Drawing conclusions after 90 minutes is a dangerous exercise, particularly in a competition so prone to cause surprise as the Champions League, however the last two days have given us plenty of food for thoughts.
1) THE USUAL SUSPECTS
It’s been a strange summer in Spain as far as Real Madrid and Barcelona are concerned. Not only have both clubs changed their managers, but their undiscussed stars have had their reigns briefly usurped by new star signings.
However, for all their talent, Gareth Bale and particularly Neymar are both novice at Champions League level and Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo offered a timely reminder that they’re the main men at their respective clubs.
After Ronaldo put three past Galatasaray on Tuesday night, taking his tally in the competition to 53, making him the fourth-highest scorer in Champions League history, Messi responded with a hat-trick of his own, becoming the first player ever to score three or more goals for the fourth time in the competition.
Superlatives for this duo have dried out a long time ago and, bar a major surprise, they’ll be both involved in the competition until May.
2) JOSE’S EGGS CRACK
Neither Mourinho nor the Chelsea fans expected the first Champions League game of the Portuguese’s second coming to unfold the way it did. Certainly not on home turf, where Chelsea had won 22 and drawn seven of their last 29 games in the group stages, since losing to Besiktas in October 2003.
Chelsea lacked cutting edge against a well organised Basel side and their plethora of attacking midfielders can’t masquerade the fact the Blues are desperate for an imposing presence up-front.
Despite last night’s defeat, there’s no need to press the panic button as yet but Chelsea need to get their house in order, otherwise trips to Gelsenkirchen and Basel could become rather nervy affairs.
3) DARK HORSES
Dortmund reveled in the role last season, but came unstuck against the side widely tipped to be this season’s surprise package in the Champions League, Napoli.
Last season Serie A’s runners-up outwitted Jurgen Klopp’s men at their own game – quick counter-attacking football and incessant movement by the front three – and confirmed their candidature to be this season’s dark horses, inspired by the likes of Marek Hamsik and Gonzalo Higuain.
Rafa Benitez knows his team will need to produce the kind of performance they delivered last night if they’re to negotiate their way out of the group of death, but he can draw positives from Dortmund’s record last season, when the Germans emerged from a group containing Real Madrid and Manchester City and went on to reach the final.
4) CELTIC MUST LEARN TO BE CLINICAL
An AC Milan side in disarray and riddled with injuries was the perfect opportunity for Celtic to get their European campaign off to a flyer with a famous away win.
Neil Lennon’s men held their own for 80 minutes and squandered a couple of good chances, before falling to two late goals, a defeat which leaves them third on the table on goal difference.
Celtic’s performance, however, showed plenty of positives and the Glasgow giants should definitely fancy their chance of progressing out of their group, provided they become more clinical in front of goal.
Barcelona are a world away, but Ajax’s inexperience and AC Milan’s limits mean Neil Lennon’s men are in with a shout.
5) MOYES ENJOYS HIS DEBUT
Ahead of Manchester United match against Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday night, much had been made of David Moyes’ inexperience in the Champions League.
“Will he field his strongest XI?” and “Will he be out of his depth?” wondered many ahead of Moyes’ managerial debut in the competition proper. Aside from the fact that, as the former Everton manager rightly pointed out, experience is a luxury that can’t be bought, United had plenty of experience on the pitch.
United made relatively light work of a well organised, talented, side such as Leverkusen and took a first step in the right direction towards navigating their way through a group which is a lot trickier than many would admit.
Moyes might well be resemble a rabbit caught in the headlight when and if United reach the round of 16, but for the moment he’s silenced some of the doubters.