Champions League – Matchday 1 Recap

The first 16 matches have been completed in the Champions League, and they mostly went as expected. But there were still some surprises, and this will highlight some of those results instead of the so-so march to the final that it seems that Real Madrid is on yet again (they started things off with a 3-0 victory at home against Roma).

Here are some of the more shocking results of the first round of matches from around Europe (based on UEFA rankings heading into the match or location). Home teams are listed first:

Manchester City 1-2 Lyon
Manchester City qualified for the Champions League group stage as the top club from the English Premier League last season, winning in dominating fashion, losing only two games and dropping a total of 14 points all season (32-4-2), on their way to the first 100 point season in Premier League history. Lyon, on the other hand, qualified based on their third-place finish in Ligue 1 on France, distantly behind champion Paris Saint-Germain and only one point ahead of fourth-place Marseille. Yet the Kids from Lyon defeated Manchester City at Etihad Stadium in their first match in the Champions League.
Manchester City is still favored to win the group, and still have the fourth-best chance of winning the entirety of the Champions League, but getting behind 2-0 at home to the third best team in the group isn’t a good start. They’ll need to bounce back against 1899 Hoffenheim in Germany in a couple of weeks to prove that the opening match wasn’t a fluke and to get back on the winning path. Lyon, on the other hand, faces off against Ukrainian champion Shakhtar Donetsk at home, hoping to continue the fight for a second place finish and advancement to the Round of 16.
Internazionale 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur
In perhaps the biggest upset of the opening matches, the club better known as Inter Milan came from behind against the Spurs to defend their home pitch. Inter was the fourth Italian club in the Champions League, and has the fourth lowest UEFA rank (83rd) of the clubs in the Group Stage. Tottenham, on the other hand, is the third-best English club, and ranked in the top 20 (19th) by UEFA. Inter has now leaped over the Spurs and has a 52% chance of finishing in first or second in the group, and get to face off against a PSV Eindhoven club that lost 4-0 to Barcelona. Tottenham, on the other hand, gets to face that Barca team, albeit at home, and hopes to avoid a 6-point hole after two matches.

Red Star Belgrade 0-0 Napoli
The only scoreless draw of the opening matches drew my attention for a couple of reasons. First, as a covered in my piece on Red Star Belgrade when I dubbed them Small Club of the Week, they had to fight through the longest path to reach the Group Stage, and are the second-lowest ranked club (119th) according to UEFA. Napoli, as a result of their second place finish in Serie A last season, marched into the Champions League at the Group Stage. Red Star was playing at home, and perhaps buoyed by over 49,000 fans in Red Star Stadium, held off the Italian club despite being outshot 20-6. Red Star remains the least-favored club to advance to the Round of 16, and its next match is against Paris Saint-Germain, who will be looking to win after missing out on their own draw (more on them shortly), but we’ll be keeping an eye on Red Star Belgrade over the next few months.

Liverpool 3-2 Paris Saint-Germain
Liverpool jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead at home, and the crowd at Anfield remained hopeful for getting all three points in the match. PSG fought back, and equalized when World Cup star Kylian Mbappé scored in the 83rd minute, and it looked like Liverpool would be lucky to walk away with one point, let alone three. But Roberto Firmino, who came on as a sub in the 72nd minute, came through in stoppage time, winning the match for Liverpool, and the three points. The Reds continued their winning way of the early season, and moved themselves into the favored position in Group C, and have four matches in the Champions League before facing off against PSG again. By then, they could be assured advancement to the Round of 16, especially if their level of play continues for the next few months.

Matchday 2 of 6 kicks off in a couple of weeks on October 2nd, and all the clubs will be back in their domestic leagues looking to round into shape. Overall, however, nothing has really changed, with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid remaining the favorites, though Manchester City’s loss did impact their chances a bit. Some of the dark horse candidates didn’t embarrass themselves, while others seemed to prove why they – and their associations – need to advance through qualification every year. Either way, it’s going to be fun to see where this all ends up in three months, and we’re glad to be along for the ride.
Until next time…

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