The first round of Champions League group stage games were played out last night, with some thrilling games to kick off the competition. TBR rounds up the action which saw wins for Real Madrid, Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund among others.
The surprise result of the night took place in Piraeus as last season’s runners-up Atletico Madrid fell to a 3-2 defeat against Greek champions Olympiakos. Arthur Makasu put the home side in front after 13 minutes when a short corner was not acted upon by the Atletico defence, allowing him time to shoot from distance. Ibrahim Affelay doubled the lead on the half-hour mark before Atletico’s big summer signing Mario Mandzukic struck near half-time.
That might have been the prompt for Diego Simeone’s men to stage a comeback but instead it was Olympiakos who restored their two-goal advantage in the 73rd minute. Returning from a strange and unfulfilling spell at Fulham, Kostas Mitroglou showed the form of old to beat Jan Oblak and secure the points for Michel’s side. Atletico managed a late consolation through Antoine Griezmann but the La Liga winners are already under pressure after matchday one.
Juventus faced a potentially tricky opening tie against competition debutants Malmo and, while the two-time winners claimed the points, they were made to work by the Swedish outsiders. Malmo got to half-time on level terms and it took an emphatic strike from Carlos Tevez after an hour to wear down the visitors’ stern resistance. Having not scored in this tournament since his Man United days, the Argentine got his second goal of the night with a superb free kick in the closing minutes to ease the home fans’ nerves.
Atletico host Juve in two weeks’ time knowing that they need to get a result to avoid slipping out of contention while Sweden will stage its first Champions League group match since 2000 when Olympiakos visit Malmo.
It was meant to have been a routine return to Europe’s top table for Liverpool, but Anfield was on edge as the five-time winners needed Steven Gerrard to dig them out of a hole yet again. Ludogorets certainly didn’t fear the Merseysiders and created some very worrying moments for a disjointed Liverpool before Mario Balotelli plundered what seemed to have been a late winner. There was a twist in the tale, though, as Dani Abalo stunned the 45,000-strong crowd with a 90th-minute goal for the Bulgarians, only for their debutant goalkeeper to then bring down Javier Manquillo in the box. Not for the first time, Gerrard faced the Kop and lashed home a crucial late penalty to save Liverpool’s blushes.
There were no such worries for Real Madrid, who had Basel well and truly dispatched before half-time. An early own goal sent the holders on their way and a three-goal blitz in eight minutes from Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and James Rodriguez, the three most expensive players in world football, ended the game as a contest. The Swiss side pulled one back near the end of the first half and Karim Benzema got in on the act late on as Real Madrid issued the perfect response to two consecutive league defeats.
The defending champions visit Ludogorets in a fortnight’s time while Liverpool travel to Basel, where they exited the competition in 2002/03.
Benfica’s prospects of getting out of the group took an early battering on home soil against Zenit St. Petersburg, for whom Ezequiel Garay made a swift return to the Estadio da Luz after leaving the Portuguese champions this summer. Hulk, whose reputation took a battering at the World Cup, responded to his critics by scoring inside five minutes and it got worse for Benfica in the 18th minute when goalkeeper Artur was sent off for impeding Danny. Axel Witsel, who like Garay was returning to his former club, made it 2-0 shortly afterwards to leave Benfica with a mountain to climb. Zenit saw out the remainder of the game comfortably to give coach Andre Villas Boas a hugely satisfying away win.
In a meeting of two surprise finalists from the early 2000s, the domestic form book went out the window as struggling Monaco beat Bundesliga high fliers Bayer Leverkusen at the Stade Louis XIV. The German side dominated the first half and laid siege to Monaco’s goal, but failed to convert any chances into goals. They were made to regret their profligacy on the hour mark when Joao Moutinho struck the only goal for the game for the home side, who last played in this competition in 2005.
Next time out, Zenit host Monaco in a game where the winners would be odds on favourites to advance to the last 16. Bayer Leverkusen play host to Benfica as both sides aim to get off the mark.
On their third visit to Signal Iduna Park in 36 months, Arsenal fell victim to a quick-fire blitz either side of half-time from Borussia Dortmund. The Gunners were distinctly second best throughout the game and it was no surprise when Jurgen Klopp’s team hit the front just before the interval through new signing Ciro Immobile. The second half was barely underway when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang maintained his recent good form to double Dortmund’s lead. While Danny Welbeck blazed an excellent chance over the bar late on, in truth the final score flattered Arsenal, who were taught a harsh lesson by the 2013 runners-up.
There was almost an upset in the group’s other encounter as Galatasaray hosted Anderlecht. The Belgian champions were expected to struggle but instead took the lead shortly after half-time through Dennis Praet. They were on course for an unexpected, and rare, away win right until the dying minutes when Burak Yilmaz netted from close range to salvage a point for unimpressive Galatasaray, who travel to Arsenal on matchday two. Anderlecht play host to Dortmund next time out.
Who impressed you the most in the Champions League games from yesterday? Was it Real Madrid’s scintillating football, Dortmund’s highly dominant style, or Ludogoret’s phenomenal efforts against Liverpool? Let us know in the comments or on twitter @TBRFootball .