Europe’s premier club competition kicked off with matchday one of the group stages. While the Champions League may be dominated by the continent’s biggest clubs, the opening matches were filled with the kind early drama that is usually reserved for the later knockout rounds.
Of course there were matches whose winners were all but certainties. Bayern Munich besting Benfica was always likely to be about goal differential not doubt. Meanwhile, dominant victories were served up, as expected, with Barcelona beating PSV Eindhoven, Real Madrid topping Roma, Ajax dominating AEK Athens, and even Manchester United besting Young Boys despite travelling.
Still, the beauty of sport lies in the surprises. Manchester City falling to Lyon at home had to be the most stunning result.
Yet, not far off the shock scale might be Tottenham Hotspur collapsing against away to Inter Milan for their third consecutive loss in all competitions.
More interesting than surprising is how the Eastern European clubs fared. Russian clubs struggled with CSKA Moscow only scraping a point on their trip to the Czech side Plze? but Galatasaray’s dismantling of Lokomotiv Moscow served up a reminder of the kind of test that can await any side visiting Turkey.
Also, Ukrainians Shakhtar Donetsk made Hoffenheim’s trip unwelcome with an eye-opening draw. Even Red Star Belgrade blanking Napoli for a goalless draw likely drew a second look.
Nevertheless, it was the drama within the fixtures that rightfully gathered the headlines.
Liverpool’s thrilling late winner left Paris Saint Germain ruing the possibility of yet another crumbling continental campaign. The contest lived up to the attention given the marquee matchup. A 92-minute go-ahead goal to secure all the points came from substitute Roberto Firmino. After suffering an eye injury at the weekend, Buccaneer Bobby commemorated the goal with a one-eyed celebration in front of the Anfield faithful.
More worrisome for the Parisians is how much the 3-2 scoreline flattered them. For all the money spent at the Captial club, they look far from Europe’s elite.
Expect Neymar’s infantile efforts to force a move back to Spain. He is likely to make things far worse before the end of the calendar year, when PSG may fail to advance.
Only rivalling the drama at Anfield was Cristiano Ronaldo spoiling his own Champions League debut for Juventus. The star summer signing received a deserved red card. In fit of petulance, Ronaldo first kicked out and then pulled the hair of Valencia's Jeison Murillo, protesting the defender’s descent to ground. Given Ronaldo's standing in this tournament, he has always received preferential treatment and may well again. However, the parade of protests and player power should not shield him from a full-length, three match ban. Then again, that would ruin Ronaldo’s long awaited return to Old Trafford to face former club Manchester United. So no one should be holding their breath waiting for more than a game suspension. UEFA will no doubt find a reason for disciplinary leniency.
In the last of matchday one’s dramatics, Lionel Messi notched his eighth hat-trick in the competition. It may have happened on Tuesday but it only served to deepen the contrast between the game's two biggest stars. Messi pushed past Cristiano Ronaldo (7) and all others for most hat-tricks in the history of the Champions League. Even more remarkable, it was the 48th hat-trick in a career that leaves all but his red-carded rival in a goalscoring wake during the modern era.
With matchday two only a fortnight away, a handful of tasty matchups will leave a few clubs desperate to keep from falling deeper into a hole. Another heavy loss or disappointing result for the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, PSG, Roma, or Valencia could see them making early plans for the Europa League.
After the first set of performances, all four of those sides could even finish bottom their group.