Champions League: 5 talking points from the opening round
The chasm between the elite and the rest is ever-widening
Looking at Paris Saint-Germain’s (PSG) 5-0 thrashing of Celtic and the 4-0 defeat of Feyenoord by Manchester City, many would see the defeated sides as lightweights. But that is not the case. PSG were still three years away from their formation when Celtic became the first British team to win the European Cup in 1967, and while City have only recently become Champions League regulars, Feyenoord were the kings of Europe in the 1970s. But the glory days of the reigning Scottish and Dutch champions are long gone.
There were royal hidings for other minnows at the hands of top outfits as Chelsea handed Champions League debutantes Qarabag a 6-0 hiding; Bayern Munich and Manchester United ran 3-0 winners against Anderlecht and Basel, respectively; while Real Madrid overcame Apoel Nicosia with the same scoreline. These results correctly suggest an embarrassment of riches at the top, leading to lopsided nature of matches, and with the money continuously pouring in at the top, the chasm between the elite and the rest is likely to grow wider.
There will be more contenders than in the recent past
The rich have indeed become richer but the quality of personnel seems evenly distributed this year. Real Madrid, champions for the last two seasons in succession, will be favourites for an unprecedented hat-trick but they are likely to face stiffer opposition this term. PSG and Manchester have significantly strengthened their ranks in the summer, while Champions League returnees Manchester United and Chelsea have two tactically astute managers at the helm as well as quality squads.
Atletico Madrid have managed to retain their squad from the last season and may just welcome Diego Costa in January. Barcelona look rejuvenated as Ernesto Valverde has put the emphasis back on midfield and the trio of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta, seemingly back in form, and aided by Lionel Messi’s deeper role than in the past. The knockout rounds this term should throw up a string of cracking games.
Bye bye MSN, hello MCN
Ever since Qatari money purchased PSG, the club have pursued their singular aim of winning the Champions League with envious zeal. They managed to prise quality players in the past, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani, but no one can quite eclipse their purchase of Neymar from Barcelona this summer. PSG’s world-record outlay not only bought them Neymar, but also broke the Catalan outfit’s awe-inspiring MSN trio—Messi and Luis Suarez being Neymar’s partners in crime.
However, PSG were not content yet. They went on to prise away teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe from Monaco—initially on loan, but what will likely be the second-most expensive transfer next summer. The two transfers have given PSG the fearsome forward line of Mbappe, Cavani and Neymar—or MCN. Their play against Celtic suggested as if they have been together since ages. No less potent than MSN, it is fair to say PSG’s 5-0 hammering of Celtic will not be an anomaly.
The youngsters are alright
There have been a string of big-money moves for teenage stars in the past couple of years. Mbappe will soon become the most expensive teenage footballer in the world, while Gabriel Jesus, at 19, moved to Man City for €32 million in January last year—big sum in the pre-Neymar to PSG world. Both of them were on the scoresheet in the opening round. Manchester United’s home-grown 19-year-old Marcus Rashford already seems to be around forever and he continued his knack for scoring goals on debut, with his first Champions League goal against Basel.
Monaco’s summer arrival, the highly-touted Youri Tielemans, earned his team a 1-1 draw with his strike against RB Leipzig, while Barcelona’s €105 million Neymar replacement Ousmane Dembele looked lively even though a goal eluded him. There is plenty of exciting young talent to look forward to this European season.
Deal of the summer
The last summer transfer window was on steroids. Following PSG’s opening of the purse strings, all hell broke loose and Barcelona were forced to make a record signing of their own to sign Dembele. They would have further broken their own record if their reported bids for Philippe Coutinho had been accepted by Liverpool. Romelu Lukaku went for an astronomical £75 million, while Chelsea had to shell out £60 million for Alvaro Morata. And despite their reported bids in excess of £60 million for Naby Keita and Virgil van Dijk, the Reds couldn’t get their targets this summer.
In such a scenario, Barcelona’s €30.5 million signing Nelson Semedo seems a steal. More so, with the way he has played so far. Along with Messi, the Portuguese was Barcelona’s standout performer as they won 3-0 against Juventus. His playing style and energy are reminiscent of Dani Alves and if he continues at this rate, he will solve the Catalan outfit’s long-standing problem on the right. His energetic style and technicality allows Rakitic to focus on midfield duty instead of running for support on the touchline, helping improve the club’s midfield control. With Semedo, Barcelona seems to have made the best deal of the summer.