Champions League matchday one: Five things we learned

Sports Mole takes a look at five things we learned from matchday one of the Champions League group stages.

The Champions League group stage made its return this week and brought with it a flurry of goals to re-establish its reputation as the cream of the crop when it comes to club football.

A total of 54 flew in over the two matchdays, with big wins for Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea alone responsible for 11 of them against Celtic and Qarabag FK respectively.

Five English teams were in action and all but Liverpool emerged victorious, with Jurgen Klopp's side being held to a 2-2 draw by Sevilla at Anfield on Wednesday night.

Other favourites laid down an early marker as holders Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich all emerged 3-0 winners against varying standards of opposition, with many of the groups already settling into a familiar look.

Here, Sports Mole looks at five things we learned from matchday one of the Champions League groups.



Barcelona are still a force

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi celebrates scoring during his side's Champions League group game against Juventus at the Camp Nou on September 12, 2017© Offside

The standout fixture of matchday one was a mouth-watering tie between Barcelona and Juventus - a game which graced the final as recently as 2015 and was a repeat of last season's quarter-final.

Neither could have wished for a tougher start, and for Barca boss Ernesto Valverde it was a particularly difficult game in which to make his Champions League bow in charge of the five-time kings of Europe, especially after a troubled summer which saw Paris Saint-Germain take Neymar off their hands and Real Madrid beat them twice in the Super Cup.

Who needs Neymar when you have Lionel Messi, though? The Argentine maestro has started the season at his relentlessly brilliant best once again, and he was key to inspiring Barcelona to a hugely impressive 3-0 victory over a Juventus side who made it all the way to the final last season.

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi celebrates scoring during his side's Champions League group game against Juventus at the Camp Nou on September 12, 2017© Offside

A goal from the five-time Ballon d'Or winner right on the stroke of half time - expertly finished following a devastating link-up with Luis Suarez - saw the hosts take a lead into the break following an even opening 45 minutes, and Messi's influence over the game only grew upon the resumption of play.

The 30-year-old was instrumental in creating the second goal for Ivan Rakitic before doubling his own personal tally for the evening with another dazzling finish past Gianluigi Buffon - a goalkeeper he had never beaten before Tuesday night.

Messi was only denied a second consecutive hat-trick by the woodwork, but the Argentine and Barcelona had still done enough to send out a message to the rest of Europe that they are still one of the major powers in club football.



Paris Saint-Germain may have the new best front three in Europe

Paris Saint-Germain forwards Neymar and Kylian Mbappe celebrate after scoring during the Champions League win over Celtic on September 12, 2017© Offside

You would expect it to be the case considering they will have cost an eye-watering combined total of more than £400m, but Paris Saint-Germain's front three of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe is already beginning to wreak havoc at home and abroad.

The £200m man Neymar has quickly begun paying off his mind-boggling transfer fee with five goals and five assists from just five outings for his new club, while Mbappe has also hit the ground running with two goals and an assist from his opening two games.

Arguably the most impressive of the trio has been Cavani, though, whose brace against the helpless Celtic on Tuesday took his tally up to nine goals in just six appearances this season, in addition to two assists.

Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani celebrates after scoring during the Champions League win over Celtic on September 12, 2017© Offside

All three were on the scoresheet for the second game in a row - having only played two games together - while Cavani alone has netted in every single PSG outing so far this term.

Barcelona have boasted the world's greatest attacking line in recent seasons with Messi, Suarez and Neymar - and could still lay a claim to the title once Ousmane Dembele settles into life at the club - but it seems as though Neymar has left that trio to form a partnership just as deadly in France.

It was a statement of intent from the free-spending Ligue 1 giants as they swept Celtic aside with a 5-0 victory at a stadium which saw the Scottish champions hold Manchester City last season and beat Barcelona not too long ago.



Liverpool's attack looks dangerous, but their defence lets them down again

Liverpool winger Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring during his side's Champions League clash with Sevilla on September 13, 2017© Offside

This will not come as news to many, but Liverpool's defensive frailties were once again laid bare during their 2-2 draw with Sevilla on Wednesday, and their repeated errors are likely to cost them valuable points if they continue throughout the season.

The Reds are enigmatic to say the least; the attack looks frightening almost every time they come forward at the moment, with the scintillating pace of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah working in tandem with Roberto Firmino's clever movement to devastating effect.

However, it is a case of Jekyll & Hyde for Liverpool, and for all of their bright work offensively, they were let down at the back once again. A catalogue of errors gifted Sevilla the opening goal after just five minutes, and a gaping hole between the centre-backs allowed them to earn a point with the equaliser inside the final 20 minutes too.

Sevilla forward Joaquin Correa clelebrates scoring for his side during their Champions League Group E clash with Liverpool at Anfield on September 13, 2017© Offside

The attack were not blameless en route to two dropped points either, with Emre Can, Mane and Alberto Moreno all missing good chances, while Firmino squandered the best of the lot when he hit the post with his penalty.

If Liverpool are to enjoy success under Klopp then they must first address the imbalance in the team, though. Entertainment is almost guaranteed - Liverpool have seen 29 goals fly in during their seven games so far this season at an average of more than four per game - but particularly against top opposition Liverpool look as likely to lose a game by three or four goals as they do to win one by that margin.

Even with the draw on matchday one, the Reds will expect to qualify from a group that also contains Maribor and Spartak Moscow, but the home draw against their main rivals in Group E could have a telling impact on whether they qualify as group winners or in second place.



Tottenham Hotspur can play at Wembley

Mauricio Pochettino encourages his players during the Champions League game between Tottenham Hotspur and Borussia Dortmund on September 13, 2017© SilverHub

The Tottenham Hotspur camp have always rejected talk of a Wembley hoodoo, but the only way to truly curtail it is to produce results.

Having taken just one point from two games at their new adopted home in the Premier League this season and won just one of their previous 11 outings at the stadium, optimism may not have been too high that the turning point would come against a team the calibre of Borussia Dortmund.

However, Spurs took the lead inside four minutes against the German giants and went on to regain it 11 minutes later following an Andriy Yarmolenko equaliser, before Harry Kane doubled his personal tally for the night to give the hosts a two-goal cushion which they held on to for a precious three points.

Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane celebrates scoring for his side during their Champions League Group H clash with Borussia Dortmund at Wembley on September 13, 2017© Offside

The result was hailed as a breakthrough one by Kane, whose match-winning two-goal show continued to elevate himself towards world-class status by doubling his overall Champions League tally in one evening against high-class opposition.

The England international now has 29 goals in 2017, which is more than Cristiano Ronaldo, Suarez and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with only Messi and Cavani able to better that tally from Europe's top five leagues.

Spurs have now stolen a march over Dortmund in the race for qualification from Group H, which is expected to be a fiercely competitive three-way battle also involving Real Madrid.



English clubs on the rise again?

Pedro celebrates scoring during the Champions League game between Chelsea and Qarabag on September 12, 2017© SilverHub

There was a time that England were the dominant force in European football, with at least one Premier League club reaching the Champions League final in seven of the eight seasons between 2005 and 2012.

However, since Chelsea's shock win over Bayern Munich in 2012 there has not been a Premier League club in the showpiece, while only Chelsea and Manchester City have even reached the semi-finals in that time.

Last season was a particularly low point as Spurs crashed out in the groups, Manchester City and Arsenal were beaten in the last 16 and Leicester City's memorable run ended in the quarter-finals, but there were signs of recovery on matchday one of the new season.

Marouane Fellaini celebrates scoring during the Champions League game between Manchester United and Basel on September 12, 2017© Offside

With five teams in this year's tournament courtesy of Manchester United's Europa League triumph last season, the Premier League clubs look to be benefitting from the unprecedented levels of competition domestically and the likes of Chelsea and Man City in particular may harbour realistic hopes of going all the way this year.

With the exception of Liverpool's draw, things certainly got off to a good start for the English clubs. Chelsea were the biggest winners on matchday one as they swept Qarabag aside with a 6-0 victory at Stamford Bridge on a night which also saw United run out 3-0 home winners against Basel.

Tottenham's triumph over Borussia Dortmund was arguably the most impressive of the lot, but the free-scoring Manchester City can certainly lay a claim to that accolade with their 4-0 win against Feyenoord in Rotterdam.

The likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and PSG will still be the favourites, but the English quintet also look capable of challenging the elite once more.

Jurgen Klopp celebrates during the Champions League playoff between Liverpool and Hoffenheim on August 23, 2017
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Manchester CityMan City1211104073334
2Chelsea1281323101325
3Manchester UnitedMan Utd127232361723
4Tottenham HotspurSpurs127232091123
5Liverpool126422417722
6Arsenal127142216622
7Burnley12642129322
8Newcastle UnitedNewcastle125251110117
9Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton114341111015
10Watford114341721-415
11Huddersfield TownHuddersfield12435817-915
12Leicester CityLeicester123451618-213
13Bournemouth124171114-313
14Southampton12345914-513
15Stoke CityStoke113351322-912
16Everton123361224-1212
17West Bromwich AlbionWest Brom12246918-910
18West Ham UnitedWest Ham112361123-129
19Swansea CitySwansea12228715-88
20Crystal Palace12129624-185
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