Following the first round of Champions League action, we pick out some of the heroes and villains from the best and worst of the midweek fixtures.
Matchday one proved a largely positive start for the Premier League sides as Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City all began with wins, the former grinding out a 1-0 win against Zenit, whilst the latter duo were involved in goal-laden epics at Anfield and the Etihad respectively.
Elsewhere Manchester United fell to a disappointing defeat at Young Boys, whilst PSG’s all-star forward line failed to find a way through Club Brugge’s resistance.
Heroes and Villains from Champions League matchday one
Hero – Sebastien Haller
Sometimes the shoe just fails to fit and Sebastien Haller’s move to West Ham looks one such scenario, with the forward – who has scored goals regularly across his career – having failed to make the desired impact at the London Stadium.
Ajax capitalised on West Ham’s decision to cut their losses on Haller, signing the Ivory Coast international for a fee of £20m – less than half the Hammers’ club-record outlay on the player.
Haller’s performances were in contrast to the all-action style of Michail Antonio, but the 28-year-old has shown since moving to Ajax the threat he can provide when afforded service that suits his strengths.
The forward scored four goals on his Champions League debut as Ajax thrashed Sporting Lisbon, each of his efforts opportunistic goals as the Dutch side found their towering target in the centre.
Four goals on your Champions League debut 🤯
Sebastien Haller take a bow 👏 pic.twitter.com/NsXJb5PrY0
— Goal (@goal) September 15, 2021
It’s now 21 goals in just 29 appearances in all competitions for Haller, whose four-goal haul – the first African player to achieve the feat in the Champions League – will not have gone unnoticed by the West Ham hierarchy.
Having been accidentally left out of the Ajax squad during last season’s Europa League campaign, Haller wasted little time in introducing himself on the European stage this time around.
Villain – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
The statistics make for grim reading for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with defeat for Manchester United at Young Boys making it seven losses in just 11 fixtures in the Champions League.
Despite steady improvement domestically, competing in Europe’s elite competition remains a challenge for the Red Devils and Solskjaer must take a large percentage of the blame for their Swiss shock.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s first-half red card contributed to the club squandering their first-half lead, but the spotlight on Solskjaer is glaring following his poor game-management.
The decision to move to a back five saw the Red Devils overran in midfield as Young Boys pushed forward, with the defensive line dropping ever deeper as the pressure began to increase from the hosts.
13% – Manchester United have lost seven of their 11 UEFA Champions League matches under Ole Gunnar Solskjær. 13% of their total defeats in the competition have come under Solskjær (7/54), despite the Norwegian only being in charge for 4.8% of their matches (11/231). Fall. pic.twitter.com/5e49OVY63B
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 14, 2021
Having failed to correct that mistake, the withdrawals of Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo removed the forward threat of Solskjaer’s side, a shut-up shop tactic that backfired spectacularly as Young Boys snatched a dramatic late win.
Hero – Jack Grealish
The bright lights of the Champions League stage were a major factor behind Jack Grealish’s decision to leave Aston Villa this summer, the midfielder departing his boyhood side and becoming English football’s first £100m player.
Grealish had established himself as one of the Premier League’s most exciting talents over the past two campaigns, but his arrival at the Etihad has provided the 26-year-old with a chance to test himself amongst Europe’s elite.
"Class from the £100m man!"
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) September 15, 2021
His first taste of Champions League football saw City share nine goals with RB Leipzig in a pulsating clash, with Grealish making his mark with a wonderful set-piece delivery to assist the opening goal.
The best was yet to come, however, as the record signing drifted dangerously inside before unleashing an effort past Péter Gulácsi to score a brilliant individual goal.
Villain – Luuk de Jong
Perhaps De Jong’s inclusion in this column is unfair on the forward, but it was difficult not to view the Dutchman as the visual representation of a Barcelona side in rapid decline.
Bayern Munich cruised to a 3-0 win at the Camp Nou on Tuesday without really getting out of first gear, the visitors dominant from start to finish as the gap between Barcelona and Europe’s best sides was evident.
De Jong – who scored just four league goals for Sevilla last season – was a lethargic and anonymous presence upfront on his debut, a far from ideal replacement for the departed Lionel Messi.
Hero – Divock Origi
Divock Origi’s career with Liverpool – not for the first time – looked to have reached its conclusion this summer, with the forward expected to leave in search of more regular first-team football.
The Belgian made just two league starts for the Reds last season, but was a surprise inclusion against AC Milan as Jurgen Klopp rotated his forward options.
Origi had not made the matchday squad across Liverpool’s first four fixtures of the season but worked tirelessly in an encouraging performance, his pace and power troubling the Italians during the game’s opening stages as the hosts started strong.
Liverpool are level! 👊
Mo Salah breaks the AC Milan defensive line to tuck the ball into the net!
That was a delicious assist from Divock Origi… 🤤 pic.twitter.com/HchvCl8L4n
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) September 15, 2021
His assist for Mohamed Salah’s goal – an audacious scoop over the defence – was superb, before injury enforced his early substitution at Anfield.
A cult figure given his list of invaluable contributions in recent seasons, there could just be more to add to the list before the campaign’s end.
Villain – Angelino
Afforded little opportunity during a season at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola, Angelino has since become a central figure at RB Leipzig.
The Spanish wing-back scored eight goals and provided 11 assists during an impressive campaign last term, but will want to forget his Etihad return as soon as possible.
Guardiola’s side continually exploited a weakness down the Leipzig left with Joao Cancelo and Riyad Mahrez threatening throughout, with Angelino’s miserable Mancunian return compounded after picking up two second-half yellow cards.
Hero – Thibaut Courtoi
Thibaut Courtois stood strong in the face of an Italian onslaught at the San Siro this week, with the Real Madrid goalkeeper in inspired mood against Inter Milan.
The Serie A champions carved out opportunity after opportunity across the opening exchanges, but Courtois continued to thwart Inter with a series of saves.
The Belgium international twice denied Edin Dzeko from close range with reaction stops and made a huge four saves from inside the box in the first half alone.
Courtois’ performance not only prevented Real from being on the wrong end of an embarrassment, but provided the platform for the Spanish side to snatch a dramatic late win through Rodrygo.
The win could prove vital for Real who are expected to be in direct competition with Inter to top the group, with Courtois underlining why he is regarded as one of the world’s best goalkeepers at present.
Villain – Francis Coquelin
Francis Coquelin was no stranger to reckless moments during his time in English football, but even the midfielder’s quick-fire red card will have raised eyebrows this week.
The now Villarreal midfielder was introduced as a substitute during the club’s clash with Atalanta, as the Spanish side sought an assured presence in midfield.
Coquelin left his side a man light for the final six minutes plus stoppage time however, after picking up two needless bookings in quick succession.
His first came from hauling down Teun Koopmeiners after his own poor touch conceded possession, before another lazy shirt pull saw the midfielder handed his marching orders just eight minutes later.
It was far from the cameo he had hoped for and the 30-year-old will now miss Villarreal’s crucial trip to Manchester United in matchday two.