Sports writer Ryan Shumaker discusses the first week of UEFA Champions League.
The Champions League has, for the first time since 2003, begun without Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. With their absence leaving big shoes to fill in the football world, the first matchday kicked off with long-awaited returns of teams looking to restore former glory and the competition’s traditional giants established themselves as early favorites.
Team of the Week: Manchester City
The European champions began their title defense with a 3-1 home win over Crvena Zvezda (Red Star Belgrade). The hosts attempted more shots in the opening 45 minutes than any team has in a single half of a Champions League match since 2003. Still, they found themselves trailing at halftime after Osman Burkari put Red Star’s only shot of the first half past goalie Ederson Santana de Moraes. However, hopes of a historic upset didn’t last long for the Serbian champions. After half-time, it only took one minute for Julian Alvarez to combine with Erling Haaland City level, and by the hour mark, Alvarez had scored his second goal after Red Star’s goalkeeper failed to punch away the Argentine’s freekick.
With 76% possession and 37 shots, City will feel they should have scored six or seven points. That said, it was no surprise when Rodri weaved through Red Star’s defenses and doubled City’s lead to put the result beyond all doubt. In recent years, Guardiola’s team has tended to look rusty in the early months of the season, but this incarnation of Manchester City looks exactly like the well-oiled machine that cruised to the treble last season. Only Milan and Real Madrid have managed to win back-to-back European cups, but the early signs suggest that it will take something special to dethrone this incredible City side.
Best Player: Wenderson Rodrigues do Nascimento Galeno
The Brazilian winger contributed to each of Porto’s three goals in their win over Shakhtar Donetsk. Galeno will need to maintain that form for his team to reclaim the Portuguese league title from S.L. Benfica or to contend with the top teams in this year’s Champions League. Both of Galeno’s goals were products of his alertness, with the second being the pick of the bunch as he intercepted an errant pass between Shakhtar’s back line and poked it past the keeper. However, the most impressive play from Galeno was his run from the halfway line, in which he glided past two defenders and delivered a perfect cross to Mehdi Taremi to finish off the play. The real test for Galeno will be causing as much trouble for Barcelona’s defense on matchday two as he did for Shakhtar’s last Tuesday.
Goal of the Week: Ivan Provedel
The best goal of matchday one can be none other than the last-minute header by Lazio’s goalkeeper to rescue a point against the favorites of group E, Atletico Madrid. It came in the 95th minute when Prodvedel initially ventured to the attacking end for a corner. He stuck around after the clearance by Atletico and was the only Lazio player who dared make a run towards the goal. Provedel met Luis Alberto’s cross with the coolness of a world-class striker, heading it past a helpless Jan Oblak. Having recorded the highest save rate in Serie A last season, the Italian goalkeeper will enter matchday two as Lazio’s leading scorer in the Champions League.
Best Supporters: Union Berlin
Being the best group of supporters in any given Champions League matchweek takes incredible cohesion, commitment and relentlessness. On matchday one, the Rossoneri’s choreography at San Siro was at its awe-inspiring best. Galatasaray supporters welcomed F.C. Copenhagen to Hell with their famous ferocity in Istanbul. The Basque country was rocked by Real Sociedad supporters doing the Poznan after a decade-long hiatus from the Champions League. However, it was the traveling supporters of the Champions League debutants, Union Berlin, who made matchday one a truly unforgettable European night in the Spanish capital. The Union supporters followed their team on a six-year journey from the German second division to the top four in the Bundesliga. Last Wednesday night, they found themselves in the palace of European football’s eternal kings. Spanish football expert, Graham Hunter, declared that he had never heard a louder group of traveling fans in his 27 years of watching Real Madrid play in the Bernabeu. Although their hearts were broken by a last-minute Jude Bellingham goal for Madrid, the Union faithful drowned out the 60,000 Madridistas in attendance all night long. They will welcome Braga to Berlin in two weeks when the Champions League anthem rings around Stadion An der Alten Försterei for the first time in its 103-year history.