The UEFA Champions League has started once again for the 2012-13 season with the cream of Europe’s footballing elite all aiming for Wembley and a chance to etch their names in the competitions folklore. Representing England this year are the reigning European champions, Chelsea, the English champions Manchester City, perennial qualifiers and league runners-up Manchester United, and Arsenal. With Chelsea winning the competition the previous year, hopes are yet again high that it will remain on these shores, especially with the final being hosted at the national stadium. But, the first round of games went off with more of a whimper than a bang, as all three English teams stuttered out of the gates.
Montpellier 1 v 2 Arsenal
Arsenal came from behind to earn a hard-fought victory in France in their opening game. Montpellier went in front after only nine minutes after Younes Belhanda’s penalty put them in front. Arsenal didn’t take long to pull the game back though as Lukas Podolski scored after 16 minutes and Gervinho gave the Gunners the lead two minutes later. Arsenal then put on a professional, if somewhat uninspiring performance to give them the three points and command of group B. Arsenal host Olympiakos next and will be looking to put another three points in the bag before back-to-back games against Schalke.
Real Madrid 3 v 2 Manchester City
The champions of Spain hosted the champions of England in the mouth-watering clash of the first round, and City nearly pulled off the most famous result in the clubs history before finally crumbling to the Real Madrid attack. Real Madrid dominated the first half and could have been two or three goals up at half time if it hadn’t been for a stellar performance from Joe Hart. The second half started off much the same, with City on the back foot but reminding Madrid of their counter-attacking danger on occasion. Well in the 69th minute, Edin Dzeko capitalised on that danger and gave City an unlikely lead, which they could only hold for seven minutes until Marcelo hit a beautiful shot past Joe Hart. Then in the 85th minute City struck again, this time from Kholorov, and the victory looked almost assured as Madrid looked deflated. This couldn’t have been further from the truth though as Karim Benzema equalised in the 87th minute and Cristiano Ronaldo, the former Manchester United player, sealed the victory in injury time. The fact that a former United player and long time City-linked Ronaldo scored the winner will have been added salt to the wounds of the City fans as they left the Bernabau empty-handed.
Chelsea 2 v 2 Juventus
Chelsea hoped to start the defence of their Champions League title with a win in front of the expecting home crowd, but were inevitably left disappointed as Juve clawed back from 2-0 down to earn a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. Two quick goals from new signing Oscar put Chelsea 2-0 up after 33 minutes, the second of which was fantastic long-range screamer that left Juventus goalie Buffon with no hope. The Italian champions pulled one back five minutes later through Aturo Vidal who put a low shot past Petr Cech. It wasn’t until the 80th minute when Jon Obi Mikel lost possession in a dangerous position and Quagliarella equalised. He nearly sealed a victory for the Italians as he clipped the bar in the closing stages of the game, but the game ended in a draw and the points shared. In hindsight the result might not be the end of the world but to lose a two goal lead at home must be concerning for the Chelsea faithful.
Manchester United 1 v 0 Galatasaray
United looked to put last years disappointing group stage elimination behind them and start this seasons campaign with a good win against Galatasaray. Things began rocky with Galatasaray being turned down for what looked like a penalty as Vidic clipped Bulup in the area. United capitalised on their luck with Michael Carrick giving the home side an early 7th minute lead. United fans might have though they would see their team take control of the game, but it was the Turkish side who looked more dangerous as United continuously gave the ball away. Antonio Valencia earned the Red Devils a second half penalty, which was surprisingly taken by Nani, who swiftly stutter-stepped himself to a villain as he saw his feeble penalty saved. Galatasaray rocked the United crossbar on three occasions but ultimately could not capitalise on their hosts lacklustre display. Three points gained for the side from Old Trafford, but it must have felt like a case of de-ja-vu to the home fans as the team yet again forgot how to play in European competition.