The most prestigious club competition on the planet Futbol returned with aplomb on Tuesday with the start of the group stage of the 2023-24 UEFA Champions League season.
The action on a star-studded first match day didn’t disappoint either.
Here are five takeaways:
Kylian Mbappé saves the sputtering PSG
It was fair to wonder how Paris Saint-Germain’s attack would suffer against the rest of the continent’s elite after losing two of the sport’s greatest attacking players – Lionel Messi and Neymar – over the summer .
Things haven’t gone well in Ligue 1, where the Parisians sit in fifth place after starting the season with a 2-1-2 record. But PSG still have perhaps the best current player in the game in Mbappe, and the French star got his team off to a good start in the Champions League by scoring the opening goal in Tuesday’s 2-0 win against the German juggernaut Borussia Dortmund.
The hosts also still had Achraf Hakimi, who doubled the lead less than 10 minutes later to seal PSG’s three points in decisive fashion. The hope for Luis Enrique’s men is that this confidence-boosting victory will be enough to get the team back on track, both Europeanly and domestically.
AC Milan, Christian Pulisic I might regret a slow start
Coming on the heels of Saturday’s 5-1 humiliation at the hands of rivals Inter Milan in Italy’s Serie A, AC Milan needed to bounce back in a big way in their Champions League opener against England from Newcastle. This does not happen.
Despite his domination on the field and on the stat sheet, the Rossoneri – who outscored the visitors 25-6 – failed to score in front of their home fans and settled for a goalless draw. It’s a disappointing result, not least because AC Milan, last season’s semi-finalists, were drawn into the dreaded Group of Death. The fact that AC Milan’s next two Champions League matches are away, first against Borussia Dortmund and then against Paris Saint-Germain, only makes matters worse.
If a bad match can torpedo a team at the highest level, the same goes for the players. Christian Pulisic was perhaps manager Stefano Pioli’s best player in Milan’s first three domestic matches. But after the American struggled against Inter (along with everyone else), Pioli left Pulisic out of his starting lineup for Tuesday’s game. Pulisic was lively coming off the bench in the second half but was unable to make the breakthrough. It’s still early, but after the last two games, where are things going for Pulisic and the Rossoneri it’s an enigma.
East Barcelona back?
When Barcelona failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League in 2021 for the first time in over 20 years, it was a shock. When they were eliminated again in the group stage last year, fans were almost resigned to failure, seeing it as the perhaps inevitable consequence of Messi and so many other stars finally dropping out who had been the faces of the club during the season. a good part of two trophy-laden decades.
Then, Barca used the disappointment as motivation and launched into a second half to win the Spanish title against Madrid’s hated rivals Real and Atletico.
This year, only a deep run in the flagship European tournament will be enough. It’s only one game, but so far so good for the Spanish titans. Playing at home on Tuesday against outclassed Champions League debutants Royal Antwerp, Xavi’s side crushed the Belgians, taking a 3-0 lead inside 22 minutes thanks to strikes from João Félix, Robert Lewandowski and a goal against his team.
Gavi scored four points early in the second half before Félix scored his second goal to make it 5-0, which is how it ended.
Everything won’t be that simple. Next month’s trip to Porto will reveal much more about the situation of Xavi’s team. But after winning five in a row and outscoring opponents 18-4 along the way, this Barcelona team looks capable of achieving – at least – what their immediate predecessors couldn’t achieve.
Manchester Citymisfires Erling Haaland survive the fear of the Red Star
There was a moment at half-time at the Etihad Stadium when reigning champions Manchester City, trailing 1-0 to Red Star Belgrade, looked lethal.
It didn’t last long. Normal order was restored just two minutes after the intermission when Julian Alvarez scored the first of his two goals. Rodri, scorer of the only goal in last season’s triumphant Champions League final, completed the scoring in the 3-1 victory.
Like in June in Istanbul, it was a rare match in which Haaland did not add a goal. But the big Norwegian (who did not miss opportunities) still contributed to the victory with a nice assist on Alvarez’s equalizer.
Goalie’s goal highlights Tuesday’s action
Is it rare for a goalkeeper to score from open play in the Champions League? Quite rare. This only happened once in the competition’s first 31 seasons.
The second time happened on Tuesday in Rome when, with hosts Lazio trailing Atletico Madrid in second-half stoppage time, backstop Ivan Provedel stepped forward and headed the equalizer in the very last play of the match.
The 1-1 draw was probably a fair result in the end, as the visitors’ only goal came from a shot that chanced to deflect off Lazio’s Daichi Kamada.
Doug McIntyre is a football writer for FOX Sports who has covered UNITED STATES men’s and women’s national teams at FIFA World Cups on five continents. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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