Spartak Moscow at the Camp Nou. The reigning World Player of the Year is now less than 20 goals behind the all-time leading scorer, Raul.
Elsewhere, Arsenal continued their unbeaten start to the season with a 2-1 away win against Montpellier. Lukas Podolski and Gervinho provided the goals to give the Gunners a more than satisfactory start in a group that also contains Olympiakos and Schalke 04. Manchester United made hard work of a mediocre Galatasary side, narrowly winning 1-0 at Old Trafford. Tougher assignments lie ahead for Sir Alex’s men but he found cause for optimism as midfielder Darren Fletcher returned from injury.
Brazilian playmaker Oscar announced his arrival at Europe’s top table with aplomb as he scored a superb double to put Chelsea 2-0 up on the night against Juventus. However, the resurrected Bianconeri fought back to equalise, taking a hard-earned point from London. If you believe paper talk, Roman Abramovich stormed into training the next day demanding answers from both players and coaches as to why they surrendered a 2-0 lead.
In France, Qatari-financed Paris Saint Germain beat Dynamo Kiev 4-1. After an eight-year absence from Europe’s elite club competition, the French returned with a bang. Big summer signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic opened the scoring and in doing so, found the back of the net for a record, sixth, different Champions League club. Can you name the other five?
At White Hart Lane, Spurs entertained Lazio with UEFA president Michel Platini watching in the stands. The sides fought out an entertaining goalless draw which will rigorously question Platini’s ongoing commitment to using goal line officials as Spurs had three goals disallowed with replays showing that two should have stood. Platini’s headache was then exacerbated as Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon were subjected to monkey chants by a section of the Lazio fans. How Michel must have wished he stayed at home.
Elsewhere, Liverpool travelled to Switzerland to play Young Boys and ironically won in a game riddled with school-boy defensive errors 5-3. Brendan Rodgers rightly directed the journalists to talk about Liverpool’s five goals compared to the three which they conceded. Thankfully, the Northern Irishman is made of stubborn stuff.
Although the Europa League falls second to the Champions League in terms of prestige, its quality can be in no doubt with a considerable amount of heavyweight clubs in the mix including Napoli, Inter, Stuggart, PSV, Marseille, Athletico Madrid, Sporting Lisbon and Lyon.
Barely one month into the football season and we see football at its best, with moments of quality and controversy ruling the headlines. This can only mean one thing – European football is back.