Champions League matchday one roundup: Reds pay for profligacy on group stage return

Champions League Review Liverpool

If ever there was such a thing as a 2-2 defeat, that is what happened to Liverpool on a thoroughly frustrating night at Anfield as they tossed away two valuable points upon their Champions League return against Sevilla. The visitors took an early lead when Dejan Lovren’s pathetic attempt at a clearance left Wissam Ben Yedder with a tap-in for the opening goal. The Reds equalised on 21 minutes when Roberto Firmino applied the finishing touch to a slick team move and then hit the front in the 37th minute after Mohamed Salah determinedly won the ball back and took aim at goal, his shot taking a huge deflection on its way to the net. Liverpool should have added to their lead just before half-time but Firmino struck the post, an error that would prove costly. The home side largely dominated possession and chances but were caught at the back again when Joaquin Correa pounced to equalise against the run of play. Philippe Coutinho appeared as a late substitute but had zero impact as Liverpool were made to pay for their lack of ruthlessness at both ends of the pitch. It got worse in the final seconds when Joe Gomez was sent off for a second yellow card, TV replays neglecting to show the offence which prompted the second booking. Indeed, the only thing that went Liverpool’s way was the other Group E result in Slovenia as Maribor and Spartak Moscow drew 1-1. The Russians looked set to pick up a valuable away win until being pegged back with five minutes remaining.

Tottenham’s European campaign last season perished on their results at Wembley, but they went a long way to atoning for that by defeating a fine Borussia Dortmund side 3-1 on Wednesday night. Son Heung-min gave Spurs an early lead which was soon cancelled out by a screamer from Andriy Yarmolenko. A frenetic opening 15 minutes then saw Harry Kane restore Tottenham’s advantage and, after Dortmund had a good goal by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ruled out, Kane struck again at the other end to seal a superb victory for Mauricio Pochettino’s side. Not even a late Jan Vertonghen red card could spoil an excellent evening for Spurs fans. As expected, Real Madrid had too much for APOEL Nicosia in the other Group H encounter, winning 3-0 at the Bernabeu. Cristiano Ronaldo added two more goals to his burgeoning Champions League collection and Sergio Ramos netted with a deft overhead kick as the holders calmly took care of business.

After thrashing Liverpool 5-0 last weekend, Manchester City nearly repeated the trick as they eased past Feyenoord, scoring four without reply in Rotterdam. John Stones needed just two minutes to head the visitors into the lead and Sergio Aguero made it 2-0 inside the 10th minute. Gabriel Jesus added another on 25 minutes as Feyenoord’s offside trap floundered dismally. Stones got his second of the match after half-time, again scoring with a header, on a difficult night for former Liverpool goalkeeper Brad Jones. Another ex-Anfield netminder was on the losing side in Group F as Pepe Reina’s Napoli lost 2-1 away to Shakhtar Donetsk, who scored through Taison and Facundo Ferreyra before Arkadiusz Milik’s penalty ensured a tight finish in Ukraine.

Manchester United made a convincing return to the Champions League, easing past FC Basel 3-0 at Old Trafford. A Paul Pogba injury early in the game would have had their fans worried, but the introduction of Marouane Fellaini gave Basel plenty of problems and it was the Belgian who opened the scoring, turning in Ashley Young’s cross. Romelu Lukaku doubled the lead after half time and Marcus Rashford rounded off a satisfying win for United in the closing minutes, the teenager now scoring on his debut in four different competitions. There was further good news for Jose Mourinho as Benfica, whom many expect to be their main Group A rivals, surprisingly lost 1-2 at home to CSKA Moscow. Haris Seferovic had given the Portuguese champions a second half lead but the Russians turned the game on its head to score a first away win in this competition since beating Manchester City at the Etihad almost three years ago.

Chelsea also laid down a marker of intent upon their return to this tournament, smashing six goals past Azeri group stage debutants Qarabag without reply. Pedro got the Blues off to an ideal start before new signing Davide Zappacosta surged up the touchline and unleashed a swerving shot past the Qarabag goalkeeper for 2-0. Cesar Azpilicueta and Tiemoue Bakayoko piled on further goals and a late Michy Batshuayi brace rounded off the scoring as the English champions took full advantage of their opponents’ limitations. Antonio Conte’s men are clear at the top of Group C as the match between Roma and Atletico Madrid finished goalless, the Spanish side failing to convert several good chances at the Stadio Olimpico.

After losing 7-0 in their group stage opener in Barcelona a year ago, Celtic had almost as equally harrowing a start on Tuesday night at home to Paris Saint-Germain. All eyes were understandably on the £366 million pair of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, both of whom got on the scoresheet before a cheap penalty gave Edinson Cavani a straightforward chance for 3-0, all of PSG’s fearsome attacking trio scoring in the first half. A desperately unlucky Mikael Lustig own goal and a second for Cavani inflicted further pain for Celtic, who suffered their heaviest ever European home defeat. Along with PSG, Group B’s other heavyweight club also had a comfortable win, Bayern Munich easing past Anderlecht. An early red card for Sven Kums and a Robert Lewandowski penalty left the Belgians with a massive uphill battle and Bayern added further goals through Thiago Alcantara and Joshua Kimmich to complete a routine assignment.

The clash of Barcelona and Juventus was expected to be a close affair but the home side ran out convincing 3-0 winners at the Nou Camp. A Juve defence shorn of familiar names from recent campaigns crumbled under the pressure heaped upon them by Barca, who struck on the verge of half-time through Lionel Messi. The lead was doubled early in the second half by Ivan Rakitic and Messi put the result beyond any doubt with a shot from the edge of the area as Ernesto Valverde’s men got a measure of revenge on Juve for their quarter-final exit from last season. The other Group D match saw Sporting Lisbon win 3-2 away to Olympiakos, a scoreline that was somewhat misleading as Sporting romped into a three-goal lead by half-time and were comfortable throughout the second half before two stoppage time goals for the home side gave the final score a more respectable look.

Besiktas pulled off something of a surprise in Group G as they won 3-1 away to FC Porto. Ex-Liverpool enigma Ryan Babel scored the insurance goal late on, but the highlight of the game was undoubtedly Tosun Cenk’s rocket in the first half which restored Besiktas’ lead. Also in this group, 2017 semi-finalists Monaco had to be content with a 1-1 draw away to RB Leipzig on the German club’s European debut. Both goals arrived within the space of 60 seconds shortly after the half-hour, Emil Forsberg giving Leipzig the lead before Youri Tielemans responded almost immediately for Monaco.

Five English clubs are taking part in this season’s Champions League and four of them have made a winning start. Only Liverpool missed out on registering three points on matchday one, and for that, they can only blame themselves as they paid the price for missed chances at one end and typically slack defending at the other. After such a long wait to get back into this competition, will it once again deliver nothing but disappointment and recrimination for a club yearning to relive European glories of old?

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