The 2017/18 UEFA Champions League got underway this week. With five clubs in the competition for the first time, the Premier League is well positioned to advance to the knockout rounds. Round one saw the Premier League clubs give a strong showing with four wins and a draw to open this year’s competition.
After a season without European football, Chelsea announced their return to the competition with a 6-0 drubbing of debutants Qarabağ. With Arsenal to face on the weekend, Antonio Conte rested Álvaro Morata, David Luiz, and Victor Moses, but it made little difference to the outcome. The Blues moved ahead just five minutes into the game and never looked back. Not only the number of goals, but the goal scorers themselves will please the Chelsea boss.
Davide Zappacosta and Tiemoué Bakayoko scored their first for the club; Michy Batshuayi bagged his first of the season and the ever dependable Cesar Azpilicueta headed home his first in the competition. The game won, Conte was able to substitute several players ahead of Sunday’s London derby, while also giving Eden Hazard a run out in his return from injury. A fantastic opening to the competition for the English champions, but Roma and Atlético Madrid will prove sterner tasks.
Fittingly, the five-time champions began the group stage against Sevilla, the club that defeated them in the the 2015 Europa League final—their last European match. The Reds 2-2 draw showcased the best and worst of what the team have to offer. Liverpool conceded early, following a dreadful error by Dejan Lovren, but roared back to score two and take the lead into the break. A missed Roberto Firmino penalty late in the half spared their opponents further misery. Despite dominating the ball in the second half, continued poor defending allowed Sevilla to equalize. Jürgen Klopp’s reintroduction of Philippe Coutinho into the side was not enough to turn the tide in his team’s favor. Despite a favorable draw, Liverpool will need to tighten up at the back if they hope to advance.
The only English to begin the group stage away from home, Manchester City wasted no time getting on the score sheet against Feyenoord. A second-minute header by John Stones squirmed over the line and City were off and running. Another two goals from Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus put Pep Guardiola’s side up 3-0 after 25 minutes and the tie out of reach. The second goal from John Stones in the 63rd provided the gloss on a win that was never in doubt. The burgeoning partnership of Agüero and Jesus will please their manager, both scoring in their last two matches. This was a game City would expect to win and a classy performance leaves them in pole position in Group F.
Manchester United opened their campaign with a comfortable 3-0 win over Basel. The Swiss champions proved troublesome for English opposition in years past, but this time mounted little opposition. United’s lowest moment of the match came when Paul Pogba limped off after 19 minutes with a hamstring injury. However, substitute Marouane Fellaini made a difference again, heading United in front on 35 minutes.
Second-half goals from Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford sealed the tie. José Mourinho accused his side of losing discipline and playing “PlayStation football” after going two up, but must still be pleased by the results. Untested central defensive pairing, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelöf, acquitted themselves well, and forgotten man Ashley Young got forward regularly from right-back, providing the cross for Fellaini’s goal. The way his team coped with the loss of Pogba will encourage the United manager, as well. Overall, it was a solid start for the Europa League champions.
With the toughest draw among English clubs, and home wins still rare, Spurs faced an uphill task in their opener against 2013 finalists Borussia Dortmund at Wembley. A breathless opening fifteen minutes set the tone for a highly entertaining match. Tottenham scored after four minutes—through Son Heung-min’s fantastic solo effort—only to be pegged back by a goal of equal quality from Andriy Yarmolenko. Undeterred, Harry Kane shrugged off several challenges and beat Dortmund keeper Roman Bürki in almost identical fashion to Son, putting his side ahead again. Dortmund dominated the ball throughout, but Spurs defended resolutely. Though he passed up a couple of fine chances, Kane put the tie to bed on the hour, shortly after the Germans had an equalizer incorrectly ruled out for offside. Mauricio Pochettino’s tactics were spot on, and with back-to-back fixtures against holders Real Madrid to come, three early points could prove invaluable.