- A pair of unenviable themes continued for PSG and Tottenham, while Liverpool and Inter Milan enjoyed late wins, Lionel Messi's hat trick sparked Barcelona and a pair of young Americans factored into results on the opening day of the Champions League.
Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League problems continued, as it was outplayed by Liverpool before losing 3-2 on Roberto Firmino’s stoppage-time goal to cap the first day of action in the Champions League group stage.
Elsewhere there were wins for both Spanish teams in action, with Lionel Messi scoring a hat trick in Barcelona's 4-0 rout of PSV Eindhoven, and Atletico Madrid coming from a goal down to beat Monaco 1-0.
Inter Milan scored twice in the final seven minutes to overcome Tottenham on its return to European competition after a six-year absence, while Red Star celebrated its return after 26 years with a 0-0 home draw against Napoli.
Elsewhere, Christian Pulisic's fortuitous winner helped Borussia Dortmund to a 1-0 win over Club Brugge–on the American midfielder's 20th birthday. Another American, Weston McKennie, played a role in Schalke's 1-1 draw vs. Porto, setting up Breel Embolo for the opener before a dubious penalty salvaged the draw for the Portuguese side. In the other Group D match, Galatasaray eased its way by Lokomotiv Moscow 3-0.
Here are three thoughts on the opening day of the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League:
Liverpool punishes limp PSG
PSG somehow came close to taking a point at Anfield, which would have been one of the greatest robberies football has known. Liverpool won in the end, thanks to an injury-time winner from the substitute, Firmino, but the fact is that it had dominated almost from the start and could have won by an embarrassing margin. PSG was staggeringly lax.
The French champion has begun the domestic season in familiar fashion, winning five out of five and scoring 17 goals in doing so. But just as PSG was outplayed by Real Madrid in the Champions League last season, it found itself unable to compete with a genuinely elite side here until a weird complacency set in in the final minutes.
The front three of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe is expensive and immensely talented and will seize on half-chances, but until it pulls its weight defensively, there is no chance of PSG winning the Champions League. Trent Alexander-Arnold dominated his flank against Neymar almost entirely, calling the Brazilian’s bluff and pushing up the flank, taking the risk of leaving him unguarded.
For 40 minutes, it was remarkable how easy it had been for Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp’s side looked quicker, sharper, stronger and better organized. Its traditional ferocious start yielded six corners in the first quarter hour, and although Liverpool’s intensity necessarily dropped after that, it seemed the flurry had had its impact on PSG as well. Daniel Sturridge, playing because of Firmino’s eye injury, headed Liverpool into a 30th-minute lead in his first Champions League start in six years, and Juan Bernat needlessly tripped Georgino Wijnaldum to concede a penalty that James Milner converted six minutes later.
Thomas Meunier hooked in as a ball broke to him off Andy Robertson just before halftime, but Liverpool seemed so comfortable in the second half that the intensity of the game was lost and it became sloppy. PSG, though, hadn’t had a shot in the second half until Mbappe finished off a move that begun when Mohamed Salah had lost the ball cheaply. A 2-2 draw would have been no reflection of the flow of the game, but it was telling that as soon as Liverpool increased the pace again, PSG wobbled and collapsed.
Sloppy Tottenham gives it away
Carelessness is becoming the bane of Tottenham. Mauricio Pochettino’s side had developed a frustrating habit of conceding goals when it seems to be comfortable in a game. Sloppiness cost it in the Champions League against Juventus last season, in the FA Cup semifinal against Manchester United and again in the league at Watford two weeks ago. At the San Siro, Spurs had had the better of a strangely scrappy game in which both sides misplaced passes and wasted opportunities, and with five minutes left in normal time led through Christian Eriksson’s deflected strike.
But then Mauro Icardi was left unmarked just outside the box and lashed in a spectacular volley to equalize and, as Tottenham buckled, barely able to get out of its half, Matias Vecino headed home two minutes into injury time to give Inter a victory in its first Champions League group game since 2012.
These are worrying times for Tottenham. It has lost three games in a row under Pochettino for the first time and, already six points off the top of the Premier League, it may need progress in the Champions League to keep the season alive. That may seem an overly dramatic interpretation at this stage of the season, but there has been an odd shakiness about Spurs of late. Even when it led, this had not been an especially good performance. Too many passes went astray, and possession was squandered repeatedly in its own half as attempts to play out from the back were thwarted by Inter’s high press. Questions, equally, will be asked of Pochettino’s decision not even to include Kieran Trippier and Toby Alderwiereld in the squad.
And what makes that particularly troubling for Tottenham is the sense that this is a project that needs to maintain the sense of progress, because as soon as the club stops moving forward, a host of gifted players are going to start wondering just why they are staying when they could be earning significantly more money elsewhere.
Atletico Madrid secures key, early win
It’s early days still, but Atletico Madrid took a huge step towards the last 16 with victory away to Monaco.
Diego Simeone’s side has had a difficult start to the domestic season, seemingly struggling to reconcile the expectations brought by new signings with its habitual reactive style. The Champions League draw wasn’t overly kind, grouping Atletico with Borussia Dortmund and Monaco, as well as Club Brugge, and defeat at the Stade Louis II could have placed the Spanish side under severe pressure.
That defeat seemed on the cards when Samuel Grandsir poked Monaco ahead, but Diego Costa levelled on the break and Jose Gimenez headed Atletico in front before halftime, and Simeone's charges defended the lead from there for a valuable, early three points.