Europe´s elite struggle in opening round of Champions League
Published: 21.09.12 / Written by: David Gold
The supposed front runners for this year´s Champions League title made unconvincing starts to their campaigns this week as Europe´s top competition returned.
The highlight was undoubtedly Real Madrid beating Manchester City 3-2, but that left plenty of questions over both. For much of the game Real dominated possession and territory but they looked short of ideas in the final third. Their main threats came from Cristiano Ronaldo cutting inside to shoot or balls over the top to Gonzalo Higuain. City broke to open the scoring in the second period, and although they were pegged back, went in front again, before then losing two late goals.
Both teams looked fragile. City are not realistic contenders to win the Champions League yet anyway, but are nonetheless English champions. But Real made heavy work of a game they should have won comfortably. Their Spanish rivals Barcelona, favourites for the competition, also made hard work of things on Wednesday. They went behind to Spartak Moscow having been 1-0 up early on. It took two goals from that man Leo Messi to rescue their blushes in that one.
Elsewhere, the other main English sides all struggled in different ways. Holders Chelsea went 2-0 up thanks to a lucky deflection and a wonder strike from Oscar. But then their frailty was shown as Juventus played their way back for a point with their neat play and attacking prowess, taking a 2-2 draw which will suit them far better than the Londoners. The Italians will now be favourites to win the group.
Manchester United beat Galatasaray 1-0 but they will feel relieved to have got away with three points after seeing the Turks denied a good penalty shout and hit the woodwork twice in the first period. The Turkish champions are a very good team, and that should not be ignored, but United made heavy work of what on paper is a straightforward game. But at least they won, unlike against Basle and Benfica at the same stage last year.
Arsenal on paper had the best result of England's elite, beating the French champions Montpellier away from home. They played well to battle back from 1-0 down early on and take the lead by half time against the French side. But then in the second period Montpellier outplayed and out passed Arsenal, and can count themselves unlucky to have failed to win a point. They could easily have had all three with better finishing, not unlike Galatasaray.
So who did make a good start then? Last year's runners up Bayern Munich would have taken a 2-1 win against Valencia you would feel, but they made harder work of that victory than they should have. Still the German side look strong. Similarly, German champions Borussia Dortmund claimed a late 1-0 win over Ajax to get their campaign off to a perfect start, a year after they underwhelmed on their debut at this stage.
Of the big spenders, Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg were stunned by a team who spent their way into the competition, Malaga. The Spanish side won 3-0 on Spain's south coast, while Paris St Germain crushed Dynamo Kiev 4-1. Shakhtar Donetsk made a solid start too by beating Njordsjaellend and neither Juventus or Chelsea should take them lightly.
One team who can be discounted are AC Milan. The second most successful team in the competition's history, the Rossoneri drew 0-0 at home to Anderlecht. They have now failed to score in three home games this season, and endured the misery of two home defeats in a row at the start of the Serie A season for the first time in 80 years. After a summer of change, Massimo Allegri looks like he has much work to do. This year will probably be too early for a new Milan to claim Europe's top prize.