Champions League: Top Takeaways from Opening Group Matches
The first batch of fixtures from the return of the UEFA Champions League did not disappoint, with plenty of goals, performances and results to take in.
David Moyes got his UCL campaign off to the perfect start by beating Bayer Leverkusen, 4-2; Manchester City won comfortably in the Czech Republic; and Bayern Munich thumped CSKA Moscow.
With eight games per night, it's difficult to keep track of it all, but fear not: We're here to keep you abreast of all the notable developments.
Fellaini the Fixer
Marouane Fellaini's rather impressive performance against Bayer Leverkusen has allowed fans to quickly forget the deadline-day debacle regarding his price tag.
No matter the fee, it's been clear from the very start of the summer that the Belgian was a fantastic fit at Old Trafford and goes a long way to solving their midfield issues—and he's proving that immediately.
The Red Devils midfield looked extremely solid while taking on Sami Hyypia's men, with Michael Carrick finally sharing the load with someone who is adept in timing, tackling and positioning.
Fellaini recorded four interceptions and allowed Moyes to run a high-pressure midfield, squeezing the play into the Werkself's half and allowing the home side to build sustained periods of pressure.
Shakhtar Donetsk Live!
Shakhtar's horrendous recent run of form in the Ukrainian Premier Liga has caused many to doubt whether or not the Hirnyky are a true force any longer.
They've had to deal with serious losses to their first XI—namely Fernandinho, Marko Devic, Willian and Henrikh Mkhitaryan—and have struggled to find a rhythm early on.
They visited Anoeta as underdogs, expected to struggle to draw against Real Sociedad, but instead Mircea Lucescu laid on a perfect game plan.
Long spells of possession killed the tempo early and often, preventing la Real from getting into their usual, frenetic form. Indeed, after being starved of the ball in the opening three minutes, the home crowd booed, so upon retrieving it, Antoine Griezmann immediately wasted a good position with a trigger-happy shot.
Fernando, signed from Gremio this summer to replace Fernandinho, was finally introduced to the first XI, and the Ukrainian outfit achieved a magnificent result.
No coincidence there.
No Bender, No Party
Bayer Leverkusen were underwhelming at Old Trafford—there's no two ways about it—but arguably their best and most important player wasn't fit enough to make the starting XI.
Lars Bender, the man Dominic Fifield of The Guardian believes Arsenal were after this summer, is the one that transforms this Werkself side from "just a counterattacking outfit" to a well-rounded XI, and his presence was truly missed.
Manchester United pushed the visitors back with wave after wave of attack, and on the occasion Hyypia's side did get time on the ball, the playmaking responsibility fell solely on the shoulders of 19-year-old Emre Can.
Bender is the complete player, and as disappointing as Leverkusen were, it should be noted that they were missing their midfield maestro.
Di Maria the Defiant
Gareth Bale's arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu has already forced one exit in the form of Mesut Ozil, but Angel di Maria is clearly determined to stick around and fight for his place.
B/R's Chris Atkins was rather impressed with the former Benfica star, despite most of media focus centering on Bale's benching and Cristiano Ronaldo's hat-trick (quotes obtained first-hand):
Along with Karim Benzema, another who has been somewhat overlooked amid the summer's activity, Di Maria came to the fore in Istanbul. Starting from the right, the Argentine caused Albert Riera problems all night and deservedly ended the evening with two assists to his name.
The Argentine's assists provided Real's opening two goals to set Carlo Ancelotti's side on route to success, while his direct running and pace on the counter attack was a regular cause of irritation for the hosts.
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