Top Winners and Losers After Wednesday's Champions League Matchday 1 Results

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2019

Paris Saint-Germain's German coach Thomas Tuchel (C) celebrate with his players after winning in the UEFA Champions league Group A football match between Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid, at the Parc des Princes stadium, in Paris, on September 18, 2019. (Photo by Lucas BARIOULET / AFP)        (Photo credit should read LUCAS BARIOULET/AFP/Getty Images)
LUCAS BARIOULET/Getty Images

PSG didn't need Neymar, Kylian Mbappe or Edinson Cavani to deliver an emphatic beat-down to Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday. Instead, Thomas Tuchel found out the depth in his squad is stronger than in recent seasons, maybe strong enough to help Les Parisiens at last make the grade in this competition. 

While PSG are on the up, Real already look like a spent force. Zinedine Zidane is struggling to recapture the magic that yielded a hat-trick of Champions League trophies from 2016-18.

If Zidane's stock is falling, Riyad Mahrez's is surely going up with Manchester City. The oft-overlooked winger was superb during an excellent 3-0 win away to Shakhtar Donetsk, helping his team overcome key injuries in defence to still win with room to spare.

Things didn't go as well for the Premier League's other representative after Tottenham Hotspur blew a 2-0 lead in Athens against Olympiacos. Centre-back Jan Vertonghen was responsible for both goals as the hosts roared back.

Elsewhere, Juventus lost a 2-0 lead away to Atletico Madrid but still earned a point on a rare night when Cristiano Ronaldo failed to score against Atleti.

There were also big wins for Bayern Munich and Dinamo Zagreb, while Lokomotiv Moscow earned an impressive victory over Bayer Leverkusen in Germany.

   

Wednesday Results

  • Club Brugge 0-0 Galatasaray
  • Paris Saint-Germain 3-0 Real Madrid
  • Dinamo Zagreb 4-0 Atalanta
  • Bayer Leverkusen 1-2 Lokomotiv Moscow
  • Olympiacos 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur
  • Bayern Munich 3-0 Red Star Belgrade
  • Shakhtar Donetsk 0-3 Manchester City
  • Atletico Madrid 2-2 Juventus

   

Winner: PSG Squad Depth

PSG aren't supposed to win without Neymar, Mbappe and Cavani. The rest of Tuchel's squad isn't supposed to be strong enough.

Both of those ideas were soundly refuted by the way PSG's next men up dismantled Real. Neymar's suspension and injuries to Cavani and Mbappe meant summer signings Mauro Icardi and Pablo Sarabia were drafted into the starting XI.

Fortunately for both, Di Maria was determined to torment his old club. The elegant schemer scored after 14 minutes and added a brilliant second 12 minutes before the break.

Those contributions were part of a flawless opening half for the player who once flopped at Manchester United:

It's easy to forget about Di Maria amid Neymar and Co. but this is a player whose flair and quality inspired Real to the trophy in 2014. His forgettable time in England's top flight has been made a distant memory thanks to his sterling support for the star names at the business end of PSG's best XI:

There is more to PSG's improved depth than Di Maria, though. The addition of Idrissa Gueye already looks like a masterstroke, with the former Everton enforcer running Di Maria close for the distinction of best player on the night:

Gueye's brawn allowed Marco Verratti to dictate position and also afforded space to raiding full-backs Juan Bernat and Thomas Meunier. The latter scored PSG's third in stoppage time after applying the finishing touch to Bernat's second assist, with the goal underlining Meunier's value after he spent most of the summer being linked with Arsenal.

If they can win matches of this calibre without their elite strike force, Les Parisiens may finally be loaded enough to go on and lift the trophy.

   

Loser: Zinedine Zidane

It rarely takes long for pressure to build on a manager at Real, even one who has won La Liga and three Champions League titles. Yet those successes were delivered during Zidane's first spell in charge, before he called it quits in 2018 only to return mere months later, a decision already looking like an ill-fated one.

Writing for BBC Sport, Guillem Balague spelled out two obvious problems in the Zidane era mark two. The first is the Frenchman's "win percentage is below 50 percent and there has been little to suggest improvement since the start of this season."

Losing heavily at the Parc des Princes is evidence things will get worse. Real have already drawn two out of four games in La Liga, despite a quartet of winnable fixtures.

Balague noted how "changeable tactics" have created uncertainty in the squad. There didn't seem to be any particular plan at all against PSG, with no response to the hosts' pressing, nor to the runs from out to in of Di Maria.

Zidane appears content to rely on familiar holdovers like striker Karim Benzema and midfielders Casemiro and Toni Kroos turning on the style when they can.

The problem is Kroos, along with right-back Dani Carvajal, appears to have dropped a level since this club's recent dominance of the continent.

    

Winner: Riyad Mahrez

Hint to Pep Guardiola, it's no coincidence Riyad Mahrez delivers almost every time he starts for Manchester City. The wing wizard is one of the most-gifted players in Europe and deserves to be a fixture in the Citizens' starting XI.

Mahrez opened the scoring against Shakhtar and assisted City's second for Ilkay Gundogan. This level of efficiency, vision and flair is becoming par for the course for the former Leicester City star.

Mahrez deserves a longer look in the City starting XI.
Mahrez deserves a longer look in the City starting XI.GENYA SAVILOV/Getty Images

Mahrez dominating Shakhtar was also significant because it distracted from City being undermanned in defence while centre-backs Aymeric Laporte and John Stones are injured, per Sky Sports.

Guardiola should bookmark this performance alongside the Mahrez masterclass against West Ham United last month and his decisive contributions against Brighton & Hove Albion when City wrapped up last season's league crown.

It's becoming a mystery difficult to solve why Mahrez doesn't start more often. Having him occupy the right wing would allow Bernardo Silva to move central and accelerate the transition from relying on 33-year-old David Silva to boss the middle.

Loser: Jan Vertonghen

Just like some members of Real's squad, Jan Vertonghen is a one-time linchpin whose skills are obviously beginning to deteriorate. Once the bedrock of the Tottenham defence, 32-year-old Vertonghen was the weakest link as soon as Olympiacos upped the pace.

The hosts had no choice but to step up the pressure after Harry Kane and Lucas Moura had given Spurs a commanding lead. Said pressure was rewarded when crafty No. 10 Daniel Podence got the wrong side of a snoozing Vertonghen.

Vertonghen's night to forget is a worrying sign for Spurs.
Vertonghen's night to forget is a worrying sign for Spurs.Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

It was the Belgian at fault again when his reckless challenge felled Mathieu Valbuena in the box. Valbuena didn't spurn the reprieve Vertonghen's accident-prone display had handed him, leaving Spurs to rue two dropped points.

Vertonghen is usually the player Tottenham count on to keep calm when things get tough. If the natural leader in this squad is on the wane, Spurs can forget about returning to the final.

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