by Liam McConville
The first round of matches in this season’s Champions League are only halfway through, but already we’ve been provided with an absolute classic at the Bernabeu. The eight games provided plenty of goals, sub-plots and the return of the Mourinho knee-slide.
In Paris, Carlo Ancelotti’s expensively assembled squad showed signs that they were finally starting to click with an emphatic 4-1 win over Dynamo Kiev. Goals from Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Pastore and Alex showed the quality that hundreds of millions of Qatari money can buy. Ibrahimovic will be key for PSG throughout the season; he is undoubtedly world-class and should help his side qualify from what is a relatively kind draw.
Whether the French club can be realistic contenders remains to be seen, but with their savvy manager who has won the trophy twice with Milan they will feel they stand a decent chance. Elsewhere in Group A, Porto eased to a 2-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb, showing that there is still plenty of life after Hulk.
Speaking of Hulk, the Brazilian forward endured a miserable night with his new team Zenit St Petersburg. In what was a real contrast in terms of finance, the big-spending Russians were humbled by Malaga who have reined in their own spending and even been forced offloaded some of their better players. Despite being linked with several clubs, the talented young midfielder Isco remained with the Andalusian club and showed his potential suitors what he is capable of with a brace.
The win will be a big boost for Malaga in a group that looks very open following a goalless draw between AC Milan and Anderlecht at the San Siro. The stalemate shows just how much Milan has fallen. The season is in danger of becoming a real struggle for the Rossoneri, they have lost back to back home games in Serie A and this draw gives an indication of how challenging Europe could prove to be for them in what only a couple of years ago would have been a very easy group for them.
Arsenal built on their solid start to the season with a hard-fought win over French champions Montpellier. Arsene Wenger’s team are consistently strong at qualifying from the group stages and this victory suggests that their progression should be fairly comfortable again. Lukas Podolski has settled into his new club very quickly and the resurgence of Gervinho as a real attacking force makes Arsenal a threat once again.
Arsenal’s main challenge in Group B will come from the German side, Schalke 04. They recorded a 2-1 win over Olympiakos with lethal frontman Klass-Jan Huntelaar on the score sheet. The semi-finalists from 2011 are without veteran striker Raul this season but seem to be coping fine without the Spanish legend so far.
The German champions Borussia Dortmund snatched a late win over Ajax through a Robert Lewandowski goal. It’s a big win for a class side that is still finding its feet at this level. Next up for Jurgen Klopp’s men is a trip to the Etihad stadium where all the pressure will be Manchester City it what promises to be the pivotal match of this group.
A surprisingly open game at the Bernabeu provided a classic for the neutral and one to watch nervously behind the sofa for City fans. City twice held a lead but the class of Real Madrid told in the end. The final twenty minutes were pulsating with chance after chance and some real class displayed by both sides, Madrid’s second goal was particularly noteworthy in its quality. The final act in this particular script was left to Cristiano Ronaldo, the subject of even more headlines than usual in recent weeks. His dipping shot beat the unsighted Joe Hart who was otherwise excellent, sending the Bernabeu into complete euphoria.
The jubilant celebrations from Jose Mourinho showed just how much the win meant to Madrid and just how close City came to causing an upset. City are making up ground fast to European football’s powerhouses, unfortunately at the moment they are close but still waiting for that breakthrough moment at this level, on this evidence their expectant fans won’t have to wait much longer.