UCL Roundup: Ending the three-and-a-half-month wait for European action, UEFA Champions League returned with all its pomp and glory with elation, disappointment, and surprises. The 65th edition of the competition kicked off at Milan and Lyon, with the matches between Inter Milan and Slavia Prague, and Olympique Lyonnais and Zenit St. Petersburg.
GROUP E: NAPOLI WIN, SALZBURG RUN RIOT
Liverpool began their title defence with a defeat in Italy, after Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli downed the reigning champions 2-0 at the Stadio San Paolo on Tuesday. Dries Mertens’ late penalty and Fernando Llorente’s stoppage-time goal saw Napoli take maximum points, as Jurgen Klopp was left to rue his side’s wastefulness in the 82 minutes both the teams were in a deadlock.
“I don’t think it’s a penalty. What can I say, for me, it is clear and obvious no penalty,” Klopp told BT Sport. “We played a lot of good football but didn’t finish it off.”
Liverpool became the first competition winners to lose the opening game of their Champions League defence since AC Milan were defeated by Ajax in 1994.
On the other hand, FC Salzburg handed the Belgian champions, KRC Genk an absolute thumping, winning it 6-2, thanks to a Erling Braut Håland first-half hattrick. The Norwegian became the third-youngest player to net a Champions League treble at the age of 19 years and 58 days, behind Raul (18y 113d) and Wayne Rooney (18y 340d).
GROUP F: BARCELONA, INTER HELD TO DRAWS
Continuing with the patchy start to the season, Barcelona drew with Borussia Dortmund at the Signal Iduna Park on Tuesday, owing to a heroic Marc Andre ter Stegen second-half penalty save. The Catalan side’s 16-year-old Anssumane Fati became the club’s youngest player to feature in a UEFA competition when he started but just like his compatriots, failed to make any real impact before being replaced by fit-again Lionel Messi just before the hour mark.
“It feels terrible,” said Borussia Dortmund captain Marco Reus after the match. “My penalty was badly taken. We could have won it as our performance was good. It would have been the ideal start. But we can build on this.”
Meanwhile, Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan were stopped in their tracks by rank outsiders Slavia Prague at the San Siro, when a stoppage-time Nicolo Barella goal rescued a draw for the Italian side. After Nigerian forward Peter Olayinka put Slavia ahead in the 63rd minute, Inter fought back to win one point with Barella’s goal after a Stefano Sensi free-kick hit the crossbar.
GROUP G: RB LEIPZIG STUN, LYON-ZENIT PLAY STALEMATE
RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner showed his merit once again with a vital brace against Benfica to win 2-1 at the dreaded Estadio da Luz, kicking off boss Julian Nagelsmann’s debut in Champions League. The 23-year-old German forward finished off a neat Leipzig move to break the deadlock in the 69th minute, and doubled it just nine minutes later. The home side managed to get one back in the 84th minute through Haris Seferovic but they could not force an equaliser.
In the early kick-off in Lyon, Zenit St. Petersburg managed to get just a point, after Olympique Lyonnais forward Memphis Depay’s penalty levelled Iranian forward Sardar Azmou’s opener.
GROUP H: AJAX DOMINATE, VALENCIA SHOCK CHELSEA
Erik ten Hag’s Ajax started off their campaign with a dominating 3-0 win over the returning Lille at the Johan Cruijff Arena, after goals from newly arrived winger Quincy Promes, Edson Alvarez and Nicolas Tagliafico drowned the French side. The Dutch side looked hellbent on repeating their last season magic, triumphing over Lille, who had Victor Osimhen, Yusuf Yazici and Mehmet Celik all threatening Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana.
On the other hand, Valencia spoiled Frank Lampard’s managerial debut in the Champions League with a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge, after Ross Barkley missed a penalty to level things up. Spain forward Rodrigo Moreno gave the visitors the lead against the run of play in the 74th minute, handing Chelsea their first home defeat in European competition since losing to Paris Saint-Germain in March, 2016.
“We shouldn’t lose the game, clearly. We had a fair few chances and then the penalty, which we missed. We have to keep our heads up. There is a long way to go and this is a lesson that teams at this level can hurt you,” Lampard told reporters.
The 41-year-old manager became the first Chelsea manager to lose his debut Champions League match in charge — 10 of the previous 11 had won, while Gianluca Vialli drew with AC Milan in 1999.