The Champions League is back.
Yes, after what seemed like years of empty Tuesday and Wednesday nights (we don’t include summer football in that), Europe’s premier competition is back and with a lot to live up to after last season’s drama.
And, credit where it’s due, it didn’t get off to a bad start. We saw two European heavyweights throw away 2-0 leads, the most successful side in the tournament’s history get dismantled in Paris and the holders were humbled in Naples.
In fact, of the eight favourites, only three won.
After an engrossing first matchday, we made an XI of those who blew us away, as well as an XI of those who failed to live up to the billing.
Best Combined XI
Goalkeeper: Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona)
It’s absolutely remarkable that a goalkeeper of Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s quality is not even his country’s first-choice keeper.
Manuel Neuer flippantly compared the shot-stopper to Kevin Trapp and Bernd Leno recently – Ter Stegen responded by putting on a stunning display to keep a rampant Dortmund side at bay.
He made four saves, including some vital one-on-ones, and pulled off a splendid penalty stop to preserve a valuable point and clean sheet for Barcelona in what was, on paper, their toughest group game.
Key stat: Ter Stegen is the first (and only) ‘keeper to save a penalty in the Champions League so far this season.
Right-back: Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid)
A few eyebrows were raised when Atletico pursued Kieran Trippier in the summer. After the World Cup in 2018, Trippier had struggled to rediscover his form.
However, in Madrid, he has thrived. He has been excellent so far this season and continued that trend on his Champions League debut, providing an assist and also making a vital block to prevent Juventus going 3-1 up.
He was crucial in attack and defence. The Bury Beckham is back.
Key stat: Kieran Trippier created seven chances for Atlético Madrid against Juventus, the most by any player on matchday one of this season’s UEFA Champions League.
Centre-back: Mats Hummels (Dortmund)
Another German to impress at Signal Iduna Park – and another German who can’t get a look-in for the national side.
Many may have thought Bayern’s willingness to offload Hummels to rivals Dortmund was a sign of his demise, however, the centre-back is clearly here to prove people wrong.
Against a star-studded attack, Hummels was at his imperious best. Dortmund’s defence has been craving someone with an authoritative aura about them and, on his day, few can boast that more than Hummels. Perhaps Joachim Low is starting to regret axing Hummels from Die Mannschaft.
Key stat: Hummels made eight interceptions against Barcelona – no player made more on matchday one.
Centre-back: Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow)
Lokomotiv Moscow’s win at Bayer Leverkusen is both impressive and underappreciated in equal measure. Leverkusen were subpar but still dominated the game: they had 78% of the ball but were limited to 17 shots and just five on target by an impressive rearguard display.
Corluka was at the heart of that – organising everything and dominating the defending as Lokomotiv secured a huge win that gives them a fighting chance of staying in Europe beyond Christmas.
Key stat: Corluka made 12 clearances, three interceptions and two blocks in a classic centre-back performance.
Left-back: Juan Bernat (PSG)
A player who has consistently struggled to nail down a starting place throughout his career, Juan Bernat did his chances of regular football absolutely no harm on Wednesday.
In the absence of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani, others would have to step up and provide some creative flair in order to unlock on a new-look Real Madrid back four. Not many would have counted on Bernat being that man.
He was instrumental in the first and last goal and did well to nullify the threat of Gareth Bale and co. throughout. In fact, Real failed to have a single shot on target.
Key stat: Bernat registered two assists on matchday one – more than any other defender.
Defensive midfielder: Idrissa Gana Gueye (PSG)
Everyone knew Idrissa Gueye was a good player when he was at Everton and his move to PSG was something which he probably deserved. However, his display last night was nothing short of world-class.
He absolutely dominated a star-studded midfield and reminded everyone why he has often drawn comparisons to N’Golo Kante in the past. Defensively and offensively, he was sensational, leaving us all wondering why it’s taken so long for him to get snapped up by a Champions League side.
A criticism of PSG in the past has been their lack of a quality central midfielder to partner Marco Verratti. They may have found their man.
Key stat: Gueye completed 100% of his take-ons, had a 93% passing accuracy and recovered possession six times, as well as recording an assist.
Idrissa Gueye's game by numbers vs. Real Madrid:
100% take-ons completed
93% pass accuracy
4 tackles made
3 chances created
2 fouls won
Most passes completed in the final third, too. 👏 pic.twitter.com/UEukUVwcFt
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 18, 2019
Central midfielder: Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich)
Bayern have some world-class talent and few possess more natural ability than the diminutive Spanish playmaker, Thiago. As per usual, he made everything look irritatingly easy last night – the type of player who makes you question: “Surely I could play Champions League football?”
His assist for Thomas Muller was simply delightful and capped off what was a fine midfield display.
Key stat: Thiago completed 98 passes on Wednesday night, 19 of which were into the final third.
Central midfielder: Angel Di Maria (PSG)
Okay, he didn’t play in central midfield, but how could we not include PSG’s match-winner?
Angel Di Maria was genuinely considered one of the best players in the world while he was at Real Madrid – his display against Atletico in the 2014 Champions League final stands out in particular. However, his move to United slowed his career down.
His talent shone through last night, nonetheless, in a display which will have given the Argentinian an unparalleled amount of joy against his former club.
If he can rediscover his old form, PSG’s forward options will be genuinely unrivalled.
Key stat: Di Maria scored twice against Real Madrid – he is one of just three players to have scored a brace against both Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Right-wing: Mislav Orsic (Dinamo Zagreb)
*DISCLAIMER: This may be one of the most unexpected front threes in Champions League best XI history*.
Few will have heard of Orsic before Wednesday. The versatile forward scored three goals in qualifying and recently made his debut for national side Croatia. After his display against Atalanta, it’s easy to see why.
Orsic bagged a game-winning hat-trick to give Dinamo Zagreb a confidence-boosting win in a tournament which they’ve historically struggled in; this win ended an 11-game losing streak.
Key stat: Mislav Oršić is the first Dinamo Zagreb player to score a hat-trick in this competition during the Champions League era.
Mislav Oršić is the first Dinamo Zagreb player to score a Champions League hat-trick in the #UCL era.
History has been made. pic.twitter.com/XCZNJPayNj
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 18, 2019
Striker: Erling Braut Haaland (RB Salzburg)
Haaland has gone from being almost totally unknown to one of the hottest prospects on the planet in this space of about a month.
The 19-year-old was developed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Molde and seems to have everything: pace, a good touch, height, strength and a devastating eye for goal.
He continued an incredible start to the domestic season with a hat-trick against Genk to announce his name on the European stage. He’s now scored 17 (SEVENTEEN) goals in just nine (NINE, ONLY NINE) games this season. Cue the links to European giants.
Key stat: Erling Braut Haaland is the first teenager to score more than once on his Champions League debut since Wayne Rooney scored a hat-trick for Manchester United against Fenerbahçe in September 2004.
19y 58d – Erling Haaland, aged 19 years and 58 days, is the third youngest player to score a Champions League hat-trick, behind Raúl (18y 113d in 1995) and Wayne Rooney (18y 340d in 2004). Welcome. pic.twitter.com/24DNlzXdza
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 17, 2019
Left-wing: Hee-Chan Hwang (RB Salzburg)
And, to complete the most random front three you’ll ever see, we have a South Korean who has been left in Haaland’s shadow. However, Hee-Chan Hwang was just as instrumental.
The 23-year-old was involved in three of Salzburg’s six goals and provided the perfect platform for Haaland to make headlines across Europe. Perhaps a star to look out for this season?
Key stat: Hwang created more big chances (3) than any other player in the Champions League on matchday one.
3 – Hwang Hee-Chan was involved in three goals in FC Salzburg's UEFA Champions League victory over KRC Genk on MD1 (one goal, two assists); the most by a Korean within a single game in the competition history. Lively. pic.twitter.com/XC6q9kylvV
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 19, 2019
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Worst Combined XI
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid)
Another three goals shipped for the Belgian, who simply hasn’t settled since joining Real Madrid from Chelsea last year. There will be more calls for Alphonse Areola to start after passing Keylor Navas at the door in a loan switch, and given that Courtois has let in nine goals in five games, that doesn’t look beyond the realms of possibility.
Key stat: Courtois has conceded 11 goals in his last four Champions League appearances.
Right-back: Domagoj Bradaric (Lille)
Ajax is a difficult place to go but Lille had the potential to surprise the Dutch champions. Unfortunately, the hosts repeatedly got the better of the French visitors, particularly down Bradaric’s side. Nicolas Tagliafico and David Neres gave the Croatian teenager a tough evening.
Key stat: Bradaric lost 10 duels against Ajax and was dribbled past four times.
Centre-back: Rafael Toloi (Atalanta)
Atalanta made a nightmare start on their Champions League debut, losing 4-0 against Dinamo Zagreb. Rafael Toloi struggled in the heart of the visitors’ defence, being overrun too easily and generally enduring a difficult night in Croatia.
Key stat: No defender was dribbled past more often than Toloi on matchday one (5).
Centre-back: Eder Militao (Real Madrid)
Militao was thrown into the deep end in Paris. After playing just half an hour of first-team football in La Liga this season, the centre-back started against PSG and looked out of sorts. Sergio Ramos’ suspension saw Militao partner Raphael Varane – it’s not a partnership we’re likely to see often going forward.
Key stat: Militao made just one interception against PSG.
Left-back: Andy Robertson (Liverpool)
Robertson can feel hard done by after giving the penalty away against Napoli that ultimately led to Liverpool’s demise. It certainly looked harsh, but the Scotland captain certainly took a wild swipe at the ball and struggled generally. He didn’t cover himself in glory for the second goal either and won’t be content with his display in Italy.
Key stat: Robertson conceded a total of four fouls – only two defenders conceded more on matchday one.
Central midfield: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)
Real Madrid’s era of dominance in Europe is well and truly over, a fact emphasised by the heavy defeat to PSG and encapsulated by Kroos’ lacklustre performance. The German failed to give the visitors’ defence any kind of protection and didn’t do enough to get Madrid going in an attacking sense.
Key stat: Kroos was dribbled past four times against PSG, more times than any other Real Madrid player on the pitch.
Central midfield: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
Simply put, this was one of Eriksen’s worst-ever performances for Spurs. Absolutely nothing came off for the Dane, who constantly gave the ball away. He lost possession before just before Jan Vertonghen gave the penalty away and his decision making when Tottenham countered was woeful.
Attacking midfield: Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund)
It was a night to forget for Reus, who missed the penalty that cost Dortmund the chance to win one of their most difficult group games. The German was guilty of pulling out of 50/50s, too, and he allowed Barcelona to play out from the back too easily.
Key stat: Reus lost 13 duels and was dribbled past five times against Barcelona, as well as missing five chances.
Right wing: Karim Bellarabi (Bayer Leverkusen)
Leverkusen suffered a surprise 2-1 home defeat to Lokomotiv Moscow. Part of it can be put down to Bellarabi’s lack of impact on the game. The German gave the ball away too often, and his lack of accuracy meant Leverkusen weren’t able to get at Lokomotiv in the final third.
Key stat: No midfielder lost possession more times than Bellarabi on matchday one (28).
Left wing: Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)
The slow start to Hazard’s Real Madrid career continues. The Belgian came close to scoring against PSG with a low shot that went inches wides but he didn’t do enough to influence the game the way he has for Chelsea in the past. Real fans will be expecting more in the future.
Key stat: Hazard created just one chance on his Champions League debut for Real Madrid.
Striker: Emmanuel Bonaventure (Club Brugge)
Club Brugge missed a great chance to make a winning start to their campaign against Galatasaray and Bonaventure fluffed his lines on two occasions when he really should have scored. The striker will be disappointed with his display in a match Brugge would have wanted to win.
Key stat: Bonaventure lost possession 20 times against Galatasaray.