City Slippers. Manchester City know more than most about the scoreline 3-2. They became the champions of England in May after overturning a 1-2 deficit by scoring twice in injury time to defeat Queens Park Rangers and win their first title since 1968. And they were up to their old tricks at the start of the current EPL campaign by coming from behind against Southampton to win by the same margin. So when they surprisingly took a 1-0 and then 2-1 lead on the road at Spanish Champions Real Madrid Tuesday night, perhaps they feared that karma would come back to haunt them. Sure enough, despite those goals from substitute Edin Dzeko with 20 minutes to play, and then Aleksandar Kolarov’s free-kick putting them ahead with just 5 minutes left on the clock, Real managed to put their own domestic concerns to one side and win one of the most thrilling second halves the Champions League has ever seen. Their own striking substitute, Karim Benzema, equalized with a deft turn with three minutes to go and then – inevitably – talisman Cristiano Ronaldo notched the last-minute winner to give Madrid a much needed win (you can tell how much it meant to coach Jose Mourinho: he slid onto the field in customary celebration). For the Portuguese superstar, who has felt “sad” of late, this could be the fillip he needs. As for City, manager Roberto Mancini lashed out at goalkeeper Joe Hart, who noted that “You can’t go 2-1 up with five minutes to go and lose the game. “We can only blame ourselves.” While Mancini agreed with the assessment, the Italian boss had the final word, saying that, “Joe Hart should stay as goalie. I am the judge, not Joe Hart.” Incredibly, had City held out to win at the Bernabeu, it would have been the first time in Real’s history that the nine-time champions had lost their opening home game of the tournament. Both teams would have recognized the importance of the fixture as their group contains the German and Dutch champions, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax, who faced off in a match the German side won 1-0. Perhaps that was the reason Real and City both went for the win, rather than playing out a cagey tie, because there are no easy matches. Some are calling it the toughest group in the history of the Champions League, and if you can think of a phrase that raises the bar on Group of Death, feel free to comment below.
Hey Big Spenders. For all the talk of Manchester City splashing the cash, nobody made more impact over the summer than French side Paris Saint Germain. Backed by ambitious Qatari investors, PSG laid out over $260 million in player transfer fees, but perhaps their shrewdest investment was in the European pedigree of Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti, who steered AC Milan to Champions League glory twice and also won the European Cup as a player with them back in 1989/1990. On Tuesday, PSG put Dynamo Kiev to the sword, thrashing them 4-1, which was a pretty sweet way to mark their first Champions League fixture in eight years. The game was effectively over after 30 minutes, with the French side taking a 3-0 lead, thanks to those signings. Swedish enigma Zlatan Ibrahimovic got the ball rolling with a penalty, making “Ibra” the first player to score for six different clubs in the competition (Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona and AC Milan were the other teams). Brazilian centerbacks Thiago Silva and Alex and the elegant Argentine Javier Pastore got the other goals, with Ibrahimovic saying “It’s a fantastic start. It was not easy. We made our opponent look bad, but it does not mean they were bad.” If he remains in the mood, you underestimate the Parisians at your peril.
And the Oscar Goes To. With half an hour to go on Wednesday, Real Madrid’s great rivals Barcelona were also staring the down the barrel at a shock 1-2 defeat, to even worse opposition in the shape of Spartak Moscow. You can guess the rest. Barca’s brilliant Lionel Messi took the match by the scruff of its neck, equalizing in the 71st minute and then winning the game with a rare header from an Alexis Sanchez cross. What would the team, and us, do without him?
And the Argentine’s brace of goals was matched by Chelsea’s Brazilian summer signing, Oscar, who instantly endeared himself to the Stamford Bridge faithful by putting the European Champions two goals up against Juventus. He scored twice in the space of two first-half minutes, with his second an early contender for Champions League goal of the season. The 21-year-old took a sublime first touch to fool the defence, before swiveling to rocket an unstoppable shot past the great Gianluigi Buffon from 25 yards out. But the Blues couldn’t hold on, with Juve’s Vidal deservedly keeping them in the game by netting just before the break and Fabio Quagliarella benefiting from a lapse in concentration by Jon Obi Mikel to level the scores late on. But without wishing to disrespect the other teams in their group – Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Nordsjaelland – both these European heavyweights will fully expect to progress to the knockout stages.