Matchday One passed in a blur of goals, drama and comfortable wins for the debutant coaches – among them Carlo Ancelotti, Laurent Blanc, Pep Guardiola, Manuel Pellegrini and David Moyes – in charge of their teams for the first time in this competition. Here’s a rundown of some Champions League stories that caught our eye this week:
1. Casillas' Real woes could lead to World Cup heartbreak
The rib injury that forced off Casillas 12 minutes into the Real Madrid and Spain captain’s first competitive appearance for 238 days may not be as serious as first feared, but the implications might be.
It was no surprise that Diego Lopez came off the bench and continued his form of the last nine months: ever since previous coach Jose Mourinho signed him last January, Lopez has been outstanding, once compelling the Portuguese politico to naughtily claim he wished he’d bought him earlier.
But where this leaves Casillas’s chances of reclaiming his place in the Madrid side, let alone starting in goal for Spain as they look to defend their World Cup crown next summer, is anyone’s guess. Yes, it may be far too early to predict who will be in form, and fit, in nine months’ time, but if the previous year is anything to go by, it might not be Casillas.
He does, though, still have the support of Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, who was under pressure to give someone else a chance in last week’s World Cup qualifiers; after all, Victor Valdes had started the season in imperious form for Barcelona, and even on the day of Spain’s win over Finland, Valdes was tipped to start and stake his claim.
Instead, Del Bosque picked Casillas, with some suggesting that the coach owed it to him for disrupting his relationship with Mourinho when he rose above the ‘clasico’ rows and mended bridges with Xavi for the sake of harmony in the Spain side – that, in part, contributed to losing his spot in the first place.
Casillas will be back for Madrid’s Matchday Two game against FC Copenhagen, and after Christmas, coach Carlo Ancelotti will have to decide who will be his number one going forward. If it’s not Casillas, it would be a stretch for Del Bosque to keep him for Brazil next summer.
2. Sorry Franck Ribery but Messi and Ronaldo are in a different class
On the face of it, the idea that Franck Ribery has a chance of winning the Ballon D’Or this season makes sense, given that he was a key player as Bayern Munich won the treble. But since when was this individual award about team achievements? That question came to mind as two players whose scoring records in this competition bear comparison with the greatest marked Matchday One once again.
It took record-scorer Raul 144 games to score his 71 goals. Lionel Messi has scored 62 goals in 80 games and Cristiano Ronaldo 54 in 97 games. They both scored hat-tricks this week, Messi against Dutch champions Ajax, Ronaldo against Turkish champions Galatasaray. Six goals between them, and no-one bats an eyelid, because they have made the extraordinary now seem normal.
Ribery is a wonderful player but if your team had an unlimited budget, who would you rather buy – Ribery, Messi or Ronaldo? Just remember that question if Ribery, who was voted Uefa’s Player of the Year last month, does scoop the Ballon D’Or.
3. Coaches should leave some tactical tweaks to players
Thiago Motta normally takes corner-kicks for Paris Saint-Germain, so it was a surprise to see Ezequiel Lavezzi trot over to take one with the score 1-1 at Olympiacos. Lavezzi delivered a precise dead-ball that Motta headed home to put PSG ahead. Two minutes later, the same combination did it again - Lavezzi corner, Motta header, goal.
Later in the half, Motta decided to return to corner-taking duties (this time from the other side). Success again: Marquinhos headed home his corner. It just goes to show that sometimes, it's better to leave the players to it.
4. Basel are going to struggle to hang onto Mohamed Salah
In summer 2012, I spoke to scouts at two mid-ranking Premier League clubs who were monitoring the progress of Mohamed Salah, then a 20-year-old Egyptian striker at Swiss club Basel. He was available for around €3m, and I recommended to both of them that they go for it. Neither of their clubs did (well, the scouts may have passed the recommendation on, but nothing came of
it) and last season, Salah was the driving force behind Basle’s title success and run to the Europa League semi-final. On Wednesday night, he gave Ashley Cole a torrid time as Basel caused a shock and beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Still only 21, Salah’s price-tag will now be nearer to €15m and the question is, how long will Basel be able to hang on to him? If they qualify for the next round of the Champions League, it will encourage him to at least see out the season, but if they don’t, then there could be a decision to be made in January.
And the profile of club now interested in him will change too: he is better than the middle of the Premier League. He’s proved he’s ready for regular Champions League football.
5. This best goal of Matchday One was one you might have missed
Tuesday night saw a record-breaking 30 goals go in and some were crackers.
Cristiano Ronaldo jinked past two defenders and smashed his hat-trick goal past Fernando Muslera, Lionel Messi and, in particular, Lorenzo Insigne, revived the art of the free-kick (the Italian youngster scored his off the crossbar, even better than Messi’s post) while Yaya Toure curled in a beauty from distance.
But the best goal has to go to Olympiacos winger Vladimir Weiss, whose solo effort combined brilliance and arrogance as he nutmegged his first defender and dribbled around two more to cap a mazy run with a stunning finish.
The fact that the defenders were all Brazilian – Marquinhos megged, Maxwell and Thiago Silva done – somehow gave the goal more lustre. Well done Vladimir, and on his Champions League group stage debut as well.
Perhaps his knockers in Slovakia, who have warned that his talent could be wasted if he keeps changing clubs and arguing with referees may now give him a break. After all, he was their man of the match in last week’s World Cup qualifier against Bosnia & Herzegovina too.