The UEFA Champions League returned this week and matchday one certainly did not disappoint, Wednesday’s fixtures alone containing a huge 28 goals alone.
Manchester City defeated RB Leipzig in a nine-goal thriller at the Etihad, whilst Liverpool got their campaign off to a winning start after edging AC Milan in a classic contest on Merseyside.
Elsewhere there were wins for holders Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, though Manchester United slipped to a shock defeat in Switzerland.
Following the first round of action, we’ve assessed the best performers and compiled our Champions League Team of the Week for Matchday 1.
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois – Real Madrid
Real Madrid’s campaign began in winning fashion following a late winner at Inter Milan, last season’s semi-finalists stealing three points at the San Siro courtesy of Rodrygo’s 89th-minute goal.
The win for the Spanish giants would not have been possible without a starring performance from goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who made a series of saves to deny the Italian champions and keep Real in the contest.
The Belgium international made five saves from inside the box alone on a busy evening in Milan, including a wonderful reaction stop from Edin Dzeko to frustrate the dominant hosts.
Right-back: Joao Cancelo – Manchester City
Inventive with his passing and a threat throughout on the more familiar right-hand side, Cancelo’s charges into opposition territory exposed a weakness down the Leipzig left.
The Portugal international was unfortunate to see a fine assist chalked off after Ferran Torres was flagged for a marginal offside, but crowned a strong showing with a thumping goal of his own from distance.
Centre-back: Eder Militao – Real Madrid
The summer departures of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane have left a significant void for Real Madrid to fill at centre-back, with hopes high that Eder Militao can realise his potential amid more regular involvement this season.
The Brazilian impressed during Real’s win at Inter in an encouraging showing, making four tackles and four clearances as the Spanish side survived an onslaught from the Italian champions.
Faced with the difficult task of containing Lautaro Martinez, he coped admirably and won five of his six ground duels at the San Siro.
Centre-back: Dayot Upamecano – Bayern Munich
Bayern were largely in cruise control as Barcelona were beaten in comfortable fashion at the Camp Nou, with Dayot Upamecano producing a dominant display to nullify any threat from the home side.
The France international won four tackles, made four interceptions, and won 9/15 of his duels, a performance which showcased just why the centre-back was amongst Europe’s most coveted young talents before his move to Bayern this summer.
Left-back: Cristiano – Sheriff
No, not that one.
Cristiano was at the centre of a history-making win for Moldovan outfit Sheriff Tiraspol, who began their maiden Champions League venture with a 2-0 win over Shakhtar Donestsk.
The left-back dispossessed Tete inside his own half before bursting forward to tee up Adama Traore (Again, not that one) for the first goal, before another superb delivery was headed home for a second as Sheriff caused an upset.
Midfield: Jude Bellingham – Borussia Dortmund
Jude Bellingham continues to enhance his status as one of Europe’s most promising young players, with the teenager once again excellent as Borussia Dortmund began their campaign with a 2-1 win at Besiktas.
Nothing better than these nights!😆 pic.twitter.com/kdJQe5D11Z
— Jude Bellingham (@BellinghamJude) September 15, 2021
The 18-year-old scored one and made another for Erling Haaland in a brilliant individual performance, running riot in a display that will no doubt have left Gareth Southgate delighted.
Bellingham has been on the fringes for England since earning his first call-up, but performances of this ilk are making it increasingly difficult to hold back a special talent.
Midfield: Kevin De Bruyne – Manchester City
Jack Grealish’s first goal in the Champions League was worthy of the headlines, but the return of Kevin De Bruyne to the starting side was perhaps the most important take-away from Manchester City’s thrilling 6-3 win over RB Leipzig.
Pep Guardiola’s side are undoubtedly a better side when De Bruyne is at the heart of it and there was little sign of rust from the brilliant Belgian, who provided several reminders of his quality in a superb attacking performance from the Premier League champions.
His run and cross to force the own goal for City’s second was classic De Bruyne, whose delivery is perhaps unrivalled even on this stage.
Right-wing: Christiopher Nkunku – RB Leipzig
Could have done little more to drag RB Leipzig back into the contest against Manchester City, Nkunku reaped his rewards for continued forward runs with a hat-trick at the Etihad.
The 23-year-old twice ghosted into the box to score headers and reduce the deficit, before another surge saw him arrive into the area unmarked to fire home a crisp low finish.
Nkunku became the first RB Leipzig player to score a Champions League hat-trick and just the fourth player – after Ronaldo Nazario, Gareth Bale and Irfan Kahveci – to score a treble in the competition for a losing side.
3 – Christopher Nkunku, who is the first RB Leipzig player to score a UEFA Champions League hat-trick, is only the second player to score one against Man City in the competition after Lionel Messi in October 2016. Footsteps. pic.twitter.com/WWnM3a3HI5
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 15, 2021
Regularly linked with a move to the Premier League in recent windows, those rumours are only likely to accelerate following an impressive showing on English soil.
Left-wing: Nicolas Ngamaleu – Young Boys
Arguably the catalyst for Young Boys’ comeback against Manchester United, the winger was a threat throughout with his speed and shoot-on-sight mentality causing problems for the 10-man Red Devils.
United’s withdrawal following the sending off of Aaron Wan-Bissaka invited their hosts on in the second period, with Ngamaleu netting the equaliser after getting himself into the box to convert Silvan Hefti’s cross.
No player registered more shots than the Cameroon international, whilst his seven completed dribbles were as many as every other player on the pitch combined.
Forward: Robert Lewandowski – Bayern Munich
Found himself in the right place at the right time once again to add to his ever-increasing goal haul, Lewandowski’s brace against Barcelona extended his club record of scoring in 18 consecutive fixtures.
The 32-year-old has now incredibly scored 119 goals in all competitions since the start of the 2019/20 season, 37 more than the next highest player across Europe’s major leagues.
Great start of the @ChampionsLeague ⚽⚽🤩 @FCBayern pic.twitter.com/DpNyfsDyrX
— Robert Lewandowski (@lewy_official) September 14, 2021
Any side with aspirations of winning the Champions League this season will have to get past Bayern, who look primed for another assault on club football’s biggest prize with the game’s leading centre-forward in their ranks.
Forward: Sebastien Haller – Ajax
Ajax started their campaign in dream fashion with a 5-1 thrashing of Sporting in Lisbon, with Sebastien Haller writing himself into the record books with a four-goal showing in the Portuguese capital.
Haller scored four times to become just the second player – after Marco van Basten in 1992 – to score four times on their first Champions League appearance, whilst the Ivory Coast international became the first African footballer to score four times in a single fixture in the competition.
Only two players in Champions League history have scored four goals on their UCL debut:
◉ Marco van Basten (1992)
◉ Sébastien Haller (2021)
INCREDIBLE. #UCL pic.twitter.com/CP2y9jt3Cx
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 15, 2021
Haller has been invigorated since a disappointing spell in the Premier League at West Ham, scoring 21 goals in just 28 appearances across all competitions since signing for Ajax in January.
The forward’s haul also saw him become the fastest player to score a Champions League brace after scoring twice inside nine minutes against a shell-shocked Sporting, an evening in which everything the star touched turned to gold for Ajax.
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