Tuesday’s action saw a somewhat stumbling start by all three British teams involved, with Chelsea and Liverpool securing nervy 1-1 draws, and Celtic being truly out-classed by Shakhtar Donetsk, going down 2-0 in the icy Ukraine. Both Chelsea and Liverpool had chances to win their games, but as did their opponents Rosenborg and Porto respectively, so perhaps secretly neither manager will be too disappointed with the results.
Benitez especially should be satisfied with a point, after Porto flew out of the blocks and took an early lead from the penalty spot after Reina misjudged a dive at the feet of Sektioui.. Kuyt leveled things just 10 minutes later, but following the sending off of Pennant after almost an hour for two stupid yellow card tackles, Liverpool were kept on the back foot by an exciting Porto team, staring the tricky winger Ricardo Quaresma, with whom Liverpool were actually linked this summer.
I’m sure Mourinho too will have been surprised at just how much fight Rosenborg brought with them, again taking a relatively early lead against the former English champions. Chelsea were patient however, and a somewhat rejuvenated Shevchenko equalized eight minutes into the second half, meeting Malouda’s beautiful cross to head his first of the season. Towards the end of the game Chelsea appeared to be turning the screw, upping the tempo and throwing men forward, but it wasn’t their night as the Norweigans held firm, despite Kalou and Malouda rattling the woodwork. On a side note, there was an interesting fancy dress competition going on at Stamford Bridge last night; 17,000 people appeared to have come to game dressed perfectly as empty seats. Those crazy west Londoners…
Elsewhere, in Celtic’s group, defending champions AC Milan got off to a winning start against Benfica, defeating the Portuguese club 2-1, with Pirlo and Inzaghi grabbing their goals. Real Madrid also won 2-1, against Werder Bremen at the Bernabau, with Champions League stalwarts Raul and van Nistelrooy netting for the Spanish giants, while the other game in their group, between Olmpiakos and Lazio, ended 1-1 behind closed doors. Finally, David Villa helped poach a victory for Chelsea’s next opponents Valencia at Schalke, while in Liverpool’s group, a thankfully recovered Djibril Cisse netted for new club Marseille, sporting a truly horrendous orange and sky blue kit, as they comfortably beat Besiktas 2-0.
Wednesday meanwhile saw a much more successful night for the British teams involved, with Manchester United, Arsenal and Rangers all recording solid opening victories. Rangers came from behind to win 2-1 against Stuttgart at Ibrox, with Charlie Adam netting a superb equalizer before Jean-Claude Darcheville held his nerve to put the Scottish side ahead from the penalty spot.
Christiano Ronaldo enjoyed a happy return to the club that nurtured him, Sporting Lisbon, scoring the only goal (a diving header no less) in tough contest that saw Edwin van der Sar twice making miraculous saves to keep Manchester United in the game. Again, the English champions didn’t look entirely comfortable, but recorded their fourth consecutive 1-0 victory, and the club’s first away win in Europe for quite some time.
Arsenal on the other hand, oozed class and totally dominated Sevilla, the Spanish side who came so close to challenging Real Madrid to last season’s La Liga title, and winners of the last two years’ UEFA cup. I think many people expected more from the Spaniards but to be honest, I don’t think they were given the chance to really get into the game, despite a couple of half chances dropping to the permanently boo-ed ex-Spurs hitman Freddie Kanoute. Again, Fabregas was at the heart of everything Arsenal created; his shot was deflected in for the first goal, and his passes set up both Robin van Persie’s second, and late substitute Eduardo’s icing on the cake just before the final whistle. Whether Arsenal can go all the way this year is obviously hard to predict but based on this first round of games, they surely have to be amongst the favourites. Wenger was said to be pleased.
Elsewhere, in Rangers’ group, Theirry Henry scored his first goal for Barcelona as they romped home 3-0 winners over French champions Lyon, who were certainly not at their best, but did cause a few headaches for Frank Rijkaard in the second half. Deco and Xavi were as superb as ever in the midfield, but it was Messi who really shone.
In Manchester United’s group, Roma breezed past Dynamo Kiev 2-0 to set themselves up nicely for a return to Old Trafford in a fortnight’s time, keen to not suffer another defeat as humiliating as last year’s 7-1 drumming.
Meanwhile, Arsenal’s next opponents Steaua Bucharest went down 2-1 away to newcomers Slavia Prague, in a perhaps surprisingly high quality game in the Czech Republic.
Finally, in Group G, last season’s Italian champions Inter Milan went down 1-0 away to Fenerbahce in an exciting tie where the Turkish side could quite easily have scored four or five, and PSV Eindhoven also got off to a winning start, defeating CSKA Moscow 2-1 at home, with Danko Lazovic and Kenneth Perez putting the Dutch team out of sight in the second half.
Goal of the Round – Charlie Adam for Rangers, expertly finishing after Alan Hutton had run through basically the whole Stuttgart team. Deivid’s acrobatic volley for Fenerbahce’s winner is a close second though.
Player of the Round – Lionel Messi who was as usual just a pleasure to watch
Surpirse Package of the Round – Fenerbahce, who have quietly amassed a very decent squad and played, an admittedly understrength, Inter Milan completely off the field