The Champions League is back with a bang, but who were the stars? Here’s the best XI from Matchday 1.
GK – Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus)
Juve performed heroically for an hour with 10 men to win 2-0 at Valencia after Cristiano Ronaldo’s red card. They may have had to suffer a few flutters near the end had Szczesny, who is making their No. 1 spot his own after Gianluigi Buffon’s departure, not saved Daniel Parejo’s late penalty — ensuring a continuation of their superb away form was guaranteed.
RB – Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
It said plenty that L’Equipe, the French newspaper whose player rating system is notoriously harsh, gave Alexander-Arnold eight out of 10 in their postmatch analysis. Nobody else on the Anfield pitch reached that level though you would think Alexander-Arnold will have more taxing assignments then facing a sluggish Neymar, who left all kinds of space for the 19-year-old to maraud into, but he took full advantage and the evidence is that Liverpool have a star on their hands.
CB – Milos Degenek (Red Star Belgrade)
Australia international Degenek has been a revelation since joining the club he supported as a boy. Red Star were given a thorough examination by Napoli on their long-awaited return to the big time and their back line were required to stay strong and concentrated: Degenek’s quality told as he marshalled them to a clean sheet and a result that, for the moment, gives them genuine hope of making an impact on the group stage.
CB – Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus)
“We proved that we are a team, a great team, despite the obstacles that were presented during the game,” Bonucci said of Juve’s rearguard action. In truth he and his teammates thrive on assignments like this; Bonucci looks far more at home in their colours than he did in the red and black of AC Milan and directed a terrific defensive effort at the Mestalla, also winning one of the penalties that Miralem Pjanic coolly converted.
LB – Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax)
It is not every day that a left-back gets on the scoresheet twice but Tagliafico, the star of a mightily impressive Ajax performance against AEK Athens, broke the mould in Amsterdam. His first goal was taken clinically from close range after he had stayed up following a set piece; his second, in the final minute of normal time, was a preposterous left-footed volley from an impossible-looking angle — although he admitted it had been slightly miscued.
CM – Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
More performances like this, and any doubts about Paul Pogba’s attitude or temperament will soon abate. He was majestic in Manchester United’s comfortable win at Young Boys, dominating the middle of the park throughout, and made two decisive contributions too. His opening goal was delightfully flighted into the roof of the net with minimal backlift; his second was a confidently taken penalty and the signs are that, slowly but surely, United and their most expensive player are building up a head of steam.
CM – Renato Sanches (Bayern Munich)
What a lovely moment it was when the Estadio da Luz rose as one to acclaim Sanches, their former player, when he completed his own lung-busting counter-attack by doubling Bayern Munich’s lead against Benfica. Sanches was visibly emotional and no wonder: this was the homecoming he would have dreamed of and, along with that, it may prove a turning point in his career. He endured a miserable time on loan at Swansea but here he was excellent, driving into open spaces and showing the ability that caused such excitement at Euro 2016.
AM – Nabil Fekir (Lyon)
Lyon’s win at the Etihad was no smash-and-grab. They set about Pep Guardiola’s side from the start and it turned into another memorable performance from their skipper Fekir, who perhaps proved a point on English soil after his summer move to Liverpool broke down. Fekir delivered the cross that brought Lyon’s opener, albeit via a Fabian Delph error, but then doubled their advantage with the kind of crisp, clinical finish that has turned so many heads around the continent. “I want to prove I’m a good player but the most important thing is the group,” he said modestly.
RF – Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Another Champions League campaign, another peerless display from Messi. He began Barca’s rout of PSV by curling home a majestic free kick — the first goal of the entire group stage — before adding two more fine finishes from assists by Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez. Barca are in fine form and the 31-year-old Messi looks as hungry as ever to add to his four winner’s medals in this competition.
CF – Mauro Icardi (Inter Milan)
Icardi is a striker who should thrive at this level and he took his first chance to prove it in thrilling fashion. Inter were on their way to a narrow but unsatisfactory defeat to a spluttering Tottenham when the Argentine, meeting a deep cross from the left, lashed a brilliant 20-yard volley into the far corner and set a stunning comeback in motion. He is still just 25 and few would bet against him carrying his prolific domestic record into the Champions League.
LF – Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
Cristiano who? Real are motoring along just fine without their former talisman and Bale is among those stepping up. Julen Lopetegui’s side scored three fine goals against Roma; Bale’s was a cracking low finish after Luka Modric’s inch-perfect through ball. It was his fifth goal in seven games and there seems little doubt that Ronaldo’s absence has allowed the 29-year-old to operate with a new injection of freedom.