Winners and Losers from Champions League Matchday 1
Welcome back, Champions League. Please, pretty please, keep the excitement coming.
Europe's premier club competition returned this week with 16 matches spread over a two-day period. Matchday 1 treated fans to a string of excellent matches on both days, with upsets, thrillers and golazos galore.
With every team having played one match, here are the Champions League winners and losers so far.
BATE Borisov defeated Lille 3-1 on the road in France on Wednesday. The same day, CFR Cluj-Napoca defeated Braga 2-0 on the road in Portugal.
All together now: Who? And...who?
BATE, the reigning champions of the Belarusian Premier League, overcame two rounds of qualifying to reach the Champions League group stage for the second straight season. Last season's run ended in the group stage despite draws with AC Milan and Viktoria Plzen.
The Belarusians' current run is already looking more promising. Aliaksandr Volodko, Vitali Rodionov and Edgar Olekhnovich all scored in the first half before Lille grabbed a late consolation goal through Aurelien Chedjou.
Playmaker Aleksandr Hleb—whose name will sound familiar to fans of Arsenal and Barcelona—revealed the secret to BATE's first-ever Champions League win (via UEFA.com):
It was our first win, a historic one, and we beat a very strong team. We were very motivated for this game and watched lots of videos beforehand, so we were very well prepared and played the way we wanted to. The first goal was a breath of fresh air for us – we were very happy that it came at a good moment and it gave us confidence for the rest of the game.
Cluj, the reigning Romanian champs, overcame Slovan Liberec in the competition's third qualifying round, before beating Braga on Wednesday. This is the club's third appearance in the Champions League after group-stage exits in 2008-09 and 2010-11.
The win over Braga was notable for the fact that Cluj scored with their only two shots on goal. Rafael Bastos scored both, in the 19th and 34th minutes.
Braga registered 38 shots, including 10 on target, but Cluj keeper Mario Felgueiras (a Portuguese national, by the way) made 10 saves.
Losers: AC Milan
AC Milan's Serie A campaign has started disastrously with two losses in three matches. Drawing 0-0 at home to Anderlecht on Tuesday was only slightly less calamitous.
The Italian giants sold megastars Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva this summer as owner Silvio Berlusconi tried to balance the books. Ibrahimovic especially was missed, as Milan huffed and puffed but failed to score.
Manager Massimiliano Allegri already had himself a spot on the hot seat before the match (via The Guardian). His backside must be on fire now.
While Milan flopped in their Group C opener, Malaga stormed to a 3-0 victory over Russian champions Zenit St. Petersburg behind Isco's big night.
No big deal. It was only Malaga's first-ever match in the Champions League.
Isco (pictured) settled nerves early, scoring in the third minute before Javier Saviola made it 2-0 in the 13th minute. Isco's second, a beauty that scorched the top corner from long distance, sealed the win in the 76th minute.
The win raised morale among the squad, but more importantly, it helped Malaga's chances to reach the knockout stage. The monetary rewards of progress would significantly ease Malaga's ongoing financial woes.
Losers: Zenit St. Petersburg
Russian champions Zenit St. Petersburg spent lavishly in the summer, signing Brazilian attacker Hulk (pictured) and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel for a combined reported cost of €80 million (per ESPN FC).
The first European return on that investment was a 3-0 loss at Malaga, the fourth-place team in Spain last season.
Too bad they didn't buy Isco as well.
Paris Saint-Germain spent even more than Zenit, signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva (among many others) in big-money, high-profile deals.
The first European returns on that investment were a 4-1 home win over Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday and goals for both Ibra and Silva.
Five matches remain for PSG in Group A, but Porto, Dinamo Zagreb and Dynamo Kiev already appear to be playing for second place.
Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo scored the late winner in Real Madrid's dramatic 3-2 home victory over English champions Manchester City. Not only did Ronaldo's goal put the final touches on Real's thrilling comeback, but it also helped ease the Spanish champions' poor start in La Liga.
It also coaxed a genuine show of emotion from manager Jose Mourinho.
Winner: Stylish but Functional Activewear for the Modern Man
Jose Mourinho managed Real Madrid on Tuesday night while wearing an expensive and tastefully stylish suit.
After Cristiano Ronaldo's winning goal, the
Special One Only One slid onto the pitch and, well, ruined his neatly pleated trousers.
Hey, why not? If you got it, flaunt it, we say.
Click here to see the power slide.
Losers: Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart
Cristiano Ronaldo's winning goal against Manchester City was dramatic, but it was hardly unstoppable.
First, City defender Vincent Kompany ducked the shot, seemingly thinking it was heading wide of the goal.
Then, City goalkeeper Joe Hart let the ball slip under his hand.
Neither deserve full blame, but both must shoulder some responsibility for letting a stoppable shot beat them and their team.
Loser: Roberto Mancini
Real Madrid's most dangerous attacking thrusts came down their left side throughout Tuesday's win over Manchester City.
City manager Roberto Mancini deployed Brazilian defender Maicon on that side, a sensible enough choice before the match. But when it became clear Real would continue exploiting the space on that side, Mancini chose not to reinforce.
Instead, he made an apple-for-apple substitution, replacing Maicon with Pablo Zabaleta.
Both players needed help on that side of the pitch, as Ronaldo's late winner painfully demonstrated. That they never received the help they needed serves to indict Mancini's decision-making.
Ajax dominated possession (55 percent to 45) against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday in Group D action. Dortmund won anyway, 1-0, thanks to Robert Lewandowski's late goal.
It's too early to count any team out, but considering the makeup of Group D—which also includes Real Madrid and Manchester City—it's difficult to imagine Ajax advancing to the knockout phase.
In fact, it's even hard to see them finishing third in the group and qualifying for the consolation invitation to the Europa League.
Juventus returned to European action with a tough road match at defending European champions Chelsea on Wednesday.
The assignment became even tougher when Chelsea grabbed a two-goal lead in the first half through the magical foot of young Brazilian midfielder Oscar (more on him momentarily).
But Arturo Vidal pulled one back before the break, and Fabio Quagliarella equalized 10 minutes before the final whistle. And by the time the final whistle did sound, Juventus looked more likely to steal a late winner.
All that with manager Antonio Conte in the stands serving a season-long ban.
Oscar, a 21-year-old Brazilian midfielder with a baby face and Sesame Street-friendly name, made his first start for Chelsea on Wednesday after signing for the London club in a £25 million deal over the summer.
The debut went rather well.
Say hello to Chelsea's newest star.