Fabregas, Muller and Dikan shine on Champions League Matchday 1
Valencia sold its two best players but didn't miss them against Bursaspor
Bayern's Thomas Muller scored a wonder goal in win over AS Roma
Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas was superb pulling the strings against Braga
The Champions League is back and, for all its foibles, this is still as good a tournament as there is in the game. And, yes, that includes the World Cup, which is obviously special but in a different way. Here's an early report card on what we saw in Matchday One:
So he loses his two best players -- David Silva and David Villa -- over the summer and he has a club teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. But he still took Valencia to third last season and he pulled off an emphatic 4-0 win at Turkish champion Bursaspor this week. A rising star in management.
Break him down into his component parts -- athleticism, speed, technique -- and he really should not be this good. But he is. On a night in which Bayern played without the injured Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, he conjured up a wonder goal to break the deadlock against AS Roma. Much greater than the sum of his parts.
When he stayed put and said he'd work hard for Arsenal, the usual cynics doubted his commitment. So much for that theory. He came out of the gate quickly this season and pulled the strings masterfully in Arsenal's 6-0 demolition of Braga. Class player and a class act.
Spartak Moscow was pummeled by Marseille at the Velodrome but Dikan saved everything in sight to keep the Russians in the game and Spartak nicked three points at the other end.
Nobody enjoys the 9-0-1 formation, but a point at Old Trafford is pure gold. What's more, it wasn't one of those lucky away draws. Apart from a few Darren Gibson piledrivers, United didn't really threaten.
The "minus" is due solely to Leo Messi's missed penalty and David Villa's fanning from a few yards out. Fact is, Barca could have had 10 in its 5-1 victory against Panathinaikos. Pep Guardiola needed a strong reaction after the Hercules game and he got it.
Two goals for the larger-than-life (in every way) Swede against Auxerre. He's not everybody's cup of tea and often you get the sense he suffers from the Wilt Chamberlain effect. Milan is by no means a well-oiled machine and he was set up well for both his strikes. He's on the right track.
You have to love his unflappability. Werder Bremen goes out to attack, always and everywhere. Two goals down at home against Tottenham? No problem, we'll get two in the second half. And it did. Two points dropped, plenty to work on, but also some key absentees.
Yeah, I know, some might mark him down for playing the scrubs against Rangers. But hindsight is always 20-20. And he has always rotated his squad to some degree. Point is, some guys needed a breather, some guys needed playing time. And United should still win the group.
OK, so there were a few absences. But if you get an early goal at home against an awful Schalke team that gets a man sent off in the first half, you really need to do better than a 1-0 win.
Made at least three foolish errors in a 4-1 win at Zilina. You can't keep blaming Stephen Hunt's tackle -- that was years ago. At some point, he's got to get over it and go back to what he was: one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
Much better against Ajax (a 2-0 victory) than Osasuna (a 1-0 win in league play), but still a work in progress. Mourinho's had the reins since May and he's brought in six guys, so give him time to do his thing. This is his biggest challenge yet.
Some indulged in mocking them for not spotting everything. But, hey, they're fallible too. They're not there to make things perfect; they're there to make them better. Did they? Let's withhold judgment until we have a large enough body of work, shall we?
Not a stellar performance in a 2-2 draw at Twente. But then, this isn't his team. This is Mourinho's team and Inter's plan to have him impersonate the Special One with the same cast of characters minus Mario Balotelli (Benitez didn't make a single signing over the summer) seems dead in the water. Let's judge him in a few weeks, once we figure out what Benitez's Inter actually is.
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